Saturday, December 20, 2014

A moment of compassion and peace

By Kelsi Holmes
On mission in India with Heart's Home

When we arrived at the room of Pathamma, she was in the same place and position that she had been in the day before. She had not moved in some time and was lying in days worth of her own waste. Near her head sat a bowl of untouched food. The hum of flies surrounding her unmoving form was audible. There were ants in her mouth.

We were seized with pity for this woman who had long since been abandoned by her family because of her illness. No one cared for her. No one loved her. This human being, this soul, this supreme creation of God was left alone to wallow in the degradation that had befallen her and not a single person cared. Filled with the compassion of Christ, we boldly proclaimed: “We will care for you. We will love you. And if you have no one else in the world... you have us.” Girded with the amour of prayer, we stormed the gates of this woman’s personal hell willing to do everything in our power to alleviate her misery, even if just a little bit for just a little while.

We had next to nothing in the way of supplies but made do with what was available to us. We asked her neighbors to lend a few things, a pot to heat the water, a wall to hang the saree to dry. None of them were very fond of her so it wasn’t easy but we managed to scrounge up what we needed and then got to work. We washed her saree, cleaned her room, and then came the hard part...bathing Pathamma. We were generally inexperienced which made the situation somewhat stressful and to see a human being in such awful conditions is no easy thing but we did best to put on a smile and to sing while we worked.

We suspect that she hadn’t been eating or drinking for a while and as a result, she was a little out of it. I think she didn’t have the energy or the presence of mind to speak to us. She said a few words of refusal when I tried to feed her but that was about it. But while we were bathing her, she reached up and began to wash her own face and at that moment, she gave us smile as bright as the sun. Then, just before we left, she clasped her hands in front of her face in a silent gesture of gratitude. Those two actions, as small as they may seem, meant more to me than a thousand thank you’s.

We told Pathamma that we would return and we told ourselves that, next time, we would be better prepared. That was the last time I saw her alive. She died just a few days later alone, and in the same state that we had found her. When we came to pray over her before the burial, we were dismayed to find that even in death, she was uncared for. Her family was notified but no one came so only the bare minimum was done for her and I can tell you that for a lonely leper lady, it isn’t much. There was nothing I could do to change it so I tried my best to accept it. Her funeral consisted of Father Oliver, Latha, Chrisanne, a few men who also had leprosy, and myself. It was very short and very simple.

After the funeral, one man approached us and thanked us for the work we had done for her. He said that after we helped her, other people took notice and started to do little things for her also. In saying this, he showed us something that we very rarely, if ever, get to see. He showed us the fruits of our mission. Not only had we brought compassion to this poor woman but it touched those around her also. I feel in some way that by providing me with the opportunity to see this grace, Pathamma gave me a much greater gift than I ever could have given her.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

God is with us – now!

By Jim Lindsay
Executive Director, Catholic Volunteer Network

Christian Appalachian Project summer camp counselors enjoy a weekend of reflection and rest
as they explore Eastern Kentucky.

Jesus informs us that the Son of Man is coming at a time when we least expect him. There are many ways to explain this saying. Let’s begin by posing the question, “When do we least expect him?” It seems to me that the time we least expect him is right now, today.

We have faith that Jesus came long ago as a babe in Bethlehem. We trust that he will appear someday on the clouds of the sky. But, we do not anticipate him to come today to our home, our job or even our church. Therefore, this must be the most probable time and place for us to find him, right here and right now.

Christ House volunteer Rita Lis served as
a Nursing Assistant in Washington, DC.
Let’s admit it; most of our life is ordinary. Only in films, novels or on television are people always experiencing some kind of crisis or excitement. For the most part, for you and me, the story is quite different. We work, eat, sleep and then we get up and start all over again. On weekends there might be a bit of variety - do the laundry, clean the garage, buy groceries and then, for a real change of pace, we might go out to dinner. On Sunday we go to church, and then on Monday morning we get up and start all over again.

This is the true stuff of which life is made. Someone has termed it “blessed monotony.”  I think that is a fitting description of most of our days. If Christ is to be a tangible part of our lives, this is where we must discover him. After all, this is where most people seem to have met him. In the New Testament, the only real spectacular encounter with Christ was the blinding vision that Paul experienced on the road to Damascus. But, that was the exception, not the norm.

Peter and Andrew met him while cleaning their nets beside the Sea of Galilee. For them, that was an ordinary thing, and it was something they did every day. Christ came to them, and they followed him; the rest is history. James and John met Jesus in the same place, on the same day. The woman of Samaria met him while she was at the well drawing water. It was something she did regularly. Matthew met him while working in his tax collecting office, something he did on a daily basis.

That is how people encountered Christ when he walked this earth, and that is where we will find him in our day. We must look for him in the mundane and learn to recognize him there. The challenge is that the Lord travels incognito with his true identity concealed. He is the master of many disguises.

Jonathan Tyler served at the Bernadine Franciscan Sisters' mission in the Dominican Republic
where he taught English to children and adults.
One day, he will show up as an old woman in a wheelchair at a nursing home. Another day, he will be a child wanting someone to read him a book or a patient in the hospital desiring a visit. Another day, he will be a teenager needing encouragement. Today, he might be a single mother wanting a babysitter and tomorrow, a wife craving a hug.

Yes, it is well and good for us to anticipate the coming of Christ at the end of the world or to look back longingly to his coming into this world as a baby. But, in the interim, we can expect him to appear behind some crafty masks. Most days, if we find him at all, it will be in the midst of ordinary living in the people we meet each day.

Amate House volunteer Jackie Fielding served at
Ravenswood Community Child Care Center in
Chicago, providing childcare and mentoring for
teen parents and local families.
For more than fifty years, lay volunteers serving with Catholic Volunteer Network, throughout the U.S. and around the globe, have sought to see Christ in the eyes and feet and hands of those they serve – the poor and oppressed and those on society’s margins. Last year, we helped place more than 22,000 women and men, young and old, single and married, with or without children, in a myriad of sites, where they provided healthcare, education, social services, pastoral ministry and a host of other good works.

As we remember the birth of Christ as a human person, and look forward to his coming again to fully save us, please help us at Catholic Volunteer Network to also see his presence in the everyday needs and wants, the joys and sorrows, of our sisters and brothers across the world. Your support will make a real difference in allowing volunteers to reach out to Christ hidden in the lives of the poor and neglected. This Christmas season, please consider a one-time or recurring gift to Catholic Volunteer Network by visiting our safe and secure site at:

May you experience the presence of Christ in this holy time! Please be in touch with us this new year with your ideas about faith, service, and Catholic Volunteer Network’s role in helping people to see the intersection between the two!


Jim Lindsay
Executive Director

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