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The Strong Arm of the Church: The Knights of Columbus

A household name for many, the Knights of Columbus have grown into the world’s largest lay Catholic organization. But, surprisingly, there’s still a lot of mystery that surrounds these noble men. In light of the upcoming Supreme Convention, we thought you might want to find out why the Knights remain the ‘Strong Arm of the Church’.

Don’t forget to tune in for Salt + Light’s live coverage of this year’s 133rd Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus.

Swimming Against The Tide

Cheridan Sanders celebrates her First Holy Communion at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Windhoek, Namibia. Brother Sebastian stands in the foreground.


A religious brother teaches young Cheridan Sanders how to swim; and that having faith means believing in a reality that does not exist, yet.

I grew up in mission territory.

‘South West’, as it was known then, was hot, dry and isolated.

Even today it remains one of the least densely populated nations.

No surprise then that many people have never heard of Namibia.

Imagine what life would have been like without those missionaries? Besides my own fond memories of attending Mass and participating in my weekly catechesis I benefited most from their presence.

Two impressions in particular remain with me.

First, the Sisters. I don’t recall one as much as I recall all of them. They were always giving out prayer cards and encouraging us to pray, especially to the saints on the cards.

Their encouragements were usually joined with hugs, smiles and invitations to come out of the sun and drink lemonade on hot days.

I reveled in their warmth, their embraces, their sweetness. And to this day, I love Mary and the saints and I believe it’s largely because of them.

And then there was Brother Sebastian…

Brother Sebastian was an intimidating, severe character to a seven year old me.

Stern, matter-of-fact and very German he was my version of Severus Snape. I recall his long, black robe, his black-rimmed glasses, and the fact that he was always dabbing his forehead with a white handkerchief.

He tolerated no cavorting, no dilly-dallying, no chatter and most of all, ‘no excuses!’.

(Admittedly, all things I was often guilty of)

This saga, all started in the shallow end of my primary school pool. Timidly holding onto the side, glancing furtively over to the deep end where the rest of my classmates were diving and prancing with delight.

I looked back at the kids in the shallow end with me. I took in my situation. I knew why we were all there. We were the kids who weren’t rich enough to have pools in our backyards, and then there was the colour of our skin as well.

… I was ashamed. I couldn’t swim, and judging by my flailing around, I determined that I never was going to be as good as the other kids in the class who’d been swimming, as one girl took much pleasure in pointing out, “since I was ‘3 months old!’.

I couldn’t help but roll my eyes.

I don’t recall exactly how the next series of events came about, but I must have gone home and complained to my mother.

The next thing I knew, I was signed up for additional swimming lessons with Brother Sebastian at the Catholic high school up the street.

As I walked up the steep hill towards the Black Gates of Mordor… sorry I meant, the high school where my additional swimming lessons were held, my stomach churned.

I thought to myself: “Now, you’ve really gone and done it, Cheridan!” bitterly regretting telling my mother how embarrassed I was that I couldn’t swim like the other kids in my class.

How could I have anticipated that sharing my shame would mean bi-weekly swimming lessons with none other than Brother Sebastian!

It was bad enough flailing about helplessly in front of my grade school friends …but having to learn under the eagle eye of Brother Sebastian and his pack of elite high school swimmers, well it was all just too much!

It was decided; I needed to die.

Even to this day, I can see the high school boys who formed his elite swimming squad, some of the best swimmers in the region in fact, looking on with smirks as they waited for Brother Sebastian to turn those penetrating eyes of his on them.

And true to his reputation, Brother Sebastian was indeed a task master. He was very clear about his expectations:

Tardiness was unacceptable
Practice outside of the regular instruction was expected.
And, above all, we were to stay focused and committed to the task at hand.
Now, into the pool and get to work!

All of which, delivered in a pronounced German tone which brooked no argument.

He was methodical and painstakingly meticulous.

… Sometimes, he would even jump into the pool to ensure that we were executing our strokes correctly!

This I hated the most; the singling out of my ineptitude.

Oh! The suffering!

And I’ll openly admit that I tried to drop out on more than one occasion.

But once signed up there was no way out. My mother said I was going to follow through on this, no turning back.

And so, somewhere between my mortification and the drills, I learnt to swim.

Really well.

All too soon I became one of the best swimmers in my school, and eventually in my age group. In our inter-school competitions I always had a spot on my school’s relay team. And we rarely went home without winning.

And so, below his stern exterior, Brother Sebastian was a man of charity and generosity. He wasn’t exactly the warmest character; but he was ultimately a good man.

I learnt years later that he’d taken me on as a bit of a charity case. My mother couldn’t afford to send me for the semi-private lessons (my existing school fees already were astronomical).
She’d approached him on my behalf one day after Mass.

I still smile at my mother’s audacity, she sought out the best coach in the country to teach her daughter how to swim.

And, his instruction (as much as I hated it) was a great service to me.

He taught me to swim against the tide. He taught me that hard work, perseverance, and self discipline pay off. That excellence is rarely achieved without a constant eye to self-improvement, and that success was not a matter of social standing, the colour of your skin, or even when you begin. But how much you apply yourself and your God-given talents.

He showed me that the real battle was believing in a future that was not a reality, yet.

And, if it weren’t for those missionaries and their unique forms of witness, expressed in a variety of ways, well I think my life would have been a little less rich.

CherdianS1The Producer Diaries

Cheridan Sanders, a Producer at Salt and Light Television, reflects on her experiences as she travels the world telling Catholic’s stories.

Sr. Rosemary – one of the world’s most influential pioneers.

Cheridan Sanders meets another hero, Sr. Rosemary Nyirumbe, Sisters of the Sacred Heart

Cheridan Sanders meets her hero, Sr. Rosemary Nyirumbe, Sisters of the Sacred Heart

It often happens that Fr. Tom Rosica will pile us all into a van and take us on a ‘road trip’, of sorts.

This time it was just a jaunt across the border into Buffalo for this year’s Catholic Press Association Convention. The Convention was an opportunity to refine and update our skills, and meet other Catholic media professionals.

Here’s a little taste of that experience:

There’s a palpable excitement at seeing fellow colleagues. We get to swap war stories, strategies, renew connections and walk away with lots of ideas and practical ways to implement them.

This year 12 of us attended the Convention, some of the S+L team members for the first time.

Personally I was stoked about the prospect of hearing from Sr. Rosemary Nyirumbe’s keynote. You may recall she obtained fame in the documentary Sewing Hope. Ok, if you haven’t watched Sewing Hope – stop everything that you’re doing and watch this trailer, right now!

Isn’t she amazing? No wonder, TIME magazine listed her as one of the 100 most influential people in the world!

Well, the best part of this year’s CPA Convention was that I got a chance to speak with her and here’s some of that interview:

To support Sr. Rosemary and her work with former child soldiers and to provide young women the opportunity to earn their own living, consider purchasing some bags or accessories for yourself or as a gift.

CherdianS1The Producer Diaries

Cheridan Sanders, a Producer at Salt and Light Television, reflects on her experiences as she travels the world telling Catholic’s stories.


Family Living in God’s Country

Photo by Creekgeek via Flickr Under Creative Commons

Photo by Creekgeek via Flickr Under Creative Commons


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’.

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.



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.


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.


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.


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.

We featured the Marian Centre in Edmonton, Alberta for The Church Alive series. Watch that story here.

CherdianS1The Producer Diaries

Cheridan Sanders, a Producer at Salt and Light Television, reflects on her experiences as she travels the world telling Catholic’s stories.


Why going on a pilgrimage is worth every penny

New documentary 'Camino' follows hikers' trek from France to famed pilgrimage site in Spain

I came across an article the other day that indicated there’s research that suggests that experiences, not things, make us happier.

Turns out there are a few reasons for this – the value of experience increases over time, and it’s something that people share, and even bad experiences (apparently) are valued more over the course of time because they become good stories.

Reflecting on this research, what immediately popped into my mind was pilgrimages. Because it really doesn’t matter how terrible the accommodations or the inevitable logistical fiascos may be because, in the end, it is overcoming these trials or bad experiences, like the saints before us, that makes these journeys, these experiences, worthwhile.

To quote St. John Paul II, “For the Church, pilgrimages, in all their multiple aspects, have always been a gift of grace.”

The best part is that you don’t always have to be trekking halfway across the world to go on a good pilgrimage. There are many spots close to home that you can enjoy. One place in particular, which I thought I’d share with you, is a stunning exhibit of the life of St. John Paul II that allows pilgrims to immerse themselves in his life and teachings.

I caught up with Dr. Jem Sullivan, Director of Research and Education for the Saint John Paul II National Shrine to learn more.


The permanent exhibit is dedicated to preserving the legacy of St John Paul II – why is that important and what are some of the unique features of the exhibit?

Saint John Paul II is the “pope of the family,” as noted by Pope Francis when he canonized him a saint of the Church in 2014. Pope John Paul II’s clear and courageous witness to the gift and sanctity of the family continues to be among his most enduring legacies.

The exhibit is meant to be both an informative and a transformative experience that invites pilgrims to become part of the “spiritual family” of Saint John Paul II by walking in the footsteps of one of the great saints of our time.

Saint John Paul II’s entire life was an embodiment of his fearless preaching of the Gospel. From his early experiences of family, and his personal and physical sufferings, he showed the world that it is possible to live a fully human life through the power of faith in Jesus Christ.


Many people considered Pope John Paul an important player on the world stage, how does the exhibit explore this?

The permanent exhibit  explores the impact of his teachings and witness to the dignity of the human person through an extraordinary collection of photos, quotes, short films, personal interviews, artifacts, and original works of art.

Pilgrims can view his handwritten notes of his 1979 speech to the United Nations on display in the exhibit, and be inspired by his 1995 address to the United Nations when he said that, “…the answer to the fear which darkens human existence at the end of the twentieth century is the common effort to build the civilization of love, founded on the universal values of peace, solidarity, justice, and liberty.” (John Paul II, Address to the United Nations, October 5, 1995).


How has John Paul’s life personally had an impact on who you are today?

As a young student of theology and philosophy in the 1980s and 1990s, I had the privilege of reading and reflecting on the writings of Pope John Paul II. The pope’s first encyclical, Redeemer of Man, and his writings on catechesis, evangelization, and art made a deep impression on me and was a guide to the subsequent intellectual paths I would take during my graduate and doctoral studies.

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The pope radiated the love of God in a way that had a strong impact on my faith and life, as a wife and mother, and as a catechist, teacher, and professor. His love for Christ was a powerful example of Christian discipleship that encouraged me to serve the Church over the past twenty years. I took to heart Saint John Paul II’s call and challenge to grow daily in prayer and holiness of life, and to “not be afraid” to give one’s life in service of Christ and His Church. His saintly witness and example of Christian discipleship was among the reasons I was led to serve through catechesis, evangelization, and the renewal of culture and art for the past two decades.


So this summer consider visiting this stunning exhibit to learn about a hero, live his life and share in something which will inspire you, challenge you and leave you grateful for his witness.

What could make you happier?

Exhibit photos courtesy of: Matthew Barrick, Barrick Photography and CNS.



CherdianS1The Producer Diaries

Cheridan Sanders, a Producer at Salt and Light Television, reflects on her experiences as she travels the world telling Catholic’s stories.


S+L goes local


Apparently, one of the most subversive things you can do these days is plant a garden in your backyard. No kidding.

And as much as I dream of this possibility one day; for those of us who live in tiny apartments in downtown Toronto and work erratic hours, well, its not really an option, yet.

So no garden. *sigh But we could support a local farmer.

And so, a group of us at Salt and Light signed up for a Community Supported Agriculture program with Willo’ Wind Farms located in Uxbridge.  You can meet our farmers here.

Now we’ve all been aware of the need to buy local for a while but when we realized that someone we knew had a farm that was willing to provide us with CSA shares that changed everything.

As I mentioned, most of us live in apartments, so arranging for delivery posed a problem. Nevertheless, such a hiccup in our grand plot to undermine the corporate food monopoly’s devious plan to own all biodiversity on the planet would not deter us.

We needed to improvise.

Thus began my quest to find more articles, more research, more TED talks, and one by one my office mates rallied to the green revolutionary cause. The plan was perfect. Our resolve unwavering. The timing had to be just right.

So when I finally approached Fr. Tom ready and willing to sacrifice life and limb for sake of ‘la revolucion’, he simply shrugged his shoulders and said “sure”.


….okay, so perhaps it wasn’t a poised battle. But a win’s a win.

And with that our lives were changed.  Seriously.  The office was pretty pumped about this. It’s a tangible way to buy into an alternative vision, one that supports seed diversity, local farmers and teaches us to eat seasonally.

This week was our first delivery.

If you’re looking for a great family outing consider the Food, Family Faith Weekend.

CherdianS1The Producer Diaries

Cheridan Sanders, a Producer at Salt and Light Television, reflects on her experiences as she travels the world telling Catholic’s stories.



Something’s Gotta Give

Baby owls leave nest in Japan; papal encyclical on environment expected later this year

If you haven’t read the Pope’s latest encyclical on the environment, you should: climate change, the loss of biodiversity, over-consumption, food waste, water scarcity are but a few of the hot button issues Pope Francis took aim at.

As the saying goes: something’s gotta give. For the sake of our common home, Pope Francis is calling us out to change our lives.

Now, like everyone else, I’ve watched those documentaries that talk about the state of modern agriculture, the food industry, the fracking …. and I’ve become painfully aware of just how chronic the situation is. You don’t have to watch scary docs to see a picture painted of how bleak things look, who can dismiss eerily apocalyptic reports like the bees dying en masse or the butterflies disappearing?

Oh man, thinking about the poor bees gets me every time. What did those hard-working insects ever do too anyone…. poor little guys.

The world needs a’changin.

One of the best ways to effect positive change is to stop buying in. Literally and figuratively.

Yeah the odds seem against us but the fact is, every purchase matters. Either we’re voting for an agricultural industry, energy industry, fashion industry, ‘replace with industry of your choice’ that respects God’s sovereignty over Creation and the dignity of people, or we support the evil Empire.

In other words, the question becomes which Skywalker are you gonna be?

Initially when I thought about changing my lifestyle I was overwhelmed. I thought how am I ever going to afford to do this! Have you seen the price of organic anything?

Turns out that being frugal and being green go hand in hand. There’s a lot of wisdom to living simply because by just making the decision that less is more, actually disposes you to being more creative and leads to many opportunities for cost-savings which you couldn’t have imagined prior to making the decision.

Also elderly people have a lot to teach us in this regard. After talking with my parents about my decision (and doing some reading online), I realized that many of the ‘green’ lifestyle tips were just what ordinary folks did as a matter of course, especially if they lived through the Great Depression. Simple things, like using vinegar and water to clean your home or planting a garden in your backyard was just what you did, it wasn’t “green”, it was common sense. Growing your own food is as close to free as you can get!

Why buy more when you could use it up, make do, or do without?

The more I evaluated the way that we lived, the more I realized how excessive and wasteful normality is. For example, we live in an apartment downtown where people regularly discard all kinds of things that are in mint condition: toasters, tables, chairs, frames, lamps. We regularly benefit from these throw-aways, but still, it’s nuts.

I’m proud to say now that most of the items in our apartment were either salvaged from the sidewalk, recycling bin, or traded on Craig’s list. And these substitutions hasn’t lessened our comfort or enjoyment.

And it’s not just what we eat or furnish our houses with, it’s also what we wear. Like many women out there, I like the feeling of having a new wardrobe, but the more that I learned about the effects of fast fashion and the terrible toll it takes on the lives of those who work in sweatshops around the world and the pollution these items create…. its just not worth it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I haven’t gone cold turkey on the whole thing and started wearing a hair shirt, but I have substituted new clothing for second hand and clothing swaps. Personally, I’ve found that the key to changing my lifestyle was not to go to the extreme, but just finding reasonable substitutions for existing solutions. Its important to put limits on how much you own, not only is it responsible but it makes for better purchases.

I’ve also found that do it yourself cleaning products and skincare is cheaper and frankly more effective than expensive products. Again, I haven’t forgone all my old habits and there are some things that perhaps I’ll never have the guts to give up, but I have reduced the products I use substantially and found lots of suitable solutions which are natural, reusable and cost pennies. Baby steps. Baby steps.

It’s been a slow process, but committing myself to living more simply is refreshing and looking back over the past few years I’ve noticed that I am getting better at this stuff and what’s really surprising is that I can’t even remember what it was like before my green revolution. And living simply has made me feel a greater sense of integrity and overall improved my relationship with God.

Looking for something fun to do with the family? Why not attend the Food, Family Faith Weekend.


CherdianS1The Producer Diaries

Cheridan Sanders, a Producer at Salt and Light Television, reflects on her experiences as she travels the world telling Catholic’s stories.


John Paul II, A Saint for Canada

Father Karol Wojtyla reading in canoe in 1955

I once had a teacher who knew exactly how to keep her students focused during the day. She promised us that if we were very good, she would read us a few pages from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. She would only have to give the gentlest reminder that we would not have time for The Hobbit and there would be a swift end to our cavorting and carrying-on. As you can imagine, she had us eating out of her hand.

My love for a great story has continued, and I’ve found that the best stories are always those “based on a true story”. At Salt + Light we have a storytelling ritual, you could say, and Fr. Thomas Rosica is one of the best storytellers I know. Whenever Fr. Rosica returns to the office from a trip, he gathers everyone to celebrate Mass, and following that it’s time for our meeting around the conference table. After we have prayed and he has given us all a little token from his travels -usually a prayer card, a spiritual booklet, or some chocolates- he settles down to tell us about everything that happened.  As I said, Fr. Tom Rosica is a masterful storyteller. By the time the meeting has concluded, we feel as if we have lived through it all – the highs and the lows: the lost luggage, the inevitable poor internet connection fiascos, the exceptional encounters, the developments, and the messages of encouragement.

My favourite stories, however, are the ones where he tells us of his encounters with Pope John Paul II. These stories are an incredible source of insight.  Sure, there’s something to be learned from reading great encyclicals, but to know a person firsthand and to get a sense of who he was and why he did what he did – this can only be imparted through personal experience; anything else simply doesn’t have the same impact. Moreover, Fr. Rosica’s stories are always full of meaning. Significant dates in history have moods and feelings attached to them, and there’s always a deep sense of what these things mean for us and for the world. As a scripture scholar, Fr. Rosica’s biblical imagination imbues his commentary on events with a profound love of scriptural images and also a great sense of humour.

Not everyone has the opportunity to listen to these stories firsthand, but you will certainly feel as if you are sitting around the Salt + Light conference table when you pick up the new release  John Paul II, A Saint for Canada. It’s a short book that can be read at a leisurely pace in a few hours. Filled with Fr. Rosica’s personal reflections on Pope John Paul II,  John Paul II, A Saint for Canada is a delight that will leave you with a deep appreciation for the saint and what he means for us in Canada.

To get a taste of what you can expect, you’re invited to watch Catholic FOCUS featuring John Paul II.

Photo description: Father Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, is pictured reading in a kayak in this photo dated from 1955. Three years later, he was on the water with friends when he learned he had been called to Warsaw for the announcement that he was to be made a bishop. (CNS photo)


CherdianS1The Producer Diaries

Cheridan Sanders, a Producer at Salt and Light Television, reflects on her experiences as she travels the world telling Catholic’s stories.


The Bots Are Coming!


It all began with a conversation in the car on our way to Montreal. My co-worker, Karen shared with me a terrifying discovery: robot music.

She came across it, the same way I suppose we all do; following a bread-crumb trail of related youtube videos.

The video’s tone seemed innocuous even positive, but its conclusion: chilling. As it demonstrated the advances that technology has made, especially in terms of robotics I kept thinking, its okay the robots can do all the boring, hard work and we’ll be left to do fun, creative work. Yay!


Robots will take over the world. The jobs that we thought were uniquely human in nature, for example: creativity, writing, music – yes, a robot can do that. Cheaper.

I initially laughed at the absurdity of what Karen was relating, but later, when I arrived home -there it was again.

More talk about the bots.

I picked up the latest copy of Harvard Business Review, the headline read: Meet Your New Employee: How to manage the man-machine collaboration.

Time to take this seriously.

In this multiple-page spread they talked about how we could navigate the human-robot divide. Note, it wasn’t a discussion about if robots would be a part of the workplace. No. The underlying premise was that your future success depends on how well you work alongside the robots.

All this got me pondering existential questions: in the light of the robot’s (soon-to-be) superior abilities in strength, intelligence, cognition, even in reading emotion….what makes us human? What makes us unique?

And how are we ever, going to survive our robot overlords?

In desperation, I cried out to the heavens: “For the love of all the is good… Pope Benedict tell me the answer!!”

The fact is, robots are going to create an economy where hordes of people have ‘zero economic value’.

We’re at an impasse as a species. What will we do when large portions of our population are completely unemployable?

Hopefully, we’ll be able to make decisions that promote the common good, and avoid what seems an inevitable Icarus-like fate.

All I can say is, the Church’s message about the dignity of work, and the purpose of life is going to be as important as it ever was!

Cause the robots are coming and all that remains is this: will they be used for good or evil.


The Producer Diaries – Cheridan Sanders, a Producer at Salt and Light Television, reflects on her experiences as she travels the world telling Catholic’s stories.

My Sister’s Keeper

Thomas Ryan in Benin City

False promises of a better future is the way traffickers usually bait and enslave their victims. Most of the time their targets are the poor or marginalized; especially girls who lack access to education and basic services.

But the Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Nigeria are doing everything they can to put an end to all that. They’re offering girls real hope by providing: education, skills and most importantly an opportunity to follow the path God desires for their life, and not some exploitative human agent.

A big part of helping young women escape this trafficking trap is by supporting these courageous Sisters in their own development.

Dr. Thomas Ryan recently returned from Benin City, Nigeria, where he helped introduce the Sisters of the Sacred Heart to their new online courses. During his stay, he toured their ministries and joined in the local festivities.

I asked him to share some of his experiences with us –

The Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus celebrated their 40th Anniversary celebration on Saturday, tell me what that was like?

Everything about it was celebratory–people’s dress, the music and singing, and particularly the dance. Several dancers in traditional dress participated in the mass’s various processions. Then the offertory concluded with a thanksgiving procession in which practically the entire congregation lined up to dance to the front and offer contributions in honor of the sisters, while being doused with holy water. As part of mass, two sisters made their final profession and one marked the silver jubilee of her first religious vows. So, mass was long and marked at times by elaborate ritual. A meal was served following mass and a reception with music and more dance followed that. What a celebration! After all that, practically the entire community of Sisters of the Sacred Heart along with Sr. Sylvia Thibodeaux, SSF, descended upon the home of retired Archbishop Ekpu, founder of the SSH community. He was unable to stay for the entire mass, and so the sisters went to him to thank and sing to him and hear his and Sr. Sylvia’s reflections on the founding of their community.

sr monica sr sylvia and sr florence
Sr. Monica, Sr. Sylvia (founding formation director of SSH community in Nigeria), and Sr. Florence at the 40th anniversary celebration of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Benin City.

You were also in Benin City, to introduce some of the Sisters ( LIM students ) to their online courses – tell us about that experience.

The grant involves 7 Sisters of the Sacred Heart studying towards a certificate in theology and ministry. The purpose is build social media and leadership capacity so that they can communicate their work more effectively to the world and so increase the number of vocations and benefactors. I delivered computers, books, and videos to the students who began class last week. By the end of the program, they will develop a communications plan that will guide their use of social media and the documentary produced by Salt and Light. It was exciting to see the sisters begin to think about the opportunities they have to communicate their charism in their context. I look forward to seeing where they take this.

What was the general reception to these online courses and why are these courses so important?

The courses will provide a foundation in theology, leadership and communications on which the communications plan I mention above will be built. Sisters were excited and a little intimidated by the courses. That’s why I’m glad I was there to introduce the program to them and suggest ways to navigate through the courses. It’s also exciting that they will be studying with sisters from other parts of Africa, from Asia, and from the US; so they will form a global learning community focused on the vocation of communication.

What impressed you most about the Sisters during your visit?

I was most impressed by the sisters’ hard work, the joy of their prayer and lives, the range of their ministries, and in how big they think. They are definitely in a building phase–building schools in particular. The place I was most impressed with was the Novitiate in Uromi that includes the cottage industries that teach skills and employ women in baking, weaving, and sewing. The farm was also impressive, and especially the fruits–the papaya, mango, and bananas. I also tried a cashew fruit and soursop–both firsts for me.

Uromi loom Part of loom in SSH Cottage Industries in Uromi that teaches skills and offers employment. The SSH habits are woven there and are intentionally African.

The Sisters were founded after the Nigerian civil war, a particularly intense tribal conflict, how have the Sister’s work continued to heal old wounds?

I’m not sure I would call it a tribal conflict. It was that, but it was also a national conflict that could have torn the country apart. And so, the motto of the sisters, ut unum sint/that they may be one, is so inspiring. It recognizes the amazing diversity of Nigeria while holding out hope for unity within that diversity. We in other parts of the world would benefit from such a vision and commitment.

I understand the Sisters are committed to upholding women’s dignity (especially in the work of preventing human trafficking), can you share one or two anecdotes about the impact of their ministry?

I was there for about 10 days and so saw only a few of their ministries. I would need to stay longer to experience the whole range of their ministries. From what I saw, I was most impressed with their work in education. The all-girls Presentation National High School that they run in Benin City is one of the best schools in the country, in fact in recent years the best, not just among all-girls schools but among all schools. I was impressed with their commitment to teaching women vocational skills in their cottage industries and in their habits that are intentionally African and so celebrate the dignity of African women.

breakfast in nigeria

Breakfast at the Sisters of the Sacred Heart community in Lagos: plantain, cassava, yam, tomato stew, mackerel, papaya, tea.

On a slightly different note, did you make any interesting associations between New Orleans and Benin City?

Clear connections exist between New Orleans and Benin City. The food: Okra figures in important Nigerian dishes and in Louisiana gumbo. Jollof rice reminds me of jambalaya. Then there was music. The percussion and brass I heard at the celebration reminded me of jazz. Tribal chiefs play an important social role in Nigeria, and status seems to be marked in part by lovely coral beads. Tribes of Mardi Gras Indians are led by their chiefs, and, of course, beads figure centrally in Mardi Gras.

Read more about the Sister’s of the Sacred Heart here.



CherdianS1The Producer Diaries  – Cheridan Sanders shares her experiences developing an original television series featuring women religious communities located in Africa, Asia and the United States. The globe-trotting adventure invites readers to delight in each community’s spiritual gifts as they: educate girls, minister to outcasts, prevent human trafficking, and so much more. The production is an exciting collaboration with the Loyola Institute for Ministry in New Orleans and is made possible through a grant from the Conrad Hilton Foundation.