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A Witness to LifeGillian Kantor
A Witness to Life
Gillian Kantor
Having four kids is not so unusual. Having four kids, all born at the same time, is a bit more attention-grabbing. Yes, indeed, it is, Justina and Matt Kopp, parents of quadruplets, will tell you. Everywhere and anywhere they travel as a whole family, they are greeted with comments, questions, and lots and lots of stares.
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When I visited the Kopps in their Minneapolis home as part of the upcoming documentary, A Woman’s Voice: Conversations of Discernment and Grace, I could see for a brief moment what that attention was like. I attended Mass with the Kopps at their parish and was excited to see their system and their partnership in getting their three boys and one girl get Church ready. Once there, all it took was getting out of the van and walking across the street with four car seats for vehicles to stop and passersby to roll down their windows to yell (nice!) things at the young family. And even though this was the Church they regularly attend, there were still many curious, sweet, and honest comments on seeing the four babies crawling all over each other at the back of the Church.

And so, with every family outing, the Kopps are a walking witness to pro-life. And they have been, ever since Justina’s belly started growing and her parinatology specialist strongly advised against carrying all four babies. The best way to bring home the most babies, the Kopps were told, is to reduce down to two.

Determined to carry, and celebrate, and love all her babies, Justina armed herself with knowledge, convictions, and faith to fight for a different way.

And so her journeys out of the house with her family are victory marches, of sorts. She did accomplish something amazing, something unique, something beautiful. Her four babies will forever be a testament to that.

“My husband and I are very aware that every time we go out, this is a way for us to witness,” Justina says in the documentary. “And that doesn’t mean we have to be joyful and happy. It’s hard and I want to be very real about that… but I do see our family as a unique way to witness to life.”

Learn more about Justina and her fight for life in A Woman’s Voice: Conversations of Discernment and Grace, airing Easter Sunday, April 1 at TIME. Hers is among a number of stories of incredible women and their vocations, ministries, and work for the Catholic Church.
Reconciling Women and Their WorkGillian Kantor
Reconciling Women and Their Work
Gillian Kantor
Lisa Raven is a woman unlike any other yet like so many others, all at the same time.
That’s a complicated sentence, but let me explain.
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First of all, it’s her story and her work that make her so unique. As the executive director of Returning to Spirit, a non-profit organization that designs and delivers workshops on Reconciliation, she has a heart for creating good and healthy relationships among strangers and friends. Sitting down to interview her for the upcoming documentary, A Woman’s Voice: Conversations of Discernment and Grace, felt like one part therapy session and one part sociology class, but all parts enlightening. She listened carefully to the questions and she thought carefully about her answers. She responded with great wisdom, gained from her own painful history and her practical nature. She shared great insights in what it is to be reconciled with another – how we need to name our pain, accept responsibility for our own decisions, and why we need to allow others to do the same. She shared stories of the people changed by their work with Returning to Spirit. And she marveled over what it means to help others heal.

But where she becomes like so many other women is in how she sees herself.

When I asked the question, “How do you see your work contributing to the Catholic Church?” Lisa was at a loss for words. She couldn’t say anything.

And this is how so many women see themselves and their work. They just do it – they see a job that needs to be done, and they are passionate about, and they work tirelessly to see it through. But when faced with a question about how their work contributes to a greater good, or to the Catholic Church, they are almost unbelieving that their efforts move much beyond their office, their family, their isolated realm.

But it does. The work of women reaches far beyond what they can see. Their voices are amplified by the people they help, by a new perspective that has left things changed, or by their motions that are uniquely compassionate, distinctly caring.

And that’s what we want women to recognize.

I want women, like Lisa, to know of the significance of their work. I want women to hear their voices in the stories of other people; to see the beauty they contribute to the world by the work of their hands and the prayers of their hearts, to know, undeniably; that their work is for the building of a kingdom. I want women to claim their efforts for Christ and the good of the Catholic Church.

And I want the rest of the world to see it, too.
Hope for An EndCheridan Sanders
Hope for An End
Cheridan Sanders
As part of my documentary about women in the Church, this week I followed Sr. Helen Prejean as she she worked to save the life of Richard Glossip, a man on death row in Oklahoma.
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The week began on a grim note. Richard’s execution was only a few days away and there seemed to be no sign of a stay of execution based on the Governor’s recent statement. Sister Helen arrived in Oklahoma City on Sunday eve, and the next day we joined her for a major news conference set at the State Legislature.
Media gather for press conference at State Legistlature
Media gather for press conference at State Legistlature
There Donald Knight, one of three ace lawyers working on Glossip's case pro bono, presented new evidence that they'd hope would blow open the case. Evidence which furthered impeached the credibility of key testimony which led to Richard’s conviction.
Richard's supporters during press conference.
Richard's supporters during press conference.
For those unfamiliar with this case, Richard's conviction rode primarily on the testimony of one man, Justin Sneed, who implicated Richard as the mastermind of a crime, for which he actually committed. The press conference was an intense affair. Media frenzied around and it got heated, especially when the District Attorney called the effort to save Richard's life "a bulls*** PR campaign".
Media interview Oklahoma District Attorney David Prater.
Media interview Oklahoma District Attorney, David Prater.
District Attorney David Prater (left) speaks with Glossip's lawyer, Don Knight (right) after press conference.
District Attorney David Prater (left) speaks with Glossip's lawyer, Don Knight (right) after press conference.
On Wednesday, the day of the execution, we accompanied Sister Helen on the road to McAlestar, where the execution was set to take place.



On the way there, I asked Sister Helen to share her thoughts in the face of the overwhelming odds against Richard.

Incredibly, at the 11th hour, a stay of execution was announced and Richard was given another two weeks to live. Friends and family who had gathered outside the prison were ecstatic at the news.







On the way back, Sr. Helen continued to speak with media from around the world about the day's remarkable events.

I'm still in awe at what I witnessed last week. One thing is for sure, I learnt something about living in hope. The fact is, Sister Helen never for a moment let Richard’s foreboding future distract her from the work that needed to be done in the present. She was resolute, focused and calm throughout. She had a contagious hope that seemed to promise a world one day without executions.

Cheridan Sanders interviews Sr. Helen Prejean for upcoming documentary featuring inspiring women of faith.
Dead Man Walking?Cheridan Sanders
Dead Man Walking?
Cheridan Sanders
I think I may have experienced a minor miracle this week. I was in the middle of a shoot when I got the call from our Director of Programming. It was an opportunity to cover the story of a death row inmate in Oklahoma City whose life Sister Helen Prejean (of Dead Man Walking ) was campaigning to save.
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I think I may have experienced a minor miracle this week. I was in the middle of a shoot when I got the call from our Director of Programming. It was an opportunity to cover the story of a death row inmate in Oklahoma City whose life Sister Helen Prejean (of Dead Man Walking ) was campaigning to save.

How we managed to throw together a crew and b-line down to Oklahoma to begin shooting in less than 24 hrs is beyond me, but there we were in Oklahoma City on our way to meet one of the greatest social justice campaigners of our time.

As we turned down the driveway of a quaint little suburban home, we immediately encountered the bright smile and warm words of welcome of Sr. Helen.

As I sat down and listened to how she became Richard Glossip’s (the death row inmate's) spiritual advisor, I realized the enormity of what was taking place.

It turns out there is a good chance that the State might put an innocent man to death.

Richard throughout his 18 years of incarceration has maintained his innocence and even though he was given the opportunity to save his life by admitting guilt, he chose to affirm his innocence and risk death rather than confess to a crime he asserts he didn’t commit. In a recent statement, Richard said he didn’t want to die, but at the same time he is willing to die if his death prevents others from facing the same fate. Surprising words from the apparent mastermind of a cold-blooded murder.



The following day we joined Sr. Helen at the Oklahoma State Legislature as she fielded questions from reporters and later on as she (on behalf of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty) submitted a petition of more than 269 000 names to Governor Fallin’s representative asking for a stay of execution. The 60 day stay would allow for new evidence to be presented in court so that they could ‘prove’ Glossip’s innocence.

Take a minute and read this article on the whole thing.

The stakes here are very high and a man’s life hangs in the balance. Please keep Richard and Sr. Helen in your prayers. I will keep you posted as things develop.

Somewhere Over the RainbowCheridan Sanders
Somewhere Over the Rainbow
Cheridan Sanders
There’s this great scene early in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy unsuccessfully tries to relate to her family about an incident involving her dog Toto. After she’s brushed off with the admonishment “find yourself a place where you won’t get into any trouble” Dorothy muses to her dog Toto, “'Some place where there isn't any trouble?' Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto? There must be. It's not a place you can get to by a boat, or a train. It's far, far away. Behind the moon, beyond the rain...
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Dreams of a place where there isn’t any trouble; a place where peace and universal brotherhood reigns seem like the stuff of songs and fairy tales.

Open hearts. Open minds. If you are different than me, why don’t we talk? Why do we always throw rocks at that which separates us? At that in which we are differing? Why don’t we hold hands in that which we have in common? Motivate ourselves to speak about what we have in common, and then we can talk about the differences we have.

Pope Francis, Address to Youth in Havana


And maybe it even sounds a little cheesy, but in the Tuscan hills of Italy there’s a town that suggests that perhaps it's not.

I caught up with Donata Ling, a young woman who has visited this special place and asked her to share some her experiences. Born in Hong Kong and raised in Canada, Donata is continues to promote peace through her work in interfaith and intercultural dialogue.
Donata Ling (third from left) in Egypt, after studying at Hebrew U, with friends.
Donata Ling (third from left) in Egypt, after studying at Hebrew U, with friends.
Ok, you’re rep for the Youth For A United World project, what’s that about?

It’s an international political project launched by young people from around the world who want to live in a more united world. The Project has gained a lot of international recognition from UNESCO in Paris, UNDESA in New York and YOUTH IN ACTION, the youth program of the European Commission. The Project works to create a new way of thinking and living in a world; as it encourages people to care for one another as they would their own sister or brother.

During your third year of university you went to Loppiano, Italy, why Loppiano?

I’ve been part of the Focolare Movement since childhood. My parents had been involved in Hong Kong, before I was born. It seemed as though my involvement in Focolare was very much their choice not mine. So I decided to experience the community for myself, to determine whether this was the life I wanted.

Initially I imagined I’d go after I’d finished university but, I remember when one of the spiritual directors asked me to consider taking a year off to go to Loppiano, which meant that I wouldn’t graduate with the rest of my friends and interrupting my university degree midway. This choice, seemed to be insignificant compared to the opportunity of experiencing what so many people in the Focolare Movement had already experienced. I felt God was calling me to do this. And, it was undeniably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
Donata (centre in back row) with a mix of youth from various countries, such as the Philippines, Italy, Brazil and India in Loppiano, Italy.
Donata (centre in back row) with a mix of youth from various countries, such as the Philippines, Italy, Brazil and India in Loppiano, Italy.
Tell me a little about how you came to commit yourself to working for unity and how your faith played a role?

I always knew that the Focolare Movement worked for a more united world, but I didn’t believe it was possible; it just seemed like a Utopian dream. But when I was living in Loppiano, Italy, I experienced a diverse community of people from different cultures and religions that really cared for one another. I was convinced that advancing greater unity in the world was the most pressing need of our time. It was in Loppiano that I made a commitment to live in unity with others. And so on April 27th, 2011 along with everyone present at the School of Formation for Young Women in Loppiano we made a commitment to remain faithful to Jesus in whatever He may call us to do. Every year, on this date we remind ourselves of that promise to God.
Donata Ling, (centre in front row) at home in Bethlehem with the Focolare Movement.
Donata Ling, (centre in front row) at home in Bethlehem with the Focolare Movement.


Your experience in Loppiano lead you to study in Israel, why? What made that experience significant to you?

In Loppiano, I had the chance to meet someone from Jerusalem who shared her story with me. She told me that what should be a 10 minute commute is more like 2 hours for her because her university is in Palestine and she lived in Jerusalem.’

I had met so many other people who shared challenges of poverty, civil war and injustices, however for some reason this story really impacted me. I had never met someone who had faced political barriers so completely out of one’s control.

This is called social friendship: to seek the common good. Social enmity destroys... And today we see that the world is destroying itself with war because people are incapable of sitting down and talking...We are killing social friendship. And that’s what I ask of you today: be capable of creating social friendship.

Pope Francis, Address to Youth in Havana


At the same time, someone else shared with me that Saint John Paul II had said that if the situation in Israel-Palestine could be resolved peacefully, then it would be possible for the whole world.

This really resonated with me because I was committed to building peace and unity in the world... Several months later during a retreat, I shared with another friend that I was interested in going to the Middle East to learn more because my friend’s experiences had touched me in such a profound way.

So I took the opportunity to study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for the summer of 2013. I went there to try and understand more about the situation and ended up leaving even more confused.

I have come to realize that living for unity requires a daily struggle to live out the principle of the Golden Rule “Treat others as you would like to be treated”. The answer to building peace and unity is the same there as it is anywhere, because the Golden Rule is universal. Also, I was strengthened to know that Jesus himself prayed for unity. I am now His body, being His hands and feet, which reaches out to others, especially those who are vastly different in cultural and religious perspectives.

Donata (centre in front) with friends from around the world in Loppiano, Italy.
Donata (centre in front) with friends from around the world in Loppiano, Italy.
Donata's commitment to unity seen in light of the Pope's recent calls to dialogue, social friendship and to practice the Golden Rule suggests that that place somewhere beyond the rainbow may not be the stuff of fairy tales after all.

Learn more about the Focolare Movement here.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Pope Francis: Chiara Lubich, luminous exemplary lifeCheridan Sanders
Pope Francis: Chiara Lubich, luminous exemplary life
Cheridan Sanders
Recently, Pope Francis announced the cause for Chiara Lubich's canonization opened! Definitely cause for celebration!

Chiara, a young lay women, founded the movement when she was just 23 years old. Today Focolare or Work of Mary, present in 180 countries globally, is an international community of men and women that promotes unity and universal brotherhood....
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What started out as an experiment among friends in the war-torn city of Trent in 1943 has since borne extraordinary fruits. In the 70 years since its founding, the movement has already yielded a Blessed! To find out more about Focolare watch our Catholic Focus episodes, Focolare: The Work of Mary. We also recommend that you check out Fr. Thomas Rosica’s Witness Interview with Maria Voce, President of Focolare.

CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo
Family Living in God's CountryCheridan Sanders
Family Living in God's Country
Cheridan Sanders
Cheridan Sanders chats with Andrea Lefebvre mother of 5, about Yukon-living, open-door hospitality and the call to live as a lay missionary.

It takes a special kind of person to venture out and live in the Yukon. With an average temperature of -22 degrees celsius in the winter months and a population of less than 40 000 in the whole territory ( that's less than many small cities further South) the Great Canadian North, for many, is about as close as it gets to living to ‘God’s Country’.
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I’d heard of families living in Canada’s North as lay missionaries for years. The idea of it, intrigued me. I’d never really thought of missionaries as being regular families.

My own experience had always been of religious or priests as missionaries. But of course, like all baptized Christians, families are called to go forth into missionary territories, to the North, to the South or right where they are, to proclaim the Good News.

The Holy Family Apostolate is quite new, it was started in 2008 when Bishop Gary Gordon (at the time Bishop of Whitehorse) had the vision of families living in and being present to communities in the North.

The apostolate started out with just five families who gathered at Madonna House in Vancouver where they began a process of discernment and reflecting on the ‘Little Mandate’.

In light of the upcoming World Meeting of Families and the particular challenges that families face today, I caught up with Andrea Lefebvre, mother of 5 to chat about Yukon-living, open-door hospitality and the call to live out her vocation in everyday life.

THE CALL
You’re originally from B.C. - Tell us about surviving a Yukon winter. How do you deal with the isolation and the long periods of literal darkness?

A good parka and wool socks do a lot for the cold. I’m certainly more tired in the winter with the long periods of darkness but I am blessed to have small children. Their needs are the same no matter whether I’m in BC or here. I have to get up early, make breakfast, get everyone dressed and who knows what might happen next. Whitehorse is a nice sized city and I haven’t found it isolating. There is a great community of people up here.

Did you ever imagine yourself as a missionary?

I certainly have always been in love with God enough to do so. In my younger years I wanted to do great things for God but as I grew in my faith I realized I had to grow with the gifts he had already given me. So I stopped looking elsewhere and tried to embrace my family more. In the midst of that I met my husband, with whom we shared a common love of family life. About two years into marriage, the Holy Family Apostolate began from the vision of Bishop Gary Gordon, who at the time was the Bishop of the Diocese of Whitehorse. He had a vision of families living their vocation and being a presence in the communities in which they reside. Bishop Gary asked Madonna House, which has been a strong presence in Whitehorse for over 60 years now with many years of experience in lay formation, to guide the HFA in its formation. My husband and I are very different in the way we draw closer to God, with the HFA we grow together as a couple and as a family. The Holy Family Apostolate is just what we needed to nurture our growing faith as a family.
FAMILY LIFE AS WITNESS
It’s not a common thing to see big families anymore, how do people usually respond when they see you and your wolf pack?

Any number of ways; from positive to dirty looks. There is one woman in town that is in her seventies. When she sees me with all my children, her eyes light up and she loves to tell me about her seven children and all her grandchildren. Some people make all kind of strange comments and this took some getting used to. Like “you’re brave,” “you know how to stop that problem,” “you’re busy” or the most common one is “you’ve got your hands full”. I was quite surprised by the number of comments that I got from strangers when I was pregnant with my third and fourth child. I hadn’t realized that there was so much cultural pressure related to family size. I’ve also come up with my own one liners. To most comments I just say something positive like “It’s great!” To the comment “you’re busy,” I usually say… “Everyone is busy; I’m just busy raising children.”

You spend a lot of time at Mary House, tell us about why you feel it matters and how it has impacted your life.

Mary House has been like my extended family in the Yukon. At first I went there because that is where Bishop Gary directed us to go. They always welcomed me and were gracious to me, my children, or anyone else I brought over. I like to joke to them that they can’t get rid of me and they always say they’d never try.

With time, I have come to really love the writings of Catherine Doherty and I have such a respect and love for the lay consecrated that I have met from Madonna House. They are good people grounded in God living a disciplined life of faith and service. They have taught me how to live more simply and to serve others more simply.
THE LITTLE MANDATE
Tell me about the “Little Mandate.”

The Little Mandate” is what Madonna House follows in their spirituality and it is also what we are following as the Holy Family Apostolate. It really covers the depth and breadth of our faith. When we gather for the Holy Family Apostolate we have a written reflection that is based on one line from the “Little Mandate.” With all the information out there these days, it is helpful to have a simple focus.

Tell me what inspires you most about being a lay missionary.

Being a lay missionary seemed to shift my thinking as an ordinary Catholic. Instead of thinking about what the Church is doing for me, I instead turned the thinking more into what I need to do to serve our Church and others. I also identify more closely with the church and its strengths and weaknesses.

You’ve mentioned that you love to welcome people into your home, why is an open door so important to you?

I have felt this is what I am called to. In the vocation of family life, we have a gift of having a community already and a home. So it is in our vocation that we must share this gift and be generous to anyone who may visit. We like to keep our guest bed clean and ready for whoever might need it.
YUKON-LIVING
Give us two qualities that you feel embody Yukoner’s and tell us why they are so important in the North?

Resourceful and adventurous.

Resourcefulness is important because in urban centres you can have anything you want but in more remote or rural places you learn to work with what you have. Whitehorse has most of everything anyone really needs but being more resourceful is helpful. When meeting some of the older Yukoners, I am amazed at how much I could learn from them; they are incredibly resourceful. One man in particular hunts, traps and grows most of his own food. He always plants some extra broccoli and cabbage for me every year and when he gives them to me they are planted in cut out milk cartons. I just love that he uses whatever he has rather than buying something like pots. Having moved up here, my husband has taken up hunting and I’ve had to figure out how to cook Moose, Caribou and Bison.

Everyone up here just seems to be adventurous; this is why it isn’t so isolating. Even when it’s minus 30C, we’ll see other parents attending events with their children as well.

Related:

We featured the Marian Centre in Edmonton, Alberta for The Church Alive series.
The Church in the Digital AgeCheridan Sanders
The Church in the Digital Age
Cheridan Sanders
For an institution that still uses smoke signals to communicate the election of a new leader one wonders how the Church will respond to the challenges of the digital age? When I reflect on this topic, I can’t help but remember when the good old Pope Benedict launched News.va. That’s right, in case you’ve forgotten, it was Pope Benedict's finger that launched NEWS.VA.

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Isn’t there something incredible about an image of a Council Father, like Pope Benedict, launching a news portal via an ipad. Two worlds literally meeting at the tip of a finger. Reminds me of the scene of Adam and God in the Sistine chapel.

In light of the World Communications Day, I caught up with Professor Daniella Zsupan-Jerome, Author of Connected Toward Communion: The Church and Social Communication in the Digital Age to share some insights with us:
Professor Daniella Zsupan-Jerome with iPad that Pope Benedict used to launch @Pontifex


Today we celebrate the 49th World Day for Social Communications. Any thoughts on the Pope’s Message?

I recommend praying with this beautiful document. It invites us into the family of Jesus to re-learn some of the beauty and richness of human communication. The meditation on the Annunciation and the Visitation are especially profound as Pope Francis leads us to recognize how communication itself was made sacred in the Word becoming flesh through the yes of Mary. True to form, Pope Francis guides us from meditation to recognition in our own lives: to the reality of our own families and how communication emerges and grows from this basic human experience. I love his reflection on the womb as “the first school of communication” where the encounter between mother and child, “so intimately related while still distinct from each other, an encounter so full of promise, is our first experience of communication.”

I also appreciate the challenge he names regarding digital culture: “The great challenge facing us today is to learn once again how to talk to one another, not simply how to generate and consume information.” He is calling us back to encounter here, back to recognizing the person in front of us, back to the basic posture of relationship that we are made for in the image and likeness of God. He challenges us here I think to think creatively and faithfully about how to do this in and through digital communication.

The Church in many places seems to still prefer analogue communication like radio (or smoke signals), are we ready for the digital age?

One of the reasons I love the Roman Catholic Church is because of its long-history of being “multimedia” as well as its beautiful theology of communication. Our theology set us up to think in terms of mediation, sacramentality, and grace present in and through something that conveys or carries it. We think of God’s relationship with us as God’s self-communication. We consider Christ as the Word Incarnate. We live empowered by the Spirit who has given us the ability to speak. All of these are a solid foundation for thinking about communication today.

The Catholic tradition is a multimedia tradition: we honor the body as our primary medium, we embrace the stuff of the earth as our sacramental symbols, we have a long history of art, performance, music, manuscript, print and even electronic media to illuminate, educate and inspire. All this makes us not only ready for digital culture, but sets us in a position of thought-leadership in terms of how to do this well.

Ok, what are some of the practical implications for priestly and lay formation?

If we are living in a digital culture, then it is important to begin to think in cultural terms, rather than simply about specific tools, skills or platforms to use in ministry. For ministerial formation, this means thinking more broadly. For priestly formation, it raises questions about how to teach, govern and sanctify digital culture, or more specifically, the people we are called to serve in our digital culture. For the lay minister, it is about how to live a baptismal call to share the Gospel, to be a communicator of Good News in the digital age, whether at home, at work, in our social and professional contexts. For both lay and priestly formation, this brings an intentionality to communication, and engenders communication that is, at its core, an act of giving oneself in love. Even when it comes to a text or tweet, this is possible.

Pope Francis seems to be a pretty savvy communicator, judging from his twitter followers and famous selfies, anything we can learn from him?

Openness to learning and trying something new, courage to look “human” while doing it, and the commitment to seek encounter with people through the screen, especially those who need healing and reconciliation the most.

In your book you made an interesting observation about the location of the Media on the Council Father’s agenda. Mind letting us in on that 'Conciliar joke'?

At the first session of the Second Vatican Council, the Council Fathers placed the discussion on Inter Mirifica (Decree on Mass Media) intentionally following the discussions on the liturgy and revelation, and preceding forthcoming discussions on Christian unity, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the church. Wedged between these heavier topics, the discussion on the topic of social communication was anticipated to be lighter, even called an “opportunity for relaxation” by Cardinal Cento, the president of the commission that oversaw the preparation of the schema on this topic. I am not sure how relaxing the discussion was, even if it dealt with the media. Over two and a half days, fifty-four Council Fathers gave a verbal address and an additional forty-three submitted written feedback. This sounds like work.
Faith At SeaCheridan Sanders
Faith At Sea
Cheridan Sanders
Cheridan Sanders learns about life on the Rig, as she chats with Alison Carey about faith, work-life balance and what it's like living 120 miles out to sea.

When you imagine reaching out to the peripheries, setting up shop in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico isn’t exactly what comes to most of our minds.

But one thing I have found you can always count on, no matter how far or inaccessible a human community may be, Christ always finds a way to reach them.

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And so here enters Alison, a Deepwater Process Control and Automation Engineer, who is no stranger to adventure as she lives and witnesses in one of the toughest working environments on the planet.

Find out what it takes to live at sea and how opportunities to witness are found even in the most unlikely of places.

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How did you come to work on an oil rig? I suppose it's not something you wake up one day and say you're going to do? Or is it?

I am a process control engineer (my degree was chemical engineering) and I am based out of the Covington Louisiana (LA) office, but spend around 60 days offshore per year. My main workplace is the office but I am an operation support engineer which requires me to make “field visits” (to our outlying deepwater platforms- some are as far as 120 miles off the coast of LA). Before moving to LA, I worked in the gas plants and oil fields in West Texas and New Mexico. Before that, I was an operations process engineer at a refinery in Philadelphia.

What is your day to day like?

When I am in the office, I work on control systems, monitoring the oil/gas/water separation process via our automation and computers. I interface with the operators daily asking them to make adjustments and finding ways to run the process smoother. I am focused on what we can “topsides” which means that my work boundary starts once the oil arrives at the platform (I am not involved in drilling or production) and ends when our products reach their respective pipelines (to the sales point). When I am offshore, I spend my time working in the control room (the most common visual for a control room would be NASA’s Mission Control Center where one can see all the temperatures, pressures, flow rate, etc. of the fluids moving through our pumps, separators, compressors, treaters, heaters, etc.). I make adjustments to run the process smoother, so we can increase our throughput in a safe and reliable manner.

What's the biggest challenge that you've encountered so far? What was the role of your faith in that experience?

Work/ life balance can be very stressful at times with my job. I think this is true with any career. Do we let our career become our God? When I first started working, especially at a union refinery in the Northeast, I dealt with a lot of hostility. I was severely outnumbered as a female there and struggled with gaining/earning respect. This is not a problem in the Gulf due to (in my opinion) the culture of the people I interact with and also due to some maturity and personal development on my behalf.

Is there anything that surprised you when you started working out in the middle of the Gulf?

I have a great respect for the people who work a 14 day on / 14 day off schedule. They sacrifice so much to provide for their families. This puts great strain on relationships and lifestyles. They do hold Bible Studies and prayer sessions offshore on Sunday nights at many locations, giving the employees a sense of community even though they cannot be with their families. There is a lot of risk with the work we do offshore. In many cases, it can become a life or death situation. People take care of one another, they look out for one another’s safety and well-being. There is a sense of brotherhood that engulfs you when you step off the helicopter and onto the platform. There are so many offshore coworkers who I know would do anything for me- this is the definition of a true Christ-like person. There is an overwhelming sense of ownership and pride that one can sense in this environment from most of the crew.

What are the people like that you work with? How would you describe the environment on the rig?

When you are in the offshore environment, there is a significant pull to get along. At the end of the day, you do not leave work. You have to live with your coworkers so this creates a different environment. Sure there are people who do not get along, but it’s less common than in the office environment. I am also one of the few if not the only female out there. Sometimes this can be awkward, as no one likes to be outnumbered, but once people get to know me, they treat me as an equal or sometimes better. Although my job is not vocational (like a doctor, teacher, etc.) I still see my purpose is to help others in any way. It can be difficult to live offshore for long periods of time because it is so isolated. I keep myself busy and try to make the best out of it. As far as what are the people like? They are normal people. They love their families. They take pride in the work they do which provides energy and a way of life to others.
Alison Carey, a process control engineer, is based out of the Covington, Louisiana office, but spends around 60 days offshore per year.
You’ve recently graduated with a Masters of Pastoral Studies from Loyola, what did you take away from that experience? Has your worldview changed at all?

I graduated with my Masters of Pastoral Studies last year from Loyola. It allowed me an opportunity to grow my faith on an intellectual basis. I was using this for working with the RCIA program at my local parish. The program definitely changed my worldview. I was introduced to a new network of people who carried the same concern about how our careers and faith intersected. Spending the time at Loyola allowed me to grow in empathy for others, especially those I work with. Not everyone is viewing life from the same vantage point, and even when talking to other Catholics about their work and faith, the viewpoints were not the same. This realization changed my worldview in that I need to have more patience with others and need to come to them at their own starting point. Jesus approached his disciples as they were out fishing, doing their jobs. This is where Jesus meets me as well.

Something I read recently that describes a little more on the Catholic perspective of the workplace:

Author Chris Lowney wrote a very engaging article about the newly canonized St. Peter Faber. The focus of the article is on the impactful life of St. Faber and the business consideration of his work and teachings Here is a one paragraph excerpt -

But Faber implicitly challenges businesspeople that their talents are only being used well when they maintain a proper perspective on life. Business and money-making are not the highest ends: "If there were not such a harvest of souls to reaped," Faber writes. Our destiny lies beyond this world, and we're here for purposes beyond what we can sell, trade, build, buy, flaunt or own during this short earthly sojourn. That includes, if we are businesspeople, remaining aware that our every business decision impacts, for better or ill, the lives of employees, customers, shareholders and communities.


How do you give witness to the faith in your day to day encounters?

One of the focus areas for my studies is the fact that the faith needs to be lived out. A lot of people justify their dedication by being immersed in ministry. However, practically speaking, we spend most of our time at our jobs. I recall being in high school and our religious teacher telling us we did not have to be sisters or nuns to be holy. We can make any job holy as long as we keep our focus on God, and remember as St. Paul challenges us, that we are always serving God regardless of the task. Keeping this at the forefront of my mind is a daily challenge but one that I am called to do. In an environment as fickle as the energy business, one must be ready for constant change and for a dog-eat-dog world that any for-profit corporation can become by means of their inherent structure. In other words, we come to work to make money, not for social betterment or for a deeper cause.

There are always those among us who are poorer in something. For example, one “ministry” in my job is mentoring younger engineers. It’s a true labor of love to take the time required to prepare them for his or her career. I am mentoring one young lady right now who I took under my wing when I saw she was struggling with some of the same situations I had been through. This empathy provides me a way to mimic Christ in the work place. The poor will always be with us, Jesus prophesized. The poor can be anyone in need- someone who does not have the same amount of knowledge or confidence and needs a little help.

There is also a cliché about engineers and operators and how the two are oil and water. Historically there exists much animosity between these two. As you can imagine, a bad relationship between an engineer and operator can create a daunting work environment when trying to convince a control room operator to make a change when he has been operating that system just fine for 20 years. It takes some finesse to do this successfully- something I learned from a few good mentors and bosses by watching them interact and ask questions with respect and listen to the offshore personnel. This also becomes a way to witness my faith- you will know what I believe by how I treat others. This is my goal. Sometimes I struggle with personality conflicts and with egos and all the messiness that exists when many people are required to meet a common goal. It is how we handle and conduct our business that shows what we truly believe.

Power of authority and position can be resorted to too often in this environment. I would rather people do what I ask because they respect my knowledge and skills rather than doing it because I said so. In order to reach this level with others, significant effort is required to know and honor them as individuals and see how we can work in unity to reach a goal that is beneficial to both.