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How a Bird Named Billy Taught Sister Joan Chittister the Meaning of Humanity

Season 6 Episode 601
Aired on 03/01/2015 | CC tv-14
Sister Joan Chittister—a tireless advocate for justice, peace and equality—says she learned what it meant to be truly human at age 12. "We'd all been out shopping, and my little parakeet was gone. I was an only child," she says. "This may have seemed strange to people, but that little bird was my companion. I didn't go home to playmates. I went home to Billy."

Sister Joan's parents looked everywhere for the bird, to no avail, and she went to bed heartbroken, sobbing into her pillow. "The next thing I knew was I felt somebody on the floor beside me, and then an arm on my back, and I realized it was my mother. And then I felt somebody on the floor on the other side, and I realized it was my father," she says. "They had their arms around me like this, saying, 'That's all right, darling. That's all right. We understand.'"

In that moment, Sister Joan says, she learned what humanity truly is. "Humanity is about identifying with somebody else's pain, with being there," she says. "Humanity is the ability to hurt for the others, because that's the only fuel that will stop the injustice. You must know people as people, and you must do what they need in the middle of their pain."

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