|Photo by Sequoia Powers|
"People carrying supportive placards June 25 cheered the Nuns On the Bus as they rolled into Fountain Square for the eighth and ninth days of a 15-day tour in nine states.
The purpose of the tour was to celebrate the work of nuns at Catholic social-service agencies that receive federal funding, to meet those they serve and to learn about the effect of proposed federal budget cuts. The nuns also visited the offices of members of Congress to oppose the budget proposed by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and to advocate for an alternative spending plan.
The sisters are part of NETWORK, a 40-year-old Catholic social-justice lobby, based in Washington, D.C,. that speaks out for the burgeoning number of low-income families.
“We can’t turn our backs on vulnerable families,” the group said in a press release.
In May the U.S. House of Representatives passed Ryan’s budget, which would cut food stamps by more than $36 billion and Medicaid programs by $48 billion and reduce other social programs. The budget would raise taxes on 18 million families while cutting taxes for millionaires and big corporations, according to NETWORK.
“All over the country we’ve seen a lot of courageous people who are working so hard to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads,” said Sr. Simone Campbell, NETWORK’s executive director.
She enumerated economic facts highlighted by NETWORK’S “Mind the Gap” blog:
* The wealthiest 1 percent of the U.S. population own more than 90 percent combined.
* The wealthiest 10 percent of the population own more than three-fourths of the nation’s wealth.
* The median African-American household has less than 10 cents for every dollar owned by the median white family.
Campbell said that the United States can only take care of the federal deficit by remembering how it happened. In 2002 the federal government had a budget surplus. Later, for the first time in U.S. history, the country chose to fight two wars without raising taxes. Now the federal government has a budget deficit, and while many people are out of work, Ryan wants to cut social services that provide a home and healthy meals, a place for kids to learn without fear of violence and a place for senior citizens and those with disabilities to share friendship, according to Campbell.
Wherever the sisters traveled, the Nuns on the Bus asked their supporters to repeat the slogan, “Reasonable Revenues for Responsible Programs.”
NETWORK and the Nuns on the Bus are promoting an alternative budget that they say is more humane and just. Called “Priorities for a Faithful Budget,” the proposal was created by interfaith representatives seeking to help bring people out of poverty and provide more economic stability.
“This requires investments in high-quality, affordable education, sustainable jobs with living wages and policies that help families to build assets,” the proposal says.
Those policies include affordable health care and housing.
To accomplish these goals and to reduce the deficit, the alternative budget proposes “a tax system founded on fairness and shared commitment, where those who have reaped extraordinary benefits contribute proportionately to the good of all.”
About 250 people gathered at the Peaslee Neighborhood Center to hear the sisters’ message and share local experiences and concerns.
‘Issue that cries out’
Sister Mary Wendeln, one of the Nuns on the Bus and a member of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood, works at Su Casa Hispanic Center in Cincinnati. The center doesn’t receive money from the government, but the people it serves need government assistance, she said.
“Our clients will suffer as most of their U.S.-born children are eligible for food stamps and Medicaid,” Wendeln said. :If the Free Lunch Program is cut, many students – documented and undocumented – will be hurt.”
Sr. Carren Herring, a Sister of Mercy of the Americas, works with Mercy Neighborhood Ministries in Walnut Hills.
“My clients depend totally on Supplemental Social Security and Medicaid,” she said. “Any decrease in these benefits or failure to keep up with inflation could push them into homelessness. A nation is judged by how it cares for its citizens most in need.”
On June 26 the Nuns on the Bus met with a staff member at the local office of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-West Chester). Supporters outside held signs saying, “In 2012, We Are All nuns,” “Nuns Rule,” “Proud, Social Justice, Christian” and “Nun of Ryan Budget.” When the sisters left the meeting, supporters applauded. Police did not allow a prayer vigil to take place before the sisters boarded the bus for Columbus and Cleveland.
Sister of Charity Jean Miller, who is celebrating 60 years as a nun, said, “The blessing of the Nuns On the Bus tour was that a holistic (lay and sisters) community came together to speak for the poor to our congressional representatives and to our neighborhoods.”
Sister of Charity Louise Akers, retiring coordinator of the Office of Peace, Justice and Integrity of Creation, said, “The Nuns On the Bus tour was a great manifestation of the sisters’ commitment to social-justice ministry. Since the Council of Vatican II many of us feel that we have been called to be the church in the modern world by reading the signs of the times. Surely economic injustice is one issue that cries out for a responsive commitment to those who are suffering as a result of systemic inequalities. We stand with the 99 percent.”
Many supporters attended not only to support the sisters’ work with the poor and marginalized and to challenge the Ryan budget, but also to express their solidarity with the sisters in the wake of the Vatican’s criticism of Catholic nuns in the United States for spending too much time working for what they consider social justice instead of speaking out on issues such as gay marriage and abortion."