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‘Nuns on the Bus’ coming to Charlotte to promote immigration reform

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Another “Nuns on the Bus” tour – this one promoting comprehensive immigration reform – will hit the road this week. And one of its first stops is Charlotte.

On Friday, the Catholic sisters will be at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, 507 S. Tryon St. in uptown Charlotte. The 7 p.m. event in Biss Hall is open to the public.

Then, on Saturday, a 10 a.m. faith roundtable is scheduled at Charlotte’s Fiesta Jalisco, a Mexican restaurant at 5317 E. Independence Blvd.

The first “Nuns on the Bus” tour made headlines in 2012 for its election year promotion of social justice issues. Its leader, Sister Simone Campbell, even came to Charlotte to speak at the Democratic National Convention. She heads NETWORK, a social gospel lobbying group that speaks up for the poor and elderly.

Campbell won’t be with the group at the church on Friday night, but does plan to be at the restaurant in Matthews on Saturday morning.

“One of the things we want to do on this tour is highlight the different aspects of immigration, and, in the Charlotte area, you have so many immigrant-owned businesses,” Campbell said Monday. “So we want to show how they contribute to the business community.”

Sister Rose Marie Tresp from the Sisters of Mercy in Belmont will join the tour in Charlotte, and stay on the bus for a few stops, Campbell said. And the nuns’ group is trying, Campbell said, to meet with U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., while in the state.

In Washington, an immigration reform bill tying tougher border security with a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is on its way to the Senate floor after a bipartisan vote last week to report it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. A bipartisan House group is also working to come up with a bill that would make changes in the country’s immigration system.

Campbell said her group “basically” supports the Senate bill. “We hope it gets improved (with amendments), but it’s a significant step on all the issues,” she said. “We have a very narrow window of political time for immigration reform to happen. For the future of our economy and our nation, it absolutely has to get done this summer.”

Many conservatives, including some Republican members of Congress, oppose a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants who are in the country illegally. They say it would reward lawbreakers with amnesty.

Agreement with bishops

The nuns’ three-week tour will cover 6,500 miles, 53 events, 40 cities and 15 states – more than twice the distance of last year’s tour. It starts Tuesday, in New Haven, Conn., and will end June 18 in San Francisco.

Other stops along the way include Durham; Greenville, S.C.; and Charleston.

At each stop, “NETWORK Nuns on the Bus: A Drive for Faith, Family and Citizenship” will lobby for reform that provides a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, most of whom are Hispanic. The nuns’ group also favors protecting the rights of immigrant workers and keeping families together.

In championing immigration reform, the nuns are in line with U.S. Catholic bishops. Leaders of the American church have long pushed for legislation to grant legal status to undocumented immigrants. Latinos make up a rapidly growing percentage of the U.S. Catholic Church, including in the 46-county Diocese of Charlotte.

Last year’s “Nuns on the Bus” was controversial with many bishops and conservative Catholics. They cited Campbell’s open support for President Barack Obama’s health-care reforms, even as the U.S. bishops opposed key elements of the White House plan.

This year, because the group is in harmony with church leaders on immigration, Campbell said she’s invited bishops to show solidarity along the nuns’ route.

“They don’t have to ride on the bus,” Campbell told Religion News Service. “They can come stand with us at the events.”

So far, she said, the Catholic bishops of Scranton, Pa., and Camden, N.J., have agreed to attend events in their dioceses.

The nuns’ group also invited Charlotte Bishop Peter Jugis. His spokesman, David Hains, said Monday that the bishop has a schedule conflict, so won’t be able to attend either event in Mecklenburg. But, Hains said, Jugis does agree with his fellow bishops – and Campbell’s group – that there’s a need for comprehensive immigration reform.

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