Nuns on the Bus, a social activism advocacy group, made a stop in Ann Arbor Sunday to talk politics.
As part of the event, the Roman Catholic sisters posed questions for the audience of about 100 voters and both political and religious activists, asking, “What are your concerns as we move toward the November election?” and “What gives you hope?” The goal of these events is primarily to do just that, to gauge what matters to individuals across the country and to offer an opportunity to effect change in those areas of injustice.
Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of network for Nuns on the Bus, said their goal is to open up conversation and encourage attendants to take action of their own, especially following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision regarding campaign finances.
This decision struck down regulation and limits on campaign spending by interest groups such as Citizens United, a conservative grassroots organization, — and other similar corporations, labor unions and nonprofit organizations — citing them as an infringement of First Amendment rights. The nuns warned that this lack of transparency can endanger democracy by indirectly influencing voters with money.
“Money can affect politics, but only people have the vote,” Campbell said, “What we’re trying to do is wake people up … They buy ads, they try to confuse us and so many of us are getting depressed, so I realized that if we don’t vote, we are going to lose our democracy.”
The tour hit Michigan’s major cities, including Kalamazoo, Flint and Ann Arbor, and the sisters will be in Detroit on Monday. In their 10 state tour, they kicked off in Des Moines, Iowa at an event in which Vice President Joe Biden, who is also Roman Catholic, offered his support to the sisters and organizers.
Following the opening event, the New York Times reported discord among bishops and the Vatican concerning the strategy and actions of the sisters involved in the Nuns on the Bus movement. While the sisters stress social justice and political action, they spoke little about church teachings.
Despite holding support from Biden, there is disagreement over whether the organization has official support from the Vatican. Pope Francis, the head of the worldwide Catholic Church, has not clearly articulated his stance on political action undertaken by members of religious orders.
This year’s tour has been organized to include sisters from each state they are touring. These nuns are particularly active in their communities, and ride with the group during the extent of the tour of their state.
Sisters from Michigan in attendance included Sr. Nancy Sylvester, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious;; Sr. Linda Werthman, University of Detroit Mercy Board of Trustees member; and Sr. Carol Coston, the first director of Network, a national Catholic social justice lobby group that organizes Nuns on the Bus.
“I feel very passionate that we have to get out and encourage people to vote,” said Sr. Mary Ellen Gondeck, a justice coordinator for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. “They have to learn, understand the issues, and vote for the person they believe best will carry forward what is best for the common good, and then they have to hold them accountable.”
Political action and mobilization is and has become more prevalent among sisters, despite the reported pushback by some Vatican officials. Many congregations have created “justice teams,” which often address political and social equity and to offer hope, and some of the sisters in attendance participated in a movie titled Band of Sisters, which follows sisters fighting for the rights of immigrants, among other political and social issues.
The Nuns on a Bus tour will conclude in October, completing more than 60 events throughout the nation.