Q&A: Look Again, Thomas!

The Sisters of Life help children see the world, people through God’s eyes

Roxanne King

“Left and right, up and down, straight and crooked, and all around they went…” so goes the delightful new children’s book by the Sisters of Life, Look Again, Thomas! In it, armed with special “seeing glasses,” the boy Angelo leads his stand-offish neighbor Thomas on a journey that helps his little friend to see the world through God’s eyes to discover the beauty, good and love in it and in people.

Although authorship is given to the Sisters of Life, the order founded in 1991 by Cardinal John O’Connor of New York to protect and promote the sanctity of human life, Sister Elizabeth Ann Binder, 53, wrote and illustrated Look Again, Thomas! and the order’s previous storybook, the tender I Would Climb Any Mountain for You.

Originally from Milwaukee, Wis., Sister Elizabeth Ann graduated from the University of Dallas and worked as a graphic designer for 12 years before entering the Sisters of Life in 1997. She currently lives in her order’s new convent and house of prayer in Washington D.C., where she designs and does the layout for the Sisters of Life magazine Imprint.

Sister Elizabeth Ann was recently interviewed by the Denver Catholic. The interview has been edited for space.

DC: What prompted the book?

Sister Elizabeth Ann: The book was inspired by a young boy named Angelo Pio. Angelo’s mother, Gina, discovered during her pregnancy that her child had Down syndrome. Experiencing unbelievable pressure, Gina called a priest friend who encouraged her to call the Sisters of Life.  She moved in with the sisters soon after and gave birth to her baby boy. Angelo Pio was beautiful from the time the sisters first saw his little sweet face. Since that day, Gina and Angelo have been bright lights in all of our lives.

When I first began thinking about the message I wanted to communicate through a children’s book, Angelo immediately popped in my head. Angelo has this amazing ability to delight and wonder in the beauty and goodness all around him.  He sees goodness everywhere. Like other children with special needs, every day he greets people with a purity and innocence.  I’ve often thought that Angelo is not the one with the disability — we are. His love isn’t conditional. He sees people and the world around him through God’s eyes — and he calls each of us to see with that same “God vision.”  And I think his blue glasses added just the right touch to the story.

DC: The story centers on two boys and unfolds over one day; describe that day.

Sister Elizabeth Ann: Two boys, Angelo and Thomas, put on their “seeing glasses” and take a wonderful trip through forests and ponds, hills and deserts.  As Angelo and Thomas later reflect on their day, Thomas begins to realize the importance of looking beyond the surface of things to seeing the deeper realities within. And most especially “looking again” at the people he meets, beyond what someone looks like, what they can do, or what they have and finding the goodness within their heart — and then encouraging another in that goodness.

DC: What do you hope readers take away from the story?

Sister Elizabeth Ann: The realization that each person is a unique, beautiful, unrepeatable gift to the world. We can judge people so superficially by what they look like, what they do (their capabilities) or what they own. We fail to meet the real person inside when we do this. And we deprive ourselves of discovering and delighting in that unique “something” that this person holds within that reflects some aspect of God never before seen. We deprive ourselves of the gift. See them as God sees them. He loves them unconditionally. He desires to be close to them. He wants them to grow and become more of who they ARE each day. The gift of encouraging others in their goodness. The gift of being that “shooting star” that leads others to Christ. The reality that YOU are good. As St. John Paul II said, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures, we are the sum of the Father’s love for us.” In a world that has lost a sense of the unrepeatable beauty and sacredness of every human person, we need to be people with eyes that see.

DC: Why the Sisters of Life authorship?

Sister Elizabeth Ann: The books communicate a message that every Sister of Life desires to communicate — that you are good, beautiful and sacred. That you are loved by God who had you in his mind and heart for all eternity. And because of this your life has tremendous meaning. People desperately need to hear the truth of that today.  If you are called to be a Sister of Life you simply have a burning desire to share that with everyone you meet. The children’s books simply express what is on the mind and heart of us all—this charism of life. The book is from us all!

To purchase

Look Again, Thomas! (Hardback, $25) and I Would Climb Any Mountain for You (Softcover, $12) are available at: sistersoflife.org

COMING UP: Seeking justice, transparency and accountability, archdiocese voluntarily enters agreement with Colorado attorney general

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Seeking justice, transparency and accountability, archdiocese voluntarily enters agreement with Colorado attorney general

Initiatives include independent investigation and independent reparations program

Mark Haas

With a desire to “shine the bright light of transparency” on the tragedy of sexual abuse of minors within the Church, Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila has announced that the three Colorado dioceses have voluntarily partnered with Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser to conduct an independent review of the dioceses’ files and policies related to the sexual abuse of children.

In a joint news conference on February 19 at the attorney general’s office, it was also announced that the three dioceses will voluntarily fund an independent reparations program for survivors of such abuse.

“The damage inflicted upon young people and their families by sexual abuse, especially when it’s committed by a trusted person like a priest, is profound,” said Archbishop Aquila. “While this process will certainly include painful moments and cannot ever fully restore what was lost, we pray that it will at least begin the healing process.”

It is well known that child sexual abuse is a societal problem that demands attention and action,” said Weiser. “I am pleased the Church has recognized the need for transparency and reparations for victims.”

Discussions for these two initiatives began last year with former Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, and then finalized recently with Weiser. Both Coffman and Weiser praised the dioceses’ willingness to address this issue.

“It is well known that child sexual abuse is a societal problem that demands attention and action,” said Weiser. “I am pleased the Church has recognized the need for transparency and reparations for victims.”

Coffman added: “Childhood sexual abuse is not specific to one institution or to the Catholic Church. The spotlight is on the Catholic Church, but this abuse is indicative of what has happened in other institutions. We want to shine a light on what has happened.

“[The dioceses] demonstrated their commitment to acknowledging past abuse by priests and moving forward with honesty and accountability.”

The independent file review will be handled by Robert Toyer, a former U.S. Attorney for Colorado. His final report is expected to be released in the fall of 2019 and will include a list of diocesan priests with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors, along with a review of the dioceses’ handling of the allegations. The report will also include an evaluation of the dioceses’ current policies and procedures, something that was not included in other states’ reviews, such as the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report.

“We in Colorado have found our own way in the wake of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report,” said Weiser. “We have a set of dioceses here who came to the table to develop appropriate solutions that are collaborative, committed to transparency and put victims first.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, alongside Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, speaks during a press conference announcing a comprehensive joint agreement with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office to conduct an independent review of the dioceses’ files and policies related to the sexual abuse of children at the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center on February 19, 2019, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Archdiocese of Denver)

“This is not a criminal investigation. This is an independent inquiry with the full cooperation of the Catholic Church,” said Weiser.

Since 1991, the Archdiocese of Denver has had a policy of mandatory reporting of all allegations to local authorities. The procedures were further strengthened by the 2002 Dallas Charter to include comprehensive background checks, zero-tolerance policies, safe environment training, and training for children as well.

“This independent file review presents an opportunity for an honest and fair evaluation of the Church in Colorado’s historical handling of the sexual abuse of minors by priests,” said Archbishop Aquila.  “We are confident in the steps we have taken to address this issue and that there are no priests in active ministry currently under investigation.”

We have a set of dioceses here who came to the table to develop appropriate solutions that are collaborative, committed to transparency and put victims first.”

The independent reparations program will be run by two nationally recognized claims administration experts, Kenneth R. Feinberg and Camille S. Biros, who will review individual cases and make financial awards to victims who elect to participate. The victims are free to accept or reject the award, but the Colorado dioceses are bound by what the administrators decide.

The program will have oversight provided by an independent committee chaired by former U.S. Senator Hank Brown. More details will be announced in the coming months, and the program will officially open closer to the release of the final report.

This is similar to a program instituted by former Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput in 2006. Archbishop Aquila said it is important for local Catholics to know the program will be funded by archdiocesan reserves, with no money being taken from ministries or charities at parishes, annual diocesan appeals, or Catholic Charities.

“With humility and repentance, we hope the programs announced today offer a path to healing for survivors and their families,” Archbishop Aquila said.

And acknowledging how painful this has been for everyone in the Church, Archbishop Aquila said he hopes this is step towards restoring confidence among the faithful.

“Helping people to restore their trust, to live their faith, that is essential,” said Archbishop Aquila. “And to help them have a deeper encounter with Jesus Christ, so that is my goal in all of this. I know that healing is possible in Jesus Christ.”

For a copy of the full agreement and a detailed FAQ, visit archden.org/promise.