Sisters' act: Nuns bring message to Janesville
JANESVILLE The Nuns on the Bus and Rep. Paul Ryan have something in common: They agree the country must do something to fight poverty.
They just disagree about how.
The Nuns on the Bus is a tour traveling to nine states to protest the budget that Ryan wrote and the House passed May 10.
The tour began in Iowa on Sunday. It stopped in Ryan's hometown Tuesday.
The nuns object to the Ryan budget's cuts in social services.
"We cannot stand by silently when the U.S. Congress considers further enriching the wealthiest Americans at the expense of struggling, impoverished families," the nuns say on their website.
A crowd of about 140 people jammed the Main Street sidewalk in front of Ryan's office and cheered long and loudly as four nuns disembarked from their tour bus and crossed the street.
A gray-haired man enveloped Sister Simone Campbell in a bear hug.
"I'm in solidarity with the nuns against the Ryan budget and Republican policies of giving tax breaks to the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and needy," said the hugger, Bernard Hlavac of Stevens Point.
The nuns proceeded inside the Olde Towne Mall and into Ryan's office, where a staffer talked with them.
Outside, supporters sang, making the mall ring like a church.
Meanwhile, two nuns from Beloit talked to reporters, saying they were speaking only for themselves.
"We're kind of embarrassed that they're sisters, because so are we," said Sister Joselda Kuhle.
The bus nuns don't talk about issues such as abortion or that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, said the other nun, Sister Rosalia Bauer.
Bauer supported Ryan's approach to the national budget.
"Jesus didn't say give out handouts, give out handouts, give out handouts," Bauer said. "He said, ‘Work!' We can't keep giving out handouts because we'll run out of money."
Sister Marge Clark, one of four Nuns on the Bus, said they are also pro-life and against gay marriage, "but those are not our issues."
Many Catholics are working on those issues, but not so many are working on social-justice issues such as the right to food, housing and health care, Clark said.
Campbell said after the meeting that Ryan's staff treated the nuns well and took "copious notes" about the nuns' concerns.
Campbell said politics should not be like a Packers game, with commentary on who scores points, who wins and who loses.
"We know we don't agree on everything. … Let's engage in governance to solve our problems," Campbell said.
The crowd was enthusiastic, and Campbell said several times how impressed she was by the warm, "heartland" reception.
"You go, girls!" read a sign held by Nancy Webb of Madison.
"I'm not Catholic. I'm not religious. But I do give a damn about people, and I think the nuns do as well," Webb said.
The nuns did not advocate for particular candidates or parties, but the crowd seemed to be on the Democratic side.
"I'm here because I don't like the Ryan budget," said Jackie Sherrer of Edgerton.
Brittany Riley of Stoughton held a sign that said "Jesus was a liberal."
Riley said she is Catholic but pro-choice. She said she appreciated the nuns' efforts "to stand up for Catholic values."
Several Democratic candidates attended the event, including Rob Zerban of Kenosha, who is challenging Ryan for the 1st District congressional seat in the Nov. 6 elections.
Zerban, a Catholic, said he supports a woman's right to choose and gay marriage.
Ryan issued a statement, acknowledging unemployment and the plight of the poor.
"Economic stagnation and a growing dependency on government assistance continues to push this country toward a debt crisis in which those who get hurt the first and the worst are the poor, the sick and the elderly, the people who need government the most," Ryan said.
While only four nuns were on the bus Tuesday, up to 14 nuns will be on the tour as it proceeds, the nuns said.