Africa, Asia, North America

Nuns on the Bus Rally - Washington, D.C.

The Nuns on the Bus riders (including Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND, fifth from left) address supporters at their rally in Washington, D.C.

Every stop along the Nuns on Bus route brought out throngs of media, as well as supporters.

Bringing stories from the road to Washington, D.C.

Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND, waves to supporters after getting off the bus in Washington, D.C.

Sister Ann Scholz, SSND, (right) was one of the SSNDs who attended the rally in Washington to support the Nuns on the Bus, and Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND.

Sisters Judith Best and Eileen Reilly, SSND, spoke with many grassroots groups as they traveled across the country with Nuns on the Bus, NETWORK’s fourth bus trek. This one sought to gather stories on the “divides and challenges” ordinary people face in their struggles for survival, for work, for acceptance and inclusion. Those stories were then brought to Washington to present both to Pope Francis and to the Congress.

A rally held September 22 on the mall in Washington, D.C., was the last stop of this 13-day, 33-event, 2,000-mile trek through seven states and 12 cities timed to arrive on the same day as Pope Francis arrived in the nation’s capital. Rather than fatigued, each sister who emerged from the Bus was energized, joyful and speaking of the hope they experienced in the exchanges with those they met.

Seeking stories to underline Pope Francis’ conviction that “a healthy politics is solely needed” (Laudato Sí’ #181), Sisters Eileen and Judith both chronicled some of those poignant accounts on the Nuns on the Bus blog and on the SSND website.

Amazed and renewed by the courage of grassroots groups

As Sister Eileen disembarked from the Bus, she spoke of being amazed and renewed in hope by the courage of so many grassroots groups. Sister Joel Curcio, SLW, heard “hope for the future” in the ways local community groups bridged divides of race, food insecurity, discrimination and exclusion. Sister Eucharia Madueke, SNDdeN, finishing her Ph.D. in Development and Public Policy, asked Network if she could intern with them and go on The Bus to learn how to influence legislators and government policies. She hopes to network with others to do that when she returns to her native Nigeria.

Meg Olson started her first day of employment with NETWORK in St. Louis as the bus launched its tour. The trip was also how she moved from her job and home in St. Louis to Washington, D.C., to work with NETWORK. “It really was remarkable,” Meg said. “I had all these warm arms to welcome me.”

Almost all who were asked their thoughts and feelings about Pope Francis were positive, seeing him as someone “on my side,” “speaking for me,” “giving me hope.” Those who supported Francis but wanted more cited his need to listen to, accept and speak for women and the LGBT community.

Where one of us is ... all of us are ...

The “divides” of the Capital City were also raised at the Sept. 22 Rally highlighting the need for Pope Francis’ call for an “economy of inclusion.” Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, Executive Director of NETWORK and architect of Nuns on the Bus emerged from the bus smiling and waving. She introduced those to give testimonials: Bertrand Olotara, a Capitol Hill worker with Good Jobs Nation, and Karen Reed, a MetroAccess driver who shared how government and government contractors in the Metro Area did not provide adequate wages. Esmeralda Dominguez of We Belong Together had just arrived in D.C. having participated in the 100 Women 100 Mile March to stress the urgency of Pope Francis’ call for immigration justice. And U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva thanked the nuns and activists for their work and expressed the hope that his colleagues in Congress would hear the Pope’s message.

With the U.S. Capitol in the background, speakers and sisters (the nuns) faced a large, animated gathering of colleagues, other advocates, supporters and NETWORK allies. SSNDs among them were Sister Ann Scholz, associate director for social mission at the Leadership Conference for Women Religious, and Sister Anne Marie Gardiner of Silver Spring, Maryland. Many SSNDs welcomed the bus and supported its efforts at the various rallies and stops as well as with prayers and moral support from home.

Sisters Eileen and Judith, as part of Nuns on the Bus, and all who supported them demonstrate yet another way in which collaboration among religious women with support of many lay colleagues, Catholic or not, confirms the SSND constitution, You Are Sent, "where one is … all of us are," and Pope Francis’ conviction that “bridging the divides” can transform lives and politics.

By S. Anne Marie Gardiner, SSND
​(Sister Anne Marie is executive director of Salvadoran Enterprises for Women. She also attended the Nuns on the Bus rally in 2013 in Washington, D.C., to support the riders, including the SSNDs who also were riding the bus then.)

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