By Nancy Pelosi
‘Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
For many Americans of different faiths, these words from the Book of Proverbs are sources of meaning and inspiration.
For Sister Simone Campbell, these verses mean more: They are a call to action, a pledge to be fulfilled. And they are the driving force behind Nuns on the Bus — a tour that started in Iowa 16 months ago and continues to advocate for “all people who struggle in the margins.”
Sister Simone is the executive director of Network, the Catholic social justice lobby that has tackled some of the nation’s most critical social issues.
She has demonstrated that health care reform is about more than politics and grandstanding; it is about people. It is about the realization of our moral obligations to care for the sick. It is, as Sister Simone once said, “the way to affirm life.” Network released a letter of support for the measure that said, “While it is an imperfect measure, it is a crucial next step in realizing health care for all.”
Sister Simone didn’t stop there. When the House Republican majority took up its budget in 2011, Sister Simone quite literally took to the streets to oppose it.
She didn’t simply speak out. She gathered her fellow nuns, hopped on a bus and started showing our nation the real-life impact of the Republican proposal: how it would decimate services for the poor and the hungry; how it would upend the lives of students in schools and seniors on Medicare; how it would undermine the basic security, stability and livelihoods of low-income and middle-class families.
She noted that the GOP budget proposal “failed a basic moral test, because it would harm families living in poverty.” To the Nuns on the Bus, the budget was a challenge to the conscience of our nation — and their consciences would not permit them to stay silent.
Most recently, the nuns wrapped up a 6,500-mile, 15-state expedition taking up the cause of immigration reform.
The nuns are pushing for a “faithful way forward” that would protect family unity and workers’ rights and provide a path to citizenship for all undocumented workers.
The Nuns on the Bus have recognized that each wave of immigrants reinvigorates our society and our culture; that every person deserves respect and dignity; that every newcomer deserves a fair shot at the American dream. Their principles are shared by House Democrats: to enact reform that secures our borders, unites families, protects workers and provides an earned pathway to citizenship. Their efforts are rooted in the belief in the very character of our country.
For Sister Simone, the command to defend the rights of the poor, the destitute and the needy is her life’s work — so she traveled across the country to highlight the stories of countless Americans and to connect the debates in Washington to the communities members of Congress are elected to serve.
Recently in church, I heard a priest caution against people who “pray on Sunday, then prey on other people during the week.” Sister Simone prays every day — in church, in her actions, in her interactions with every person she meets and every community she serves.
This commitment is founded in the tenets of Scripture — that we must “not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Indeed, Sister Simone and the Nuns on the Bus have discovered the angels in our midst and made us all aware of their presence and their yearning for equality.
Earlier this year, I heard Sister Simone share the stories of DREAMers she met across the country. She told us of a 17-year-old woman, brought to the United States as a child who refused to let her parents drive without a license for fear that the family would be separated forever. She told us of a 19-year-old DREAMer who is raising her younger siblings. She told us about the men and women she is fighting for, and everyone present was struck by the response she is evoking: It is personal; it is passionate.
If there’s a single phrase to describe Sister Simone, it is “compassionate conviction.” With bravery, with courage, with optimism, she is focused on the common good. She is a champion for the cause of peace and justice. She has the will and the drive to do right.
These are the qualities that define Sister Simone — and that make her an inspiration to millions of Americans, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. These are the characteristics that remind each of us of our own responsibilities to speak up, to judge others fairly, to defend the rights of the poor and needy.
These are the values that Sister Simone drives home, on a bus and in our communities — and that we should each strive to live by each day, in Congress and in our country.
Nancy Pelosi, the first female speaker of the House, is the House Democratic leader.