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Ashley Baxstrom: You’ve probably heard at this point about the Vatican’s statement concerning what it considers to be the wayward actions of its sisters in faith. You can refer to The Revealer’s “Radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith” for the basics, including how nuns were “reprimanded for making public statements that ‘disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.’”

And then, you’ve probably heard about some of the reactions, people talking about Christian feminism, and hierarchy, and personal histories with the Church and faith. One major trend in the reactions has been people coming to the defense of the nuns for acting on behalf of social justice and the poor. But we all know a trend of movement hasn’t really gained steam until it’s gone viral, and that’s where we find ourselves today.

The Rev. James Martin, an editor of America (The National Catholic Weekly) magazine, wrote an article in support of nuns, recounting personal experiences with the women religious in his life and stories of nuns he had heard about, sacrificing themselves in body, spirit, and, sometimes, life for the work they believed in.

“More often than not,” he wrote, “it is women religious who precede the men in working with the poor, in giving voice to the powerless and in dying on the fields of martyrdom. It is the women who do, do, do, and have done so with little recognition and historically even less pay, and all in a church where women’s voices are often unheard, ignored or denied.”

And then Martin took it to the streets – or at least, the information highway. He launched the Twitter hashtag #WhatSistersMeanToMe, calling it a way to “express gratitude for the unbelievably inspiring work that Catholic sisters do and have done.” The hashtag (for those who don’t know, it’s a way of tracking a particular theme on Twitter by ‘tagging’ it with the # symbol) quickly attracted attention, including a tweet from former congressman Tom Perriello (D-Va.): “In my darkest hours of doubt, it was the sisters that brought me the light,” he wrote.

A quick search for #WhatSistersMeanToMe on Twitter shows that such supportive sentiments are still flowing strongly from Martin, like-minded Catholics and others:

@JamesMartinSJ: Catholic sisters teach me what it means to persevere in ministry without the benefit of institutional power. #WhatSistersMeanToMe
@jdavispa: Sisters? Castigated? Why? For standing with Jesus? Keep standing sisters; you are the bearers of “good news” #whatsistersmeantome
@erin2314: The pure joy that emanates from the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia (Nashville)! #WhatSistersMeantoMe

But one of the most interesting things about the Internet is its constant movement and evolution. Nothing remains stationary online, and you can’t really keep control of what’s put out there. Martin’s hashtag isn’t just being used as an ode to the sister’s goodwill; others are now using it to show support for the Vatican’s statements and speak to what they see as the women religious stepping out-of-bounds:

@fatherz: LIBERALS! The CDF & USCCB are NOT attacking all nuns.They are reforming the LEADERS of a conference of groups of nuns. #WhatSistersMeanToMe
@1catherinesiena: @JamesMartinSJ “It is not hard to obey when we love the one whom we obey.” – St. Ignatius #WhatSistersMeanToMe #loyaltotheMagisterium

It will be interesting to continue to track the tweets and see the developing conversation, from all sides. If there’s one thing the Internet and Twitter are good for, it’s spreading the words.

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