Piece image

This I Believe - Sister Helen Prejean

From: This I Believe
Series: This I Believe
Length: 04:27

"Dead Man Walking" author Sister Helen Prejean says to watch what she does to see what she believes. Read the full description.

Tiblogosmall_small HOST: Our This I Believe essay today comes from Sister Helen Prejean [PRAY-zohn] of New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1981, she began dedicating her life to the poor of that city, and eventually to prisoners on death row. Her book about her experiences there, "Dead Man Walking," was made into a movie with Susan Sarandon in the role of Sister Helen. Here is Sister Helen Prejean with her essay for This I Believe. PREJEAN: I watch what I do to see what I really believe. Belief and faith are not just words. It's one thing for me to say I'm a Christian but I have to embody what it means; I have to live it. So, writing this essay and knowing I'll share it in a public way becomes an occasion for me to look deeply at what I really believe by how I act. "Love your neighbor as yourself," Jesus said, and as a beginner nun I tried earnestly to love my neighbor-the children I taught, their parents, my fellow teachers, my fellow nuns. But for a long time the circle of my loving care was small and, for the most part, included only white, middle-class people like me. But one day I woke up to Jesus' deeper challenge to love the outcast, the criminal, the underdog. So I packed my stuff and moved into a noisy, violent housing project in an African-American neighborhood in New Orleans. I saw the suffering and I let myself feel it: the sound of gunshots in the night, mothers calling out for their children. I saw the injustice and was compelled to do something about it. I changed from being a nun who only prayed for the suffering world to a nun with my sleeves rolled up, living my prayer. Working in that community in New Orleans soon led me to Louisiana's death row. So I keep watching what I do to see what I actually believe. Jesus' biggest challenge to us is to love our enemies. On death row I encountered the enemy, those considered so irredeemable by our society that even our Supreme Court has made it legal to kill them. For 20 years now I've been visiting people on death row, and I have accompanied six human beings to their deaths. As each has been killed I have told them to look at me. I want them to see a loving face when they die. I want my face to carry the love that tells them that they and every one of us are worth more than our most terrible acts. But I knew being with the perpetrators wasn't enough. I also had to reach out to victims' families. I visited the families who wanted to see me, and I founded a victims' support group in New Orleans. It was a big stretch for me, loving both perpetrators and victims' families, and most of the time I fail because so often a victim's families interpret my care for perpetrators as choosing sides-the wrong side. I understand that, but I don't stop reaching out. I've learned from victims' families just how alone many of them feel. The murder of their loved one is so horrible, their pain so great, that most people stay away. But they need people to visit, to listen, to care. It doesn't take anyone special, just someone who cares. Writing this essay reminds me, as an ordinary person, that it's important to take stock, to see where I am. The only way I know what I really believe is by keeping watch over what I do.

To hear the full audio, sign up for a free PRX account or log in.

Also in the This I Believe series

Piece image

This I Believe - Amy Tan (04:17)
From: This I Believe

Acclaimed writer Amy Tan believes in ghosts and the messages of joy, love and peace they bring her.
Piece image

This I Believe - Luis Urrea (03:57)
From: This I Believe

Luis Urrea believes he is a better writer and better person when he’s open to the world around him.
Piece image

This I Believe - Eve Birch (03:47)
From: This I Believe

Tired of chasing personal prosperity, Eve Birch now believes in an American dream of shared success.
Piece image

This I Believe - Muhammad Ali (02:54)
From: This I Believe

To be the “Greatest of All Time,” boxing legend Muhammad Ali says you have to believe in yourself.
Piece image

This I Believe - Matt Harding (02:47)
From: This I Believe

By dancing around the world, Internet video star Matt Harding believes he’s helping to unite people.
Piece image

This I Believe - Van Jones (04:05)
From: This I Believe

Environmental activist and White House advisor Van Jones believes in making his late father proud.
Piece image

This I Believe - Macklin Levine (02:35)
From: This I Believe

She's only 12, but Macklin Levine is already old enough to appreciate—and believe in—The Beatles.
Piece image

This I Believe - Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton (03:37)
From: This I Believe

Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton believe in forgiveness, but from different perspectives.
Piece image

This I Believe - Russel Honoré (04:03)
From: This I Believe

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré believes hard work can build character and promote freedom.
Piece image

This I Believe - Sheri White (03:12)
From: This I Believe

Even though we tend to focus on our differences, Sheri White believes there is much that unites us.

Piece Description

HOST: Our This I Believe essay today comes from Sister Helen Prejean [PRAY-zohn] of New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1981, she began dedicating her life to the poor of that city, and eventually to prisoners on death row. Her book about her experiences there, "Dead Man Walking," was made into a movie with Susan Sarandon in the role of Sister Helen. Here is Sister Helen Prejean with her essay for This I Believe. PREJEAN: I watch what I do to see what I really believe. Belief and faith are not just words. It's one thing for me to say I'm a Christian but I have to embody what it means; I have to live it. So, writing this essay and knowing I'll share it in a public way becomes an occasion for me to look deeply at what I really believe by how I act. "Love your neighbor as yourself," Jesus said, and as a beginner nun I tried earnestly to love my neighbor-the children I taught, their parents, my fellow teachers, my fellow nuns. But for a long time the circle of my loving care was small and, for the most part, included only white, middle-class people like me. But one day I woke up to Jesus' deeper challenge to love the outcast, the criminal, the underdog. So I packed my stuff and moved into a noisy, violent housing project in an African-American neighborhood in New Orleans. I saw the suffering and I let myself feel it: the sound of gunshots in the night, mothers calling out for their children. I saw the injustice and was compelled to do something about it. I changed from being a nun who only prayed for the suffering world to a nun with my sleeves rolled up, living my prayer. Working in that community in New Orleans soon led me to Louisiana's death row. So I keep watching what I do to see what I actually believe. Jesus' biggest challenge to us is to love our enemies. On death row I encountered the enemy, those considered so irredeemable by our society that even our Supreme Court has made it legal to kill them. For 20 years now I've been visiting people on death row, and I have accompanied six human beings to their deaths. As each has been killed I have told them to look at me. I want them to see a loving face when they die. I want my face to carry the love that tells them that they and every one of us are worth more than our most terrible acts. But I knew being with the perpetrators wasn't enough. I also had to reach out to victims' families. I visited the families who wanted to see me, and I founded a victims' support group in New Orleans. It was a big stretch for me, loving both perpetrators and victims' families, and most of the time I fail because so often a victim's families interpret my care for perpetrators as choosing sides-the wrong side. I understand that, but I don't stop reaching out. I've learned from victims' families just how alone many of them feel. The murder of their loved one is so horrible, their pain so great, that most people stay away. But they need people to visit, to listen, to care. It doesn't take anyone special, just someone who cares. Writing this essay reminds me, as an ordinary person, that it's important to take stock, to see where I am. The only way I know what I really believe is by keeping watch over what I do.

Related Website

http://www.thisibelieve.org