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Stories of service from Catholic Volunteer Network volunteers.
Updated: 1 hour 21 min ago

Supper with Sisters: Allison Reynolds - Good Shepherd Volunteers

Wed, 05/09/2018 - 11:34am
Allie is one of five CVN Serving with Sisters Ambassadors – volunteers sharing the joy, energy, and fulfillment of serving alongside Catholic Sisters in CVN member programs, through creative reflection, conversation, and experience. Enjoy this post, and stay tuned to hear more from Allie and her fellow Ambassadors over the course of their service year!

While living in Sucre, Bolivia I have adapted to a more closed-minded atmosphere than what I am used to, showing me how different parts of the world may think and act. However, Hermana Verónica (Sister Verónica) is a beautiful open-minded Bolivian soul who has allowed me to have someone to go to for guidance, advice, and faith, while working with oppressed communities in this culture. I appreciate her focus on life, and for that reason I chose to interview her about her ¨yes¨ to religious life and other aspects of becoming a Sister. 

Q: How was your childhood? Was it religious? How was your family?A: Hermana Verónica took her vows at the young age of 26; however, she explained to me that she felt spiritual, religious and the presence of God from the young age of 6. She knew she had this feeling, but could not completely understand it. When she received communion, there was no preparation and no schooling. Her church did offer preparations, but they felt the children did not want to understand or would not understand. So, she simply learned how to receive the Eucharist without any knowledge of why. As a little girl, however, Sr. Verónica felt God was speaking to her and could feel Him explaining to her why this sacrament was important. The story continues to her Confirmation, when she also did not feel prepared, but knew it was the right thing for her because God was telling her. She explained her purpose in life was to work for the love and strength of God - she felt she was put on this earth to fulfill His work. This became difficult for her because she grew up in a family which did not value religion, and they were not the ones influencing this value she had discovered on her own.Then, when Sr. Verónica was in high school, one of her cousins entered a convent. This particular convent would not let the women leave the building in which they stayed, only to pray all day. This knowledge of the convent life actually turned Sr. Verónica away from thinking that would be the life she wanted to live forever. However, because she had this idea of vocation in her mind and the lifestyle of prayer interested her, she was determined to discover more about religious life.Hermana Verónica pointing herself out in a photo of an old Good Shepherd Sisters reunion. Q: Did you ever date or have thoughts of marriage and children?A: After high school, Sr. Verónica became a first grade teacher. She met a friend there who she connected with, and her friend also felt the same strong religious experience she felt. One day she met a boy named Alberto, and she felt a strong connection to him. Her friend, however, warned her and told her if she went to parties with him until late at night, she would not be respecting her religious call. Sr. Verónica explained how she loved dancing (but never drinking), and felt a curiosity towards Alberto. She needed to discover for herself if a relationship with him was the right thing for the rest of her life. She and Alberto were together for three years before they had to move away from each other due to family reasons. They continued to write to each other, until their distance had grown strong and he started seeing another woman. At this moment Sr. Verónica said she needed to discover herself and continue discovering her religious journey.

Hermana Verónica with her community of Good Shepherd Sisters renewing her vows. Q: What did your parents and friends say when you decided to enter religious life? Were they proud? Worried?A: Since Sr. Verónica’s family was not as religious as she was, it came as a shock to them. When she explained to them that she would be leaving Alberto, they did not understand why. In their minds, he had been the perfect gentleman, provider, and was strong, loving, and caring towards her. Her mom, dad, and siblings could not understand how she would be leaving to discover religious life when she had, what they perceived as, a perfect future as a wife with Alberto. Sr. Verónica quickly became stern with them and explained how she felt this was right for her, even though it pained her to see how little support they offered her at the beginning and how sad they were to see her go.Hermana Verónica (right) with her community member Hermana Victoria, enjoying a United States Thanksgiving meal!Q: How were you first years in community life? What types of jobs did you have?A: Sr. Verónica described that, just like any community, there would always be differences in opinion while living with other people. I could resonate with this statement because living in community life as a volunteer, I understand what it feels like to have differences in opinion and having to compromise on how something should be done. She explained how their strong love towards God has always kept her and her community members close, and how beautiful it is to see each individual person create their own relationship with God. I believe this statement also relates to volunteer life because each individual volunteer is finding and creating their own journey through their volunteer experience. Watching your community member(s) grow spiritually, mentally, and physically, is one of the benefits of this experience.One of Sr. Verónica’s first jobs as a sister was working in a group home for adolescent girls who had recently been incarcerated. She was a supervisor of the Project, and helped the girls learn responsibility and life skills before they were immersed back into society. She continued this path by working with others in need throughout her life as a sister.

Hermana Verónica is a shining example of how to love all of God´s children. Her love for God is so strong, and she shows it in many different ways. She is always making me and my community member, Andrea Gaitan, laugh, smile, learn, and appreciate the little things in life worth having. She loves to dance and have fun, and whenever she gets the chance, she insists on giving us Bible Study lessons. Living and working with Sr. Verónica and the Sisters of The Good Shepherd has given me life long lessons and skills I will never forget. 

Allie, a current Good Shepherd Volunteer, will be blogging about her service experience as part of our ongoing Serving with Sisters Ambassadors series. This series is sponsored by CVN's From Service to Sisterhood Initiative, a project made possible thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

The Ascension and Stepping into Service

Wed, 05/02/2018 - 6:00am
By Janice Smullen, Franciscan Mission Service

Dear future volunteer,

Each time I revisit the Ascension stories in the Gospels, I find numerous points that relate to mission and service. Throughout my own time on mission in Jamaica, I see similarities between these verses and my challenges and blessings in a daily life of service. I hope to offer encouragement to you, future volunteer, as you research and discern the many opportunities for service available to you.
“He rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart…”  (Mark 16:14)
My strongest prompt to mission came as I reflected on a painting of St. Francis gazing at the cross and being told to rebuild the church. The question written with the painting asked, “Am I willing to do God’s will?” For many years, I have read, heard, and tried to practice in small ways, the example of Jesus doing the “will of my Father,” and loving others as God loves me. Now I felt that God had put the nudge toward mission into my heart. Two years of overseas mission service seemed like a very big step into the unknown but I had the stories of Francis and many others as examples, and I felt that if I said “Yes,” God would enable me to shed my worries and, thus, soften my heart and make more room for his Grace! Future volunteer, God will do the same for you.
Mission has taught me to expect the unexpected and to trust in God’s plan. Though I was open to other ministries, there was a pretty high expectation at my future mission site that I would be helping in schools, and that is exactly where I found myself. My first classroom was noisy, chaotic, cramped, and undersupplied, but I found that I had the most difficulty countering the common teaching approaches, which I perceived as overly physical and sometimes belligerent. During the first days and weeks, it was very easy for me to get caught up in the prevalent practice of shouting, derision, and physically putting someone into their chair or the corner. I didn’t like myself doing that. Continually, readings in the Franciscan prayer book kept telling me that Peace IS the path. One time, a student told me that he didn’t like me putting him into his seat. The next day, I got down to his eye level and apologized to him. He listened, we hugged, and I felt that I was on my way toward a better practice. Future volunteer, are you ready to be stretched and molded according to God’s will?  

“The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.”  (Matthew 28:16)
I always notice the number eleven here; it is a particular mention to the fact that someone is missing. Dear future volunteer, are you worried about leaving your loved ones to do service? There are times when I am missing someone familiar from my table. It is different people at different times and my heart misses them. The last phrase—”to which Jesus had ordered them”—strikes me as being particularly relevant to mission and service. What are Jesus’ orders? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, go and make disciples of all nations. Mission is an opportunity to do just that. My heart believes that God does and will take care of me while on mission, and the Almighty and Universal God is also able to care for my loved ones even when they are on a different continent!
“He led them out to Bethany...They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy and they were continually in the temple praising God.” (Luke 24:50-53)  
Dear future volunteer, as you discern your service, there is great help to be found in being “continually in the temple praising God.” I couldn’t have made my decision for mission without some serious prayer and reflection. The question of “Is this really God’s will?” was a focus for my Lenten prayer before I began my time of service. Contemplative silence and guidance from trusted friends helped me to find peace in the answer to that prayer. This ending of Luke’s Gospel account shows the disciples returning to the Temple, and I have reflected on how this seems to be the strength they needed before departing to their ministries that are recounted in Acts.

“Jesus came and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” (John 20:19; 21:22)  
Ahhh, my prayers were voiced and answered; my heart found peace, and my decision for mission was made. In John’s Gospel, Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. In the next chapter, I see another of my tendencies:  my desire to get a quick summation of God’s plan.  Peter wants to know about the future for the Beloved disciple…(nudge, nudge, wink, wink) and he is gently reminded by Jesus, “What concern is it of yours? You follow me.”  
The disciples encounter the resurrected Jesus in their everyday lives while fishing, walking, eating, and interacting with others. As my mission time unfolds, I also see Jesus in everyday life.

I see him in the faith voiced in the locals that I meet and in new forms of singing and praise. I feel discouragement at the discrepancy of incomes and lack of faith just as Jesus felt while gazing at Jerusalem. I marvel to see God’s hand in creation as I walk by household gardens or explore the hills. And, like the disciples, I see Jesus working through me, giving me a stronger dependence on prayer as I realize that I will not be able to fix systemic problems, and a stronger sense of humility as I realize that I am an outsider here, but I truly have been sent by God.  
Jesus ascended and asked his disciples to go and teach all nations. Mission service makes us a viable part of that eternal and mystical plan. Jesus may have disappeared into the clouds, but we are able to make his presence real today.
I really think that He was having a good chuckle as He ascended. He knew how much mission would change us!
Dear future volunteer, are you ready to be changed?
To learn more about service opportunities through Franciscan Mission Service, please click here.

Supper with Sisters: Jessica Vozella - St. Joseph Worker Program - Los Angeles, CA

Wed, 04/25/2018 - 8:56am
Jessica is one of five CVN Serving with Sisters Ambassadors – volunteers sharing the joy, energy, and fulfillment of serving alongside Catholic Sisters in CVN member programs, through creative reflection, conversation, and experience. Enjoy this post, and stay tuned to hear more from Jessica and her fellow Ambassadors over the course of their service year!

When Sister Claire and I sat down for lunch, her first comment to me was “I was thinking about this and I don’t know why you asked me about my story, I don’t really have much of one.” I was a little caught off guard because I knew that her statement was the furthest thing from the truth. After working at St. Joseph Center for 8 months, I knew that everyone has a story that is intricate and interesting, even if they don’t see it that way. I had asked Sr. Claire to share her story because I was already captivated by the person she is now and was curious about the journey that brought her here.
I also came to this lunch and interview with the new understanding that though she answered yes to a different call than I have, there is much less that separates me from Sr. Claire than originally perceived because of her vocation as a sister. This shift in perspective is exciting because it allowed my conversation with Sr. Claire and her story to have an impact and wisdom for me, even though religious life has not been part of my discernment journey.
How the Call Came
Like many of the sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet that I have met this year, Sr. Claire entered the convent right out of high school, at 18 years old. When she recalled her discernment and decision to enter religious life, Sr. Claire described the influence of the sisters who taught in her school. Listening to her describe her draw to the sisters was incredible, as she was almost in awe of how they cared for others and exuded a sense of love for God and neighbor. What was beautiful to hear was her certainty that these were the women that influenced her life trajectory. She knew she wanted to be like them. This yes to religious life sounded as if it was a given as Sr. Claire described her decision and that of some of her friends to enter the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, while other friends went off to college, business school or got married.  Career options for young women at that time were limited, including women religious. Most religious communities were involved in health care and education. This was fine for Sr. Claire who always thought she would be a teacher. Education turned out to be a lifelong career, as she served children, families and the church.    
What struck me about Sr. Claire’s call is that it didn’t present itself as a huge decision about which she had to fight back and forth with herself, or that she resented before accepting, or something she saw as particularly profound. I found comfort in the simplicity of her decision, knowing that not all vocations are found so easily, but that some are as simple as following the desires of your heart. Furthermore, the beauty with which she regarded the sisters and their vocations inspired me; it was beautiful to hear her tell me that she just wanted to be like these women who were embodying their faith and love for God by serving the world. 

Sr. Claire (seated, second from the right) and other members of the Board of the St. Joseph Worker program.Challenges to the Call
Though the call and yes to her vocation were easily distinguishable and accepted by her, Sr. Claire’s family found her vocation a little harder to embrace. Their only daughter and one of their only two children, Sr. Claire’s parents did not completely eschew her desire to become a sister, but they were not as thrilled as she seemed to be. This was challenging for Sr. Claire, especially her father’s hesitation at her decision. However, with a strength that inspires me, she knew that what she was doing was the right thing, and pushed past the challenge this reception presented.
When I asked Sr. Claire about other challenges she was faced with, she told me of times where she had to reaffirm her “yes” to God despite frustrations and uncertainties. One of the first things that presented itself as a challenge was the change in lifestyle being a woman religious presented especially during the formation period –“ learning to become a nun.” With relatively little socializing,  especially with the outside world, was a drastic change in the way Sr. Claire lived her life. Being separated from friends was challenging, and there were some tough days on her journey, especially at the beginning. Despite these valleys, striking was the sureness Sr. Claire felt about her decision; “not once did I think about leaving.”
As Sr. Claire journeyed through life as a Sister of St Joseph, she held fast to her trust in God, enduring the tests that time and life brought to her. A relatable and very human challenge she spoke about was watching many of her friends get married and start families. She spoke of watching those on different life paths with less of a longing and more of an appreciation, yet openly noted that she wondered what her life would have been like had she chosen a different path-especially to be a wife, mom and grandmother. Yet recognizing the woman she is today is due to all the experiences, opportunities, people she has encountered as a Sister of St. Joseph.  I admired her acknowledgement of these wonderings and her vulnerability in talking about what might have been, as I can relate already to deal with the different life directions my friends and I have taken.
I asked specifically if there had been any times in Sr. Claire’s journey in religious life when her “yes” became strained and she graciously opened herself up to me in sharing a particularly hard time. She had been teaching at a school in a small farming town with three other sisters – involved with the school families, participating in parish life and active in the civic community. As she was happily living in this farming community, she unexpectedly received word that the sisters had to withdraw from the school. Alternatives they presented were not an option; the decision had been made. Sr. Claire recalls asking God why this would happen. That vulnerability and questioning before God struck me as relatable; if nothing else, I can relate to thinking you’ve got it all worked out and you are happy only for things to change. I appreciated hearing Sr. Claire speak of this disappointment and questioning, while holding steadfast to her certainty of her decision and in God.

Sisters and St. Joseph Worker at the St. Joseph Worker Program opening retreat,
featuring Sr. Claire closest to the camera!Lessons in Discernment and Vocation
Listening to Sr. Claire was a wonderful opportunity for me to simply ask more and intently listen to the life story of someone I have had the opportunity of getting to know over the past few months. What struck me the most about this experience was the lessons and wisdom she knowingly or unknowingly imparted on me and the impact her words have on my current journey through my year of service. Sr. Claire’s discernment and yes to vocation looks differently than the discernment I find myself in, but her feelings and understanding of how God speaks to her resonates with me. Hearing the joy and desire for the sisters that Sr. Claire felt as a high school student reminds me to pay attention to the great joys in my life, where they are directed, and where they are directing. She teaches me, through her past and present, to hear God in a way that isn’t only through silent prayer and reflection, but also in the busyness and explosive aliveness of our everyday. 
Jessica, a current St. Joseph Worker, will be blogging about her service experience as part of our ongoing Serving with Sisters Ambassadors series. This series is sponsored by CVN's From Service to Sisterhood Initiative, a project made possible thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

The Visitation

Tue, 04/24/2018 - 6:00am
By Catherine Hope Sullivan, Franciscan Mission Service

My morning began the same way it usually does - I entered the large green metal doors of the women’s prison, said good morning to the familiar female guards, went through the various security measures, and walked into the main entrance.
The prison opens into a large concrete courtyard that is usually full of drying laundry hanging from various levels of clotheslines. On the main floor of the courtyard, there are many small stoves plugged into the walls that serve as cafes—providing teas, coffees, and food for one boliviano (~14 cents)—all run by inmates. Many of my days in the prison are spent here, just chatting with friends over tea and bread. On the second and third levels are small concrete rooms for women who can afford to pay for their own cell, since in Bolivia men and women in prison have to pay for their own room and board. On the third floor, there are also a few small classrooms and recreational rooms.
This particular Friday things were different than usual. There was a buzz of excitement in the air--a sense of expectation. In the prison courtyard, the laundry lines had been moved to make room for a table draped with a golden cloth, adorned with red flowers. I was curious, but quickly fell into conversation with a friend as we walked to the classroom together.

Waiting was a group of friends ready for our Friday reflection. Many of these women have been incarcerated for reasons of sheer poverty due to an unjust system: they are imprisoned for unpaid debts despite constantly working and raising young children. Even in the prisons, they have to pay for their room and board. We had a fruitful discussion about injustices pertaining to women’s rights—most of these women are dealing with sexual violence trauma, not to mention separation from their families, unfair labor laws, and much more. We had a lively and passionate conversation; clearly, the buzz that I had felt upon arriving had followed us into this room.
After the group discussion had finished, one of my friends, Marta, and I began to talk one-on-one. She had been having a very difficult time, not having seen her sons in months. She told me that the only good thing that came out of her time in the prison was that she had found God. She explained that people accused her of only turning to God in desperation, of needing to believe in something when surrounded by such difficulty. Rather, she had explained, it was because she had hit rock-bottom, and when nothing else was there to distract her from the foundational truth and life’s profundities, she saw very clearly that God was there—in the simplest, loneliest levels of human need, human dignity, and life. She began to laugh about how perfect it was that such a hard day fell on the same day the Virgenwas coming. Suddenly, the pieces came together—the set-up downstairs, the excitement in the air—a statue of the Virgin Mary was on its way.

This was no ordinary statue - it was the Virgen María de Urkupiña- the apparition of Mary that appeared to a poor shepherd girl upon a hillside just outside of the city of Cochabamba. Every year a large festival is held in her honor. Because of Pope Francis’ very intentional visit to the prison when he was in Bolivia, it was decided that the statue of the Virgenwould be carried to each of the prisons of Cochabamba, before being placed on display for the festival.
We walked back to the courtyard just as women were beginning to gather, rosaries clenched in their hands. White handkerchiefs and candles were distributed, as well as sheets of song lyrics. The women, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, stood waiting and craning their necks to catch the first glimpse of Our Lady. Finally, she entered, carried on the shoulders of military men, followed by priests and government officials. The women only had eyes for her. She was beautiful, wearing bright white garments, a sash of the Bolivian flag, and a lace veil over her sleek black hair. She was holding the Christ child in her left hand and a crown of gold in her right. A large halo encircled her body, and luminescent sun rays reflected off of its surface. Many of the women broke into tears, waving the white cloths above their heads and singing with passion in their voices.
One by one, the women went to touch the Virgen, reverence and understanding in each caress, leaving their prayers at the feet Our Lady. Among them was Marta, holding her rosary tightly to her heart and  looking into the face of Mary. Here with these women and their rock-bottom faith, in this prison—this is consistently where I find Christ the Redeemer and the accompanist.
These are women who fight to wake up in the morning, women who are dealing with separation from family, sexual assault, PTSD, poverty, depression, debt, loss, and much more. And here, before them, was a statue of a woman who had lived in such systems of injustice, such poverty, had seen such loss, had wept for her child, had borne the weight of true suffering. Here she was, holy and glorified, entering their rock-bottom, their hell, and standing with them in love and solidarity.
To learn more about service opportunities through Franciscan Mission Service, please click here.

I Chose Service: Josh Maxey serving with Franciscan Mission Service

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 5:17pm
Name: Josh MaxeyVolunteer Program: Franciscan Mission Service, DC Service Corps 15’-16’Service Site: Street Sense Media, Washington, DCHometown: Rochester, NYCollege: Saint Bonaventure University, Political Science major
1. How did you first learn about post-graduate service? I first learned about post-graduate service through Saint Bonaventure’s Center for Social Concern. My junior year of college, the Director of the Center for Social Concern asked me if I had ever considered doing a year of service. While I attended St. Bonaventure, I was very active in Campus Ministries and volunteering with the local community.
2. What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on your service program? I always knew I wanted to end up in Washington, DC after graduation, but I didn’t exactly know where I wanted to work. I thought about getting an internship on Capitol Hill, and looking for work at different non-profits. I eventually came to the conclusion that taking a year to really give of myself and learn more about life outside of my comfort zone was the best approach. Prior to my service year, the one thing that always surprised me about Washington, DC, is the amount of people living without adequate housing, and living on the streets. I knew I wanted to help, and learn more about this epidemic that seems to be plaguing America, especially youth.
3. Tell us about your service experience. My service site was a program called Street Sense Media. Street Sense is a nonprofit organization that  “creates content in print, film, theater, photography, audio, illustration and more, all for the purpose of providing economic opportunity for and elevating the voices of people experiencing homelessness.” During my year, I served as the Vendor Manger. As the Vendor Manager, I was the primary contact for the homeless individuals in the program, helping to set up both programs, as well as working with our staff social worker.
4. What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? From my time volunteering, I have learned so much about myself, and the type of person that I would like to become. I learned skills about event planning, nonprofit management, and the systemic issues affecting those in homelessness. Living in an intentional community also taught me the value of relationships.

5. What advice would you share with someone who was considering faith-based service? For anyone that is considering a faith-based organization, I would suggest that you take your time and really find the program that will be the best fit for you. Look at their website; reach out to former program volunteers if you are able. This way, your year of service will not only be about you helping other people, but your personal growth as well.
To learn more about post-grad service opportunities, check out our RESPONSE directory, listing thousands of opportunities across the United States and abroad.

Supper with Sisters: Catherine Nguyen - St. Joseph Worker Program, Orange, CA

Wed, 04/11/2018 - 12:29pm
Catherine is one of five CVN Serving with Sisters Ambassadors – volunteers sharing the joy, energy, and fulfillment of serving alongside Catholic Sisters in CVN member programs, through creative reflection, conversation, and experience. Enjoy this post, and stay tuned to hear more from Catherine and her fellow Ambassadors over the course of their service year!
Fiat - A Sister's "YES" to God's Call

In this podcast, Catherine interviews Sr. Katherine "Kit" Gray about her calling to the vocation of religious life. 
            In the months of serving with the St. Joseph Worker Program, I have been graced with the presence of the religious Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange (CSJ).  The sisters have exemplified the beauty of religious life in the way they each uniquely live out their congregation’s mission.  As advocates of social justice, the sisters are proactively present in the local communities where they reside, to be with and for our dear neighbors.  However, their charism is not kept to themselves; they desire, and have succeeded, in extending their mission to other laity who partake in it. 
I am always in awe when I learn about the history of the CSJ Sisters and the impact they have had in their local communities.  For example, here in Orange County, St. Joseph Hospital is a renowned health-care facility.  Founded by the CSJ Sisters in 1920, the original St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka, CA has extended throughout the nation.  In order to sustain and continue the legacy of the CSJ Sisters, those who work in such facilities are also called to take on the mission of the sisters and make it their own. 
            Through the St. Joseph Worker Program, I have encountered many CSJ sisters who have taught me the meaning of humility and compassion.  I have found that humility and compassion are indispensable in the ministry of healing and reconciliation, which is the charism of the sisters.  Humility has allowed me to be free from controlling situations and the results of my work, thus entrusting all to God and His Providence.  In humbling myself, I am more disposed to embrace Christ’s Presence in others, and desire their good, rather than focusing on myself.  Compassion towards others is rooted in self-compassion.  In knowing myself and my own needs, I have found a balance to meet those needs while also ministering to the needs of those around me.  Seeing not merely with my eyes, but with my heart, I have learned the art of loving the human person and the sacredness they embody.   
As each sister has their unique ministry, each also models the different ways of saying “yes” to the Lord and His invitations.  In this podcast, Sr. Katherine ‘Kit’ Gray shares with us her own “yes” to God and how she lives out her vocation as a Bride of Christ.      

Catherine, a current St. Joseph Worker, will be blogging about her service experience as part of our ongoing Serving with Sisters Ambassadors series. This series is sponsored by CVN's From Service to Sisterhood Initiative, a project made possible thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

There is no Greater Medicine than Compassion

Tue, 04/10/2018 - 6:00am
By Nritya Venkat Ramani, Good Shepherd Volunteers.

Compassion. Often I have come across this word, be it in sermons, in ancient scriptures, in NGOs, or in casual banter. But what is compassion? What does it truly mean to be a compassionate individual? The guidelines for compassion are dictated by many factors such as individual personality, religion, culture, language, literature, music, arts, and many others.
Compassion has been the driving force behind my passion for social justice. Though it can be frustrating, demanding if not downright depressing, the need to do right overpowers all other emotions. I am inspired by Edmund Burke, an Irish statesman, who actively criticized the British treatment of the American colonies and supported the American Revolution. His most famous words are:
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
Doing nothing is the death of compassion. The pull of despondency and inaction is strong, and yet we must not give in if our societies are to remain at all compassionate. This is where my year of service as a Good Shepherd Volunteer (GSV) played a vital role.

My volunteer posting was at Euphrasian Residence, an in- house facility for girls coming through human trafficking, gang activity, juvenile prison and the foster care system. On my very first day on the site, my supervisor assured me that if I could work in Euphrasian, I could pretty much work anywhere in the world. This was not going to be easy. Having been denied a foundation of concrete values and a stable childhood, the young women took a toll on the staff with their emotional outbursts and disorderly conduct. Sometimes I wondered what I was doing here, and why I was putting myself through this. While some of my college mates were in graduate school, an internship or an actual job, here I was waking unruly teenagers up for school, getting sworn at, and breaking up fights during lunch. This was not what I imagined my Manhattan 'high life' to be. But isn't that what compassion is all about? Pushing those boundaries beyond your comfort zone to go where others don't tread? Yes, it's uncomfortable and challenging, but I became stronger and resilient because of it. It made me appreciate the true value of compassion in our lives, especially during infancy and childhood. Compassion builds trust, something these young women struggled with. For once they trusted me; they showed a kind of raw love and fierce loyalty which was different and touching. It was why after my GSV experience, I continued to work with at- risk youth at The Door, FEGS, and most recently, The Refugee Youth Project.
Being an active advocate for interfaith dialogue and having committed to similar forums, I am convinced that service compels us to dive deep into our spirituality and explore what God expects of us. It is not the mere regurgitation of scripture or ritualistic practices that lift up our souls. It is only through the deliverance of other living beings, that we can redeem ourselves. Many have asked why a Hindu girl works so willingly in Christian- based volunteer missions. The answer is very simple. We will all be judged not by the earthly labels we impose on one and another, but by the service we have rendered to this world. That and that alone is where I draw my faith from. This sentiment was echoed in one of the GSV retreats, where each volunteer had a private spiritual session with one of the Sisters. When it was my turn, I was directed to pull out a stone from a bag filled with many colored stones. The one I picked out had the word 'Faith' inscribed on it. I still remember the words the Sister said to me:
"Of all the volunteers who came in, it is unusual that the only non- Christian should receive the Faith stone. You will draw your courage from your faith. And others will draw their courage from you."

Those words couldn't have resonated more. A few years later, I lost my only sister to cancer. It was a period of such darkness, where sometimes I wondered if there was any light at all. Supporting my parents and preserving my own inner peace became increasingly turbulent. I know that if it were not for my strong faith in service and God, my family may have never bounced back from this tragedy. By enrolling in NGO work in India as well as practicing mantra meditation and congregational worship, my family was able to heal themselves.  While this may seem miraculous, the medicine is there in plain sight. There is no greater medicine than compassion, for in healing others you heal yourself.
I believe that there are different forms of compassion. Some people are compassionate because the recipient is a loved one or someone they care deeply about. Some are compassionate about certain issues because of past experiences or community spirit. And yet, some others are compassionate because they are inspired by faith and spiritual rewards. Finally, there are the ones who are compassionate because of a higher calling that is to love for love's sake only.  My year of service as a Good Shepherd Volunteer allowed me to introspect and define what compassion meant to me.  During this process I met incredible people from all walks of life, most of who I still remain connected. By exploring their views and experiences, my compassion has developed profoundly. Compassion in its loftiest form calls for complete relinquishing of ego. One can only truly serve when one harbors no judgment, no fears and no desires. I hope to reach that form one day.
To learn more about service opportunities through Good Shepherd Volunteers, Please click here.

Final thoughts after one year of service

Tue, 04/03/2018 - 6:00am
By Christian Ruehling, VIDES USA

Time flies. At least, that is what most people would say. But for me, it did not.My year of service was slow, but I am OK with that. The year never seemed to end, but I appreciated that I had more time to enjoy the year and to do the work that I set out to accomplish.The first half of the year certainly felt slower in Ethiopia, which had more to do with the fact that I was not living in a society connected to 24-hour news cycles, instant access to communications, deadline-driven environments, and so forth. I learned to enjoy time at a slower rate than usual, which allowed me to reflect on the community I was living in.
My favorite memory of Ethiopia was the smiles of the children, adolescents and young adults whom I taught and worked with in Dilla. Their smiles and infectious laughs reminded me that we can be happy regardless of how much or how little we have.I also learned that being a teacher is no easy job, and I congratulate all the teachers who are able to go day in and day out to work with many children and help them develop into our future generation. You cannot imagine how many times I was in front of the classroom, thinking, "How am I going to get through this class?" But I managed to get their attention, get through the class and have fun, as well.Often, I would think about my old teachers, and I finally understand how they must have felt since I was now standing in their shoes. So while it was a challenging role, I enjoyed using my mind in a different, creative way and channeling my energy to doing something more creative and hopefully rewarding for my students.
My visit to Rome over the summer to attend the VIDES conference was special because not only was it my first time in the city, but it also connected me with many other VIDES volunteers of different cultures, backgrounds and ethnicities. We all had one thing in common, and that was our desire to help children and adolescents through the Salesian family spirit.Going to Rome after my sojourn in Ethiopia was also a good segue for the second part of my journey in Geneva. In the "city of peace," I admired how others dedicated their lives to promoting human rights, but I was also dismayed that in this day and age, humanity has not yet reached a point of maturity in which we can respect the rights of others to live peacefully without the feeling of being threatened or insecure.I am also grateful that I was exposed to the theme of unaccompanied migrant children, which somehow wove itself through my year of service. It started in San Antonio, where we spent time with adolescents who crossed the border from Mexico and other Central American countries.
In Rome, my VIDES colleague and I co-presented on this topic at VIDES' XI international conference. The presentation focused on children migrating from Central America and what programs VIDES and the Salesian sisters were doing to ensure that they receive proper treatment: health, education, and security.Finally, in Geneva, I delivered an oral statement on this topic at one of the U.N. Human Rights Council sessions. I also wrote a report on the global issue of unaccompanied migrant children for our human rights office because Salesian sisters work with these children and adolescents on a regular basis in their missions across Africa, India, Latin America and Southeast Asia.These children are a vulnerable segment of our society that need help from our communities to feel safe and integrated. Our actions toward them make an indelible mark at their age and could set a positive or negative course for the rest of their lives.When I sought out this journey, I am glad I pushed myself out of my comfort zone to see what life was like outside of my own Western world. It made me appreciate that life is so much different in other countries than what I was used to. It was also amazing to see the good that is being done by others, whether they are missionaries, teachers, volunteers, or NGO workers for the betterment of the communities that they work in.
There is much going on out there, and people need help. And not just the monetary kind, but also old-fashioned human interaction: a hand to lift, a mind to grow, a body to heal and a spirit to nourish.More importantly, I am glad I made this experience through VIDES and that I was exposed to the world of the Salesian sisters. Every community that I passed through received me with warmth, care, spiritual healing and a good plate of food.But more importantly, I learned a lot from the sisters who have dedicated their lives to helping children who are poor, marginalized, lacking in a proper education and do a lot to break the vicious cycle of poverty they live in. Every sister I met had an interesting story to tell about the lives they touched and the challenges they faced, but they all carried the spiritual adversity to continue on their mission, no matter the odds. I only wish that my heart had been touched by the Salesian spirit at an earlier age, but at least I am satisfied with the experience and knowledge that this journey brought me and with which I can carry forth in the years ahead.
To learn more about service opportunities through VIDES USA, Please Click here.

The Resurrection of the Lord Reflection by Bekah Fulton

Mon, 04/02/2018 - 9:00am

Lenten Reflections to support your spiritual journey over these forty days - brought to you by Catholic Volunteer Network and the Catholic Apostolate Center.
The Resurrection of the Lord Reflectionby Bekah Fultonformer Intern with The Sojourners Internship Program 
“He has been raised; He is not here.”(Mark 16:1-7)
For most of my life I have struggled to get up early. I do not have an inherent disposition to mornings, but waking up before 7 a.m. has never sounded good to me. However, I have recently felt like I might be missing out on something by only ever waking up to fulfill a responsibility. Unless my commitments are tied to another person or work, it is hard for me to get out of bed, whether that is for myself, or worse, for God. 

So as I meditate on the passage in Mark 16, which depicts the fervent passion Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Salome had for Jesus, I feel convicted. Rising early, they rushed to serve Jesus with spices and burial rituals, completely forgetting to consider how they would get past the behemoth boulder standing firm between Jesus and the rest of the world. How often do I let the boulders in my own story quarantine my zeal for serving Jesus? How often do I sleep in just because I don’t have a “plan”? 

One thing I have learned in my 22 years, and will most likely continue to learn, is that confidence in Christ – “the riches of assured understanding” (Colossians 2:2) – is strengthened in situations contradictory to the plans I make for myself.

Focus on: Community
In addition, these women are an example for me in my own community. Even in their service and dedication, they were surprised when Jesus was no longer in the tomb. Yet instead of remaining in awe, they were commanded to “go and tell.” We are called to be witnesses and servants of the Good News, not spectators. This passage reminds me not to be shocked by the work of God when we gather in community to serve the Lord and to trust in the promises of God!

Lord, I pray for the energy and discipline to rise early and lean in, with anticipation, to the work you have prepared for me. May I not become disheartened by the boulders I cannot see around or the plans that don’t seem to come together. I pray you soften my heart to trust in your promises and to rejoice through word and deed as I heed your command to “go and tell” of your great works. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Service Suggestion:
Similar to a budget, how we spend our days and who we give our time to is a declaration of our faith. As an act of service, give the Spirit space to move. Whether this requires an earlier start to your day or a portion of it to be left unscheduled, join me as I work to center Christ in my life!

About the Author:
Bekah Fulton is from Cypress, Texas, a graduate of Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, and currently a part of the 2017-2018 Sojourners Internship Program in Washington, D.C. She has developed a recent love for science fiction, likes to collects fridge magnets, and enjoys dabbling with various artistic mediums.

Looking for more reflections like this one? We invite you to download our Lenten Reflection Guide in its entirety, available by clicking here. You can find an extensive library of Lenten resources by visiting the Catholic Apostolate Center website - click here.

Supper with Sisters: Ada Lee - Vincentian Service Corps West - San Francisco, CA

Wed, 03/28/2018 - 11:55am

Ada is one of five CVN Serving with Sisters Ambassadors – volunteers sharing the joy, energy, and fulfillment of serving alongside Catholic Sisters in CVN member programs, through creative reflection, conversation, and experience. Enjoy this post, and stay tuned to hear more from Ada and her fellow Ambassadors over the course of their service year! 

At first glance, an outsider could say that Sister Barbara and I have nothing in common. We differ in aesthetics, demographics, interests, and preferences. So one might inquire, how can we learn from each other? I met up with Sister Barbara at a diner on the outskirts of Daly City for an informational conversation as hearty as the meal. In retrospect, it is our differences that brought us together and allowed us to share our religious journeys with each other.
Sister Barbara was born into a religious home with Catholic parents and was born and raised into the faith. She knew from the early age of 7 or 8 that she wanted to dedicate her life to God. She worked alongside Mexican Americans in poverty in San Antonio. She spent 42 years in Taiwan serving refugee families who fled communist China. This experience allowed her to immerse herself into the culture and learn the different Mandarin dialects.
I was not born into a religious home. My parents were not Catholic and going to church was always seen as a secondary task. I did not know what I wanted to do with my life at 7 or 8 years old, never even considering dedicating it to the church and to God. I’ve been to San Antonio once in my life- not to serve those in poverty, but to eat Mexican food and Texan barbecue. I spent 42 days in Taiwan in an attempt to learn Mandarin Chinese, only to be thwarted by distractions of friends, social events, and tourism.
It appears that we have nothing in common. Yet, we are alike. We are similar in that we are both on a never-ending journey of seeing God in every person and in every life moment. Our faith journeys have followed different paths of living simply with humility, intentional community living, and serving the poor of our society. But they both have the same destination: growing closer in our relationship with God.
Simplicity and Humility
When Sister Barbara was seven years old, a priest told her that she would “look nice in a habit.” This inspired her to think about pursuing the religious life. She didn’t fully do so until after she finished nursing school and she was able to discern with the help and encouragement of the Sisters and priests. She says, “I felt that God was speaking to me through other people who could see I had a vocation.”

I never thought I looked nice in a habit. At seven years old, I would never have thought I’d be dedicating my life to service. However, through my experience this year, I could feel God speaking to me through the people I am serving. He is saying that my passion is helping others be the best they can be- and I’m inspired now to live that goal to the fullest, no matter where life takes me upon completion of this service year.
Sister Barbara and I are living with humility and simplicity to God. We are actively choosing not to focus on the extraneous things of life, rather to dedicate our extra time to serving others, our community and to Him. We are choosing not to let money get in the way of forming compassionate relationships with others. Most importantly, we are choosing to “Let go, let God.” We both never thought we would be where we are now, but life has humbled us enough to let God guide our way and to listen to wherever He wants us to be. Living a humble life- for myself and for others- has simplified my relationship to Him. I feel closer to God now more than ever before.
Community Living
Sister Barbara has lived in community longer than I have been alive. She has truly seen it all- the qualms, highs, and lows of her community members. She regards her community as “one with its own characters and personalities.” Likewise, I also live in a community filled with different interests and passions. I’m more willing to go out and explore on weeknights, while my community members are more likely to stay in. The differences we have in what we do with our time does not make one better or worse than the other. Rather, it meshes together as one large, dysfunctional functioning family.
I, as Sister Barbara would say, “would not want to live alone….for I would not be able to accomplish, for Christ, what I want to accomplish.” Though our communities are filled with different people of various generations and backgrounds, we all have the same formation-  learning to imitate Christ by serving Him as St. Vincent and St. Louise envisioned the service of the poor.  Sister Barbara says that “no matter where we go in the world, we find that Sisters will support each other in their life of serving the poor and in praying together.” I have learned that my community has made me stronger- in my faith, in my emotions, in the belief of myself and my abilities. We have had our ups and downs, but we are bonded by the respect we have for each other and the people we serve, as well as for our love of Christ. This bond keeps us together and holds us up. Sister Barbara and I and our communities are united by our common vision.
Left: My community attended the Religious Education Conference in Anaheim. It is the largest congregation of Catholics in America! It was a fantastic weekend of speakers, lectures, and prayers. Here we are outside the Anaheim Convention Center. Right: Of course, when you're in Anaheim, you got to go to Disney! Here we are posing with Queen Elsa.Serving the Poor
Sister Barbara served the poor in Taiwan for 42 years. She served refugee families fleeing communist China, people who lived in conditions of imprisonment, mistreatment and filth. She claims it as “the most powerful impact” on her life as a Daughter of Charity. “I would return home at night with the thought of those poor people living in such conditions where they were so helpless.  I was so comfortable in my own room and among companions who were so accepting and solicitous of my needs.  The helplessness of removing them from such a situation when compared to the life I lived, made me ask God how I was granted the life of such comfort and freedom from fear and abuse.”
This year, I am serving women and children afflicted by drug and alcohol abuse. These women have had traumatic backgrounds and have either been formerly incarcerated and/ or homeless. For them, returning home to a residence that is comfortable, accepting, and solicitous of their needs gives them hope. They no longer want to go back to the streets or the situation their lives were in before. It prompts me to ask God how I can help them build a life free from fear and abuse.
Both Sister Barbara and I are serving the poor. This doesn’t necessarily mean poor in monetary standards, but poor in spirit and faith. As Mother Teresa once said, “We think sometimes that poverty is only being naked, hungry, and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for is the greatest poverty.” The Daughters of Charity look forward to serving the very poor since their vocation and community is essentially for that purpose.  As a Vincentian volunteer, I call on that same purpose as well. St. Vincent taught us that if we go to serve the poor ten times a day, we have served Jesus ten times a day because we should see Him in the poor.
I concluded my time with Sister Barbara by asking her what advice she would like to give me before we parted ways.  She said:
As a young volunteer, you already have a sense of responsibility of helping less fortunate persons.  I would advise you to continue that spirit and deepen this practice no matter where God leads you.  See God in your spouse, your children, your co-workers, those who serve you at McDonalds or Walmart or carry your garbage away.  Every one of those persons is Christ and how you treat them, you treat Christ.  If you act in this way, you have begun to bring peace to yourself and to others and to the world…..I see God in you as a young person because you’re working to make this world a better place. 
I see God in Sister Barbara as well because she has taught me how to live, laugh, love like a true Vincentian. We part ways for now, but we remain connected by the same heart.
Ada, a current volunteer with Vincentian Service Corps West, will be blogging about her service experience as part of our ongoing Serving with Sisters Ambassadors series. This series is sponsored by CVN's From Service to Sisterhood Initiative, a project made possible thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion Reflection by Colleen Quigley

Fri, 03/23/2018 - 9:00am

Lenten Reflections to support your spiritual journey over these forty days - brought to you by Catholic Volunteer Network and the Catholic Apostolate Center.
Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion Reflectionby Colleen Quigley, former volunteer with Salesian Lay Missioners
“Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”(Mark 14:1-15:47)
In the Palm Sunday liturgy, we see the highs and the lows of Jesus’ ministry. Knowing what is to come next, I’ve always found myself anxious when reading of Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We begin with joyful proclamations of “Hosanna in the highest!” and later in the Gospel reading find ourselves shouting along with the crowd “Crucify him! Crucify him!” It can feel strange to encounter the disparity between these moments in Jesus’ life.
The school that I served at in Cambodia has about a thousand students. Each day we would hear stories from their lives – both the good and the bad. Sitting around the table at meals with the Sisters, we would recount what we had been told by our students, teachers, and staff. They would bring the joyful news of the birth of a new baby, weddings, the building of a new home, and opportunities to study, work, or improve their lives. We would be invited into their homes, their celebrations, and to share in their joys. But they would also often bring news of sickness and death, broken relationships, and challenges and injustices. Then we would be invited to pray for them, to comfort them, and to share in their pain. All of these stories would be told around the table.
Just as the Palm Sunday liturgy and readings require us to confront and be present to the highs and lows of Jesus’ ministry and life, we are called to accompany people on their everyday lives but also through the great moments of celebration and the difficult moments of pain. It is in this accompaniment that we are able to find our place amidst the tension of the joy and suffering in the world.
Focus on: Social JusticeOn Palm Sunday, we see the power of a crowd – first joyfully greeting Jesus as he triumphantly enters into Jerusalem and then watching as he carries his cross to his crucifixion. In a crowd, it is often easy to go along with what the others are doing or feel powerless and unable to fight injustices alone. We can feel this way in society as well. What social justice issues have you been waiting for someone to speak out about first? What are ways that you can use your voice to serve those who are suffering?
Prayer:Ever-present God, help us to remain present as we walk with our brothers and sisters in the crowd in times of joy and celebration and in times of pain and sorrow. Grant us the voice to speak out against injustices but also the voice to praise and to comfort. May we always know that you are accompanying us. Amen.
Service Suggestion:Use your voice to speak out against the crowd! Spend some time in reflection on where you see injustice in your life and in the world. Once you have identified a cause, find ways that you can speak out about it: a post on social media, calling your local government officials, educating those around you, or even volunteering and inviting others to do so with you.
About the Author:Colleen is originally from outside of Philadelphia. After graduating from The Catholic University of America in 2015, she spent a year serving as a Salesian Lay Missioner in Phnom Penh, Cambodia teaching at a vocational school for girls. She is currently a graduate student at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry and works with undergraduate students in the international immersion program.
Looking for more reflections like this one? We invite you to download our Lenten Reflection Guide in its entirety, available by clicking here. You can find an extensive library of Lenten resources by visiting the Catholic Apostolate Center website - click here.

Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion Reflection by Lydia Olsen

Wed, 03/21/2018 - 9:00am

Lenten Reflections to support your spiritual journey over these forty days - brought to you by Catholic Volunteer Network and the Catholic Apostolate Center.
Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion Reflectionby Lydia Olsen, former volunteer with JVC Northwest
“Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”(Mark 14:1-15:47)
When I share with others about how I served a year as a Jesuit Volunteer AmeriCorps Member in Seattle, WA; the reactions are almost always the same. I watch the curiosity fade and discomfort quickly take over. You see; I worked in end-of-life care—a topic few people want to discuss. “Oh…” they say, “Wow. That is intense!”
I’ve become accustom to this response and it no longer surprises me. I like to think that I’ve become “comfortable with the uncomfortable”, yet when I encounter this week’s gospel I can feel myself having a strikingly similar reaction—“Oh…Wow. That is intense!”
It seems that intensity is often a byproduct of the fight for justice and the advocacy on behalf of the vulnerable. Too often we take a side or a stand in our words and our actions only to back down when we realize the effort and resistance that will come alongside it. In today’s reading we are reminded of the disciples that have stood with Jesus throughout his journey. They doubt that they will ever find themselves in a place where denying him is possible—but sure as the cock crows, they each turn away when they are confronted with the daunting task of remaining unshaken in discomfort. Though it isn’t written in the reading, I feel confident that they each must have thought, “Wow. This is intense” and then decided on a higher level of comfort for themselves over a courageous following.
If we are to be true disciples and servants of social justice, we must be able to take the heat and opt for the courage. We must be willing to enter into these difficult and often unpopular spaces and remain standing. We must be able to say, “Yes…yes this is intense but it is also necessary.” The movers and shakers in our world overlook their comfort for the betterment of the populations that they have aligned themselves beside. It is simply not enough to stand for justice in fair-weather if we aren’t also willing to stand for justice in the storm.
Focus on: Social JusticePushing the boundaries of our comfort will invite us into conversations with others or into service where we might feel the obligation to know exactly what to say should discomfort arise. Often we focus on what we will respond with rather than truly listening to what another is choosing to share. This week, I encourage you to be present when you encounter intense conversations or emotions. It’s okay to not know how to react or what to offer. When you feel the urge to turn away, instead lean in more deeply.
Prayer:Lord, remind me to shout hosanna when I feel your presence in my life and to shout it even louder in when I feel you are difficult to find. Give me the strength I need to not turn away from the discomfort that often accompanies working for justice and the persistence I need to do the work you ask of me. Help me find the courage to say, “yes” to you, even when I’m not sure what all that will entail. Please remind me that the best way to serve you is to serve your people and to do it with an attitude of gratitude and a heart full of boundless love. Supporting me in knowing that I am not asked to know it all. And Lord, will you please double my energy? Often doing your work feels so intense but, if it is your will, I am ready to enter into these spaces. I am here. Guide me. Amen.
Service Suggestion:Yes, it is intense but being able to share the weight through a listening ear and a compassionate heart makes it more bearable. If each one of us offers enough support to each other through the intensity, then maybe no one will be left to hold more than he or she is able to carry. Talk to the person you keep walking past on the sidewalk. Ask for help because you feel overwhelmed. Check in with someone who is going through a hard time. Offer to visit the elderly, the sick, or the abandoned. Choose the path of courageous fellowship rather than comfort. Focus on sharing the space rather than pleasing your comfort. Yes, it will be intense, but you were made for this and you are not alone.
About the Author:Lydia Olsen is from Annapolis, Maryland and is the Director of Volunteers at Christ House, a residential medical facility for men with illness experiencing homelessness in Washington, DC. She served as the Transitions Specialist with Providence Hospice in Seattle, WA with JVC NW and AmeriCorps in 2016-2017. She is always up for another cup of coffee or an extra scoop of ice cream.
Looking for more reflections like this one? We invite you to download our Lenten Reflection Guide in its entirety, available by clicking here. You can find an extensive library of Lenten resources by visiting the Catholic Apostolate Center website - click here.

Being in the Moment: God’s lesson

Mon, 03/19/2018 - 6:00am
By Sammy Eckrich, Colorado Vincentian Volunteers

It is about 3:00 AM.  The gentle creaks of the Retreat Center sprinkle the solitary space with sound.  In the darkness, I can imagine the thirty or so Arrupe high school students sleeping softly in their rooms not far from my post.  At least I hope they are fast asleep—it is one of three nights of my patrol to ensure the retreatants stay safely in their rooms all through the night.  Hours of solitude give me ample reflection time to process the events of the week’s retreat but also my role at my work site in general.            It’s that time of year when the future seems especially close—more like it is being catapulted toward me at an inescapable rate…  Many desires to be realized, many decisions to be made… After this year, should I join a religious community?  Go home? Join a foreign mission? Stay here where I have formed some roots?  In my midnight musings, I stumble across a poignant quote from the writings of Etty Hillesum.  They speak to the core of this struggle.“Sometimes I long for a convent cell, with the sublime wisdom of centuries set out on bookshelves all along the wall and a view across the cornfields…and there I would immerse myself in the wisdom of the ages and in myself. Then I might perhaps find peace and clarity. But that would be no great feat. It is right here, in this very place, in the here and the now, that I must find them.” 
As a self-proclaimed hopeless idealist, I can get caught up in the “grass is greener” pitfall.  I echo Etty’s longing for a place of solitude where life just makes sense… where I can look at my future and the world and simply understand that which I’m seeing.  It can be hard to remember that God is providing everything I need here in this moment, and that I’m called to be present too.  Spending time on retreat with my students has been very grounding in this sense.  It is a chance to get to know them in a new capacity—much of my daily interaction goes as such: “Juan, where is your tie?” “Sarah, if you’re late one more time, that’s another detention.”  It’s so refreshing to joke, play, and hear them pour out the wonder of their short but beautiful lives in a new context.            I realize an important part of this “service year” is that I don’t get too caught up in the service.  Getting to work with the teens doesn’t feel like service—not because it’s without challenges and not because it’s without impact.  Rather, it is because being at Arrupe is fundamentally about companioning my students and letting them companion me.  We carry our individual stories to this one moment in history and watch as they weave together into one story.  My solace for this place in time is found in the relationships and growth I am privileged to witness.  Whatever happens next year, next summer, or tomorrow, this is enough for the moment.            6:00 AM.  The brave of the group begin to stir and hobble out into my corridor to see the sunrise.  They greet me in their haze of morning fogginess; not quite the sharp and prim students I welcome each morning at check-in before they head off to work.  I smile—the “peace and clarity” I long for is just feet away… clutching their jackets and squinting as they step out into the clean, new sunbeams of a new day.To learn more about service opportunities through Colorado Vincentian Volunteers, please click here.

Fifth Sunday of Lent Reflection by Kate Fowler

Fri, 03/16/2018 - 9:00am

Lenten Reflections to support your spiritual journey over these forty days - brought to you by Catholic Volunteer Network and the Catholic Apostolate Center.
Fifth Sunday of Lent Reflectionby Kate Fowler, former volunteer with Catholic Volunteer Network, Blog Editor at Catholic Apostolate Center
"Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.” (John 12:20-33)
In today’s Gospel, Jesus prepares his followers for his impending Passion and reminds them of the type of discipleship they are called to: one of service and sacrifice. 

We meet Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem days before the Passover. Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead and has been welcomed into the city with palm branches and praise—what we celebrate as Palm Sunday. “Whoever serves me must follow me,” Jesus says solemnly. What does it mean to follow Jesus? In this context, a lot. He is about to fulfill his mission on earth through his Passion, death, and resurrection. He knows what lies before him: torture, mockery, exhaustion, and death itself. If we are to follow Christ, he is asking us to do so in a way that involves carrying our crosses. The path to resurrection is filled with opportunities to grow in love and service of one another. Jesus reminds us, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” 

This Lenten season, as we journey towards the celebration of Easter and Christ’s resurrection, let us ponder what it means to follow Jesus and what role the cross plays in our discipleship. Are there certain things in our life that need to die in order to produce much fruit? Is Jesus asking us to give something up or work on something more deeply in order to better follow him?

Focus on: Simplicity
Simplicity is fundamental to deepening our lives of service. A commitment to detachment, whether physical or spiritual, frees us in order to better hear the promptings of God and be better disposed to the needs of others. Jesus himself lived a life of complete detachment to the will of the Father and one committed to simplicity. How can you practice a spirit of detachment and commit to a life of simplicity this Lenten season?

Lord Jesus, you said that a grain of wheat must die in order to produce much fruit. 

Help us as we prepare to celebrate your Passion, death, and resurrection to die to ourselves in order to live more fully for you and for others. 

Help us to practice a spirit of detachment and simplicity as we seek to serve and follow you more closely. 

May we carry our crosses each day joyfully with your grace so that we too may experience the beauty of resurrection. 


Service Suggestion:
Are there things in your life that God is calling you to give up or be detached to? Go through your material goods this Lenten season and see if there’s anything that can benefit others, be donated, or recycled. Take this spirit of detachment deeper by decluttering your mental and spiritual lives. Are you over-committed or always on the go? Try to slow down this season and focus on bringing the notion of simplicity into your prayer life by doing a daily spiritual practice and doing it well.

About the Author:
Kate Fowler is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center. She received her M.A. in Leadership for the New Evangelization from the Augustine Institute. Kate did a year of service with the Catholic Volunteer Network as their Communications Intern from 2012-2013 and currently resides outside of Washington, D.C.

Looking for more reflections like this one? We invite you to download our Lenten Reflection Guide in its entirety, available by clicking here. You can find an extensive library of Lenten resources by visiting the Catholic Apostolate Center website - click here.

Searching for Charism: Melissa Feito - Loretto Volunteers, Washington DC

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 2:31pm
“What does the world ‘charism’ even mean?!”
In this podcast, Serving with Sisters Ambassador Melissa Feito takes us on a moving, surprising, and oftentimes comical journey to define the charism of Loretto Volunteers. From conversations with former volunteers in DC to interviews with Sisters of Loretto in Kentucky, what she discovers can inspire us all. Enjoy this podcast, and stay tuned to hear more from Melissa and her fellow Ambassadors over the course of their service year! 

Melissa, a current Loretto Volunteer, will be blogging about her service experience as part of our ongoing Serving with Sisters Ambassadors series. This series is sponsored by CVN's From Service to Sisterhood Initiative, a project made possible thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

Sisters in Service: Sr. Connie Bach - PHJC Volunteer Program

Wed, 03/14/2018 - 5:26pm

In honor of National Catholic Sisters Week, Catholic Volunteer Network will share the perspective of sisters who started volunteer programs through CVN's From Service to Sisterhood initiative. Sisters will share a little more about how they discerned their vocation, why they felt called to create a volunteer program, and what they've learned from living and working alongside volunteers.Today we meet Sr. Connie Bach of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ and Executive Director of PHJC Volunteer Program 
My name is Sr. Connie Bach, Poor Handmaid of Jesus Christ from Indiana. I direct the PHJC Volunteer Program, which offers volunteer opportunities anywhere from a week to a year in northwest Indiana and Chicago, as well as limited opportunities in Mexico and Kenya.
I was taught by PHJC sisters as a child and was impressed by their joy, simplicity, fun, prayerfulness and down to earth-ness! I also was inspired by the simplicity with which they live, their community life, the dignity and respect they show for each person and for their listening and openness to the Spirit in their lives. Lastly, I was deeply moved by their preferential option for the poor and marginalized as well as their great respect and care for Earth.
After nearly twenty years in education as a teacher and principal, I then ministered as a music therapist with persons living with special needs ranging in age from 5-95. But I wanted to share my joy and love of the poor with young people. I currently direct our volunteer program which offers single women 18 and older (and sometimes men) unique opportunities in a faith-based context to live out their Baptismal call to share God’s presence in our world.

The PHJC Volunteer Program building community while impacting mission.I do not have a “typical day!” That is what I love about what I do. Each day brings new opportunities to answer God’s call and to live the gospel responding to whatever needs present themselves to me. Often I am on the road meeting young people at fairs and campuses, participating in vocation events, planning for future outreach and service, and working for my community in whatever way is needed. 

PHJC volunteers in action - changing lives with personal attention.The volunteers with whom I have worked have drastically changed my view of the world and how they respond to God’s call to serve. I have witnessed profound prayer and contemplation, observed meaningful and inspiring service, and witnessed deep-seated compassion, and tenderness in a broken world. I’ve seen the eyes of those served glimmer with new hope, heard billowing belly laughs, celebrated with warm,  life-giving hugs and reverenced both joyful and sorrowful tears – all because a volunteer took the time to offer a hand, listen, comfort or assist another in need. Volunteers literally become angels for others!

Connecting souls with stillness, silence and listening.I encourage those discerning volunteering or perhaps a vocation in the church to set aside time each day for SILENCE, to just BE STILL in God’s presence and LISTEN deeply to the voice within. In this chaotic, fast-moving and ever-changing world of ours, God gets pushed to the back burner and yet offers a safe harbor where desires are known, prayers are heard, new paths are shown and peace is cultivated. I also encourage having an objective, mature mentor or spiritual guide to assist in contemplating God’s call to a life of service, whether as single, married, vowed religious clergy or in lay ecclesial ministry.
Most of all, I encourage people to follow what it is they are passionate about and to live with great passion, fully giving themselves in service to something of significance, something greater than themselves that builds the kingdom here among us! “For it is in giving that we receive!” (St. Francis of Assisi).

For more discernment resources, we also encourage you to visit the "Explore Your Vocation" section on Catholic Volunteer Network's website. 

The Weight of Waiting

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 6:00am
By Allison Dethlefs, Franciscan Mission Service

The darkness pressed in on me as I fumbled to shut off my alarm. I used to be a morning person, I thought groggily, checking my watch to make sure it was still before 5:00 a.m. But over a year of living in Cochabamba, Bolivia had softened me, and it is no longer my norm to wake up before the sunrise. I slipped out of bed, dressed, grabbed an apple, and checked to make sure I had everything: photocopies of the IDs, money, and the small, yellow card with a girl’s name and birth date stamped on it.It wasn’t a far walk—maybe fifteen minutes—but it seemed much longer strolling down empty streets than in the bustle of daytime. The glow of the streetlights revealed my only company: a taxi, a wandering dog, and a few people sleeping huddled in the shadows. I quickened my pace; I should already have been there. When I finally arrived at the pediatric and maternity ward of the public hospital, the line winding towards the front door was already about fifty people long. I wondered how many families had arrived the night before and slept there to reserve their spots. It was barely after five, and the doors wouldn’t open until at least seven, which meant that the line was only going to increase in length. I thanked my lucky stars I had gotten there as early as I had. We waited as light slowly ate its way into the sky, nibbling at the earthbound edges and whisking the moon away. “Is this the line to get a ficha (a spot to see a doctor)?” newcomers would ask. “Sí.”“For pediatría (pediatrics)?”“For everything.”The little girl I was waiting in line for was almost five years old, yet she was unable to move her limbs, sit up, talk, or eat solid foods. She was terribly malnourished, weighing only about eleven pounds, her bones clearly visible beneath tautly-stretched skin. We were visiting a pediatric neurosurgeon today to see if there was anything to be done about her condition. But the family, like so many I accompanied, lived hours away from the public hospital. Had I not been able to go early to save a place in line for them, they would have had to spend the night in line as well. The minutes dragged by. “I’m in front of you, okay?” said the woman ahead of me. She left to get some breakfast from the vendors selling hot beverages to the early hospital crowd. I had come to learn of the unspoken accord between people in hospital lines in Bolivia: You save my place, I’ll save yours. She returned with a plastic cup of steaming tojorí (a thick, corn-based beverage), the baby slung across her back still asleep.

At last it was 7:00 a.m. I shook myself out of my stupor to see a man emerge from inside and unlock the front doors. Instead of opening them, he came outside and taped up a sign. Everyone crowded around to hear as he turned around to speak. “Buenos días,” he said. I strained to hear and moved closer. “I’m sorry, but we won’t be offering attention today. There will be no doctors seeing patients for the morning or afternoon shifts.” There was an uproar from the waiting crowd. “Come back again tomorrow,” the man said simply.Several people tried to argue or ask questions, but the man went back inside, leaving the exhausted families to slowly disperse. Shaking my head, I trudged away with the rest, knowing this meant I would have to be up again at 4:30 a.m. tomorrow, knowing that many of these parents and children would spend another sleepless night, and knowing that there was nothing we could do about it.This was merely one of the many frustrating mornings I’ve spent waiting at the public hospital here in Cochabamba. Some days there are hours of waiting in lines just so a mother and child can get a five minute appointment with a doctor who tells them there is nothing to be done. Sometimes, it means three days of going from one building to another to get this lab test done, these forms signed, and those questions answered—all in preparation for a quick check-up where we’re told to get five more tests and then come back. And all of this to provide necessary care for a sick child, a pregnant mother, a disabled young girl. I am under no impression that the healthcare system in the U.S. is perfect. It is equally unjust to vastly overcharge hundreds of thousands of dollars for a needed surgery, to let the people in the most need slip through the cracks, to deny people with chronic or severe health problems coverage. In both of these systems, it is the poor and marginalized that receive the least comprehensive care. Some days, I am swept up in the hopeless complexities of it all and the fact that I have no easy fixes for the tangled systems at work.So, instead of trying to right the wrongs, I have simply allowed myself to walk alongside these marginalized patients for solidarity’s sake, entering into their fatigue, frustration, and confusion. For in bearing witness, I have seen that in the darkness, no one should have to stand alone.
To learn more about service opportunities through Franciscan Mission Service, please click here.

Sisters in Service: Sr. Janet Gildea, SC - AVE: After Volunteer Experience

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 2:59pm

In honor of National Catholic Sisters Week, Catholic Volunteer Network will share the perspective of sisters who started volunteer programs through CVN's From Service to Sisterhood initiative. Sisters will share a little more about how they discerned their vocation, why they felt called to create a volunteer program, and what they've learned from living and working alongside volunteers.Today we meet Sr. Janet Gildea, SC of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati and the Executive Director of AVE: After Volunteer Experience in Anthony, New Mexico. 

Sister/Doctor Janet examines a child on a mission project in Ecuador.My first awareness of “a call” came as a desire to serve as a family physician. I felt that if I was actually accepted to medical school then that was a sign that the desire came from God and I wanted to serve those who most lacked access to healthcare.  I didn’t think that you could be a Catholic sister AND a doctor- until I read about one while I was in college. That was it! I found that dual calling was the perfect path for me. My congregation’s formation process was flexible and could accommodate the demands of my medical ministry preparation. We also had some pioneer Sister-doctors so that made the call to be a Sister of Charity clear for me.
Emma Littmann, an AVE participant, reading with a child at Proyecto Santo Niño, a Sisters of Charity
ministry to children with special needs and their mothers across the border in Mexico. Our program, AVE: After Volunteer Experience, was inspired by the newest members of our congregation who had given years of post-graduate volunteer service. They shared the challenges they experienced in the transition after volunteering. They missed the intentional community life, spiritual support, action for justice and opportunity for meaningful service. It was also the time that the question of vocational discernment became significant. We did some exploring and discovered that no one was offering a post-volunteer service transition experience, and so AVE was born!  Women can spend from one to three months living with us in southern New Mexico.  They choose the components of their AVE program with opportunities for spiritual direction, mental health counseling, a directed retreat, service, vocational counseling, and a From Mission to Mission re-entry workshop.

Sisters Carol, Peggy and Janet on the way
 to Mexico with a big donation of diapers.We Sisters who form the nucleus of the AVE community have had somewhat similar experiences to the returning volunteers.  It is challenging to convey the transformational encounters of our life on the margins to our families, friends and community. We understand the experience of transition, of being neither “here” nor “there” which returning volunteers often encounter. We have a ministry to children with special needs and their mothers across the border in Mexico, called Proyecto Santo Niño.  AVE participants come with us several times a week to help them tap into their volunteer ministry experiences and to discover the meaning of their volunteer time in the larger context of their lives.
From left to right: Sisters of Charity Andrea Koverman,
Annie Klapheke (who served with JVC-NW) and
Tracy Kemme (who served with Rostro de Cristo).AVE is not a “recruitment program” but it offers an opportunity to live in community with active women religious without any expectation or obligation. For those who think they might be feeling the call to religious life or those ready to seriously discern, AVE offers a place to come and wonder. I invite you to visit our website and learn more. 

For more discernment resources, we also encourage you to visit the "Explore Your Vocation" section on Catholic Volunteer Network's website. 

Fourth Sunday of Lent Reflection by Jacqueline Martilla

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 10:00am

Lenten Reflections to support your spiritual journey over these forty days - brought to you by Catholic Volunteer Network and the Catholic Apostolate Center.
Fourth Sunday of Lent Reflectionby Jacqueline Martilla, volunteer with SOME (So Others Might Eat)
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:14-21) 
Today’s Gospel includes some of the most well-known lines in the bible. John 3:16 states, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so everyone who believes in him might have eternal life.” I view this as God giving his Son to help the rest of humanity so they do not have to perish and will have eternal life. He loves us so much and wants the best for us. Another verse states “But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” I believe this verse is telling us that we should practice our faith and show God’s love by helping others. I do my best to live out this Gospel as I volunteer with low-income senior citizens at the SOME Senior Center. I get to plan enjoyable activities and interact with the seniors – talking to them about wellness, playing bingo with them, ensuring they get a healthy meal, and just spending time talking with them and getting to know them. I want to bring some light into their lives. I also learn from the seniors – they have so much to share.

Focus on: Spirituality
To me, Spirituality means faith. This Gospel tells us that we should whole-heartedly place our faith in God. If we have faith in him, we will have eternal life. If we practice our faith by living the way God wants us to live, including serving others, he will be pleased with us. We need to believe that he sent us to this Earth for a purpose, whether it is to volunteer, or to pray for another or just to share his word.

My prayer for you all today is to reflect on what God has done for you and what you can do for God and for your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Remember, “But who ever lives the truth comes to the light so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” Pray to God that you can be the light to someone who may be in the darkness.

Service Suggestion:
I encourage everyone to volunteer. Find a program that speaks to your heart. Look to groups like CVN for lists of opportunities. Pray about it – ask God to guide your service and to give you strength when things get challenging. If you can’t commit to a long-term program, volunteer for a day. Volunteering not only impact others but can change the course of your life.

About the Author:Jacqueline Martilla is originally from Long Island, NY. She received a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Marywood University in 2016. She is currently a year-long volunteer with SOME (So Others Might Eat) Volunteer Corps.
Looking for more reflections like this one? We invite you to download our Lenten Reflection Guide in its entirety, available by clicking here. You can find an extensive library of Lenten resources by visiting the Catholic Apostolate Center website - click here.

God Works in Mysterious Ways

Tue, 03/06/2018 - 7:00am
By Katherine Hayes, Colorado Vincentian Volunteers

    Anxiety runs deep in our generation. We are always being told that perfection is what we should be striving towards. It’s said the only way to achieve that is to work harder and longer than anyone else and to have control over everything we do. But I believe that God does not want our lives to be full of this anxiety and emptiness. He wants us to be happy in Him instead of trying to find that fullness of perfection in the world.
    My life has been far from perfect and full of anxiety. Anxiety really showed its face when I left college; not because I graduated but because I dropped out. This act of admitting to myself that I was not in love with what I was doing was filled with fear; fear that others would look down on me because of my lack of education and fear that I would never be able to pick up my life and move on from that. I allowed the world to take away my peace because I was listening to the expectations that people put upon us from made-up standards.
    I worked for about 2 years doing jobs here and there, making enough money to pay back my student loans, but I was not fulfilled and I was still seeking something else in my life. Throughout those years of working, I looked at many different programs which offered full time volunteer work. Nothing came of this looking until a year later when I got a call while I was in a grocery store from a man named RJ. He said he was with this program called “Colorado Vincentian Volunteers” and they wanted to know if I was still interested in applying. Someone had just dropped out and they had an open spot for their program that started in August (it was July 15th at the time). I said “Why not? Send me an application.” And the rest is history. In that moment I witnessed God working in mysterious ways. Through this simple call, God allowed me to clearly see that we plan and work so hard to control our lives and make sure everything goes according to our plan, that we push aside the One who wants the best for us.  Through surrendering ourselves to Him we can grow into the best version of our selves without anxiety. 

    Being in a community has opened me up to so many different people and different experiences that enable my anxiety and stress about what lies ahead to melt down.   Now I can freely say, “God, you got me, right?” Coming to Denver last August was the best decision I’ve made since deciding to drop out of college. My community and my worksite have made me realize that no one has their life totally together, but through trust in God and those around you, you can start living your life to the fullest.
To learn more about service opportunities through Colorado Vincentian Volunteers, please click here.