Last Monday, Sisters Pat Warner, RDC, Sister Judy Frasinetti, SMR, and Sister Sue Becker, RDC, and I joined about 100 other religious Sisters and other concerned citizens in a local version of the “Nuns on the Bus”—“Nuns on the Ferry.”
Our event began with a press conference* at South Ferry in Manhattan, calling for a just and compassionate federal budget. We then boarded the Staten Island Ferry for a beautiful ride past the Statue of Liberty, Governor’s Island and Ellis Island to Borough Hall on Staten Island. There we had another press conference, reiterating the same call. Leaders from several human services groups on the island joined in to tell of the work that government support allows them to provide. Plans to visit Congressman Michael Grimm were short-circuited at the last minute, as he had stayed in his Brooklyn office.
Like the original bus tour, this event’s theme was: “We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers!”
Specifically, we were calling attention to the injustice of Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget proposal, which the House of Representatives approved last March. This proposal would increase the tax burden on middle and lower income families while extending tax breaks to those in the upper income brackets, and would work toward balancing the budget by making major cuts in support services and “safety nets” while increasing funds to the military. It also would eliminate most of the new health care initiatives, leaving millions of Americans again without affordable health care.
While a budget proposal is not a law, passage of one usually sets the tone of budget decisions.
A more compassionate approach, Sister Simone Campbell, chief organizer of Nuns on the Bus, proposed is "Reasonable revenue for responsible programs."
Especially in an election year, though important all the time, it is important for us to look at all our policies, proposals, and practices through the eyes of compassion. We continually need to ask ourselves how the policies and practices we support are aligned with compassion and justice.
By compassion, I do not mean pity or a condescending attitude offering help to some poor hapless person. Compassion, especially for us as Sisters, Associates and Companions of the Divine Compassion, means seeing everything through the eyes of God. In assessing any proposed government action, we ask how this would affect all the children of God, especially those most in need. Since we recognize each person as our brother or sister, compassion calls us to respond to their needs as we would to those of our blood relatives.
Justice, in its very definition, means setting all things and people in right relationship. To “do justice,” as the prophet Micah exhorts us from almost three thousand years ago, is to ensure that everyone has what he or she needs.
A compassionate budget, therefore, especially one for this time when many people have lost jobs and homes through the unscrupulous maneuvering of banks and finance companies that led us to the brink of another great depression, would provide the means for people to move out of poverty. In many cases, this means creating, or re-training people for, jobs with wages sufficient to provide them a home, education, health care, and other necessities of life in the United States in 2012 and beyond.
NETWORK, the group sponsoring the Nuns on the Bus campaign, has not just been calling attention to the injustice and immorality of Mr. Ryan’s proposal. Gathering with Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders earlier in March, they proposed priorities for an alternative budget based on compassion and justice, as well as sound economic principles: a Faithful Budget.
Among the principles of this Faithful Budget are: “equal access to the building blocks for success,” “an equitable, moral tax code,” “a more balanced approach to the full spectrum of investments that build meaningful security for individuals, families, and communities,” and “wise and far-sighted ways to reduce the nation’s long-term deficits while protecting the most vulnerable among us.” To learn more, see http://faithfulbudget.org.
If we desire to be more compassionate people, faithful to the Gospel of Jesus, and to the tenets of all major religions, we have the responsibility to make our elected leaders aware of the priorities we want for our nation’s future. Compassion and justice call us to care for each other, in our personal lives but also in what we expect of the leaders we elect to govern us.
*See the press conference here.