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Voluntary services



Voluntary work and new social conscience

17/06/2011: General House

2011 has been declared by the Council of Ministers of the European Union the European Year for voluntary activities to promote active citizenship.

From a Christian perspective, voluntary service is inspired by the principles of the Church’s Social Doctrine, such as the dignity of the human person, the common good, subsidiarity and solidarity, and it follows the values of truth, justice and peace, working for the integral development of the human person.

Volunteer service is open to all who feel particularly moved by their conscience to offer the community some time free for service to others. This is especially true for Christians.

The Christian spiritual life, marked by the culture of gratuity, creates an interior availability for others, even to the radical gift of self, to serve the real needs of persons appealing to the conscience.

For the Christian, dialogue with all persons of good will, communion with the person of Jesus, involves reaching the causes or the roots of the situations which engender poverty, abandonment or indifference. One who is in conformity with his Christian faith transforms his life and adopts the gestures of fraternity, seeks to know the situations to be resolved and imagines creative ways to the solution of the problems.

The generous and free attention of numerous citizens to the good of the neighbour reveals a culture of solidarity and openness to the other, capable of showing a new national and international politic; the true conception of the life of solidarity is called to surmount the  risks of injustices old and new. The contribution of authentic voluntary service is not limited only to primary actions, but envisages also the transformation of society.

The initiatives of voluntary service are situated in the spirit of the principle of subsidiarity and are no substitute for the social services of public authorities. To bring subsidiarity to life, is to mobilize for an active and responsible citizenship, by developing to the maximum the energies of the local community and community-based networks.

Commitment to social justiceand encouragement to changes of structures will be the determining factors of credibility for persons and institutions consecrated to voluntary work. Because of its gratuitous character, voluntary service is a value-plus ethic in relationship to paid, both raising the human being and being characterized by competence and organisation.

Voluntary service takes different forms and facesamong those forgotten, rejected, mistreated, impoverished by society; it is also a help in educating to service and cultural development.

Here, briefly, are some of the multiform aspects of voluntary service:

1. Voluntary service in social movements and works which already has a long tradition. Within this type is situated specific work in hospitals, prisons and institutions of social solidarity. This type of activity requires adequate preparation and integration into the norms of the institutions where one works.

2. Voluntary service as response to the situations of single persons who have need of  visits and company, of help in different services. Numerous volunteers, members of associations or not, exercise a service full of humanity and patient care for the most abandoned and overlooked.

3. Voluntary service in education, quite important, whether through pupils in resolving real life problems, or in the participation of families and communities in school activities: helping in domestic work, accompanying study visits, collaborating in vocational guidance, helping in the building or repair of some school building or equipment.

4. Voluntary work in the service of evangelization, especially in parishes and movements, exercised with an appreciated and fruitful gift of self. This type of voluntary service counts thousands of persons freely committed in the different activities of the Church: catechesis, animation of the liturgy, ministry to families, participation in the organs of administration and pastoral co-responsibility…

5. Voluntary missionary service, close to international voluntary co-operative service, seen especially in activity outside one’s country; it is inserted in projects of human and social promotion, in fields such as education and formation, health, social groupings, community and social support, technical training of local players. It aims at being a sign of global brotherhood and makes public opinion aware of questions of development.

6. Voluntary work in the cultural dimension is gaining more and more favour. To consecrate free time to the  culture of music – in  orchestras or choirs, -to the conservation and promotion of the patrimony, in archives, libraries, museums or other cultural centres: this is valuable for the person dedicated to it and allows cultural goods to be placed at the  disposal of the community in a more rapid and economical way.

7. Voluntary service of help in emergencies, especially in institutions such as the Fire Brigade, Red Cross and Caritas, is very attractive to many young people, ready for adventure and to risk their lives in immediate help in particularly tragic situations.

8. Voluntary work in the field of ecology has found space in contemporary life, which is very intent on protecting the environment.

9. Voluntary work for the rights of the person, with particular insistence on the defense of life, promotion of justice and peace between persons and peoples.

It goes without saying that voluntary service is for many a means of personal enrichment which helps in rethinking life projects, facing up to difficulties, resolving tensions and relativising problems. Among the numerous advantages of voluntary service, we can underline, in the current context, the fact of being a school of realism in facing life and of promoting an education capable of confronting concrete problems, difficulties and suffering, and an opportunity for announcing the Christian message.

The enthusiasm and growing number of persons taking part in voluntary work should not lead us to forget the wisdom of knowing how to give oneself. Entering on voluntary work requires knowledge of the situation and the qualification of the organizations. One should also pay special attention to the conditions of human maturity on the part of the one offering his time and skills to the service of the common good, without which one risks doing harm instead of good.

I would like these different fields of activity of voluntary service to inspire numerous Marist friends to engage in one or another of them. In the AD GENTES Project, we are beginning now to talk aboutInternational Missionary Cooperation. This is a new dimension of the Marist world to which volunteers could commit themselves for a longer or a shorter time.

I grasp the opportunity to express my deep gratitude to the many Marist volunteers who, over the years, have collaborated in projects in Latin America, Asia, Africa and Oceania, in order to help build a better world.

Teófilo Minga, fms - Co-ordinator AD GENTES

N.B. : This article is largely inspired by a note from the Portuguese bishops on voluntary work.

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