Ten noteworthy stories from 2015

Children walk in their village of Kawama, which is located on the shores of the Lubengele Tailings Dam. (Melanie Lidman)

I knew Global Sisters Report was doing great work when I became managing editor in August. So when editor Mary Lou Nolan asked me to compile a blog post of 10 noteworthy stories from GSR writers in 2015, I jumped at the chance to talk to our writers and read through our archives to create this list (which is, I should note, in no particular order).

Did you miss one of these stories the first time around? Now would be the perfect chance to read it. Better yet, read all 10!

1. Hidden in plain sight by Dawn Araujo-Hawkins, published Oct. 19

As I was settling into my role at GSR, Dawn was already several months into reporting and writing an intense story about human trafficking in the United States, centering on a South Dakota where dairy and mining industries intersect in particular with a vulnerable population of Native American women. The result is the perfect example of a #longread, diving into the history of human trafficking in the United States and how efforts to combat trafficking have evolved along with the Internet. And, of course, she spoke with sisters, who have long been involved in this issue.

2. Contemplative communities by Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans, published Oct. 5-9

In October, we published this six-part series that explored the depth and diversity of contemplative orders in the United States. "Traditionally, women who have chosen a life of contemplation have embraced intentional silence, a pursuit of holiness and austerity often mysterious to the outside world," Elizabeth writes in her introduction. There are fewer than 150 contemplative female congregations in the United States today; these stories took readers inside a few of them. The series proceeded to dominate our list of most-read stories for October.

3. Living like prisoners by Nuri Vallbona, published April 23

In the summer of 2014, an influx of immigrants from Central America, primarily Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, came into the United States without documentation. What did the U.S. government do with those seeking asylum? In some cases, it put them in detention centers. Nuri writes about the dismal conditions — undercooked or spoiled food, verbal abuse, intimidation and fear — in a detention center in Karnes, Texas, where women and children awaited action from the U.S. government. Also of note: Nuri's story of community-based alternatives to spending time in detention centers.

4. Searching for lucky pennies at the bottom of a dam by Melanie Lidman, published June 9

Melanie, our Africa correspondent, regularly travels to that continent from her home in Tel Aviv, Israel. She spent some time in Zambia early in the year, which led to this story examining the effects of mining there and how activists are studying and documenting environmental issues that mining causes. "Once the communities have the information and they have the knowledge, it is easier for these communities to know how to protect themselves," one man told Melanie. Sisters there are building a presence, hoping to provide men, women and children with alternatives to working in the mines.

5. The end of the doctrinal assessment of LCWR

In April, the Vatican announced the conclusion of its oversight of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Our GSR writers (with the help of NCR's Vatican correspondent, Joshua J. McElwee) wrote stories of such breadth and depth on a breaking news schedule that I would be remiss not to mention them:

  • Vatican and LCWR announce end of controversial three-year oversight is Josh's news report from Rome. It has statements from both sides of the issue as well as plenty of background if you need to brush up.
  • Dawn Araujo-Hawkins and Dan Stockman gathered sisters' reactions to the conclusion of the doctrinal assessment in Reactions of relief as LCWR oversight ends. Although LCWR itself waited the Vatican-requested 30 days to make a statement to the media, Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister told GSR, "The document on the LCWR seems to me to be pretty even-handed. It's not attacking anybody. It's not contentious, and it's civil."
  • GSR director Thomas C. Fox wrote that "there's been some form of a meeting of minds, and, no doubt, this represents further evidence that Pope Francis is changing the overriding spirit and even, perhaps, the course of the church" in his commentary, Going forward: LCWR after the 'doctrinal assessment.
  • Thirty days after the conclusion of the Vatican oversight, LCWR released a statement that "acknowledged the sadness and public humiliation [the sisters] experienced during the six years they were under Vatican review," Dawn reported in LCWR evaluates end of mandate in May.

6. The Selma effect by Carol K. Coburn, published March 9

March 10 marked the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march in Selma, Alabama. Six Catholic sisters from St. Louis attended, and even though they didn't get far before they were stopped by police, their attendance at the march ushered in "a new era that forever changed the face of religious life and would inevitably redefine how sisters understood and acted upon social justice issues for the rest of the century," Carol wrote.

7. Lovers of the Holy Cross sisters care for victims of leprosy in Vietnam by Joachim Pham, published March 2

Leprosy is in decline in most parts of the world today. However, in Vietnam, the number of new cases detected every year remains high. Joachim traveled with Sr. Mary Nguyen Thi Hong Hoa, a member of the Lover of the Holy Cross, as Hoa ministered to lepers in south Vietnam. "Hoa provides them with monthly allowances, basic food, medicine and wheelchairs," Joachim wrote. "In many cases, she asks local volunteers to visit them on a regular basis, too, to care for and give food to those in remote areas."

8. Out of the land of persecution by Dan Stockman, published Jan. 19

In the fall of 2014, Dan went to Chicago to visit one of 12 Chaldean parishes in the United States. The result was "Out of the land of persecution," which highlights the struggles of religious who grew up as part of the Christian minority in the Middle East and who now minister to a similar displaced population. "In every tragedy, you have two options," a Chaldean priest told Dan. "You can take it to heart and let it mess you up, or you can work against it, and in the midst of war and pain and suffering, let God use you as an instrument of peace."

9. From a Memphis monastery to war-torn Guatemala by Mary Jo McConahay, published Jan. 26

Thirty-three years ago, Sr. Mary Peter Rowland arrived in Guatemala and almost immediately felt overwhelmed in the country, which was being torn apart in a civil war. Now, Rowland and her sister Poor Clares minister to those suffering at the hands of the violence that still racks the country. Start reading for the vivid retelling of the time Rowland was held at gunpoint, keep reading to learn how the women minister to those living in poverty and fear in Huehuetenango.

10. Challenges, uncertainty and hope mark the year for Bangladesh by Chris Herlinger, published Dec. 17

This story was only published a couple of weeks ago, but Chris' story is perfect year-end reading. "Bangladesh is a country that in many ways is at a crossroads," he writes. The Catholic community is in the country is small, but it "has made contributions to society far in excess of its small numbers." This story is part one of a series that will continue to run through the beginning of 2016, so keep visiting Global Sisters Report!

[Pam Cohen is GSR managing editor. Her email address is pcohen@ncronline.org.]