Sunday, 13 September 2015

Listening to Radical Nuns

Nuns on the bus
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I went to see Sister Simone give her talk “A Nun on a bus” in Taizé. The organisation of which she is a part (Network) had been pilloried by the Catholic bishops in the US, what on earth had they done that was so terrible?

Network is a group (mainly nuns) that lobby government on issues facing the poorer elements of society. For instance, those people in America who cannot afford any healthcare, those who live at the margins of society. Amongst other things, Network believe that they should have access to healthcare. Now that is shocking isn’t it? Just imagine how radical it is, in one of the richest societies in the world, to dare to suggest that everyone should benefit from such a basic need. Network promoted the signing of a letter addressed to congress supporting the Obama healthcare bill. Very radical indeed.

The nuns themselves - very radical looking!
To me what is really shocking in this story is that the Catholic bishops in America opposed the bill! How can anyone who calls themselves a Christian, but particularly the church itself, oppose helping the poorer elements of society and then accuse those who do, of going against the church’s teaching? If we are gracious we could say that the bishops were badly advised, but none-the-less, they made Nework's life a misery and Network were censured by the Vatican in 2012, something that has only recently been rescinded by Pope Francis.

This must have been an enormous emotional weight to carry and many would have shut up and hidden away, but these nuns regrouped and fought through. As Simone so eloquently said, they could not and did not fight against the injustice, because fighting against something will only reinforce it, you have to fight for a vision that you have. Instead of being intimidated by the media attention that all this row provoked, they used that attention to get their own vision seen and heard. To that end these nuns got on a bus and toured the US giving their message, hearing the stories of the people they met on the way and bringing those stories back to congress to reinforce their battle against the injustice of the poor. Their vision – care for those who are left out and to deliberately misquote a phrase I grew up with – they wanted to “mend the gap” in America, enable everyone to live with dignity in a wealthy society. Simple and clear.

Mind and mend that gap
We were invited to split into small groups to discuss way that politics, faith and the needs of people that struggle intersect, what happens to the marginalised in our countries, what should happen and what can or could we, the church and politicians do to help. We had English, German, French and Dutch people in our group and there was some lively discussion about what actually goes on and whilst we came to no conclusions, we all agreed that everyone could and should do more.

At the end of the afternoon, Simone summed up her experiences and I was impressed with the way that she and her collaborators were able to shrug their hurt, heartache and injustice off. But at the end of the day, to them, it was nothing compared to the injustice inflicted daily on those they were dedicated to helping.

How many could do that?

For more information about the work that the nuns on the bus do click here.

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