July 2nd, 2012
10:10 PM ET
By Anna-Lysa Gayle and Jeffrey Elizabeth Copeland, CNN
Washington (CNN) - A group of nuns who took to the road 2,700 miles ago reached Washington Monday carrying the same message they began with: "Reasonable revenue for responsible programs."
Standing in front of the United Methodist Building near the U.S. Capitol, the "Nuns on the Bus," as they have billed themselves, rallied an excited crowd with stories from the road and a call to action for future protests to protect social programs. Starting in Iowa, the nuns traveled through nine different states in a trip ended right outside the Capitol building.
"Under the guise of this austerity and responsibility, they're (representatives who support the budget proposal by Rep. Paul Ryan) only thinking of us after all they gut the very programs that help Catholic sisters house the homeless, feed the hungry, give children a chance," Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, told the crowd.
The group announced in June that they would be taking their message to the road and specifically called out the Wisconsin Republican for his proposed $3.53 trillion budget that looks to overhaul Medicare and other government programs. According to the nuns, the budget does too much to protect money for the military at the expense of other social program.
NETWORK is a Catholic social justice organization founded by 47 Catholic sisters in 1971. Its members generally speak out and lobby for social welfare issues.
A major aspect of the bus trip was giving the nuns an opportunity to visit social programs that they say are working for the community. During the trip, they visited housing programs, refugee centers and food pantries.
"These programs cannot, must not, be defunded," said Sister Diane Donoghue, an 81-year old nun who joined NETWORK for much of the trip.
When they arrived outside the Capitol on Monday, they were greeted with yelps and shouts. Despite the high temperature, people stood outside with signs ranging from "I stand with the 'Nuns on the Bus'" to "We Love You Sisters."
"I think it's important to show a sense of solidarity for the Ryan cuts, because of the different places that we stopped on the trip," said Sister Mary Wendeln, a nun from Ohio who traveled on the bus. "All are places of need - transitional houses, literacy centers, soup kitchens, places where people eat, (people) who can't afford to pay rent and eat at the same time."
Campbell, the groups leader, told CNN that she wasn't ready to consider a larger bus trip, but that NETWORK was not done fighting.
"By no means are we finished standing up to the misguided politicians who would harm people at the margins of our society," said Campbell. "The House budget is a moral sin and it is unpatriotic and we will not rest until politicians like Paul Ryan set it aside."
CNN Belief: Nuns' group plans bus trip to protest the Ryan budget
"Nuns on the Bus speak for not just Catholics, not just Christians only, not for Jews, they speak for all of us," Sayeed said to the spirited crowd. "You have strengthened and defined for us a vision for the new century."
Mother and NETWORK supporter Karen O' Brien was also in attendance, along with her 9-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son.
"I want our kids to believe that they can make the same difference in the world that the sisters do," O'Brien said. "The sisters are excellent role models, and it's important for young people to see their role models."
Ryan has previously said that he applied his understanding of Catholic social teaching when crafting his budget. In April, speaking at Georgetown University, the oldest Catholic university in the country, Ryan defended his budget's grounding in faith and acknowledged his critics.
"Of course, there can be differences among faithful Catholics on this. The work I do, as a Catholic holding office, conforms to the social doctrine as best I can make of it," said Ryan. "What I have to say about the social doctrine of the church is from the viewpoint of a Catholic in politics applying my understanding of the problems of the day."
The group did make a stop in Ryan's hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin and dropped off their own budget proposal to his office. After the visit, Ryan issued a statement on the how "government assistance continues to push this country toward a debt crisis."
"To avoid a debt crisis and to restore the promise of greater opportunity and greater prosperity, Washington owes the American people bold and targeted reforms and real solutions that address today’s most urgent fiscal challenges," the statement continued.
To their critics, the nuns have said that they have the Catholic bishops on their side.
"We agreed with the United States Congress of Catholic Bishops, the House budget is a moral sin and it is unpatriotic and we will not rest until politicians like Paul Ryan set it aside," the group said.
In an April release from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the bishops called on "Congress and the Administration to protect essential help for poor families and vulnerable children and to put the poor first in budget priorities."
– CNN's Dan Merica contributed to this report.
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