Pope Francis has ended his tour of the United States, visiting and personally speaking with people in Washington, D.C., New York City and Philadelphia.
Leaving from St. Louis to arrive in Washington ahead of Francis, some Catholic sisters boarded Nuns on the Bus in a more than 2,000-mile journey. They collected stories from ordinary Americans to help the pope better understand the people and their struggles in the United States. At my request, they have provided dispatches so people could understand what they are giving the pope.
What follows is the final dispatch from Sister Simone Campbell, who met with the editorial board of The Kansas City Star near the start of the multicity Nuns on the Bus trip:
By Sister Simone Campbell
One doesn’t normally consider an invitation to observe Congress as an uplifting, even spiritual opportunity. Sitting in the gallery as Pope Francis delivered his historic address to Congress, however, moved me on many levels.
I heard his speech as an affirmation of what so many of us know in our hearts — we must insist that our lawmakers overcome their hyperpartisanship and rancor to govern for the common good. But that won’t happen unless they also connect with the people they represent.
At the moment, they are doing far too little to accomplish either of these goals. Our just completed “Nuns on the Bus” journey sought to directly connect Washington with the real lives of people in Kansas City and other communities along our route. Sadly, we heard many similar themes wherever we went. Divisions are everywhere, be they racial, economic, political, religious or other.
Pope Francis called on Congress and the rest of us to work together to heal “open wounds” that surround us. Clearly, we need to build many bridges. On Capitol Hill, we are now used to the spectacle of Democrats and Republicans standing and applauding at different times during major speeches like the annual State of the Union address. Their divisions are clear.
It’s harder to spot areas of unity. Pope Francis, however, offered a broader context for issues used to divide us. He delivered his prolife message, for example, with a strong statement against the death penalty, effectively pointing out that the sanctity of life has broad dimensions. He was encouraging our leaders and the rest of us to stop seeing issues in narrow, divisive ways. “The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States,” he said.
In other words, we must once again become the “United” States of America to solve our problems. Let us live out Pope Francis’s message to bridge divides and transform our politics. It’s time for Congress to work with us to make that happen.
Sister Simone Campbell (@Sr_simone on Twitter) is the executive director of NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, and author of “A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community.” Information about NETWORK’s “Nuns on the Bus” is available at www.nunsonthebus.org