The Nuns on the Bus rolled into Washington, D.C. last week and Executive Director Kim Smolik attended the prayer service and press conference welcoming the sisters home from a nine-state tour against the proposed federal budget.

Despite the heat, a crowd of 300 cheered as fourteen nuns climbed off the bus at the end of their 2,700-mile journey to highlight the injustices in the federal budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan.

Because of their service among the poor and vulnerable, the sisters foresee the devastating impact of Ryan’s plan to take away food stamps from 8 million people and raise taxes on low-income families.

As I looked around gathering at the resounding support for the sisters’ work for a more faithful budget, I couldn’t help but wonder, What role do the American women religious have today?

I have been fascinated by the reaction and outcry of support for the U.S. sisters. What began as a negative story — one where it is perceived that the Catholic Church was publicly criticizing its own — has in many ways become an overwhelmingly positive story.

Shortly after the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s condemnation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, prominent Catholics used their voice and their capital to lend their support of the sisters. Fr. James Martin, SJ started a Twitter campaign, #WhatSistersMeanToMe, that caught on like wild fire. Seven Franciscan (OFM) Provinces in the United States issued a statement of solidarity for the sisters.

I noticed people began to speak and even act. Without a central organizing force, thousands upon thousands of Catholics and non-Catholics alike, felt compelled to speak, write, and as the sisters began their bus tour, to gather together. Even the members of the U.S. House and Senate have issued a proposed resolution voicing their “deepest appreciation” for the sisters’ work.

I put aside my own schedule to make sure I was present for the final stop of the “Nuns on the Bus” tour on July 2. It was inspiring and motivating to witness how a small group of people captured the attention of a church and, really, a nation.

Executive Director Kim Smolik with former volunteer Rachel Roa at the Nuns on the Bus return to DC.

What’s admirable is that these women used their time in the spotlight not to talk about the Vatican, but to command change for the “least among us.”

The sisters remain committed to living out the Gospel, renouncing the proposed federal budget because of its misalignment with church teaching about solidarity, inequality, the option for the poor, and the common good.

In the crowd gathered outside the United Methodist Building to welcome the sisters, I was surrounded by the familiar faces of our partners, collaborators and friends: Pax Christi USA, the Maryknoll Center for Global Concerns, Holy Name Province members, Franciscan sisters and friars, and Franciscan Action Network which helped gather attendees the rally.

I recognized the faces of our donors, former staff, formation facilitators and Souposium attendees. There were even leaders and representatives of other Christian churches. I felt connected to an active group of faith-based people that care deeply about human rights, life issues, the elimination of poverty, and the importance of participation in political processes.

There is a movement going on and a sense of a need to organize, collaborate, and support each other, and the passion and energy surrounding the Nuns on the Bus encourages us to continue to live out our faith in solidarity with the poor.

Thank you, sisters, for continuing to set a strong example of Gospel-living in standing up for the poor.

The provincial ministers of the seven provinces of the Order of Friars Minor in the United States wrote a letter  expressing their appreciation of the invaluable ministry of American religious women.