Dubuque, Iowa — As they tend to the spiritual and physical needs of people, including the most vulnerable, women religious rely on the amazing power of prayer.
A new social media campaign developed by Sisters United News is designed to help remind people of that fact. A group of 12 Midwest communities, known collectively as the Catholic Sisters of the Upper Mississippi River Valley, planned to use the campaign to celebrate National Catholic Sisters Week, observed March 8-14 this year.
The "Pray It Forward" campaign was to use a series of videos posted on social networking sites to create wider awareness of the ministries of social justice, prayer and education undertaken by women religious. A small grant from the National Catholic Sisters Week organization partially funded the effort.
The religious congregations hope the messages in the video create "a viral prayer chain," said Lisa Martin, communications director for the Congregation of the Humility of Mary.
The videos were to be released one day at a time from March 6 through March 12. March also marks Women's History Month.
In advance of the campaign, a trailer was posted March 2 on Facebook under the name Catholic Sisters of the Upper Mississippi Valley and Twitter (@catholicsrs) sites with a message for viewers to "Like It. Share It. Do It."
"As religious women, one of the gifts we can bring to the world is prayer," said Sr. Elena Hoye of Dubuque, a member of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. "I believe so much that we can change anger and hatred and greed by praying with and for people. You can't pray without love. I believe love and kindness is really going to save our world."
Hoye is one of several women religious featured in six short videos, which were produced that feature Catholic sisters holding signs that illustrate facts around the topics of forgiveness, human trafficking, peace and nonviolence, care of Earth, immigration, and love and compassion. The videos ask viewers to join sisters in raising awareness of and praying for resolution to the issues.
Hoye, whose section of the video focuses on human trafficking, called modern-day slavery one of the "evils of our time," which can be ended with the help of God and caring individuals.
One of her colleagues, Sr. Suzanne Rubenbauer, a member of Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, appears in a segment dedicated to protecting the environment. She said the straight forward concept of the videos — which feature the women silently holding and then dropping signs with pertinent facts on the each issue — hopefully will resonate online and in schools.
"I was struck by the simplicity of it," Rubenbauer told The Witness, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Dubuque. "The words spoke for themselves. They didn't need to be spoken verbally. I think we'll especially reach the generation that uses social media so well. We really want them to know they're not alone. [Women religious] are with them and we're working for them on these issues."
To help promote the releases, the Archdiocese of Dubuque planned to distribute Pray It Forward prayer cards to all students, kindergarten through 12th grade, throughout the archdiocese.
"We embrace opportunities for our students to pray for the needs of others. The prayer cards will help each student reflect on the themes of respect, welcome, peace, and healing," said Kim Hermsen, archdiocesan superintendent of schools.
"Additionally, promoting vocations and giving our students ways to connect with Catholic sisters is important to us," she added. "Our schools were built on the rich traditions from various area congregations. We have great gratitude for all that Catholic sisters have done to support Catholic education."
Each sister in the videos has some connection to the social issue or virtue with which she is featured. Sr. Mary McCauley, a member of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, for example, is a longtime advocate for immigrants who saw the dire need for immigration reform while serving as a pastoral associate at the Trinity Cluster, which includes St. Bridget Parish in Postville, Iowa.
In 2008, a meat processing facility in Postville was the site of one of the largest immigration raids in U.S. history. The aftermath posed challenges to the immigrants and the people ministering to them. With the eighth anniversary of the raid approaching May 12, Sister Mary said the need for immigration reform remains pressing. She hopes the Pray It Forward campaign will have an impact.
"I think it's so important to transform the hearts of people; then we will be able to change the laws," McCauley said. "There isn't anyone that knows the plight of the immigrant better than our God. We are asking our God to empower us to do the right things and say the right things. None of this is done alone."
[Dan Russo is editor of The Witness, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Dubuque. Contributing to this report was Barb Arland-Fye, editor of The Catholic Messenger, newspaper of the Diocese of Davenport.]