Thailand Revisited


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img_2205I loved writing this story about the dear friends I made in a sleepy Thai fishing village during a trip in 2016. Here’s how it begins: 

I stood waist-deep in the crystalline sea, my finger-tips slowly moving through the water. Across the horizon to my left and to my right, the soft curves of Ao Manao Bay’s rocky hills wrapped me in a gentle paradise.

In the piece, I chronicle my first scooter-driving attempt (during which I get lost at night in the rain,) my exploration of breath-taking caves, temples and beaches, and the thrill of being present in every moment of newness and delight.

You can read the whole blog here: Prachuap Khiri Khan – Thailand

Adventures in Cuba!


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Havana balcony

I took a week-long trip to Cuba last month! It was a fantastic adventure, which I posted in the fabulous travel-writer Charish Badzinski’s blog, The Rollerbag Goddess Global Communications.

Here’s the link to my full piece:

Cuba, 2019: Adventures in communism & vulnerability 

Here’s an excerpt:

I jolted awake in the passenger seat of a 1953 Chevrolet speeding past farmers in horses-drawn carriages. Our driver texted while blasting music, steering the seatbelt-less American antique to Havana. I glanced at the rear-view mirror. My friend was passed out cold.

That morning, we’d awakened before 5 a.m. to walk the star-lit road into the town of Viñales to meet our guide, who was to take us up a nearby mountain so that we could watch the sunrise.

We climbed the mountain, Los Acuáticos, with flashlights on the muddy trail. Our guide told us all about the land and the families who live on the mountain, which can only be accessed on foot. After 45 minutes, we reached the peak, where a simple house stands, and watched the misty mountains host the arrival of dawn.  

It is moments like these in my travels abroad, that are the most striking in my memories, and that stay with me throughout the years, when other memories fade.

Read the full blog here!

Listen to the outsiders


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The Pope & Bishops are in the news a lot this week. So lets bring it back to the survivors & outsiders. Their courage brought systemic abuse into the light.

My follow-up piece to Roy Bourgeois’ profile was published yesterday on the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration blog, MJB. Read the full piece, here:

Outsiders help the church grow

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“Roy was silenced. His voice was not welcome because it threatened the power of the all-male clergy, challenged the dominant narrative, and suggested that women could help heal the church. And for many of his previous supporters, this was enough to ignore him. The Vatican legitimized his ostracism, and if you personally benefit from the institutional church, then it removed the burden of having to bother with women’s inequality anymore.”

This is written for ya’ll who’ve been benefiting from the decrepit institution, that has been wreaking havoc on the rest of us.

And it is dedicated to the survivors.

“As the discussion of systemic abuse continues this week at the Vatican, let’s pray for outsiders, for whom we are all indebted. It is through their courageous lives and the grace of God that institutional culture changes. Let’s pray for their strength to turn pain and betrayal into action. For it is only through action that they, too, can be free.”

My interview with Roy Bourgeois

Roy Bourgeois 2016 Nogales (1)

It’s always a good day when you get to interview one of your heroes! Roy Bourgeois has devoted his life to fighting injustice, and ultimately, it got him excommunicated from the Catholic Church. It only made him more interesting.

Check out my interview with Roy published on Patheos blog Sick Pilgrim!: Advocacy and Exile: Roy Bourgeois and the Fight for Women’s Ordination

& Check out this feature comic by artist Aubrey Inman, which illustrates an actual anecdote from Roy. He was only able to convince fellow priests to publicly support women’s ordination by writing into their wills that they would wear “Ordain Women” pins after death in their coffins. That kind of absurdity demands illustration.

Ordain Women Funeral Comic

Chris Hedges’ prophetic voice

My take on why everyone should read Chris Hedges and get enough sleep at night:

Chris Hedges’ prophetic voice has been profoundly influential in the way I view the world. His work aims to affirm the dignity of all living things, shine light on illusions and carry the glow of love through unimaginable terror. His well-informed voice ought to be the most powerful in the land but, like most prophets and truth-tellers in their times, he is pushed to the margins, relegated to speak where he is able.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? 

Read the full piece here!

Thanks, Sister Julia, for inviting me to be a contributor to your blog!

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Choosing Creativity over the Church


Today, the Patheos blog Sick Pilgrim published a piece I’ve been working on this fall, about how much life is found while following the spirit of creativity, and letting go of decaying institutions.  Here is an excerpt:

This creative energy led me to confidently understand: It is a positive and life-giving choice for me to let go of the burden of the institutional Church. Another way of saying this would be: Not my circus, not my monkeys.

Its incredibly empowering to be publishing an essay under my own name, outside of an organization, and speaking for myself again, after years of writing talking points for others.

Read my full piece here!!: Choosing Creativity over the Church

ABC’s Around the World

I made this fun little book in the Spring of 2017 for my two darling nephews with photos I took from my travels around the world.

Here are a few of my favorite pages:


This first photo is of my stuffed bear, Little Bear, at Machu Picchu. I had a lot of fun posing him there, when I visited that magical place in 2012. Little Bear went on many trips abroad with me, and was accidentally left behind twice: once in Prague, and once in a rural village in Poland. Nevertheless, he managed to find his way home every time and kept on traveling with me.


In 2010, I couchsurfed in Trakai, Lithuania with a friend. We swam in this beautiful lake with our hosts, who also used it as a bath.


I just couldn’t believe it when I saw this woman walking in front of the lovely street art in Uyuni, Bolivia. I stayed in this town one night, during a trip to see the salt flats.


I have had a LOT of encounters with monkeys around the world.  The monkeys in this picture were nice, but another day in Thailand, one jumped on me, stole a beaded bracelet off my hand, then proceeded to eat the beads.

Ao Manao Beach, where this photo was taken, is an incredibly tranquil beach off the equally tranquil fishing village, Prachuap Khiri Khan, where I spent 5 lovely days in 2016, driving scooters on the left side of the road and hanging out with the delightful Thai hostel owners.


This will always be one of my all-time favorite photos. It is of my friend Maria’s grandmother and her friend Puri. I stayed with Maria in the summer of 2009 in a village called Gamonal in central Spain, and I spent a lot of time walking around the beautiful countryside with these ladies.


Piekary, Poland, my favorite place.


Boda-boda taxis in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya. I took this out the window of a pick-up when I was working there in 2010.

View all of the pages of my ABC Book here.



Beirut Returns

And so have I.

It is pure magic that I heard their new, perfectly nostalgic song, Gallipoli, on the same day I also got news that an essay I submitted to Patheos will be published. Do you know what these to things have in common? Phil Collins! (He plays drums on the album and inspires interpretative dance in my essay.)

I also revived an old twitter account (@SophieVodvarka) from 2010. Good thing I learned how to tweet during my long absence from the world of blogging.

My oh my though, how good it feels to go back to the roots. And back to enjoying the creative freedom of writing unencumbered.

We tell tales to be known. 


Recently, in Thailand, I was feeling very peaceful


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Well, another twist and turn.  I happened to spend three weeks in Thailand recently enough to still be jet-lagged.

Thank you, hard-to-explain lefty Catholic organization I work for, to send me there.

I got to spend 10 days with fabulous Asian theologians and community organizers, and young adults from all over the region.  It was such a peaceful trip, with so many wonderful moments of laughter and joy, sharing ideas and learning about refugee and migrant issues, ecological sustainability, and of peace and hope.

I loved my fellow conference attendees, and became close with several.  The theologians were incredibly impressive too–a famous Dalit land-rights organizer and a feminist theologian from India, theologians tying environmental sustainability with spirituality, and oh–the badass well-adjusted Thai priests who were so welcoming and open to me and my fellow American’s presentation which covered women priests and LGBTQ equality.

We stayed most of the time in Surat Thani, in a lovely diocesan center.  I shared a room with a spunky 22-year old Chinese girl who was abroad for the first time and shared my dry sense of humor.  We had silly evenings together.

We also went to Phuket for a few days, which were spent at a fishery where migrant workers sling fish around for little pay and slum housing.  I slept on an office floor for a few nights with several other girls, and slept well.




After the lovely conference, I took a train to Prachuap Khiri Khan, a little sleepy beach town in the middle of Thailand.

Prachuap Khiri Khan turned out to be a total dream.  I stayed in a hostel owned by two of the nicest people I’ve ever met–Ping and Oy, a Thai couple in their 60s.  They basically adopted me for the week, and I spent several days zooming around the Thai countryside on Ping’s moto.

Ping took me to some wonderful places.  Temples, a cave with massive Buddah statues inside, his friend’s country residence where I got to pick a coconut off a tree and eat it immediately.  I played with monkeys, I swam in the ocean, I drove the moto too, on the British side of the road.  Ping and Oy took me out for a seafood meal at a beautiful outdoor restaurant on the sea, too.  And I went out on a moto-taxi to the airport and held my suitcase on my lap.


I forgot how calm travel makes me.  It felt so good to be away from the stress of America, of news, of people who have a lot of stuff that makes them stressed out.  It felt good for me to not know what would happen next and to not be in control.  To be with a lot of salt of the earth people.  Lovely peaceful earthy travel, and spicy food.  Peaceful Thailand.




My Cape Cod sleepover with Sr. Helen



Reprinted from Call To Action’s website:

Prejean wave

“So, you’re Sophie on the sofa?”

Sr. Helen Prejean greeted me with a hug, referencing our sleeping arrangements at Kathy Schatzberg’s home on Cape Cod. Sr. Helen and I were guests on the Cape for two nights during her speaking tour, which was co-sponsored by Call To Action.

The 77-year-old Sister of St. Joseph, whom I met once before in 2007 during a speaking tour at Creighton University, was kind and comforting like an aunt, philosophical like a professor and spiritually strong—as a women religious.  Her presence left a mark on me, and as I edit the interview footage Sr. Helen so generously allowed me to record, I’m reminded of her grace and inner peace.

“I didn’t have the luxury of despair,” Sr. Helen said during the Q&A session after the viewing of Dead Man Walking.  Sr. Helen’s decades of work advocating for restorative justice and an end to the death penalty is impressive—to the extent that she was able to ask Pope Francis to halt the execution of Richard Glossip last year.  In January of this year, she met with Pope Francis to deliver a thank-you letter from Glossip.  She spoke highly of him and his famous welcoming spirit.

Sr. Helen was open, too, about working within the church, and the line she, and other Catholic leaders have to walk in order to do their good works.

I was struck most by Sr. Helen’s grace amidst an obviously grueling schedule of speaking and traveling.  A break is in sight, as she’ll be taking off autumn from speaking to work on a book about her spiritual awakening. “It’s a prequel to Dead Man Walking,” she said.  Additionally, at the end of the week, Sr. Helen planned to go to Baton Rouge to be with her sister who is very ill.  “So, that’s something that’s weighing on me right now,” Sr. Helen said.  “I’ve been talking to her every day.”

On our last morning, we sat around Kathy’s table drinking coffee, Sr. Helen in her pajamas.  She teased Kathy, whose schedule is always packed, about running the Cape’s social calendar, and told me more about her visit with Pope Francis.  Afterward, we continued the interview in Kathy’s sun room.  During the second interview I asked her the questions I really wanted her to answer: How the violence of capital punishment affects society as a whole, how we as people of faith are required to act, and how her spirituality keeps her grounded.

“I’ve never really talked about all that violence before,” she said after the interview.  Hesitant to speak about the ways people personally respond to violence, “I don’t want to be talking about, ‘oh you’ll be saved when you do this. . . ‘” rather she spoke of societal violence, and how we as Americans should respond.

“I just did that one little thing, write the book, talk about what I saw.  I realized that when you begin to act it’s really liberating.  We don’t have a blueprint of all the steps, but life emerges, life unfolds.  It’s the way the universe works.  And that’s the spirit in our hearts.”

The power of encounter was palpable—encounter with just one other human being who has changed hearts and saved lives, advocating tirelessly for life—for love—for state-sanctioned killing to end.

To view my interview with Sr. Helen click here.