Wednesday, March 28, 2018

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

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.

Friday, March 23, 2018

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

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 Reflection

by 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 Justice
On 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?

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.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

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

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 Reflection

by 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 Justice
Pushing 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.

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.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Being in the Moment: God’s lesson

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.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Fifth Sunday of Lent Reflection by Kate Fowler

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 Reflection

by 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.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

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

“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.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

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

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. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Weight of Waiting

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.
“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.

Monday, March 12, 2018

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

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. 

Friday, March 9, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Lent Reflection by Jacqueline Martilla

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 Reflection

by 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.