Sr. Eucharia Madueke, SNDdeN [Image:euc.png] In September of this year, I participated in a 13 days “Nuns on the Bus” tour where about a dozens of American Catholic Sisters from various religious congregations travelled 2,000 miles. We visited 7 states: Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and 13 cities, areas with populations considered as deeply divided. We had 33 events such as town hall meetings, visits to shelters, transitional housing facilities, schools, food pantries, parishes, congregations, and social justice ministries.
The tour was to mark Pope Francis’s historic visit to the US and to respond to the pope’s message of the need for healthy politics that are inclusive, to change politics into just policies, policies where all voices matter. The theme of the tour was, “Bridge the Divides, Transform Politics. Setting off from St. Louis Missouri, the “gateway Arch” city, down to Wheeling in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and back to Washington DC just in time to welcome Pope Francis to USA, we listened to peoples’ experience of divides in their communities as well as ways these communities are bridging the divides.
At every Town hall meeting and site visit we listened to peoples’ stories about how they are impacted by the socio-economic policies of Washington as well as ways communities are coming together to bridge the divides. We felt nourished and inspired in our mission for socio-economic justice. Hearing the peoples’ stories Sr. Simon Campbell, the leader of the Nuns on the bus said, is more important than theorizing, for hearing their stories, I will better understand them. Sr. Campbell said, “by listening to the people and letting their stories break open our hearts, we can develop solutions that meet the real needs of people and prioritize the common good”
The communities we visited also expressed how they felt nourished by our visit as evidenced in the welcome song from Yellow Springs Senior Center in Cincinnati. The choir sang “you are the sisters we have been waiting for”. On the journey, we heard many stories of struggles that broke our hearts such as the concern of African American mothers bringing up their teenage boys, a dreamer struggling alone to pay for a collage as well as fearing that she might never see her deported parents alive or dead, 15 years old Kathleen whose parents were deported when the father went to pay a traffic ticket. Kathleen now provides care for her five siblings, Kathleen’s 12 year old sister Stephanie attempted suicide thinking that her death would ease family hardship, a mother who would not eat the peach offered to her because it was not her turn to eat on that day. Her family takes turns to eat so that the others will have enough, a woman who works three jobs and had a break only when she was rushed to the hospital for exhaustion; yet she still cannot make enough to get by. We also heard encouraging stories of communities and individuals working together for common good. The story of a woman who had been arrested 80 times and has been helped to recover at Thistle Farm, Nashville. She now has her kids back and owns her home.
The Mid-Ohio Foodbank that feeds more than 22,245 unduplicated individuals from more than 6,780 different families with 80% organic food, the Grow Ohio Farm in Wheeling that is bridging the food gap in the poverty stricken communities in Wheeling, the story of a 15 years old Congolese young woman who has been from one foster home to another and is now gainfully employed in the Grow Ohio Farm. She shared how working in the farm has helped her find peace she has been searching for as she feels connected with her father who is a farmer at home (Congo). Believing that the only way to create change in society is by listening to the peoples’ stories, especially those on the margins, and responding by eliminating factors that perpetuate poverty and injustice, Sr. Simon invited the individuals and communities to exercise “holy curiosity” , encouraging individuals and communities to go out to learn and discover what is happening in their community by engaging in conversation with each other, to practice “sacred gossip” where one is expected to lift up the other’s story, sharing what is going wrong in community, and to take action for change based on each persons’ giftedness and ability. On returning to Washington on September 22, we held a public event on the mall where people were invited to share their stories. The highlight for me was a woman with bone cancer telling how and why, with other women, she walked 100 miles for common sense immigration policy.
After the end of Pope Francis’s visit, we lobbied the congress asking them to raise spending caps to fully fund human needs programs and to expand and make permanent the earned income tax credit and child tax credit, lifting the stories of these communities up to those with power to make decisions. The stories we heard along the way were also sent in an I-pad to Pope Francis so that he can hear the voice of those who were unable to come to Washington, New York, or Philadelphia to tell their own story.