Friday, December 5, 2014

{Vatican Radio} Pope Francis: voluntary workers are builders of peace and harmony

By Linda Bordoni
As posted on Vatican Radio

A Project FIAT volunteer works alongside a local villager to prepare food for the community in Salvador, El Salvador.

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis thanked voluntary workers across the globe describing their work with men and women in difficulty as a living witness of the tenderness of Christ, who walks with humanity in every era.

Speaking to members of FOCSIV, an International Federation of Christian Voluntary Workers whom he received in audience on International Volunteer Day (December 5), the Pope says voluntary workers offer an image of a Church that rolls up its shirt sleeves and bows to serve its brothers and sisters in difficulty.  

Pointing out the fact that poverty must never be an occasion for someone else’s gain, the Pope invited voluntary workers to persevere on their unselfish path.

He notes the changing face of poverty in a world in which – the Pope said – the poor themselves want to become protagonists of their lives putting into practice solidarity amongst those who suffer. He told the volunteers that they are called to take notice of the signs of the times and to become instruments at the service of the activism of the poor. Solidarity, he said, is a way to make history together with the poor, turning away from alleged altruistic works that reduce the other to passivity.

The Pope points to an economic system that ransacks nature as one of the main causes of poverty. Mentioning deforestation, environmental catastrophes and the loss of biodiversity in particular, Pope Francis says it is necessary to remember that creation is not “property of which we can dispose of to our benefit, and less still is it the property of few”. Creation – he says – is “a wonderful gift that God has given us to take care of and utilize for the benefit of all, with respect”. And he encouraged volunteers to continue in their commitment “to safeguard creation so that we can hand it over to future generation in all of its beauty”. 

Other causes of poverty the Pope singles out are tied to “the scandal of war”. He says that working for development, volunteers cooperate in the making of peace and the building of bridges between cultures and religions.

He says that even in the most difficult situations voluntary workers are sustained by their faith; he says their presence and their activities in refugees camps are a tangible sign of hope for so many people in the world who “fleeing from the horrors of war, or persecuted for their faith, are forced to abandon their homes, their places of prayer, their lands, their dear ones! How many broken lives! How much pain and destruction!” Before all of this – Pope Francis says – “the disciple of Christ does not turn the other way, but tries to take some of the burden from suffering people with his closeness and evangelical welcome”.  

Migrants and refugees
Finally the Pope turns his thoughts to migrants and refugees who attempt to leave harsh conditions of life and dangerous situations behind them. And pointing to the necessary collaboration of all: institutions, NGOs and ecclesial communities to promote new policies and measures for peaceful cohabitation, he calls on the commitment of States to effectively manage and regulate these phenomenona.

The Pope’s message comes on International Volunteer Day during which an annual Prize is awarded. This year the Award went to Maria Luisa Cortinovis: wife, mother, grandmother, teacher and missionary. She received the Prize during a ceremony held at Vatican Radio.

See the original piece and listen to the radio version here.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Home is where the heart is at peace

By Molly Magri
St. Joseph Workers volunteer serving at St. Joseph Center

I’ve always had a difficult time trying to explain where my home is, or where I’m from when I’m asked those questions.

You see, unlike many people I know, I’ve moved around the country quite a bit. I started off in California, then made my way back and forth across the country for a grand total of seven moves. For those of you who struggle with math, that’s an average of 1 move every 3 years. Now you can see where the identity crisis comes into play.

Molly at her desk - or "office home"
I’ve never stayed in a place long enough to say “I’m from [blank]”. The best I can come up with at this point is “I’m from the Midwest”. I lived in Chicago 3 different times, went to school in Cincinnati and my parents recently moved to Cleveland.

Nowadays, when I tell my story to Californians, they always tell me that I’ve come home, since this is where I was born. I only lived in San Juan Capistrano for the first 2 years of my life, so that’s a little hard for me to justify. The fact of the matter is, I’ve been asked this question, “Where are you from?” for my entire life, and I have a feeling it’s not going to stop any time soon.

Once I came to this realization, I started thinking of “home” as less of a physical entity and as more of an abstract idea. 

Some of the first images that pop into my head when I think of home are my friends at Xavier. I had the time of my life those four years in Cincinnati, and one of the most significant reasons for that is because of the family I made there. I loved every minute of it, the good and bad, because of the people who were with me along the way.

House blessing by Fr. Greg Boyle
Another thing I think of when I hear the word home are my parents and dog, Max. Even though the place where they live changes frequently, they are always my family, and they will always be my home. Ironically, I’m writing this as I sit on an airplane enroute to my “home” in Cleveland.

And finally, I’ve recently started to discover my home here in Los Angeles, amongst the palm trees and the Pacific. I’ve found a home at Visitation parish. It’s a church right up the street from my house and from the first time I stepped through the doors, I felt a sense of comfort; I felt like I belonged. As soon as I registered as a new member, the pastor Fr. Jim wanted to set up a meeting just so he could meet me. He was so impressed with my year of service with the St. Joseph Worker program and my willingness to move to a new city where I didn’t know anybody. He even asked for my parents’ phone number so he could call them and tell them how impressed he was with me! So that is one place I now call my home.

Molly gives diapers to a client
Another home I have been adopted into is at my placement site, St. Joseph Center. From the day I started working there in the food pantry, I felt welcomed into the family. We had our annual staff retreat recently, and as I participated throughout the day, I got to observe this loving family in action. People from completely different programs and departments come together to form this family where everyone cares about each other. I never could have imagined working at a place like this amazing, but now that I’m here, I never want to leave.

Every day I get to interact with clients from all walks of life: my clients come from Mexico, Russia, as well as the streets of Venice. I feel more and more at home at St. Joseph Center every day. There’s a pretty famous quote you’ve more than likely heard before, “home is where the heart is”. I agree with that, but I like to add a little to it. My heart can be anywhere in the world, but if I’m not at peace wherever I’m at, that’s not home in my opinion. “Home is where the heart is at peace” is a little closer to reality. I’ve found peace in many corners of the world, and I’m happy to say one of those corners is Los Angeles.
Molly prepares food with Chef Dereck

Monday, November 24, 2014

Loving with an Open Hand

By Ariana Rangel
AmeriCorps Member at Maggie's Place

There is a beautiful image of Mary and Eve that I really love in which Mary is comforting Eve. The colors are vibrant and the message it conveys is a comfort to me. As Mary crushes the serpent that is wrapped around Eve’s leg, she holds Eve’s hand to her rounded belly, sharing with her the hope of redemption in Jesus Christ. Meanwhile, clothed in her own hair, Eve clutches a small, red apple to her chest.

Two months ago, I came to Maggie’s Place – a home for pregnant and parenting women in need – with a mission to be like Mary, bringing comfort to the women I’d be serving along with a simple yet resounding message of love and hope. I thought I could be the Mary and they could be the Eve. I thought I would be the strong one, the one that rides in and casts the darkness from their lives with a sweep of my hand. I thought I could crush their serpents with my little foot.

But when I’ve looked in the mirror these past two months, it is I who am consistently clutching that little red apple to my chest. In this story, the real story, our moms are the heroes, God is their strength, and I’m just along for the ride.

My first contact mom at Maggie’s Place was one of the most beautiful women I had ever met. At 38, she was the oldest mom in the house and the grooves in her face told the story of a hard and sorrowful life. On that same face, her smile beamed joy at her newborn son whenever she held him. She was the living image of my definition of Maggie’s Place: a place where joy and sorrow go hand in hand. She was so motivated to leave her old destructive life behind and start fresh with her son, and I was going to do everything I could to help her. Together, we would change her life!

In my head it was inevitable; it was basically a done deal. She would be a classic Maggie’s Place success story and her picture would flash across the Maggie’s Place website for years to come.

 Then one evening, just as things were looking promising for her, she didn’t come home. I waited and waited past curfew, staring down the front door, praying that she would walk in. Any minute now. Any minute. But she didn’t. And she never came home the next day, or the next. And she never answered her phone.

I was angry and hurt for her. How could she do that? How could she just disappear from our lives without even a memo or a goodbye? It didn’t seem fair. I may never know the reason why she never came home that night and I could stay upset about it forever, or, I could let go of that apple that I was holding onto so tightly and trust that God was in control of the situation. I wanted so badly to love her the way I knew how, the way I thought was best, but God was asking me to love in a greater way. God was asking me to love with an open hand.

 In his book “Community and Growth,” Jean Vanier explains that, “A community is only being created when its members accept that they are not going to achieve great things, that they are not going to be heroes, but simply live each day with new hope, like children, in wonderment as the sun rises and in thanksgiving as it sets.”

Here at Maggie’s Place we get the chance to witness moments of great wonder and beauty, moments of deep sorrow and hurt, joy and cheer, fear and confusion, and we thank God for all of it. For whatever our sorrows, whatever our joys, whatever our current situation, we must trust that God is giving us our greatest chance for holiness. He is carrying every mother and her child down a winding, unique, and sometimes bumpy path and all we can do is walk alongside each other and live in that wonderment each day. God is asking us to let go of the apple and simply love with an open hand because it is then that we can truly witness the way he is giving us our greatest chance for holiness.

Like the first time a mother invited me to feel her child kicking inside of her, Mary invites Eve to feel her Son. I can only extend my hand to that invitation if I have nothing clutched within it. I can only be a witness to God’s wonderful work in her life if I’m not clinging to my own agenda. He calls us to love with an open hand because no matter what our situation may look like, He is there to give us our greatest chance at holiness.