A survey, a summit and how you shape Global Sisters Report

by Gail DeGeorge

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"I am grateful to become more aware of the wonderful work of women religious and pray/trust that the Catholic Church will appreciate and support them in every way possible."

"I really find it an authentic voice of the amazing work that women religious and their colleagues are doing for good around the globe."

These are just two of the hundreds of comments we received when we asked Global Sisters Report readers for some information about themselves and for ideas and opinions about GSR. We appreciated the wonderful response: 1,667 readers took time from their busy lives to help us make our award-winning online publication even better.

We want to share some of the survey results and how they will help us shape our coverage, as well as share highlights of our annual planning meeting Nov. 27-29 in Kansas City, Missouri.

The responses validate our reporting on the missions and ministries of women religious and the thoughtful, wide-ranging columns by sisters. Spirituality, human rights, environment and immigration topped the list of topics of interest, in line with our last reader survey in 2015, and these remain key areas of coverage.

There were a few changes: 17 percent said they access GSR content through social media (14 percent from Facebook); just 3 percent did so in our last survey in 2015. And 64 percent of survey respondents were sisters, down from 72 percent in 2015. So while women religious still make up most of our readers, we're gaining an audience of associates, laypeople and employees of nonprofits interested in the work sisters do. That shows the widespread influence of sisters Almost a third of you share GSR content frequently, and almost half do so occasionally, which also helps extend our reach.

The responses to our open-ended questions — "Is there anything else you would like to see on Global Sisters Report?" and "Do you have any other feedback? — were helpful. We got hundreds of comments, including lots of encouragement and appreciation for our work like the ones above. Thank you!

In keeping with our broadening audience, there were many requests for more stories about how associates and laypeople assist sisters in their ministries. There was also interest in more stories and columns about changes in religious life. We already have plans underway to provide more columns and stories on these topics.

Some respondents offered suggestions to improve our website. One request was to make it easier and clearer how to contact us with story ideas and suggestions of sisters to feature in our Q&As. We've already made that change: Click "Contact Us" in the top-right corner of our website. We also will be undertaking other website improvements over the next several months.

Some of you requested stories from particular countries: Australia, Indonesia, Cambodia and the Dominican Republic, to name a few. Some of these may fit into staff coverage and travel plans for 2018. We've been building a network of freelance journalists around the globe and will look for correspondents (and reach out to sisters to write columns) in these countries and others.

Our staff of reporters, editors and two liaisons to sisters, Presentation Sr. Joyce Meyer and Ursuline Sr. Michele Morek, meet weekly via a video-conference call and are in frequent contact via email, internal messaging systems and phone calls.

But our annual planning meeting gives us a chance to connect in person (and as our Middle East and Africa correspondent Melanie Lidman, who is based in Tel Aviv, will attest, enjoy Kansas City's renowned barbecue). We share highlights of the past year's coverage and discuss ideas for stories, themes and issues for the coming year. The idea for The Life international panel of sisters came out of our November 2016 planning meeting, as did several initiatives over the past year, including a greater emphasis on stories about anti-human-trafficking ministries.

This year's meeting included a session on peace journalism by Steve Youngblood, director of the Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University. He has traveled around the world giving seminars to journalists on incorporating the principles of peace journalism, defined as the choices editors and reporters make in framing stories and use of language to create an atmosphere "conducive to peace and supportive of peace initiatives and peacemakers, without compromising the basic principles of good journalism."

He went over the principles, and we had a lively discussion about some journalistic practices. We also pointed out to him our ongoing Making Peace series by GSR and National Catholic Reporter. While we must always be mindful of how we frame stories and our use of language, Youngblood thinks we're on the right track, according to a blog he posted: "Much of their content (like stories on how Catholic sisters are working on environmental, migration, and trafficking issues; and reports about the pitfalls of capitalism, net neutrality's impact on faith communities, and on advocacy for Haitian immigrants) already reflect peace journalism best practices."

We also held a video conference call with Loreto Sr. Pat Murray, executive secretary of the International Union of Superiors General, and Incarnate Word Sr. Teresa Maya and Holy Cross Sr. Joan Steadman, president and executive director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, respectively. The topics and questions we explored will help us plan for 2018 and beyond. You can read an edited transcript of our conversation here.

One of the big themes we discussed is the upcoming Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment in October in Rome. We'll be looking at sisters around the world who are involved in campus ministry and other programs connected with teens and young adults, particularly those that relate to the synod. The pre-synod meeting is in March, so it is coming up quickly. If you are or if you know of sisters who are involved in such ministries and/or the synod, please email us at info@sistersreport.org.

We also want to continue our focus on sisters and ministries working with refugees and migrants. The plight of refugees and migrants is the centerpiece of Pope Francis' message for the upcoming 2018 World Day of Peace in which his "heartfelt hope" is for the United Nations to draft and approve two global compacts, one on migration and one on refugees, that are "inspired by compassion, foresight and courage, so as to take advantage of every opportunity to advance the peace-building process."

The United States recently announced it was pulling out of the U.N.-sponsored talks on the compacts. We quickly got reaction from LCWR, sisters at the U.N. and the U.S. bishops, who called it a failure of leadership. Wars, natural disasters, famine and economic dislocation will continue to spur the vast numbers of people on the move across the globe. Sisters frequently serve to help welcome the stranger, and those stories need to be told.

Never underestimate the power of a story. Sisters often downplay the work they do. Yet it's important for them to realize how vital their work is, not only to those they directly serve, but as an inspiration to others. Amid the hundreds of comments we received was this gem from a reader who is not a sister:

Thank you for inspiring me with the wonderful work that you are doing. I live in a little country town in Victoria, Australia. You gave me the confidence to help people in my town to open their hearts and minds … to the plight of refugees in detention centres here in Australia. I continue to travel long distances to visit refugees who have been held in detention centers from the past 5 years, some 7 years. God bless you all for giving me the energy to keep going to help others.

Messages like this give us the energy to continue to tell the stories of sisters helping others. We look forward to doing so even more in the year ahead.

[Gail DeGeorge is editor of Global Sisters Report. Her email address is gdegeorge@ncronline.org. Follow her on Twitter: @GailDeGeorge.]