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Sister Simone Campbell: Fiery Advocate, Sister to All

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Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a national Catholic social justice lobby, speaks at the "Nuns on the Bus" tour stop on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on Monday, July 2, 2012. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World.

From June 17 to July 2, a small group of nuns toured the nation by bus to protest budget cuts that would endanger poor and hungry people in the United States. Known as the "nuns on the bus," this powerful contingent of women religious raised awareness at every stop on their tour about cuts to federal funding for programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). The bus tour ended yesterday with a rousing rally in Washington, DC (see our coverage of the event here). Today, we sat down with Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network -- a primary organizing group of the bus tour -- to hear her stories from the road and find out what we can expect next from the "nuns on the bus."

Read part 1 of our interview below. (Part 2 will be posted on the Bread Blog later this week.)

Why did you want to go on a bus tour of the nation?

Well, we needed to get the story out into the country about what was going on, on Capitol Hill. People don’t understand what’s happening with the House budget. And we needed to get to places where ordinary people are. Unlike some presidential candidates, you can’t exactly fly from place to place for us. So it seemed to make sense to do a bus. And then we got to joking about nuns and school buses (laughing). But, actually, it was a genius idea.

 

Did you meet any folks on the road who were food insecure? If so, can you share some of their stories?

Oh, we met a lot of people who were food insecure. We met Billy in Milwaukee, WI, and his family. He’s working 30 hours a week, his wife is working too, part time, and they’ve got two kids in school. His hours got cut back because of the economy, and so they only had enough money to either put food on the table or a roof over the kids head. They chose a roof because they thought that way the kids could stay in the same school.

They go to St. Benedict’s dining room for food. Every day they go there for dinner. And his gratitude [for] the food program, for his kids, was profound. It just pains me. [This is happening] in the richest nation in the earth!

What is one experience from the bus tour that you will never forget?

Oh, glory. There’s so many, that’s the problem.

Margaret is a person I didn’t get to meet because she died without healthcare. She died because she didn’t have healthcare. She was 56 years old and she had been laid off from her job because of the economy and knew she wasn’t feeling well but ended up with colon cancer and died.

And her family -- her sister, her son, and her niece -- came directly from the memorial service to what we called our "friendraiser" in Cincinnati, OH. And they brought me her picture. They thought it was so important that people speak out so that no more "Margaret’s" die.

I carry her picture now in my Bible.

How do you stay grounded through the ups and downs of advocacy work?

In Paul’s epistles, he says that we’re one body. So I’m just doing my part of the body. And my part is to care for people at the margins and make sure everybody’s included. That's a long-haul agenda. I don’t control it. I don’t control results. And the important thing is to know we only need to do our part.

God’s in charge. It’s a bigger picture than me, and one of my prayer pieces has been about radical acceptance -- to accept everybody, [including] people I disagree with. [They are] a part of this body. If we "radically accept" and we fight, then I’ve discovered, it’s fire. It’s like the burning bush. It’s like the refining fire. It’s a passion that is fabulous. And it’s the spiritual life that sustains all.

(Keep reading the Bread Blog for part 2 of this interview which will be posted later this week.)


JCHOI_SMWKNDJeannie Choi
 is associate editor at Bread for the World. Courtney Ryan, media relations intern, assisted in this interview.

 

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Comments

God wants ME to keep my house in order and love and help my neighbor. He doesn't want me to pass the buck to a government. Big government, as socialists espouse, removes this responsibility from me; I can't fulfill it simply by paying more taxes. I totally disagree with your programs to increase government involvement in helping our neighbors.
LET ME KEEP MORE AND TEACH ME TO DO THE BEST WITH WHAT I HAVE. That will help me to be a better person. DON"T ASK ME TO GIVE MORE TO A GOVERNMENT--I become a lost sheep then.

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