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Led by Sister Simone Campbell, they place emphasis on the church’s long-standing commitment to social justice. In different years, the Nuns have tackled different themes. In 2012, the Nuns aimed to draw attention to nuns’ work with the poor and to protest planned aid cuts. In 2013, the theme was immigration reform. The Nuns' journeys are sponsored by NETWORK.
The Nuns undertook several tours in 2012, an election year in the United States. The stance that Catholics took on the 2012 tours was split and their political activism questioned as being authentically Catholic.
The bus tour began on June 18, 2012 in Iowa and ended on July 2 in Washington D.C. It covered 2700 miles and nine states. The tour planned to stop at homeless shelters, food pantries, schools and health care facilities run by nuns to highlight their work with the nation’s poor and disenfranchised" and "to protest cuts in programs for the poor and working families in the federal budget that was passed by the House of Representatives and proposed by Representative Paul D. Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who cited his Catholic faith to justify the cuts".
In September, the Nuns rode the Staten Island Ferry at the end of a tour of Upstate New York.
They toured the state of Ohio, over 1000 miles, starting on October 10 and ending on October 15. It coincided with the vice-presidential debate, a United States election tradition, between Ryan and the then-serving Vice President Joe Biden on October 11.
On Monday, October 15, 2012, they met with Bill Johnson, in Marietta, Ohio. Tea party activists picketed with signs such as "Bums on the Bus" and "Romney-Ryan Yes, Fake Nuns No,". Protestors focussed on the issue of abortion, claiming the Nuns were insufficiently anti-abortion. The Nuns rejected that criticism.
The "Nuns on the Bus" advocacy against proposed budget cuts including "food stamps, social services block grants, the child tax credit and other vital programs" aligns with the policy of US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The Nuns' 2013 tour concerned immigration reform. The first stop on this tour was Liberty State Park, with views of Ellis Island, an important place in the American history of immigration. At this event, Monsignor Kevin Sullivan endorsed the work of the sisters.
A documentary, starting with the Nuns' 2012 tour, is being made by Melissa Regan, a Sundance award-winning filmmaker.