Let us look to the helpers

Iraqi refugee Basima Toma teaches English class March 24 at Don Bosco youth center in Istanbul. Like Toma, most of the teachers at the school are refugees or asylum seekers. (CNS photo / Elie Gardner)

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.

- Fred Rogers (1928-2003)

Being a journalist, I’m used to having to face reality even when I want to look away. Whether it was car accidents, fires, floods, broken people or broken lives, I knew the way I could make a difference – even if a small one – was to tell the world about it. And that meant facing it.

And I took comfort in knowing that I had editors to help make sure the news, however bad, was presented sensitively and in the manner it deserved. And I also took comfort in knowing that readers, even when the horror was on the front page, still had the opportunity to look away themselves. They could make that choice.

It got infinitely more complicated when I had children.

Now I was the editor, deciding what they needed to know and what they didn’t and how it needed to be presented. And my view that it was always better to confront reality was suddenly competing with my desire to protect my children from just how unfathomably awful humans can be to each other.

Most situations we were able to avoid, and we slowly let the kids into the reality of natural disasters by praying for the people involved. But Sandy Hook, where 20 children their own age and six staff members were gunned down, was just too much. It was also unavoidable in those days of fear, reaction, overreaction and all that came with it.

And then I found the quote, above, from Fred Rogers, whose television show, “Mr. Rogers,” was a favorite of mine as a child. “Yes, terrible things have happened,” we told our children, “but look at all the people who came to help. Look at the people who opened their doors to keep the children safe. Look at the policemen coming. Think of all the people praying.”

No matter the situation, our family tries to “look for the helpers,” and we have always found some comfort there.

I’ve tried to do the same with this blog, which is intended to be a weekly round-up of how Christians, including Catholics – especially Catholic sisters – are responding to crises around the world. Sometimes it can seem like a list of all the worst things that are going wrong, but it’s more often than not a look at the helpers. Even in the face of the worst nature and humans can dish out, look closely and you will see humans at their very best.

Sometimes, it’s not always possible to report on the helpers. And that’s where you come in: When you read about these crisis and pray for the people involved, or make a donation, or even go out of your way to spread other good in the world, you become part of the solution – you become one of the helpers. And no matter how bad the news, that’s something we can all take comfort in.

A new kind of math

Jesuit Brendan Busse in The Jesuit Post looks at the awful math of challenging the idea that some lives matter more than others.

“I hate math too. But these days the math concerning the value of life gets even worse,” Busse writes. “147 dead students in Kenya. 43 kidnapped and killed in Mexico. 14 murders per day this month in San Salvador. One more dead black man in South Carolina. I hate this math even more than normal.”

It gets even more depressing and confusing when people ask why the deaths of 12 cartoonists in Paris seem to count more than the deaths of 147 students in Kenya.

“When those who insult the faith of others are defended more robustly than those who are murdered because of their own faith . . . we are profoundly confused,” he writes.

But there is not only an alternative math, he says, but a solution to the problem: “We must begin to count the living if we’re ever going to stop counting the dead.”

To count the living, to note what we do in the aftermath, is to account for what matters most. . . . Count those in poverty. Count those incarcerated. Count those who are refugees. Count those in shelters and those on the streets. Count those persecuted for their gender or their race or their faith. . . . and count those who stand with them.

How does this change things? Busse says that in the counting, we will begin to count ourselves among those suffering and those trying to end that suffering.

“And when we finally count ourselves among those who refuse to remain silent in any circumstances of cruelty, violence, injustice, discrimination and hate, only then will we know how much any life really matters,” Busse writes. “We must count the living.”

More than just shelter

Catholic News Service has the story of Iraqi and Syrian children who’ve had to flee their homes have found shelter and sustenance with the Salesians in Istanbul, Turkey.

“Now I don’t fear for my children,” Bassima Toma says. “I put my head on my pillow and am not afraid when they are not with me.”

Salesian Fr. Andres Calleja Ruiz is head of the Don Bosco youth center, which was started 20 years ago as a temporary response to the wave of refugees coming from Iraq. Today, 300 children, mostly from Iraq and Syria, are enrolled.

“Here we don’t ask anyone what religion they are or what political party they belong to,” Calleja said. “We just want to help them.”

Toma and her family are Chaldean Catholics who fled their home in Baghdad; she is now a teacher at the center.

Calleja says that while Turkey is usually just a temporary stop as refugees move on to other places – Toma hopes to join relatives in Canada – it is more than just a waystation.

“The group environment and the environment of joy, freedom and tolerance is already healing many wounds,” Calleja said.

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at dstockman@ncronline.org.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter @DanStockman or on Facebook.]