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Do You Know a Muslim?

By Sister Mary Jo Curtsinger

Do you know a Muslim personally? That happens to be the first question on Georgetown University’s 2016 Bridge Initiative survey of American Catholic public opinion and portrayals of Islam. Get this: Catholics are less likely than the average Mary Jo on the U.S. streets to know a Muslim personally. Only 3 in 10 Catholics say “Yes.”

So do you? Know a Muslim? Personally, that is? If you say “Yes,” survey says you are much more likely to have a favorable impression overall of Muslims.

This finding said to me: In these days of a rising discriminatory practice and Islamophobic rhetoric, spikes in hate crimes, governmental actions curbing the influx of refugees and immigrants from Muslim-majority countries…can we just do something to respond to our church’s call to solidarity with our Muslim sisters and brothers?

That’s the plain-talk version of my doctoral thesis-project proposal, and here’s what I’ve been up to:

This summer I searched and found five Catholics and five Muslims (aged 22-28) who were committed to their own religious tradition, but were newcomers to interfaith circles, and who were willing to gather for four Sunday afternoons in August to get to know one another.

Four weeks later, this is how it looked:

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This picture is surely worth at least a thousand words. But here are some of these ten women’s words.

I asked them at the end of our time together to complete these sentences:

My overall feeling about having participated in these sessions is_____________.

Their answers were:

Grateful.
Inspired.
Empowered.
Enriching.
Fortunate.
Unified.
Fulfilled.

One key outcome of these gatherings for me is an increase in ________.

Their answers?

Hope.
Understanding.
Awareness.
Conviction.
Love.
Exposure.
Sisterhood.

“Sisterhood” indeed evolved among us. Around the middle of our time together I realized that the women had started referring to each other as “our Muslim sisters” and “our Catholic sisters.” Amazing.

Yet there was not a magic formula for getting there. Change happened because these faithful and smart young women asserted that our shared humanity would be the common ground for opening themselves to appreciative learning from one another, in a spirit of respect, humility, and courage.

Once we framed our time together this way, it becomes easy to relax and just have fun.

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One-on-one walks together were part of every gathering. Taking walks together is something friends do. Enjoying the beauty of creation together was clearly part of the appeal.

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Our first and fourth meetings were at the CSJ Center in LaGrange Park, the middle two at the American Islamic College in Chicago. Day Two featured “speed faithing,” (a variation on “speed dating.”) Every Catholic paired with every Muslim for about 8 minutes, rotating around when I signaled time-to-move-to-the-dear-neighbor. Here they got to satisfy their curiosities about the what, why and how of spiritual practices, beliefs, family and community life, whatever they wanted to ask!

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In the third meeting we expressly set out to learn the “joys and griefs” of being faithful in our society today. Listening and sharing shifted down into a palpably deeper gear.

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At our last gathering, I introduced the prayer practice of sharing the state of the heart. This is the simple, profound way that Sisters of St. Joseph have prayed together since our 17th Century founding. I would say that many moments of such sharing had transpired even before these women knew what it was called.

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When I gaze upon these photos again, I am awestruck and humbled to realize that God worked out some unity and reconciliation through my efforts. I say it’s no small thing to help God engender hope, gratitude, and love in people’s hearts.

Yes, I know some Muslims personally. They’re my sisters, actually.

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If you’d like to do more reading about Muslims and Islam, here are some trustworthy and eye-opening sources:

Duffner, Jordan Denari. Dialogue and Danger: Report on American Catholic Public Opinion and Portrayals of Islam. Survey findings, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown: Georgetown University, 2016. http://bridge.georgetown.edu/danger-dialogue-american-catholic-public- opinion-and-portrayals-of-islam/
Esposito, John L., and Dalia Mogahed. Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think. New York: Gallup Press, 2007.
Lean, Nathan. The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims. London: Pluto Press, 2012.
Mattson, Ingrid. The Story of the Qur’an: Its History and Place in Muslim Life. Oxford: Blackwell, 2008.

About the Author

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Sister Mary Jo Curtsinger is a former school psychologist and high school teacher of theology. She is now working on a doctoral degree at Catholic Theological Union. She loves movies, dancing, and little kids.

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Living on a Wing and a Prayer

By Sister Judith Minear

During my prayer this morning, frequent appearances were made by various items on my “to do” list. Try as I might, I was unsuccessful in holding them at bay, which is unusual for me. This was annoying. The time I set aside for prayer and reflection is precious and restorative. Intrusions are, well…intrusive!

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Still, I turned to these thinly veiled impostors with curiosity and compassion.

“Why are you here, now?” I asked them.

Silence.

I shrugged and turned again toward deep silence. Just as I entered it, I heard, “You’re living on a wing and a prayer.”

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines the phrase this way: “if you do something on a wing and a prayer, you do it hoping that you will succeed, although you are not prepared enough for it.” Hence, the prayer.

I believe that we are seeing the best of us living “on a wing and a prayer” these days. In these troubling times, filled with natural disasters and extraordinary disharmonies and divisions, we have watched thousands of people respond to the needs of others…hoping for success, and trusting that the gifts they bring to their efforts will be enough, with God’s grace.together-2643652_1920During Hurricane Harvey, many were living on a wing and a prayer, hoping for the strength to help others in need.

  • Mack McIngvale of Houston, Texas opened both of his furniture stores to 400 residents and responders during Hurricane Harvey. What will he do with the now-used furniture? Mack says he will slash the prices and sell it once the waters recede. He imagines that folks will appreciate getting a fair deal on good furniture to replace what they have lost.
  • DACA recipient Alonso Guillen, 31, drowned when he was on his way as a volunteer to help rescue those trapped in the floodwaters resulting from Harvey. His father had begged him not to go out in the storm, but Alonso insisted on helping. Alonso’s mother was not permitted to come from Mexico to bury her son.
  • Rescuers helped more than 14,000 people to safety, but they also plucked a plethora of animals from the floodwaters. Rescues of horses, cows, dogs, cats, pigs, bats and birds can be witnessed on YouTube videos (bring your tissues).

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What does this say about us as humans? To me, it says that our default is LOVE. Again and again, in spite of personal, physical, psychological, or emotional danger, most of us will reach out to help another who is in need. This LOVE default is at the core of the teachings of the Sisters of St. Joseph, also known as the Congregation of God’s Great Love. Each and every one of us is created in God’s image, brought to life through God’s breath. How, then, could we NOT reach out to the dear neighbor who is in danger around us, regardless of race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, or any other characteristic that we too often allow to divide us? And how could any of us refuse a hand outstretched in loving aid, regardless of the image of God it represented?

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Our early documents call us sisters, associates and partners of St. Joseph to live on a wing and a prayer, although not in those words. We are called, within the same moment, to contemplation AND action. Action and prayer are not to be separated. It is through my prayer that I hear God’s ‘next step’ for me, and through my actions that I both carry it out and hear the next step I am to take. We are called to live with discerning hearts, so that, unlike the dictionary post, we can be moved to action, trusting that, with God’s help, we are prepared enough for the job at hand.

As I was writing this, I received a text from a friend which included this quote from Cynthia Bourgeault’s the Heart of Centering Prayer. It is a prayer I might whisper before every action I take as one who seeks to be a carrier of God’s unioning Love in the world:

“By the power of the Divine Indwelling active in me, I unconditionally embrace this moment, no matter its physical or psychological content.” Or cost, I might add.

help-1300942_1920.pngBy God’s grace, when we bring our most whole selves to whatever we do, we are prepared and powerful, courageous and heroic, in big and small ways.

A wing and a prayer? They are enough for me!

 

About the Author

16-judyminear-copySister Judith Minear currently serves as part of the 3-member team for CSJ Ministries as Coordinator for Mission Integration, working with our 26 sponsored ministries. In her free time, she loves drawing zentangles, stalking birds and savoring poetry.

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Living a Legacy of Love: My Journey to Become a Sister of St. Joseph

By Jennifer Berridge, Candidate for Vowed Membership
with the Congregation of St. Joseph

I come from a long legacy of love. My family are good people. Warm, caring, honest, hard-working, helpful, “salt of the earth” people. My Mom has always been the kind of person who would drop everything to help anyone at any time. My Grandmother is the same way. Those who have come before me in my family are compassionate, sensitive, and kind. We were born to love. It’s in our DNA.

But for me personally, there were times in my life when I didn’t always operate out of love alone. I used to let the world define me, with all its deceitful messages and false descriptions of what a woman should be. A wiser place inside me knew that the world’s characterizations of women just weren’t good enough. I had to ask myself the hard questions that we have all had to ask ourselves at some point in our lives. I started with: Who am I? As I searched, I began to understand that my ultimate identity is found in God alone. I found that this is the truth of who I really am, and it has forever changed the way I see myself and others. I am a witness, living and breathing, that God is good!

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Jennifer with Sisters Judith Minear,
Marie Hogan, and Kathleen Durkin

Once I accepted this truth, no other fabrication that the world offers will ever be good enough. I no longer buy in to the constructs that the world imposes on women. I believe that we can all just be who we are, who we were born to be: authentic and real. We were created awesome and unique in God’s sight. God created all of us to be in loving relationship with each other and all of creation. When I think of love, I think of radical availability and radical receptivity – the kind of love that gives and receives from a mutual place that blesses all. I have found that the love I give, I receive in turn tenfold.

Since January 23rd, 2016, I have been a Candidate to become a Sister in the Congregation of St. Joseph community. I am blessed to have been offered the opportunity to invite others into this love that unites. We are called to a love of God and love of neighbor without distinction. Love is a part of our foundation!

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The day Jennifer Officially Became a Candidate
with the Congregation of St. Joseph!

So what is it like to be a Sister with the Congregation of St. Joseph? I spoke at a luncheon this June and tried to explain how my life is different now. In my speech, I said that who I am now is definitely my best self. Who I am now is who I know myself to be. I feel very centered, grounded, whole, healthy, and happy. I often say that I have been an adult before, but I have never been a Sister of St. Joseph before. So I simply ask our community of sisters for support, encouragement, and love. I pray for all the graces that are needed along the journey. And I can honestly say that I have been given more than I need. Being in community is like having sisters as prayer warriors with super powers! When sisters pray, things happen.

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it’s always a blessing to be with other sisters!

I was recently on a retreat at Saint Mary’s By the Sea in Cape May Point, New Jersey. One of the many graces of the retreat was watching the sunset in the evenings at Sunset Beach, as well as getting ice cream with new friends! The sun coming down over the ocean revealed to me the power of love right there in from of me, rising and setting with each new day. It was a wonderful experience. Another grace of the retreat was meeting other Sisters of St. Joseph in formation, sisters of all ages, as well as women from different religious communities. Relationships naturally formed. What a gift to be welcomed by all in love!

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This sunset was a reminder of the power of love!

Derek Tasker says in his poem I Wonder:

I wonder what would happen if
I treated everyone like I was in love
with them, whether I like them or not
and whether they respond or not and no matter
what they say or do to me and even if I see
things in them which are ugly twisted petty
cruel vain deceitful indifferent, just accept
all that and turn my attention to some small
weak tender hidden part and keep my eyes on
that until it shines like a beam of light
like a bonfire I can warm my hands by and trust
it to burn away all the waste which is not
never was my business to meddle with.

I pray for the grace to love like the light from a bonfire. I pray that I will remember the Sunset Beach moments in my life, all the flashes of light that stop me in my tracks to gaze upon the beauty of God’s love. In the end, I would rather be able to say that I loved too much than not at all. In the end, I want to know that I was able to carry on that from which I came, a legacy of love.

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May we all have the grace to love
like the bonfire light!

 

About the Author

photo of jenniferJennifer Berridge is a current Candidate with the Congregation of St. Joseph. A native of Cleveland, OH, she currently lives with sisters from the congregation in Wheeling, WV and serves as a Youth Care Worker at St. John’s Home For Children. In her free time, Jennifer like to write, listen to audiobooks, watch movies, and visit with sisters.

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Coming Together Under the Solar Eclipse

By Sister Christine Parks

I began writing this on the day of the solar eclipse, because it seemed a day of being one with so many others across our country in a very unique way. Whether the rest of the world was as enamored with it or not, the eclipse certainly superseded pretty much everything else in the U.S. on August 21st. And, even more, it seemed to bring people together in a spirit of celebratory unity that went well beyond the current contentious atmosphere that has created such a toxic climate all around us this summer.

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Sisters from Cleveland watched the eclipse.

There was something about the hundreds of thousands of people who traveled across the country to find, and stand together, in that 70 mile-wide “path of totality” moving from Oregon to South Carolina. Something about the hundreds of thousands more who stood outside homes and workplaces, stopping along the road, glancing out plane windows, to see the partial eclipse, whether through the approved glasses or on their phone’s camera, or in the shadow box they had constructed. There was something about the total attention of our nation, focused on the few minutes of dark, sweeping from coast to coast that seemed momentarily hopeful, as so many of us gazed upward and out into our solar system and beyond.

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As did sisters form Wheeling

As I stood on my driveway looking up at the slender arc of sun shining past the edge of the moon, I was filled with a sense of seeing a small sliver of our universe in a totally new and truly awe-filled way. It was almost like looking through a window into the heart of the Holy…seeing beyond our light and rhetoric -polluted atmosphere into a small bit of creation, happening right here, right now, just beyond the rim of this unfinished and less than perfect world we share with all the other beings that call earth home.

space-1228967_1920It was a vision that fanned a spark of gratitude and hope in me, and perhaps others, that all the small bits of work we do—our prayer, our action, our advocacy—for protecting and healing earth will grow, spread and bear fruit for the next generation.

 

About the Author

Christine Parks
Sister Christine Parks currently serves as a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph Leadership Team. Her leisure activities include gardening, long walks in nature, reading, writing, attending plays and concerts, as well as museums.

 

 

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Reading the Newspaper with Sister Jackie

By Sister Jackie Goodin

After I finished reading the Madeline series of books by Ludwig Bemelmans at age 5 or so (you can read about the influence those books had on me in my previous blog), I began to read the daily newspaper. Of course, I started with the comics, as any young reader would, dependent a bit on the pictures to learn the words.

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But then, I just got into reading the newspaper! I was born and raised in the newspaper town of St. Louis, Missouri. Truly, I could hardly wait to get home from school to read the afternoon edition.

Even when I was in Tanzania from 2010 to 2014, I would scan the makeshift wooden vendor table in the center of town for the English language weekly paper to learn about the politics and happenings in the country. Then, when I returned there in Fall 2016, I was gifted with an e-version of the Washington Post to keep up with the national election and the World Series. That was heaven! I only had to worry about keeping the reader charged up to get me through the entire paper.

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And now, my friends have offered to bury me (when it’s my time and not a moment before) with a cup of coffee and that day’s edition.

Since becoming a Sister with the Congregation of St. Joseph (or CSJs), how I read the paper has changed a great deal. In the years immediately following Vatican II, many religious congregations returned to their foundation to learn again the spirit for the future of their mission. Our CSJ sisters from across the globe did just that with the help of a French Jesuit, Marius Nepper, who described the spirit and spirituality of Sisters of St. Joseph wherever we live and serve as being with “eyes open, ears attentive, spirit alert, and sleeves rolled up.” This explanation is us as daughters of St. Joseph, without a doubt. Now, I read the paper in this light. Eyes open. Ears attentive. Spirit alert. Sleeves rolled up.

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So, one morning when I open a recent weekday edition of The Plain Dealer, the main newspaper in Cleveland,  I pay attention as I  read:

Family Holds Tearful Goodbye as Dad is Deported to Mexico is the first headline with an accompanying photo of a 10 year-old son hugging him in the airport. I wonder, what is my involvement in immigration reform? How can I offer more to immigrants so there will be no more family separations?

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Move to Repeal ACA Expires. I wonder, how am I giving voice for those who will most likely lose Medicaid coverage? Do I really act as though I believe healthcare is a right, not a privilege?

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Ex-Officer Won’t Face Third Trial. I am so glad I have joined our local CSJ anti-racism team to better understand the impact of racism and white privilege in our U.S. society—and to be a part of the change I/we want to see.

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Changing Climate Spells End for Ancient Way of Life. I remember what I learned and experienced during my Tanzania years of the beauty of the African peoples, their joys, their struggles. I anguish about Earth’s prognosis in terms of climate change, which is not good, and I resolve again to advocate for the signing of the Paris Climate Accord of 2015.

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Fentanyl Claims Life of 10-Year-Old Boy. I roll up my sleeves above my elbows in my ministry as a Clinical Social Worker, especially to support those moving towards recovery from addictions.

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Even the death notices get my close scrutiny. I am so reminded of the goodness of the human spirit as I read of the many charities which will benefit from memorial gifts. I think, too, of my own family and promise to keep working for healing wherever healing is needed.

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A Heavy Volume for Library: Needing to Ask for Tax Increase. Recalling my years as a professional librarian, wanting to help libraries is a no-brainer for me. Yet, I promise to do my homework in preparation for local elections this fall by studying the candidates and issues.

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Class Helps Community Agriculture Buyers Cope with Seasonal Abundance. While I’m not signing up for any abundance of kale, I am very aware of “food deserts” in our city and the efforts to bring healthy, fresh foods to many folks who live in poverty. I wonder about my neighbors who rely on food pantries and hot meals at local sites. Do I have a neighbor on my block who needs me to bring fresh fruits and veggies from our well-stocked refrigerator?

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Not too much to be said for the sports pages from me, I admit—other than to enjoy when our local teams work hard for a win.

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And finally, I do laugh at the funnies. I laugh because I see myself in the cartoons. You just have to laugh sometimes, right?

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Reading the paper, I see pictures of war and its refugees; I listen to the cries of the hungry and struggling; I renew a personal commitment to being a witness of God’s unifying Love; I participate in justice-making locally and globally. And the daily newspaper helps me stay informed and motivated. I cannot not read the reality. Every edition helps me to commit to being a better global citizen, a more tender-hearted CSJ for the Sisters that I live with, and a more caring neighbor in my city. Thank God for newspapers!

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Are you reading (in whatever newspaper format you enjoy most) with eyes open, ears attentive, spirit alert, and sleeves rolled up? How might our communities be better if we all read as a “daughter (or son) of St. Joseph?

 

About the Author

Sr Jackie

Sister Jackie Goodin worked as a librarian at the Cleveland Public Library for 10 years prior to joining the Congregation of St. Joseph (and is still a pretty good whiz at book trivia!) Since receiving her Masters in Social Work from Case Western Reserve University, she has held several positions as a Clinical Social Worker. She is a darn good cookie baker, and loves to read detective stories from around the world.

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What Makes a Superhero?

By Sister Jean McGrath

Superheroes come in all shapes and sizes. Many are giant-sized, monster-looking creatures with fire in their eyes and weapons in their hands. They are the stars of mega million dollar movies packed with ear shattering screams and death-defying stunts.

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My superhero is about 31-inches high with deep brown eyes. His only weapon is a nine-inch nurf baseball bat, an amazing family and a heart the size of Texas. He recently celebrated his second birthday at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago where he underwent his second bone marrow transplant.

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Nine months ago, Beau, the youngest of seven children, was diagnosed with Stage 3 neuroblastoma, a rare cancer that most commonly affects small children. Despite routine visits to the pediatrician, his mother observed a bit of lethargy and irritability that was out of character for her beautiful and very active baby boy. Doctors at the local children’s hospital gave his family the devastating news and outlined the course of treatment that would involve months of chemotherapy, radiation, bone marrow transplants and several surgeries. Despite the aggressive and drastic treatment plan, the prognosis was not good.

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Beau had other plans.

During the months since his diagnosis, Beau has touched the hearts of thousands of neighbors, friends and others whom he has never met. Although he is far too young to understand the meaning of the quotation about never doubting the ability of one life to change the world, Beau’s courageous battle has proved to all that it can and does happen.

Beau’s journey has sparked an outpouring of kindness and generosity that has changed his corner of the world. Ribbons were wrapped around every tree and pole within a one mile radius of his home reminding all to pray for Beau. Multiple fundraising events brought volunteers together as a tremendous show of support and to raise money to help cover some of the astronomical expenses not covered by insurance. A bake sale intended for the local community after all of the Sunday Masses in his parish, drew the attention of hundreds who lined up outside the doors to buy a cupcake and make a donation.

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A high school service project, originally designed as a small garage sale, expanded to a block-long event that attracted the attention of several news markets and raised thousands of dollars. A blood drive welcomed a record-breaking number of donors who waited for hours just so that they could help. The classmates of one of Beau’s siblings held a baseball game that brought families and neighbors together to raise additional dollars.

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In a nation divided over so many issues, Beau’s story, the medical journey of a two-year-old, needs to be shared. Beau’s journey has called out the best in literally thousands of strangers because it touches hearts and transforms lives. It is an invitation to hug the kids in our lives a little tighter, extend simple kindnesses to those who might need a helping hand or listening heart, be open to the wonder and potential of children, and practice an attitude of gratitude.

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Beau’s story will probably not melt many hearts in Washington or Moscow, but it does demonstrate the power of a community to rally in a remarkable outpouring of kindness and compassion.

Perhaps this is the “stuff” of superheroes.

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About the Author

JeanMcGrath

 

Sister Jean McGrath is principal at St. John Fisher School in Chicago and enjoys a good book, a good conversation, and a great bargain.

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Walking to Freedom

By Sister Jeannie Masterson

In a burst of creative genius, the Health Ministry in my parish joined with local Episcopal Retirement Homes to create a motivation for us to exercise from July through September. Whether walking, swimming, bicycling, gardening, or even chair exercises, we’re encouraged to keep a tally of our miles (if you don’t have a Fitbit or its cousin, 20 minutes of any exercise is considered a mile). As we exercise, we’re invited to consider the millions of refugees and immigrants whose only choice for life is to walk: away from everything they’ve ever known, with no clarity about where they might be welcomed to begin anew. Thus the exercise is known as “Walk to Freedom”.
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Because I happened to be born in a country that has not fought a war on its own soil in my lifetime, I can only imagine what it’s like to be so terrorized as to leave everything behind. Circumstances would have to be very challenging for me to make the decision that it’s safer and more hopeful to take whatever possessions I can carry than to stay where all my roots are. Things I take for granted, like having available bathrooms, a place to brush my teeth, three meals a day (and usually ample snacks in between), a safe and warm/cool place to sleep, accessible health care, the knowledge that my family and friends are safe, even wi-fi access on demand – all vanish when one hits the road as a displaced person.
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Throughout these months of mindful walking, the parish will offer insights about refugees through speakers, movies, articles, and discussions, leading to some action in solidarity with our brothers and sisters. We will map the total miles the parish walks in comparison with the most traveled routes of modern day refugees. With all our supports, will we collectively walk as far as one person from Damascus walks to find safety? We have no children to carry, nor sick parents to assist, nor family members from whom we have been separated in the migration. Our walk is totally voluntary, and at our discretion. What a difference from the forced marches of children, often as young as 6, who are kidnapped into various armies in our world!
giphy (43)A further offering of our parish “Walk to Freedom” is weekly devotions: scriptures, quotes, poetry and music to keep us connected with both our spiritual forebearers who journeyed, from Abraham to Mary and Joseph to St. Paul, and these modern journeyers. Our journey is to be spiritual as well as physical, to walk in others’ shoes to get a glimpse into their lives: their fears, their struggles, their challenges, and most of all, their hope. What a gift to be offered more than the thirty-second news feeds, to connect my life with those of my brothers and sisters, to become all the more alert to my multitude of blessings and comforts!
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I hope that, by the end of our three months, I have become more sensitive to a wide variety of ways I can become connected rather than distanced, to live with hope rather than fear, to offer generosity of heart rather than greedily clutching the benefits with which I have been blessed. If I’ve moved even inches in these hopes, I will have indeed walked to deeper freedom in the strongest sense of the word.giphy (42)

 

About the Author

jeannies-picture-2015Sister Jeannie Masterson is currently serving her second term on the Congregation Leadership Team. Earlier she served in provincial leadership, teaching, high school administration, and as a pastoral associate for adult formation. Sister Jeannie was the founding and active director for eight years of Cincinnati’s Jordan Center, which brought health attention to uninsured working people and their families.