Looking back on a year of reporting hope

My 10-year-old daughter completed a nearly four-year journey last week when she was awarded her First Degree Black Belt in Songahm Taekwondo, an achievement I hope to earn in two months, and one my 8-year-old son hopes to earn two months after that.

So after the ceremony, we looked back on that journey and considered the words of the Master Black Belt on her testing day, when he said that the whole thing wasn’t about the destination at all, it was about the journey itself – what was learned, what was sacrificed and what was accomplished. Our journey has been a long one, as we balanced school and other commitments, faced challenges and difficulties. There were injuries (thankfully minor), boards that refused to break and times when she just wanted to give up. But eventually she overcame all of those barriers and made her goal. Now, of course, her journey begins anew.

April 23 marks the official launch of the Global Sisters Report website, making this week fitting to look back on the journey we have been on, as well. I came a little late to the effort, joining GSR in July after 19 years in newspapers. And while I am extremely proud of the work I did before, never have I been part of a team that so deftly balances great journalism and mission. It not only advances our reporting for women religious, but also demonstrates the incredible depth and breadth of their vocations.

While I often joke that reporting on priests and nuns is much better for my soul than reporting on thugs and politicians, it’s no overstatement to say that there is nothing better than being constantly inspired by the people you’re writing about.

If there has been anything that has marked my work at GSR more than anything, it is hope: No matter the situation I’m reporting on – and some have been extremely grave – the sisters working there are unrelentingly hopeful. I used to try to take comfort when covering bad situations – car accidents, corruption, broken lives – in the fact that by telling the stories of those involved, that readers will see themselves in those people and through shared experience the human circle will be drawn closer. I still take comfort in that, but with the added dimension that  sisters who have dedicated their lives to others in service of God are not only there making a difference, but are absolutely secure in their knowledge that God is at work, even in the darkest times and worst situations.

A perfect example is the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which I have reported on many times. Though the deadly disease has killed thousands, through the dedication of so many, it is now on the wane, to the point that Liberia, once the epicenter of the outbreak, is close to being declared Ebola free. Even in Sierra Leone, where the disease still rages, the number of cases is down dramatically from just a few months ago.

And much of this good news is due to sisters, not only directly through their fearless work, but also in their quiet example, showing that working with the people, within their culture, using education instead of demands, Ebola can be stopped.

That hopefulness was seen again when I spent a day with Chaldean Catholics in Chicago. Despite the horrors their people are experiencing in Iraq, they know that somehow, somewhere, God is in their midst, working as only He can.

Fr. Fawaz Kako, pastor of Mart Mariam Chaldean Catholic Church in Northbrook, Illinois, explained:

“One of my best images is of Jesus sitting on the donkey,” Kako said. “Most of the time I feel like I’m that donkey.”

The donkey didn’t know it was carrying the savior of mankind to his glory, didn’t understand its place in history – it only knew it had a burden to carry.

“Sometimes we all feel like that. We say, ‘God, save us,’ but his saving plans are beyond this world, beyond any government, any laws. Look at the Dark Ages – that was a time when we had great saints. God takes the fool, the oppressed, and makes them an example for others.”

Another example of the relentlessly hopeful is the sisters at A Nun’s Life. Not only do they continue to share the joy they’ve found in their vocation, but their ministry is expanding and they’ve revamped their website.

“We say it’s the best job in the world,” Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Julie Vieira told me. “We love religious life, and we love being sisters. And then we have a job talking to sisters.”

There is also hope that the death penalty will be ended in America, in part thanks to the work of sisters like Mercy Sr. Mary Healy and St. Joseph Sr. Helen Prejean. I had the pleasure of talking to both this year, and both expressed hope even in the midst of society’s incomprehensible act against itself.

This is especially remarkable in that Healy’s brother was murdered. She testified for the defense during the sentencing portion of his killer’s trial, asking that he not be put to death.

“I have never supported the death penalty and I had no problem with that [testifying] at all,” Healy said. “I feel it very strongly, and losing my brother didn’t change that.”

There are dozens and dozens of other examples, and all of them remind me that there is hope in the world, no matter the circumstances. And if you ever need a dose of hope yourself, just find a sister.

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.]