For ‘Nuns on the Bus,’ route to justice goes through voting booth

Categories: Guest Views

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Benedictine Sister Kerry O’Reilly speaks during the “Nuns on the Bus’’ tour that stopped Sept. 22 at St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph. Photo courtesy of Ashley Wilson: Network

By Sister Marlene Schwinghammer, OSB

Vote! That was the message from Network’s “Nuns on the Bus’’ at a town hall-style meeting held Sept. 22 at St. Benedict’s Monastery.

“Nuns on the Bus” are visiting 10 states in the lead-up to the midterm elections to encourage “We, the People” to vote and encourage others to vote for economic policies that benefit the 100 percent.

Why did the monastery host the meeting? The simple answer is that we were asked. We said “yes” because we take seriously the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ call to faithful citizens to be informed, responsible voters and because, with Pope Francis, we believe that: “Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society” (“Joy of the Gospel,” November 2013).

Prioress Michaela Hedican, OSB, opened the meeting by welcoming more than 200 people of all ages and from all walks of life. True to the Benedictine tradition of beginning every good work with a prayer, we started with a moment of quiet and words from Psalm 85 including: “Justice clears God’s path/Justice points the way.”

“Nuns on the Bus” veteran, Simone Campbell, SSS, then spoke, highlighting how people feel discouraged by the amounts of money spent by political parties on negative advertising. But, although it’s big money that can buy the ads, we have to remember that anyone can come to the table. As Christians, we have a responsibility to be there, making our concerns known. “It’s not about who to vote for — but to vote!”

Posing questions

The room buzzed as we discussed in twos, and then in small groups, questions posed by Sister Simone and the Minnesota “Nuns on the Bus,” Sisters Jan Kilian and Maurita Bernet, Franciscans from Little Falls; Kerry O’Reilly and Eunice Antony from St. Benedict’s; Alice Zachmann, SSND, from Mankato; and Avis Allmaras, CSJ, from St Paul. When did you first vote? Who in your family interested you in voting? What gives you hope? Why are you excited to live in the United States? What leader, living or deceased, inspires you? What concerns you about our nation in this time? What do we do about these concerns?

And the answer to that final question — it’s that we make our concerns into election concerns. We make them the issues that “We, the People” vote about.

Sharing our small group discussions with the whole group raised some key points for anyone who is concerned with seeing Gospel and Catholic social teaching implemented in our society:

n Immigration, children crossing our borders and our failure to handle them in a loving, Christian way.

n The sense of lack of hope and energy that many people seem to experience recalls the crucifixion and the disciples running away. Are we running away now?

n The importance of all receiving a living wage.

n Children are a vulnerable age group in America, the group most likely to be human-trafficked or sex-trafficked. The average age of people sex-trafficked in Minnesota is 13.

n The problem of “big money” and its control in our country.

n The need to promote civil dialogue, to listen to those with different views.

n The fact that since 9/11 we seem to operate from a place of fear, not from a place of love, not from the Gospels.

n Our lack of care for the environment.

The first step in addressing these and all the other issues that concern us as faithful Catholics is to register as voters, make our concerns known to those seeking office and, in November, exercise our right to vote!

Benedictine Sister Marlene Schwinghammer is a member of St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph.