Monday, May 21, 2018
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TK Barger

COMMENTARY

Nuns on the Bus aim to bridge gaps of society

Touring group will stop for Toledo rally on July 16

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    In 2012, Sister Simone Campbell, left, who heads the Nuns on the Bus tour and Sister Reg McKillip, left center, spoke with Padua Center employee Terry Crosby who is flanked by twins Matt Henderson, left, and Mark Henderson, both then 10.

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    This year marks the fifth Nuns on the Bus tour. It will stop in Toledo for the third time.

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The Nuns on the Bus will be in Toledo on July 16 and 17.

The touring group will stop to have a rally in International Park at 10 a.m. July 16, followed by a “Caucus to Mend the Gaps” at 7 p.m. that day at Monroe Street United Methodist Church, 3613 Monroe St.

The nuns plan to go to the motherhouse grounds of the Sylvania Franciscans later that evening and attend Mass there July 17. They will then travel to Cleveland to be present for the Republican National Convention from July 17-19. The convention runs through July 21.

There are also plans to go to Philadelphia from July 26-29 for the Democratic National Convention, which is scheduled for July 25-28.

A project of NETWORK, which lobbies and advocates for Catholic social justice, the nuns will gather stories that say something about the condition of the nation.

“One of the reasons we have this huge polarization and anger and disruption in this election cycle is that people haven’t been listened to. They have no one to tell their story to,” bus rider Sister Simone Campbell of Washington, D.C., who is in the Sisters of Social Service religious order, told me.

Sister Simone is NETWORK executive director and lobbies Congress on matters of Catholic Social Teaching. She is the author of the 2014 book A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community.

Collecting stories is important for the sisters’ efforts to influence Congress. Sister Geraldine Nowak of the Sylvania Franciscans, a member of Nuns on the Bus Ohio, a smaller-scale social justice effort, gave a recent example.

“We tend to do a lot of lobbying, visiting legislators in terms of representing cases,” she said. “They’re always asking for stories. I went to Bob Latta’s [R., Bowling Green] office last week on behalf of gun violence and took a letter. His letter back says, ‘I need to hear from you,’ and they ask for stories. …

“I guess the big service that Nuns on the Bus is doing is that they’re contacting the people, and I think that the importance of that is there’s a power in presence and there’s a power in story, and there’s a power then in understanding. And all of that leads to action.

“What strikes me,” Sister Geraldine added, “is politicians ask for the stories. Obviously they don’t have time to always be out and be with the people. [The Nuns on the Bus] do this to be with the people, to hear the stories, to say we really want to help you, we want to advocate for you. It’s pretty inspiring to me.”

One of the activities in Cleveland, Sister Simone said, “is what we’re calling street ministry.” The sisters will have lemonade wagons, and they’ll be asking three questions of the people who are offered lemonade. The questions, Sister Simone said, are “Who in your family is it difficult to talk to about politics, and why? What worries you about this election? And what gives you hope for our nation?

“We think by having conversations about things that matter, about family, about worries, and about hope, that we can build some relationships and hopefully ease some of the tension,” she said. “And then what we’re going to do is compare what we hear at the Republican convention with what we hear at the Democratic convention. My hunch is that they’re kind of similar, but we’ll find out.”

This will be the sisters’ fifth annual bus tour and their third time in Toledo.

“What I really remember about Toledo,” Sister Simone said, “is going to the Padua Center [June 24, 2012] and meeting two young kids, Mattt and Mark [Henderson], twins, and how the Padua Center had been such a lifeline for them, and really in their young middle-school years had turned their lives around and helped their mother, who was bedridden with multiple sclerosis. … What the bus did at that time, and continues to do, is to shine a light on important work of people that often gets forgotten or unseen, and it was so powerful for us, but then it’s continued to be powerful for others.”

A highlight of the current tour for Sister Geraldine is that the nuns will be with the Sisters of St. Francis for the July 16 feast day of their founder, Mother Adelaide, in the Sisters’ 100th anniversary year. That date is the anniversary of Mother Adelaide’s first vows.

The work of the Nuns on the Bus “fits in with our mission statement,” Sister Geraldine said. “Our own logo reads, ‘Sylvania Franciscans, Women of Peace, Seekers of Justice.’ I don’t know that we’re perfect at that, but we keep learning. When a group such as Nuns on the Bus comes, that’s an opportunity for support and solidarity and kind of is a measure of what are we doing.”

The 2016 bus journey, themed “Mend the Gaps: Reweaving the Fabric of Society,” will begin with a blessing at First Unitarian Society in Madison, Wis., on Monday and a kickoff rally in a Janesville, Wis., park Tuesday. The final stop on the itinerary is the closing ceremonies in Philadelphia on July 29. The bus will be in Fort Wayne, Ind., before it makes Toledo-area stops.

Sister Geraldine said she’ll be riding on the national nuns’ bus in-state, along with former Toledoans Sister Carren Herring, a Sister of Mercy from Cincinnati, and Sister Christine Pratt, an Ursuline Sister in St. Martin, Ohio.

Contact TK Barger @ tkbarger@theblade.com, 419-724-6278 or on Twitter @TK_Barger.

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