People at the caucus in Providence, R.I. (Jennifer Wong / Courtesy of NETWORK)

Nuns on the Bus 2016: Four virtues for 21st-century justice work and Gospel living

Global Sisters Report brings you special coverage during NETWORK's 2016 Nuns on the Bus tour, which started July 11 in Wisconsin, runs through the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, and concludes July 29 at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. See more photos day by day, News from the Road blogs and videos from NETWORK Lobby, the sponsor of Nuns on the Bus.

The Nuns on the Bus have made it more than half way through the 2016 journey to mend the gaps. As we journey through 13 states and 23 cities, we encounter both heartbreak and hope: the heartbreaks that rip apart the fabric of our society — and the hope that reweaves the fabric as we meet others who are working to mend the wealth and income gap through tax justice, living wages and family-friendly-workplaces and mend the gaps in access to democracy, healthcare, housing and citizenship.

We see a wellspring of hope with the possibility of eradicating the current culture of fear dominating much of the political environment around us. Accompanying that hope, we also see a wellspring of creativity among the people who attend the Nuns on the Bus rallies and caucuses, sharing their visions and dreams for another way forward.

Planting seeds of hope and creativity, Sr. Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, shares four virtues of 21st-century justice work (or Gospel living) at our nightly caucuses: joy, holy curiosity, sacred gossip, and doing our part.

Signs at the July 22 Nuns on the Bus rally at the Capitol in Concord, New Hampshire. (GSR photo / Jan Cebula)

Joy

Joy in justice work is not a disregard for the gravity of the pain and suffering, it is an acknowledgement that we hold onto hope with the belief that our country can do better. Too often, those of us who do justice work get miserable, grumpy or overwhelmed — and then we want others to join us in the movement. We must to this work with joy. Sister Simone says, "Joy comes when we are in touch with real people and real pain. We must be open to have our hearts broken and hear the pain around us. And we must learn to laugh more too. Joy means life is real."

Such joy was present when we were joyfully greeted by activist musicians of the Extraordinary Rendition Band and a children's drum circle outside of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Providence, Rhode Island. Holy Family Sr. Marian Perpetua LaCroix and I felt like we were back home in New Orleans second-lining down the sidewalk together to "When the Saints Go Marching In" played by the brass band and drumline that greeted us as we processed into the church for our evening caucus to delve into the deep issues that tear our society apart.

In Hartford, Connecticut, we met with a group of leaders from Moral Monday Connecticut, where Janee Woods who works with Black Lives Matter and other groups shared, "You have to find joy in the struggle for liberation." Joy acknowledges that we have hope that our country can and must do better. St. Augustine of Hippo said, "Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are." In justice work we can become angry, frustrated and livid at what we see happening around us. When we have the courage to take steps to change it, we can live in hope that things can and will get better.

"Joy is a communal virtue," says Sister Simone. "We can't get joy alone." We learn joy through and in the presence of others around us. In the midst of the hungry, the homeless and those in recovery, joy was ever-present in the smiles and laughter. One of our site visits included Amos House, a non-profit social services agency founded by Mercy Sr. Eileen Murphy in 1976 and named after the prophet Amos in Scripture. Amos House provides hospitality and direct services to the homeless and poor of Rhode Island working to address issues of hunger, homelessness, addictions, recidivism and poverty, through daily meals, recovery-based shelter, permanent supportive housing, vocational and literacy training and job placement. The guests of Amos House welcomed the Nuns on the Bus to join them for an evening meal. I shared jokes laughing nearly the entire time with the woman next to me who was in a recovery program of Amos House. As she departed to her room for the night, she repeatedly shared how good it was to just laugh and have fun, a great reminder of the importance of joy in the midst of suffering.

Musicians of the Extraordinary Rendition Band were joined by a children's drum circle outside of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Providence July 23. (GSR photo / Jan Cebula)

Holy curiosity

Holy curiosity is a desire to know more, to really listen to and understand those to think or believe differently from us. It means having conversations with both people we know and with strangers about the things that matter, not just resorting to conversation topics of weather or sports. Conversations of holy curiosity can be with a coworker, a family member, a stranger in the grocery store line or a neighbor at a bus stop. Sister Simone explains that holy curiosity is a "receiving stance." It's not a place to "give a homily" or lecture to another about what you think. To bridge the divides, we need to listen to those who are different from us in various ways.

One of the Nuns on the Bus ministries during the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention is our "lemonade ministry." At the conventions, the sisters are divided into two teams: Holy Curiosity Team One and Holy Curiosity Team Two. We pull little lemonade carts around the streets with clipboards taking asking all who pass three questions: Who in your family is it most difficult to discuss politics with and why? What worries you about this election? What gives you hope for our nation?

From our conversations with people on the streets around the RNC was an easy litany of fears in response to question two, while the responses to the third question required more time for people to think about what gives them hope for our nation. Some eventually named hopes like the Constitution and the way we come together as a country. In the midst of a culture of fear and anger, we tried to create a space to listen, reflect, and for people to talk to each other. We are preparing to arrive at the DNC this week in Philadelphia, where in addition to engaging again in our lemonade ministry, we will be giving three Mend the Gaps workshops inside the convention with the bus parked on the inside perimeter for delegates to sign on to commit to mending the gaps with us. We look forward to engaging in more holy curiosity and dialogue this week to work towards mending the wealth and income gaps through a living wage, family-friendly workplaces, and tax justice and mending the access gaps in democracy, healthcare, housing and citizenship.

People flock to sign the bus after the July 24 caucus at Holy Family Passionate Retreat Center in West Hartford, Conn. (GSR photo / Jan Cebula)

Sacred gossip

Sacred gossip is sharing the stories of the struggle we've heard from those on the margins with others. Sacred gossip allows our own hearts to be broken by the stories, to remember and hold those stories, and to share them with others to fuel the desire and passion to act for social change.

Throughout this trip we have heard stories that need to be told to heighten our consciousness and awareness of the realities of our social problems. One woman shared in Rochester, New York, about how she had a miscarriage at her job. When she told her boss, her boss told her "she can tough it out," so she remained at work. She then returned to work the next morning because she didn't want to leave her other two coworkers to have to care for the 46 patients in a nursing home all by themselves, since their employer wouldn't hire additional help. We heard stories from immigrant farm workers who pay taxes but are paid half the pay of U.S.-born citizens for the same work and forced to work longer hours and in poorer conditions.

During our Boston, Massachusetts, rally, we heard from a board member of Haley House about joblessness and how the soup kitchen she has volunteered at for more than 35 years as a Catholic Worker is not about food but about relationship. We heard from a faith leader and activist about stories of people with disabilities and homelessness who encouraged more nuns and faith leaders to "get out of the box and on to the bus" to work to mend the gaps. A representative of Equal Exchange, a fair trade worker-owned cooperative, shared about people oppressed and impoverished by poor business practices. community organizers with the Fight for $15 on increasing the minimum wage and the challenges of childcare and healthcare around employment.

The audience listened to the sacred gossip during the talks and then conversation ensued for an hour after the rally discussing the issues deeper and networking across issues to join movements for social change.

Sharon Bilodeau, co-secretary of Haley House board of directors, speaks at the July 23 rally at Boston College High School in Boston. (GSR photo / Jan Cebula)

Do your part

The fourth virtue is for each person to do their part. We cannot do it all, but we each have a role to play. tells us "for even as the body is one and yet has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ." At our caucus in Manchester, New Hampshire, a group of elder Bhutanese refugees who so desired to participate fully in the process that they brought their our interpreter, shared about how they do their part. During our caucuses, we first invite participants to name the gaps and social problems they see in their community. While Daughter of Charity Sr. Mary Ellen Lacy, their facilitator, guided them and others to reflect about the challenges they encounter, the Bhutanese refugees shared how grateful they were for Social Security income and a safe place to stay. Their part was to remind the group of a simple and consistent attitude of gratitude.

When asked to envision a future and solutions to some of the social problems such as increasing the minimum wage, the first response they shared was that when one in their neighborhood or community is struggling and needs something, they just give it to each other without question. Their part was to remind us of our humanity and the community we can individually create regardless of our ability or inability to help change or shape the policies we would like to see.

Others in the caucus shared about their community organizing for family-friendly workplaces, stories of immigrants trying to support their young children, people on probation or parole who aren't allowed to vote, and most proposed and supported policy changes to mend the gaps.

"Policies created these problems and policies can resolve these problems" said Sister Simone. We each have our part to do whether it's providing direct services or advocating for policy change.

We are all part of the body of Christ. We each have a role and purpose in mending the gaps so that all may be "done on Earth as it is in heaven."

[Alison McCrary is a member of Sisters for Christian Community (SFCC) and is director of the New Orleans Community-Police Mediation Program, a spiritual adviser on Louisiana's death row, president of the Louisiana Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (the largest and oldest public interest bar association in the country), and a social justice attorney providing legal support to international and local movements for social change.] 

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