Simone Campbell, “Nun on the Bus,” To Headline CFPA Multifaith Service
By Donald Gilpin
When I called Sister Simone Campbell at the time we had agreed on last Friday morning, there was no answer. The renowned social justice advocate, executive director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice for almost 17 years, and leader of Nuns on the Bus will be delivering the sermon at the annual Multifaith Service for Peace, sponsored by the Coalition for Peace Action (CFPA) in the Princeton University Chapel on Sunday, November 14 at 11 a.m.
She wasn’t “on the bus” Friday morning, but what she was doing was directly related to the spirit of the Nuns on the Bus project, which she has led since 2012, as well as her work for social justice since the 1960s, and the topic of her upcoming sermon, which is titled “Brave Peace in Turbulent Times.”
“What helps me and maybe it would help others in these times is talking to neighbors, talking to others about how they are doing, and showing concern for them,” she said when she returned my call. She had been detained in conversation in the laundry room of her building with a woman she hadn’t seen in months whose father had died of COVID-19.
“I listened to her suffering,” Campbell said, “as she shared how hard it was for her not to be with him.”
She continued, “It put a whole different perspective on the realities that we face. If we can’t do this together how do we support each other?”
She explained about the bus. “We only rent the bus,” she said. “But it’s a sacred place to be. It lives in people’s imaginations. That’s the best part. It’s a gift of the spirit. We rent the bus. When it’s needed, it’s there.”
In 2012 it was needed — to highlight social issues and to protest planned cuts in aid to people in need. Nuns on the Bus toured nine states, receiving widespread attention from religious communities, elected officials, and the media, and Campbell has led five cross-country Nuns on the Bus Trips since then focusing on economic justice, immigration reform, and voter turnout.
During the pandemic, in the month before the 2020 election, Campbell led an online Nuns on the Bus tour, holding 28 virtual town hall meetings.
Also an attorney and a poet, Campbell, during the health care debates in 2010, wrote the famous “nuns’ letter,” supporting the reform bill. She got 59 leaders of Catholic Sisters to sign on, an action cited by many as critically important to the passing of the Affordable Care Act.
Campbell has been featured in national and international media, including appearances on 60 Minutes, The Colbert Report, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. She has twice addressed the Democratic National Convention and has received numerous awards, including the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award and the Defender of Democracy Award from the International Parliamentarians for Global Action. She is the author of A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community (2014) and Hunger for Hope (2020).
In reflecting on her upcoming sermon, Campbell said that she had been thinking about the interfaith service as a time to come together, and she’d been pondering “the tension between things like Black Lives Matter and police violence, and where is peace in the midst of that?”
She continued, “I’m hoping to craft a reflection on peace where peace is seen not as the absence of conflict but rather as engagement to find new insight, to find new healing. My current theory is that violence comes from unexamined hurt and wounds and that unless we look at it both as a society and as individuals we’re not going to have peace. And that’s where courage comes in, courage to face the flaws. And that yields peace, I think, I hope.”
Early on in the pandemic, she was hopeful, she said, “that maybe this would be our moment to see that we’re interconnected, but it doesn’t seem as if that’s been the result, unfortunately. Did we fear the pandemic? Run from it and then rail against it? Or did we embrace it as an opportunity for reflection and growth?”
She went on to express concern about the negative effects of people’s time spent alone during the pandemic. “The fear of this alone time is what generates the individualism. In the pandemic I realized that I had to come to face me — strengths and weaknesses — and in that process was growth, but not everybody is willing to do that.”
Prior to her work in Washington over the past 20 years, Campbell, a California native, did interfaith, state-based advocacy in Sacramento and was the founder and lead attorney for 18 years at the Community Law Center in Oakland, serving the needs of poor working families in Alameda County.
Campbell shared her thoughts on last week’s elections. “The thing that strikes me over and over, the mistake of politicians, is talking at people instead of listening to people,” she said. “We’re working on a campaign to launch after the new year about public listening rather than talking. We really need to listen. Our primary unexplored talent that we need to develop is listening.”
She continued, “People feel hurt. That’s what we hear over and over on the bus. ‘No one ever hears us. No one ever comes to us. Nobody takes us in.’ And the hurt of that, the isolation of that, the anguish of that. People are not being engaged, not feeling heard or represented.”
She added, “We have an opportunity, if we have the courage, to look at our flaws and engage them as a way to grow. That’s the challenge — can we do this? That’s the big question of our time.”
Also featured at CFPA’s 42nd Annual Conference and Multifaith Service for Peace, co-sponsored by 22 religious and civic groups in the region, will be nuclear weapons expert Rob Goldston and former fighter pilot turned peace activist Richard Moody.
Following the morning Multifaith Service and sermon by Campbell will be the Conference for Peace, a virtual Zoom event from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Goldston, Princeton University professor of astrophysics with the Program on Science and Global Security, will present on “How to Avert the Coming Arms Race,” based on his recent article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Moody, a former fighter pilot and Top Gun instructor, who also served in the U.S. Navy and the Royal Navy, has become an ardent peace activist with CFPA and a practicing Quaker. His autobiography, Flying Through Life, will soon be released.
“As we continue to face major challenges and opportunities for peace, and move toward the critical 2022 mid-terms, we are thrilled to have such an outstanding group of presenters for our 42nd Annual Conference and Multifaith Service for Peace,” said CFPA Executive Director the Rev. Robert Moore.
Click on “Upcoming Events” at peacecoalition.org to register for the Conference for Peace and receive a Zoom participant link. There is a suggested donation of $10 per person.