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25 May

Saint Mary Magdalen of Pazzi
1975: Brother Leonidas, 7th Superior General, died at Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux in France.

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Volunteering and Mission

 

Marist Volunteer Network

The last General Chapter (2017) made this statement: “the future for the charism will be founded on a commuion of fully committed Marists, brothers and lay”. We are a “global charismatic family”, creating homes that are beacons of hope, the face and the hands of the tender mercy of God, brothers and sisters to everyone, bridge-builders, journeying with children and young people living on the margins of life, responding boldly to emerging needs.  The Superior General, Br Ernesto Sanchez, entitled his final message, “The new beginning has already begun!”

In the footsteps of Mary at the Visitation (Lk 1, 39-56), we are being challenged to go in haste into the ‘hill country’. The ‘hills’ are where the poor are living and where God is revealed.  God is being revealed in the poor, in whoever needs our service.  For volunteers, going into the ‘hills’ like Mary means leaving our comfort-zone, taking a risk and accepting the new through staying in a new or different setting.  As was true for Mary at the Wedding of Cana (Jn 2, 1-12), the attitude of Volunteers encompasses sensitivity and attentiveness to appreciate the felt needs of others, a capacity to take initiatives towards resolving problems and needs, and trusting that Jesus Christ is there with them.  Following him leads to courage and soul and not just sitting with our arms folded.

From the early days of the Institute, Marcellin Champagnat wanted the Little Brothers of Mary to be available to go to all the dioceses of the world.  So, the challenge of an international mindset goes back to our origins.  Going on mission beyond our national borders has at times been the result of historical circumstances (in 1903 the Marists were expelled from France, leading to the Marist diaspora) or for institutional or Church-related purposes where Marists of Champagnat have been invited to look beyond their personal or institutional walls. This is how various ‘projects’ came into being: Mission Ad Gentes – today, the Marist District of Asia -, the Fratelli Project in Lebanon, Solidarity with South Sudan, the Lavalla200> initiative: international communities for a new beginning.  Finally, throughout our history, we have tried to respond to the call of what Pope Francis today describes as cultivating a Culture of Encounter.

As Marists, we are being invited to open our minds and hearts to develop a culture of solidarity wherever we are on mission.  Volunteering is one concrete expression of collaborating in the Marist mission of building up this culture.

 

What does voluntering entail?

Every country has its particular laws regulating the practice of volunteering. For example, in Brazil, “voluntary service is considered to be any unremunerated activity provided by a physical person to any type of public entity or private, not-for-profit institution with civil, cultural, educational, scientific, recreational or humanitarian objectives. Voluntary service does not involve a labour contract, nor an obligation to make Social Security payments on behalf of the volunteer or any related obligation.” (Law 9.608)  

We Marists consider as volunteers the Brothers and Lay Marists who freely choose to offer their presence and service in one of the eighty countries of the world where the Institute is present, giving of their time and bringing their competencies.  In this sense, volunteering is an efficient means for building up constructive relations and connections between countries and cultures.  It is a powerful tool for sharing knowledge, skills and values, and making a significant contribution to reducing poverty.

Collaboration and subsidiarity are fundamental for volunteers to carry out their mission. All parties involved (those sending on mission, those receiving and the volunteers themselves) have to remain connected and on the same wavelength, with well-defined roles and agreements. Volunteering is not for adventurers, nor is it the fruit of improvisation.

Volunteering contributes to building up a Culture of Encounter through collaboration and making interconnections at all levels: INTER-city, INTER-state, INTER-national, INTER-generational, INTER-cultural, INTER-congregational and INTER-institutional.  The Common Good, over and above that of the individual, is what characterises volunteering. Volunteers leave their home setting and go to other ‘lands’, concerned for human dignity and the human rights of each person and cultural or other group.

 

Why become a Volunteer?

A lot could be said about this.  Some important elements or reasons include:

  1. Volunteers will gain an experience of the real world, other than what they are used to: one that is different in terms of geography, economic situation, social circumstances or ethnicity… Such an experience will leave a lasting impression on their lives and, most certainly, on those who benefit from their action.
  2. Volunteers are called to make a difference in the context whey they work.  They come to realise that they are part of something bigger than themselves and that they have the chance to use their civic-mindedness for a higher good: for people who are totally different but the same as themselves.  Committing themselves to others’ causes has an impact on their lives and circumstances of individuals and groups, leading to greater quality of life and the emergence of hope.
  3. Through volunteering, especially international volunteering, people learn about planetary citizenship, grow in respect for life in all its complexity and diversity, and make their own contribution to human development.
  4. Volunteering does not happen in the abstract.  There is the chance to form real connections. Volunteers will come to know real people and situations, develop real relationships, where senses come alive and they are confronted by other ways of thinking to what they are accustomed.  They come us across realities that are really new for them.  In being open to a new culture, volunteers have the opportunity of gaining personal insights that are helpful in discovering who they really are.  
  5. Through volunteering, people can discover a new perspective on life.  Encountering another person can be transformative and can alter the course and life options of volunteers. They can change the way they see the world, perceiving what is really important, and this can help them realise that often personal difficulties or problems are small in comparison with those of others.  They abandon old stereotypes and paradigms, inherited or shaped over the years, by making personal contact with people who are different to themselves.
  6. Volunteers grow in initiative-taking and personal empowerment.  The real life of other people in real but different situations to what is normal for them demands that they take stances.  Their actions have an impact on the lives of other people and groups.  This requires responsibility, openness, availability and a capacity to serve. On mission, volunteers motivate others, especially the most excluded, to become promoters of good citizenship.  They discover that together they have greater strength to face injustice.
  7. Marist mission has to be renewed and reconstructed in every situation, context, and epoch.  Marist volunteers are invited to translate the Marist charism into their own lives. Their actions and witness brings to life the solidarity aspect of Champagnat’s dream that “all the dioceses of the world figure in our plans”.

 

Towards becoming a Marist Volunteer on mission

The Volunteer Program of PMBSA (2016) contains some ideas that can assist in understanding who volunteers are and what they do.

  1. Faithfulness to the original prophetic meaning of volunteering: overcoming an aid mentality or ‘doing charity’. Rather, activity is directed at struggling to eradicate the causes of social problems.  Volunteers engage with people in their attempts to overcome their problems. They have to pass from the logic of capitalism, “What will I get out of this?”, to that of Jesus of Nazareth, “freely you have received, so give freely” (Mt 10, 8). It is the local community, organisations, professionals, leaders who take the lead. Volunteers collaborate in processes that are determined locally, that were initiated before their arrival and that will continue when they are gone.
  2. Recognising the value of each person: each volunteer who brings with himself or herself a whole universe of feelings, experiences, emotions and dreams; each person in the place of mission, getting to understand their reality, their history, their yearnings, and listening to what is said and seeing what is not said, not judging and not acting out of prejudice.
  3. With Jesus of Nazareth in mind.  The behaviour of Jesus should inspire the actions of Volunteers: living among the people, believing in them and their potential.  Like Jesus, understanding what is urgent in existential and geographic peripheries.  Many times, this means leaving comforts behind.  Like Jesus, having an outlook of faith: seeing the world with the eyes of empoverished children and helping to build “another possible world”. This implies seeing and discovering the world from other standpoints and perspectives.
  4. Adopting Marist spirituality. Believing that Spirituality is an intimate and profound life-force, that its gives meaning to everything we do, that it knits relationships, that it moves us to go out of ourselves to encounter others from what lies deepest in us.  Sure that God is acting in our encounter with others and with ourselves.
  5. Faith, culture and life are not opposed to one another but rather are inter-related. “Faith proposes the message of God and invites us into communion with Him; on the other hand, human experience is questioned and stimulated to be open to this wider vision”. Faith is lived in daiy life, in culture, and moves us to act since faith without works is dead (James 2, 14-26); through faith we reach out to others, grounded in their social, political, economic and religious circumstances and contexts.
  6. Volunteering is a process, not something that happens all of a sudden, neither for the co-ordinator nor for the volunteer.  They have to dream about it, desire it, plan for it, pray and reflect about it. Volunteers need to be accompanied in their process of discernment, of being commissioned, while on mission, and on their return.  Reviewing what has happened is fundamental for personal synthesis and clarifying acquired learnings and lessons for life.
  7. Being a volunteer does not mean “going as a tourist”, but putting oneself at the service of others, giving of oneself. Before undertaking volunteering outside one’s country, it is extremely important to have a local experience of volunteering.

In conclusion

In the light of the above ideas, two questions:

Who can be a volunteer?
Anyone. In the Marist context, anyone who has some connection with the Institute: students (volunteering with an educational character), parents and family members, former students, teachers and collaborators generally, young adults, members of the Champagnat Movement of the Marist Family, Brothers …

Where to volunteer?
Within one’s Province, in Marist-governed works (Colleges, Social Centres, …), or in other places and institutions that we are connected with and that figure in the life of the Province. The possibilities are many. In an inter-provincial context, with the Provincial Volunteers Coordinator (PVC) as intermediary and the support of Cmi – Collaboration for Mission International – in Rome, volunteering is possible in one of the 80 countries where the Institute is present and which can provide the conditions needed for receiving volounteers.

To conclude, as Marists, volunteers or potential volunteers, we are invited to be open, in all simplicity, and to be available at the local and international level, going beyond our geographic and provincial borders; to deepen our knowledge of our world in a state of constant transformation and to face up to today’s challenges, without falling into the temptation of answering questions that people are no longer asking (Pope Francis, in Medellin, September 2017), setting aside an ego-culture and promoting that of ‘eco-s’ (ecology, eco-systems, an economy of solidarity …), reducing the scandal of indifference and inequality, being agents of change, bridge-builders, messengers of peace, committed to transforming lives, converting our own hearts and making our structures flexible, without fear of taking risks, drawing near to the peripheries, in defence of the poorest and most vulnerable.

For reflection:

  1. Choose two ideas that you consider important.  Why are they important?
  2. Do you know anyone who has been a volunteer?  What was their experience like?
  3. In your context, what can you do to encourage volunteering?

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Br. Valdícer Civa Fachi
Director Cmi

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