Category Archives: Sister Spirit

Renewing the Promise of ‘By the People, For the People’

Renewing the Promise of ‘By the People, For the People’

During our Nuns on the Bus trip in the fall of 2018, just before the Midterm elections, we heard many stories about efforts to limit access to our democracy:

  • For every Republican office that we lobbied (or attempted to lobby) we heard constituents’ stories about their representative’s refusal to meet with them. One Republican member’s district chief of staff even went so far to say that the problem was that her boss “was incredibly shy…he was an introvert.” As if that justified it when he met regularly with donors.
  • We heard of some state legislation that would require a street address in order to vote. However, on the Native American reservations there were no street addresses so Native American people would be “purged” from the voter rolls.
  • Gerrymandering was mentioned at many stops where the Congressional district maps were drawn to benefit the majority party. In fact, it was so bad in Pennsylvania that the court had stepped in and redrawn the state’s map for Congressional representation. This was the first election under the very new map, but even that was confusing to some of the voters we met, as their districts and their representatives were now different.

I ended the bus trip worried about our democracy and how it is being undermined. The political “game” of winning has taken precedence over the commitment to let every voice be heard.

This isn’t just a “Republican thing.” In Maryland, where Democrats are in the majority, districts were drawn to benefit Democrats and reduce the number of Republicans in Congress and the state legislature.

This bipartisan desire to win at the expense of democracy underscored for us why we need to heal our democracy if we are going to “Mend the Gaps” in our nation. For this reason, access to democracy is one of the key provisions in our policy agenda.

But this work is multilayered. We initially started by thinking that it was only about the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court undermined a few years ago in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holderdecision. But as we went deeper, we realized that if the census is flawed then the data from which districts are determined is also flawed. Article I Section 2 of the Constitution mandates that there be an “enumeration…every subsequent term of ten years.” This is a mandate to count everyone without regard for citizenship or even immigration status. The Constitution requires the census to count everyone in the country.

Therefore, we are engaged in making sure that there is adequate funding for the 2020 Census count and that it is carried out in a way that encourages participation. We have been fighting against including a “citizenship question” to the census questionnaire or any other actions that would push people away from responding to the census.

Whether our work is about the census, efforts to restore the Voting Rights Act, or ending gerrymandering, we do this work because every voice matters in our democracy. This is the difference between the economy and government. In the capitalist economy there are those who are “winners” and those who are left out. But in a functioning democracy everyone needs to be afforded equal dignity and opportunity to be heard. It is this dignity of the individual that is at the heart of our work…and the heart of our faith.

Pope Francis says in his encyclical Laudato Si’: “Love for society and commitment to the common good are outstanding expressions of a charity which affects not only relationships between individuals but also ‘macro-relationships, social, economic and political ones.’ That is why the Church set before the world the ideal of a ‘civilization of love’.” (Paragraph 231)

Let us labor in love in our society to ensure that everyone in our nation can fully participate in our democracy. This is the doorway to realizing the common good.

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This story originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of Connection Magazine. Read the full issue here.

The Gifts of Intentional Community

The Gifts of Intentional Community

Erin Sutherland
March 12, 2019

In conjunction with my year as a NETWORK Associate, I have been living in intentional community at the Anne Montgomery House organized by the Religious of the Sacred Heart (RSCJ).  Our community consists of two RSCJ sisters, one RSCJ Associate working at a local university, one woman working at a public policy and research organization, and me.  The five of us bring many different gifts to our community.  The RSCJs have guided us in prayer and reflection each morning and night, we all take turns making communal meals and sharing stories over the dinner table, and we bring our expertise from our work in social justice in the many workshops and community events we’ve held.  I knew living in community with Catholic sisters would be a unique opportunity, but I didn’t realize until months after moving in just what a gift I was being offered.  The values intentional community cultivates- respect for others, putting others before oneself, and service- are extremely valuable, especially for someone like me in a transitional stage of my life.

After undergrad, I moved to Panama to teach English at a university. There, I lived with a multigenerational host family who truly welcomed me as one of their own.  Growing up in a military family, I never lived close to my extended family, but in Panama, I was around my host parents’ children, grandchildren, sisters, brothers, and cousins on almost a daily basis.  My host family’s commitment to relationships was something I was really missing when I moved back to the States a year later, and that was what I was seeking most when I asked to be a part of Anne Montgomery House.

Grassroots Mobilization Associate Erin Sutherland with some of the Anne Montgomery House community.

My past few months here have truly been an answer to my prayers and have helped me grow as a woman in my faith.  It has been a joy to pray together in the quiet of each morning before I go to work.  It has meant the world to know that I have a supportive community who has my back as I go through the graduate school application process.  It has been healing to gather around the dinner table, all of us bursting with stories to tell from our days at work or distraught over the latest headline and find rapt conversation partners.  Instead of participating in the constant news cycle hysteria, my community members have helped remind me to slow down and turn my energy towards more fulfilling emotions.  But living in community is also about the choices one makes every day to live in love.  It has been challenging at times to support each other through times apart, sickness, and the busyness of our daily lives.  It is only through accepting and committing to each other on both carefree days and difficult ones that we are truly breaking open our hearts to allow the Divine to become the center of our actions.  I am so grateful to have been invited to live in community, and for the direction it has provided in living out my faith.

Driving Our Democracy Forward with Conversations and Community

Driving Our Democracy Forward with Conversations and Community

Sister Simone Campbell
February 24, 2019

Reflecting on Experiences from the Road to Mar-a-Lago

As we traveled more than 5,000 miles on the 2018 Nuns on the Bus trip, I was struck by the fact that at each of our 13 lobby visits (or attempted visits) constituents told us that their member of Congress would not meet with them. The most extreme was Representative Peter Roskam (IL-06) whose office was in a private airport building in West Chicago, Illinois. The building is secured by the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) and no one could enter the building unless they had been screened by TSA. Additionally, groups could not hold rallies outside the building because it was a “safety issue.” So, this embattled Congressman was protected by TSA while his constituents and our bus had to hold our rally 2 blocks away from the office. I was stunned! This is not democracy!

This experience has fueled my New Year’s resolution to make democracy work. There are many new members of Congress and we need to make sure that they have opportunities to meet and listen to their constituents. Members need to hear the stories of the people in their district in order to create effective responses to the challenges that they face.

This was highlighted for me when the bus stopped in Columbia, South Carolina and we held a roundtable conversation with local service organizations. Representative Jim Clyburn (SC-06) joined us for the roundtable and we learned of the varied needs of the people in his district. In a freewheeling discussion, we learned many things, including:

  • Columbia has the sixth highest eviction rate in the nation and the state of South Carolina needs more than 4,000 new units of affordable housing, but none is being built.
  • Agriculture is the second largest industry in South Carolina and tourism is first. Both industries are highly dependent on immigrants to flourish. Yet exploitation and hostility toward immigrants is all too common. Anti-immigrant policies and attitudes are making it difficult to find employees for both industries.
  • Latino men are attacked frequently. Undocumented people are unable to use banks in South Carolina, so they must make their transactions in cash. This makes them lucrative targets for robbery. The increase in assault is terrifying the undocumented community, but they are afraid to report these crimes for fear of being deported.
  • There is basically no effective public transit for low-wage workers in South Carolina. Transportation is one of the biggest challenges that workers face.

Towards the end of the conversation, one of the participants noted that each of the agencies gathered represented is a good “charity” serving a particular need. But in that conversation they saw that the issues were complex and interrelated. She said each organization needed to keep working on their individual issue, but also needed to work systemically to improve the structures of our society.

It is by sharing our perspectives and our stories that we can find commonality. In that shared experience we can see new levels of complexity and perhaps find more effective solutions. This is what we are seeking to do at NETWORK. This year we are continuing our efforts to listen to people around our nation and learn from their experience. We need to understand the lived experience of communities in our nation if we are going to advocate for policies for the 100%. This is our goal for 2019.

As we continue in our work for justice, let us ground our advocacy in the lived reality of our communities. Let us exercise holy curiosity as we meet people with different perspectives and experiences. This effort to understand will be the way to discovering community that can make a “more perfect union.”

 

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This story originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Connection Magazine. Read the full issue here.

Reflection: A Modern Day Ark

Reflection: A Modern Day Ark

Sister Quincy Howard, OP
November 1, 2018

As the midterm elections near, events are unfolding with disturbing, rapid-fire developments, and the partisan, hate-fueled rhetoric is only ramping up.  What I’m feeling is, I imagine—along with the majority of other Americans—is akin to a child helplessly watching her parents bicker and demean each other, all the while sensing that the marriage is failing.

Last week I sat out a few days from the Nuns on the Bus tour and worked back at our office in Washington, D.C. During those days:

  • A caravan of thousands of desperate Honduran migrants gathered at the border of Mexico, preparing to head north. The President pounced on the optics to whip-up fears among his supporters in advance of the election and transformed the Hondurans into a dangerous threat.
  • A man mailed over a dozen bombs to high-profile progressive “targets” around the country. He had never been interested in politics before but was inspired by the President’s call to “Make America Great Again”.
  • Finally, a conspiracy fueled anti-Semite entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and massacred eleven Jewish brothers and sisters for their work with refugees.

In so many ways, these are feeling like “Biblical times.”

I could not have planned a better way to spend the month leading up to the midterms than riding on Nuns on the Bus—it’s like an antidote to the deeply unsettling news cycle.  The gifts of the bus are manifold.  First, I am surrounded by spirited, kind women with a hope-filled vision that resists that downward spiral.  Second, we are driven (figuratively and literally) by the mission of sharing that hope with other like-minded people who desperately yearn for it.  We also visit communities where people of goodwill and creativity collaborate to lift up human dignity and support the most vulnerable, which in-turn inspires us.  There is a buoyancy and joyfulness to the Bus that is ineffable.  In Biblical terms, I’d compare it to a mini-Ark where hope and a vision for a better future manage to float just above the deluge of fear and violence.

When it came time to get back on the Bus after my hiatus I felt unsure whether a pre-election road-trip about tax justice was appropriate on the heels of the worst anti-Semitic act of violence in our nation’s history.  We would be kicking-off the final homestretch to Mar-a-Lago just as families of the victims began sitting shiva.  Would a “Fiesta for the Common Good” celebration seem callous and insensitive in light of the tragic happenings taking place?

Now, heading into the final day of the trip, I’m confident that this is exactly when and where we should be.  The Nuns on the Bus demonstrate our support and commiseration with the members of the Tree of Life Synagogue in the best way we know how: by carrying on, maintaining hope and spreading the message of social justice.  We can’t look away from the kind of hatred and evil that led to the murder of 11 innocent people. But we also have to leave room to remember the love and goodness that exist in this world.  We travel in solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters from the Tree of Life, inspired by the words of their Talmud:

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.  Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now.  You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.

NETWORK Responds to Week of Violence, Bigotry, and Anguish

NETWORK Responds to Week of Violence, Bigotry, and Anguish

NETWORK Staff
October 29, 2018

After a would-be assassin mailed pipe bombs to 14 prominent Democratic figures, including the families of 2 former Presidents; after a gunman tried to enter a Black Church in Kentucky intent on doing harm but was unable to gain access so walked to the nearest Kroger grocery store and killed two people instead; after all of that, there was the terrible mass shooting of Jewish worshippers at a Pennsylvania synagogue.  It was a devastating week and we are still reeling from it.

Nevertheless, we join the country in offering our most heartfelt and sincere condolences to the family and friends of those 11 people who were killed in Pennsylvania and the 2 people in Kentucky.  No words can express how profoundly we grieve with you in your time of need.  We stand together as the nation mourns your, and our, loss.

At the same time, we condemn, in the strongest possible language, these senseless murders of 13 ordinary people, worshipping at Tree of Life Synagogue and buying groceries at the local Kroger store.  They were simply going about their day until two white men, fueled by anti-Semitism and racial animus, attacked them.  These innocent people lost their lives to hate and fear in a country founded on freedom, opportunity and religious values.

But our Catholic faith tells us that we are all created in the image and likeness of God.  No exceptions.  And as a result, every human being is imbued with an essential dignity that must be honored, respected and protected.  The hate-filled actions of the gunmen belie that fundamental truth.   Whether or not you are religious or have some faith-based beliefs, there is something profoundly wrong in society when people turn to violence against others simply because they belong to a different religious tradition or have a different skin color.  We condemn every action based on hatred, bigotry and violence.

Sadly, this is not the first time we have witnessed, endured and decried the presence and menace of such evil in our midst.  But this can be the last.  This is a time when the whole country can stand up and speak out against it.  This is a time when we must demand of our leaders and each other the guarantee of civility, respect and safety for everyone.  For our sake.  For our children’s sake.  For the sake of our country’s future.  We must not let this hatred, violence and division defeat us.  The only question is:  will we do it?  Or will we once again pay a terrible price for our silence?  People are fond of saying “we are better than this.”  Now is the time to prove it.

May God grant eternal rest to those who were slain.  May God shower peace and consolation on all those who mourn.  And may God have mercy on all of us if we fail to stand up to this moment in history.

Reflection: Encounters of a Recurrent Pilgrim

Reflection: Encounters of a Recurrent Pilgrim

Sister Jan Cebula, OSF
October 23, 2018

The following is a reflection by Sister Jan on her experience during Week Two of Nuns on the Bus

During our morning prayer before we first boarded the Bus for the second leg, we talked about Nuns on the Bus being a pilgrimage. Having ridden the Bus before, I had a sense of what that meant. I knew I was going to enter into a sacred experience. I was ready to become a pilgrim; being on a journey, open to discovering sacred places.

Pope Francis has repeatedly called us all to foster a culture of encounter– reaching out, engaging in dialogue and friendship outside our usual circles. Stepping out. I’m not sure he imagined riding on a Bus, shining a light on economic disparities, calling for tax justice.

As I stepped off the Bus in Cleveland at the end of the week, I realized that the encounters we experienced had been the sacred places of our pilgrimage. Images of people we met cycled through my mind and will continue to do so. Diondai, Faith, Trisha, Maria, Cassie, Gladys, Cheryl and . . . Even more so, their spirit of dedication, serenity, creativity and focused dedication continues to reverberate. I can sense a presence, a change within. Sacred people.

But I also realized there was another dimension of encounter we experienced, a communal one. We met people at every stop who understand that we’re all sisters and brothers AND also ACT like it. What a blessing to be on a pilgrimage to these sacred communal spaces.

We encountered the dogged persistence of constituents on behalf of others and our democracy in the face of indifferent elected representatives; the persistent widows of the Gospel.

We encountered the resilience of St. Sabina’s, Sr. Maria, and the women of “Chopping for Change” in Cleveland. Their voices and strength glowed, blessing us and everyone with their courage.

We encountered the creative, innovative and collaborative service programs focused on the whole person at YESS in Des Moines, Heartland Health Services in Des Moines, Cass Community Center in Detroit and Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries in Cleveland. They understand both sides of the coin: It takes community/collaboration for healing and that wholeness is communal.

We encountered the openness at every location to learn through our visual town hall human graph experience, releasing more creativity and energy for advocacy.

By witnessing the risk-taking of both staff and the people being served at site visits and of advocates at rallies, we encountered communal courage and hope.

We were blessed by the joy of the solidarity among all of us “nuns” from all different communities who rode on the Bus and who offered us hospitality.

Sacred people, sacred places of encounter.

Reflection: Nuns on the Bus Week 1

Reflection: Nuns on the Bus Week One

Sister Phyllis Tierney, SSJ
October 16, 2018

My sleep-deprived body is home after an exhilarating and exhausting week with Nuns on the Bus, joining Sister Simone Campbell and NETWORK staff to spread the message that tax justice is not achieved by permanent income tax breaks that benefit the wealthy but deprive people in poverty of programs that help to maintain their health and wellbeing.  On Sunday, October 7, I took an early morning flight from Rochester to Los Angeles to join nine other Sisters and NETWORK staff on a week of adventure and spreading the message of the need for economic justice for all.

Monday morning began with an opening rally and bus blessing on Santa Monica Beach.  Sister Simone greeted the crowd and explained our mission, “Reasonable revenue for responsible programs.”

Take-Aways from this experience:

The first evening that we gathered, Simone gave each of the bus riders a simple bracelet: a piece of elastic with one glass bead that symbolizes Hope: a hope that we bring with us and a hope that we share with all that we encounter, that together we can bring about a change, a conversion of heart, metanoia, so that we will see tax justice as caring for our neighbor in need, and not just the accumulation of wealth for ourselves.  From the Kick-Off Rally with Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Jimmy Gomez to the Town Hall for Justice in Tucson that was attended by approximately 200 people (by my scan, at least!) there was great enthusiasm and appreciation for Nuns on the Bus and our message. We also encountered those who didn’t like us and really didn’t like Democrats, but it was important to hear those voices because they signify the deep divisions in our country. We were blessed by the visit to Homeboy Industries founded by Fr. Greg Boyle.  Workers shared their stories of “Fr. G.’s” belief in them when they had given up believing in themselves.  My eyes teared when George shared with us that his son asked “Are you ever going to love us? Do we even exist for you?”  Today, he can say “I can only save myself…I do this because I have to give back to my community.”  Today George has his family back and George is here to help others who are trying to fight their way back from addictions and gang membership.

Tuesday in Las Vegas we met members of the Culinary Union 226 who are fighting for hospitality workers in the casinos. This union represents immigrants from 173 countries.  Its composition is 54% Latino and 55% women. Its diverse membership speaks over 40 different languages! They are working for new contracts for 2000 workers in three casinos whose owners have refused to give them the pay and working conditions they are entitled to, yet spend millions of dollars on their own personal entitlements and gifts to charities where their name is recognized.

On Wednesday morning we accompanied workers who took voluntary furloughs from their jobs and cuts in pay to work for the union canvassing the community to identify residents who have not voted in recent elections and to encourage them to register and vote for candidates that will support workers and fight for tax laws that benefit the working class, not corporations!

These dedicated canvassers have been working from 9 am to 7 pm six days a week!  They return to addresses where no one is at home during the day to try to personally speak with voters they are trying to reach.  We spent only about an hour and a half in the morning but we had a taste of what workers do every day, trying to find voters at home, encountering those who are angry and even those with fierce dogs who will not answer the door!

In Phoenix, we visited the Human Services Campus where we witnessed all the social agencies sharing a common area where people in need of assistance could obtain central access.  This vision has enabled agencies to concentrate on their own specialty instead of trying to stretch resources across multiple needs. The sign at one agency, St. Joseph the Worker, reads “No one can go back and make a brand new start.  Anyone can start from now and make a brand new beginning.”

Town halls each evening had their own flavor.  Each one was different!  Sister Simone and her staff have a well-demonstrated scenario that describes people of different income levels and the effects of the Trump tax cuts on each.  Each night, we drew names to see which part we would take. Most of us had the opportunity to represent a different income quartile and the benefits given to us by the tax cut, as well as the losses we can expect when social programs are cut. These cuts affect people at the bottom levels the most as we to try to finance our extraordinary financial debt, which will not be recouped in our lifetimes or beyond!  Audience members raised issues and concerns regarding the Republican tax plan.  When they were asked to generate solutions in every audience someone said, “we have to build community.”  We can’t talk to each other on a political level before we share with our neighbors.  We have become a society of isolated individuals who thrive on fear rather than hope.

At the end of every gathering, participants were invited to sign postcards and then sign the bus!  We passed out copies of NETWORK’s Connection magazines, stickers, and postcards.  We listened as people told us their very personal stories, including their faith journeys.  What I realized is that tax justice may be the message, but it is our presence and persistence that are so valued in these times when so many feel isolated and disenfranchised.

Finally, I need to say a few words about my traveling companions! We were ten Sisters: Simone and two NETWORK staff, Mary Ellen Lacy, Quincy Howard, and seven of us: Julie Fertsch, Reg McKillip, Bernadine Karge, Dusty Farnan,  Michele Morek, Chris Machado, and me. We were joined by NETWORK staff members and Abbey Watson, trip director.  Melissa Regan, videographer, has been filming Nuns on the Bus events since 2012 and has hopes of finishing her film soon!  We were a congenial group, sharing stories, singing songs (a few!) and keeping busy with e-mails and writing blogs!  Abbey kept us on track down to the minute for take –offs and arrivals. The staff kept us well-fed with meals and snacks!

As the Bus continues its journey, I send prayers for the safety of the occupants, for the audiences that hear the message, and I pray that many will find hope in the message and in the messengers.

View photos from the trip at www.networklobby.org/photos.

Reflection: YESS Site Visit in Des Moines, IA

Reflection: YESS Site Visit in Des Moines, IA

Sister Jan Cebula, OSF
October 17, 2018

“The kids need us. The community needs us,” said Julie Schneider, interim CEO of the Youth Emergency Services & Shelter (YESS) in Des Moines, Iowa, at the Nuns on the Bus stop there Oct. 16. Julie captured in that one phrase what we all need to be about.

So aptly named, YESS is the largest crisis emergency shelter for children in the state of Iowa. As we toured the brightly painted facility decorated with inviting and energizing art, we learned that more than providing a safe place, as important as that is, healing is what they are about.

“How can we help them heal?” they ask.

Children can visit Chillville, a sensory room specially equipped for those with autism or hyperactivity or who just need a place to relax. Playville, the play therapy room, gives children a space to express themselves when words fail. So does art and music therapy. All steps in healing.

As we listened to the staff talk about their programs and challenges, we were inspired by their dedication and their commitment to an integrative, holistic approach, not only for the children in the shelter but for children throughout the community through their case management and mental health services. Healing individual children, healing a community. A whole-hearted YESS! for children.

And it happens through relationships. Not only child with parent or care worker with child, but also the community with the child or children.

YESS couldn’t happen without both government funding (read: our tax dollars) and the generosity of the Des Moines community of people.

 

 

There are 10 of us currently on the road, talking about tax justice:

  • Comboni Missionary Sr. Ilaria Buonriposi of Baltimore;
  • Social Service Sr. Simone Campbell of Washington, D.C.;
  • Joseph Sr. Mary Ellen Gondeck of Kalamazoo, Michigan;
  • Sister of the Third Order of St. Francis of the Holy Family Gwen Hennessey of Sioux City, Iowa;
  • Dominican Sr. Quincy Howard of Washington, D.C.;
  • Sister of the Precious Blood Mumbi Kigutha of Dayton, Ohio;
  • Daughter of Charity Mary Ellen Lacy of Washington, D.C.;
  • Francis Sr. Robbie Pentecost of Stanford, Kentucky;
  • Mercy Sr. Linda Werthman of Farmington Hills, Michigan; and
  • me, St. Francis Sr. Jan Cebula of Clinton, Iowa.

It becomes clearer every day that to make up for the loss of revenue from the tax cuts that benefit the wealthy, the plan is to slash programs that provide food, housing, quality education and medical support to struggling families. Even chipping away at them with work requirements, increased co-pays and frozen allocations has devastating effects.

So often, when we talk and think about these programs, we focus on the adults. During our visit to YESS, I know I realized I do.

What about the children? To our elected representatives, to the candidates running for office, we ask, “What about the children?” We all need to knock on doors, asking, “What about the children?”

Julie described how touched she has been by a young boy, perhaps about 2 years old, who was not speaking when he arrived. After just two weeks of loving care, he is starting to talk. One day, Julie came into the nursery, and he begged to be picked up and held. All kids want to be loved. All kids need a caring, loving, supportive home.

“Is this a turning point for this child?” she wondered. “Can we provide a turning point, a fork in the road for these children to put them on a different path?”

We’re at a fork in the road right now in this country. Are we going to choose a path toward healing for our communities, our nation? Do we realize that together, we can provide the turning point to put us on a different path?

Vote Nov. 6. Wake up Nov. 7 and continue to work for reasonable revenue for responsible programs.

Our kids need us. Our communities need us.

 

This post originally appeared on the Global Sisters Report website.