Catholic Volunteer Network

Where Is God?

CVN Blogger Feed - Mon, 02/19/2018 - 7:00am
By Brian Igel, Colorado Vincentian Volunteers

In the last 8 months of my experience of Colorado Vincentian Volunteers, my heart and spirit have often been left restless and waiting for hope of God’s love and healing in our world. During these short months we have seen firsthand the effects of injustice, whether it be as a group in masse or within the communities where we work.  I have experienced new questions with the new administration that seems to foster a culture that devalues those who are marginalized. Here in Denver I have experienced firsthand the marginalization of those experiencing homelessness, as I work at a resource center, Denver Urban Matters. And on our border trip I was able to witness the inequality and fear surrounding immigration at the El Paso - Juarez border. It left me wondering and searching within my own heart for God’s love and salvation.   Where is God in a world full of such pain and suffering? I also experienced that same search in my community members as we often come home burnt out or despairing that our work seems like an uphill battle where suffering often triumphs over love and hope.

But I am realizing that in the midst of uncertainty and anxiety that come from being Christian companions with those we serve, we can be transformative prophets of hope in our work through prayer and community. In community houses we share meals throughout the week – meals that are a source of spiritual healing and physical nourishment. We come to the table where we are and bring with us what we carry. Sometimes it is fun and lighthearted, but many times we bring with us the weight of a hard day or a difficult current event. But we come to be nourished and to share in the healing power of a meal. We leave our worries and anxieties where they are and then simply just be with one another. This is a source of strength and hope for our community but also for the future of the kingdom of God. Within this prayerful and intentional time of a dinner, the burdens and anxieties of work seem easier to bear and can even be transformed into acts of hope and salvation. Through the spiritual support of my community I become less focused on waiting for an impossible achievement of justice and begin to be a prophet of God’s love and healing.  Community and human connection sustain me to trust in God; the support of the CVV community urges me to be an active agent of salvation that breaks the bonds of anxiety and fear dominating much of our world. The love and prayers of community make the present moment a continual process of renewal and active grace to heal hearts and minds towards an unconditional love of God and one another.
To learn more about service opportunities through Colorado Vincentian Volunteers, please click here.

First Sunday of Lent Reflection by Amy Krach

CVN Blogger Feed - Fri, 02/16/2018 - 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.
First Sunday of Lent Reflectionby Amy Krach, currently serving with Rostro de Cristo
"This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”(Mark 1:12-15)
When I read this proclamation from Christ himself I am struck by the sense of urgency in his words. Jesus does not call us to repent and believe tomorrow, a month from now, or whenever we feel ready; “This is the time,” he tells us. For me, following Christ’s call has often felt so daunting that I have found myself pushing it off for later. Because “belief in the gospel” is no small undertaking. It does not merely encompass accepting Christ’s teachings, but rather following his example of radical love and self-sacrifice – even following him into the desert.The beautiful part of this, which I often forget, is that repenting and following Christ’s example of love and selflessness is a perpetual journey. When I followed Christ’s call away from my loved ones and my comfortable life to live and work on the margins in Ecuador with Rostro de Cristo, I realized that my initial “yes” was only the beginning of becoming more open to God’s presence and plan for me in each day. After coming out of “the desert,” and returning home from this intense experience of service, I have not always retained this mindfulness. Sometimes I have fallen into the trap of believing that I can’t love and serve as deeply as I did there. This thinking prevents me from being alive to God’s call in the here and now. The truth is that we are called away from sin and towards love in big and small ways every day. Whether that call is to follow him into the desert or share a smile with a stranger, today is always the right time to listen closely and to say “yes.”
Focus on: SimplicityWhen I think about simplifying my life, the first thing that usually comes to mind is stuff - cutting out superfluous material things from my life, curtailing spending on things I don’t need, using less resources such as water, electricity, etc. All of this is essential to simplicity, but we can also eliminate waste in another area: our time. Challenge yourself this Lent to simplify your schedule and cut out activities that prevent you from practicing mindfulness, staying in the moment, and taking quiet time for prayer. We don’t necessarily have to abandon society for the desert in order to find peace and quiet, but in order to hear God, we should cut out some of the noise in our lives. Consider reducing time spent mindlessly using technology (scrolling through social media or watching TV), turning off the radio, and trying to really leave your work at work in order to spend more time being fully present to God and to those around us.
Prayer:Loving Creator,In this noisy world, help me to quiet my heartTo better listen to your call to repentance, faith, and loveIn every moment.Although I do not know where your call will lead,Give me the courage to perpetually trust and to follow,Even when I may lose my wayKnowing that in self-gift, service, and sacrificeYour infinite love awaits me.
Service Suggestion:Where have you been feeling God’s call to service recently? Perhaps you’ve wanted to start volunteering with a certain nonprofit or you’ve been meaning to visit someone that could use support right now. Don’t put it off any longer. This week, find a way to simplify your schedule, listen to Christ, and make time to follow that call.
About the Author: Amy Krach has a heart for service which led her to spend a year volunteering in Ecuador with Rostro de Cristo after graduating from Indiana University. She now spends her days working for a faith-based health organization in her hometown in Indiana, hanging out with moms (including her own) and dogs, and applying to grad school. She loves meeting new people, traveling, being outdoors, and sharing her faith through service.
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.

Create Your Charism: Ada Lee - Vincentian Service Corps West - San Francisco, CA

CVN Blogger Feed - Thu, 02/15/2018 - 5:11pm

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! 

When I was young, I spent many weekends attending Sunday school. I learned the biblical stories of the Old Testament- Kind David, Solomon, Joseph. What I imagined as the ideal ‘perfect Christian’ emerged in my mind- someone of faith, good deeds, and someone who puts themselves at service to others. This thought stayed with me throughout my teenage years and I started to believe that only those of Catholic or Christian faith were able to carry out service to others.
But then, I went to college and those thoughts all changed. I attended St. John’s University in Queens, New York- a Catholic, Vincentian university. Suddenly, I was surrounded by people who had the same values and love of service as I did. In turn, I became more empowered to live the values I sought. People from all different faiths and backgrounds were passionate about doing service and helping others, and I realized that service is not limited to one type of person- being a Vincentian simply means having a good heart to serve others before yourself.
I honestly never thought that I would be able to implement the Vincentian charism into my life. I used to think, ‘I grew up Christian...I could never understand a saint and his significance in my life….who is this St. Vincent DePaul anyways?’ St. Vincent DePaul, I soon learned, was a man who gave up fame and fortune to serve the poor with compassion and humility. He believed in the dignity of every human person. ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool. I guess this Saint Vincent guy is pretty awesome. I guess I wouldn’t mind learning more about him….’ I thought to myself one day during my sophomore year. And in the moment I accepted Him into my life, it was like a door was opened in my heart and suddenly knowledge and wisdom from St. Vincent began flooding into my mind. I learned more and more about who St. Vincent was and began to wonder how I could integrate his charism into my life.
I joined the Vincentian Service Corps this year because I thought it would be an opportunity to force the Vincentian charism onto every aspect of my life. But in fact, I have learned that it is all around me. I no longer have to seek, I can find it in every moment and every person of life.
As a volunteer, I am working at a residential rehabilitation center for women and children affected by drug and alcohol abuse. It is tough work, both in the tasks I need to do to support client’s recovery, but also in knowing the traumatic pasts of these women. One day, I was accompanying one of the clients to her appointment. She was quiet the whole time, despite my attempts to make conversation. But towards the end of our trip together, she started to feel more comfortable and open up. She told me, ‘You have a gift to the world with your smile. You’re so optimistic and polite, and that gives me great comfort.’ I saw the face of God in her. God was telling me that my service this year, despite its challenges and nuances, is making subtle differences in the lives of those I am serving. I did not seek this moment. I simply let myself be open to this moment. 

The Vincentian charism challenges me to ask the question, “Where do I see the face of God?” in every person and every moment. By doing so, I am prompted to treat every person with respect, as St. Vincent would. With this client, I could look beyond the exterior of her past and instead treat her with love and humility. It is almost comical to say that treating people in this way should only be limited to those of a certain faith background. Even without a belief in God, the Vincentian charism still calls us to care for those in our community- the community of humanity.   
So, what does the Vincentian charism mean to me? In my experience, the Vincentian charism means to strengthen my spirituality through service to others. We are called by God and we are called by grace to serve. The ability to serve others is all around us. But the Vincentian charism has shown us that it’s not just a single act of charity. It can be an act of love, bringing kindness and happiness to someone’s day, building a loving friendship with another…or even not judging someone for their past and seeing them for the person they are. The ability to be Vincentian lies in each one of us. You don’t have to Catholic or Christian or a believer. We all have the ability to treat each other with kindness, compassion, human dignity, and respect. That is being a Vincentian- being a person of character, good works, and acceptance. By serving others, we are serving God. 

This photo is of a place in San Francisco that I fell in love with: the Sutro Baths at Ocean Beach. I often find myself here reflecting on my year long experience and meditating. This picture is one I took last Tuesday at sunset to mark my 6 month anniversary of moving to California for this program. Often times, I get anxiety about what awaits me this year and what will happen after. But being at a place like this helps calm my mind and soothes me. A prayer that I often like to reflect on while I'm here is one by Thomas Merton:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.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.

Love is in the Air!

CVN Blogger Feed - Wed, 02/14/2018 - 6:03pm
A Valentines Day Special Pt. 2There are many lifelong benefits to a year of service - job skills, spiritual growth, professional connections, friendships - and love! Here are some stories from couples who met during their year of service with Dominican Volunteers USA

In the middle of my history class, Megan appeared at the door."Oooh, look Mr. D., Ms. Decker is here to see you" said one particularly brazen student. "Oooh" repeated many others. She wasn't there to see me, really. Megan was the music teacher, and had an arrangement where she would come in to the larger classes and take out small groups of kids at a time for piano instruction.  The kids loved to match up the teachers at the school, especially the younger ones. Totally inappropriate behavior, but hey, they got away with it because you picked your battles at San Juan Diego Middle School.  They would make a big deal about us.  It was a self-perpetuating problem, as the more they would point it out, the more embarrassed I would get, giving them validation that their intuitions were true. Pretty soon it became "your girlfriend is here to see you," and we had to find a different way to get the kids to piano.Megan and I did indeed become fast friends in our shared year as Dominican volunteers (her first, my second) at the little San Miguel School in Racine, Wisconsin. We would talk for hours and had lots of fun together. On our off time we would visit local parks and played a mean game of racquetball at the local Y. We were each other’s support in what proved to be a difficult year.  So yes, the kids picked up on something.  Maybe my smile was a bit brighter when I greeted her, I don't know. Kids pick up on a lot of things that adults have trouble seeing. As the volunteer year came to an end, we figured out that there was more than a friendship going on after all. Twelve years later and we're still a team!
-Brian Desmarais, Dominican Volunteer 2004-2006 and Megan (Decker) Desmarais, Dominican Volunteer 2005-2006 

The Dominican charism, one that is loving and one that openly shares through connection is something that breaks down barriers and overcomes obstacles. Ashley found this important piece of her life in high school at Regina Dominican in Wilmette, IL and Chris at Molloy College in Rockville Centre, NY. DVUSA unknowingly brought them together through their passion to serve the refugee population. Their relationship is built on this special Dominican charism. 

Ashley and Chris met during their service year in 2014-2015. Ashley was placed in Atlanta that year working in Catholic Charities Atlanta in Refugee Resettlement while Chris was placed in Chicago at Heartland Alliance: Refugee and Immigrant Communities Services. Ashley thought that Chris was “annoying” at their Orientation. Luckily, first impressions were not everything and after the mid-year retreat, Ashley and Chris started their journey supporting each other, and becoming best friends. They could even credit their relationship starting simply on personal letters that they had shared at this mid-year retreat. They found common ground in diving into the challenges that they were each experiencing, including those they both faced as volunteers of color. 

Chris did a second year of service in Ashley’s position at Catholic Charities Atlanta. Even though Ashley wasn’t a volunteer for a second year, their relationship grew more in depth with continuing to support each other in different parts of the country. Long distance relationships are not easy, and sometimes they are daunting. But for Ashley and Chris, what continues to be a driving force in their strong commitment to each other is this foundation they had with DVUSA. 

-Chris Bargeron, Dominican Volunteer 2014-2016 and Ashley Murray, Dominican Volunteer 2014-2015

25 years ago now, Tony and I began our friendship thanks to the hospitality and community-building efforts of Sophia House, or as Tony called them “The Reflective Girls.”  Four women, all alumnae of the Apostolic Volunteer Program, created an intentional community in Hyde Park built in the Dominican spirit that had touched each of them so deeply during their years of volunteer service.  Lisa Rademacher, Elise O’Connell, Kris Funk and Kathy Lenny created a home full of prayer and compassion surely, but also a place of great joy and lots of fun.  None of us who hung around Sophia during those years can forget the costume parties, cut-throat card games, delicious food, Frisbee football, belly laughter, and heart-felt hugs that characterized so many of the deepest and most meaningful friendships of our lives. 
Years later, we began to fall in love while walking along the beach in Racine, Wisconsin during an extended break in a Dominican Volunteers Board of Directors meeting.  Various circumstances had opened up the space for us to see one another in a new way.  And again, the Dominican community—full of faith, joy and mission—tilled the soil in which this the seed of love could take root. 
Twelve years of marriage later with two smart, beautiful and happy daughters in tow, we continue to be blessed by the spirit and the fact of Dominican community.  Whether it is the warm greeting our girls receive from the Sisters as we walk through the doors of Rosary Chapel at Dominican University or the hilarious Christmas letters we receive from our fellow program alums or the sterling inspirations to holiness we see in our Dominican Volunteers friends, our love is grown and nurtured by Dominican Family.  And we are so grateful.

-Claire Noonan, Apostolic Volunteer, 1992-93 and AV Co-Director 1993-97 and husband, Anthony Schmitz, Volunteer at Visitation Elementary School, 1990  

My name is Luke Sullivan and I was a volunteer from 2012-2014 in Chicago. I first met Cynthia Velasquez (2012-2014) at our opening retreat in Adrian, MI during our first year of service. We loosely kept in touch over the two years of service and started dating after our second year ended. We both live in Chicago. Having the foundation of the Dominican charism is essential for our relationship. We both have been so influenced and mentored by Dominican sisters and the entire Dominican Family. Indeed, the ideas of study, prayer, community and preaching shape who we are as individuals and who we are as a couple. Cynthia was a volunteer in New York and in Redwood City and so it has been wonderful to connect with so many wonderful people in NY and CA through her. Now Redwood City is our favorite place to visit together! 

Two of the things we really enjoy doing together are seeing plays and musicals and hiking. I think that taking in the arts in whatever form that might be is essential for everyone. And Cynthia and I are so lucky to live in such a great city for the arts! We have seen Hamilton, The Newsies, Les Mis and much more! We love going over our favorite parts of the musical, our favorite songs and our favorite actor/actress! It definitely brings us closer as a couple. 
We also really enjoy Hiking and being in nature. We never feel so grounded in who we are as people and who we are as a couple than when we hike. This is especially true when we face adversity (like being lost on a trail!) and we work through it together to become a stronger couple. One of the more profound quotes someone told me was, “If you can’t find God anywhere, then go climb a mountain.” Nothing brings me closer to God then climbing a mountain with Cynthia. 

Because we met through DVUSA, the program holds a very special place in our hearts. We support the program in any way we can and have learned so much from the people we have met along the way (including each other!). We count ourselves fortunate each and every day for Dominican Volunteers.

-Luke Sullivan and Cynthia Velasquez, Dominican Volunteers 2012-2014

Thanks to all the volunteers who shared their love story for this post!
To learn more about serving with Dominican Volunteers USA, please click here.

Ash Wednesday Reflection by Katrina Buchanan

CVN Blogger Feed - Wed, 02/14/2018 - 2:51pm

Lenten Reflections to support your spiritual journey over these forty days - brought to you by Catholic Volunteer Network and the Catholic Apostolate Center.
Ash Wednesday Reflection
by Katrina Buchanan, Currently serving with Lutheran Volunteer Corps, Chicago

"Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them;otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father."(Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18)
Thinking about recompense and repayment for doing righteous deeds and for praying in secret is an odd experience when you’re doing a year of service through a faith-based organization. Am I supposed to keep secret the work that I’m doing during this year? Should I quietly go about it and not share my experience with others? Is it wrong for me to want to tell my stories from my placement? Do I expect recompense from God for this year of service?
To answer those questions, a colleague suggested turning toBrazos Theological Commentary on the Bible: Matthew by Stanley Hauerwas. Hauerwas cites Bonhoeffer when questioning how to be the light of the world (Matt. 5:16) while also doing righteous deeds in secret. He writes, “According to Bonhoeffer, the hiddenness that should characterize the disciples’ action applies to the disciple” (p. 74). Hauerwas expands on this idea by saying that we must be apprentices of Jesus and learn to forget ourselves in our actions and act selflessly as Jesus did instead of doing such things for praise and recognition.
There’s a subtle beauty of the Lenten season of fasting and praying beginning with Ash Wednesday falling on St. Valentine’s Day. Instead of worrying about all of those questions, perhaps my prayers and meditations should be on how I can follow in Christ’s way by selflessly loving others just for the sake of loving them and expecting nothing in return from them or from God.
Focus on SpiritualityAs I’ve journeyed in my spirituality this year, I’ve questioned why I believe what I do. In conversations with those who have different beliefs, I’ve learned that there’s truth in everyone’s spirituality and that none is inherently better than others. As I’ve struggled with this reading and with how I express my spirituality, I’ve learned that it’s okay to question what I believe and that growth and strength of conviction come from those conversations and that struggling. This passage confirms that for me as I continue to live out and journey in my spirituality during this faith-based year of service. 
Service Suggestion: During this Lenten season, I challenge myself and others to engage even more deeply with your communities. There is so much to learn about our communities and the work that is being done there. Throughout Lent, I challenge myself to listen more intently to the needs of my organization and my city and to ask of others what I can contribute instead of giving alms without research. 
Prayer: Prayer of St. FrancisLord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
About the Author: Hailing from Erie, PA, Katrina Buchanan is serving as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Justice for Women program assistant in Chicago through the Lutheran Volunteer Corps. She is a graduate of Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, PA with a degree in English, a minor in public relations, and a secret minor in theater. A former hockey player and a lifelong hockey fan, she can be heard coaching the Erie Otters from the stands when visiting home or through enthusiastic tweets while she serves in the Windy City. 
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.

Faith + Service + LOVE!

CVN Blogger Feed - Tue, 02/13/2018 - 2:27pm
A Valentines Day SpecialThere are many lifelong benefits to a year of service - job skills, spiritual growth, professional connections, friendships - and love! Here are some stories from couples who met during their year of service with Franciscan Volunteer Ministry!

Hindsight is twenty-twenty, or so the saying goes. But not for Kathryn and I.For us, hindsight is fifty-fifty.
A comical mix-up of clichés during our year of volunteer service at the St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia, through the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry program, brought us together through laughter. But in a certain sense, hindsight is fifty-fifty, too. After all, weren’t there the challenges of living in intentional community with five complete strangers for a year that, at times, tore us apart through anger and tears? No matter how clear the hindsight, it’s the moments that make you look back, whether at the good or the bad, that are more important. For example, it wasn’t until two years after we had finished our volunteer year together that I saw so many past moments come to life again. We were visiting Baltimore for a weekend, and on a beautifully temperate afternoon, went for a long walk through the city and around the harbor. After noon, with the choppy dark blue water illuminated by the late summer sun, a woman walking toward us on the boardwalk asked if we had any change to spare to help her get to a shelter.
Immediately I flashed back to conversations Kathryn and I had sitting around the small dining table at our volunteer house, enthusiastically agreeing about the value of being present to those expressing need. I remembered strategies we had observed from veteran volunteers about distinguishing need from deception. I felt the ache of being conned and sharing in that pain and loss of trust as Kathryn experienced it. I experienced the relief of seeing a need met with a fully loving heart. It was a fuzzy, fifty-fifty memory.So neither of us was surprised when we wanted to talk to the woman, find out about her situation and the shelter. What’s more, we shared our experience, or lack thereof as far as Baltimore was concerned, and were happy to help as much as we could with bus fare.  This was no remarkable service, and truthfully I can no longer remember the woman’s name.  In fact, as the woman walked away, I know Kathryn and I both experienced that unique tug on the heart strings that comes from meeting someone but being unable to fully meet their needs.  It was a fifty-fifty moment.
However, we also experienced a depth of understanding of the meaning of service and relationship.  The words and experiences of the past were alive then and there in Baltimore, with a reality that was indescribable, but also undeniable because it was shared.  In being present to another together, we knew with complete twenty-twenty clarity how present we were to one another.
In a sense, I wish hindsight was twenty-twenty.  But it’s the fuzzy parts of life, like mixing up clichés or living a life of service, that bring us together in beautifully mysterious ways.  Sometimes with laughs, other times with tears, but always, if we stay present, with love.
-Kevin (and Kathryn) Cilano

We are Andrea and Luciano Tellez and we met while serving as Franciscan Volunteers in Wilmington, DE.  We have always talked about how our paths never would have crossed had it not been for our shared desire to give of ourselves in service. Even our experiences with faith and church were vastly different. For Luciano, his faith gave him hope during difficult times, he was a firm believer in church dogma, while I was much more spiritual than concrete in my belief system.

During our yearlong term of service, Luciano and I lived and worked together teaching English as a second language and religious education, we served women in a local jail and we worked in a food pantry among other things. And our experience would have been similar to that of any other couple who met while giving back to their community, except that in addition to our vocations, we also prayed together. We fell in love while we worked and built our faith together. It is really a beautiful way to get to know one another. During our weekly community prayer meetings we were able to explore our faith with our housemates and friends. Privately, we were able to get to know one another in a deep and meaningful way. We went to church together, we prayed with friends together, we discussed how faith is woven into our lives through work and in our free time together; it was as if God was at the center of our relationship right from the start.
Six years after we met, Luciano finally proposed and the following year we were married.  We have two girls, Liliana is 4 and Gabriella is 7 months old. Our older daughter hears about our memories from our time together at FVM. She has learned about how faith, God and love were all present when her parents met.  And that is very important to us, as we believe it is a beautiful foundation for she and her sister to understand about their family. We just shared Gabriella’s first Christmas and Liliana is now old enough to understand the meaning of the holidays. In addition to being gifted many times over by “Santa” and family, Liliana was able to understand the significance of the birth of Christ. She has had so many questions; it is amazing and beautiful.
We have lived blessed lives and have built a home together that is full of love for one another and for God. We look back on our time with FVM and all of the friendships we made, the relationship we built together and the faith that we learned to weave into our daily lives and we are reminded of just how blessed we are.
Happy Valentine’s Day!-Andrea and Luciano

When Patrick and I are in a group of new people and we need to share an “interesting” fact about ourselves, we usually say one of two things: 1) I met my spouse at a soup kitchen or 2) we lived together before we dated. Depending on the setting, either we get a minute to explain what this means, or we don’t. When we don’t, we always wonder what people think. 
Truthfully, our first meeting was on a hot day in August 1999 when the two of us and 4 other young adults moved in to the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry (FVM) volunteer house. This volunteer house was the place where the 6 of us would be sharing our lives over the next 11 months. When Patrick and I met that day, we did not know what was in store for us. We didn’t know that ministering at the St. Francis Inn soup kitchen located in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, would change not only our lives and our career paths but also our hearts. While Patrick and I hit it off very quickly and became fast friends and confidants, I never imagined that we would be married 4 years after we met and would still be in each other’s lives more than 18 years later. 
Patrick, a native of Binghamton, NY, came to Franciscan Volunteer Ministry from Raleigh, NC where he was working and living with friends for the past few years. He came to FVM because he was discerning his next step in life.  A Franciscan friar in Raleigh suggested FVM as a way to discern if a vocation to the priesthood and/or to the Franciscans was where Patrick was headed. He realized early on that Social Work was his calling. 
I grew up in Scranton, PA and had just spent the last four years at St. Bonaventure University, a Catholic, Franciscan college in western New York state. While I always struggled with what to do with my life, during my junior year I decided that upon graduation I would be a full-time volunteer. I grabbed a Reponse book from the Campus Ministry center and began to request applications from a variety of programs. After a visit to the St. Francis Inn soup kitchen in Philadelphia, I knew Franciscan Volunteer Ministry was the perfect fit for me. I had many expectations for that first year of service. \One thing I didn’t expect was to meet the man I would marry.
Now it would have probably been easy if Patrick and I “dated” while living together and ministering together at St. Francis Inn.  But that’s not what happened.  For his second year of service, Patrick moved to Anderson, SC and was a part of the FVM community there.  I stayed in Philadelphia for my second year.  That second year was a shock for us because we didn’t have the person we talked to every day in the next room.  It took about 6 months into that second volunteer year when we realized that our friendship was more than platonic.  While it wasn’t ideal to only see each other 4 times over the next 6 months, we know that we kept AT&T in business with all our long-distance phone calls. 
We learned several lessons while volunteering with Franciscan Volunteer Ministry that nourishes our relationship today.  I think the most significant thing we learned was to be not only a good team player but a kind and understanding one. Although I believe we were good team members before FVM, I know FVM helped both of us to think as a team/community instead of about ourselves most of the time. And it helped us to be charitable to our fellow housemates and those we served. We were constantly thinking about us as a group vs. me as an individual. We talk about our marriage as a team activity because of that and we continue to value our friendship because of our year and a half friendship before dating. We really are all in and we are all in this together. Being surrounded by people that were committed to God, their faith and service to others was also helpful examples when we were growing in love for one another. Not everyone has such a supportive environment for the start of their relationship and we are forever grateful to all our communities for cheering us on then and now. You don’t always meet your spouse when serving, but when you do, your time serving the poor is never far from your mind and heart. 
Patrick and Courtney (Murphy) Hull served with Franciscan Volunteer Ministry (FVM) at their Philadelphia site from 1999-2000. Patrick served a second year with FVM at their Anderson, SC site from 2000-2001 while Courtney stayed in Philadelphia for her second year of service with FVM (2000-2001). Courtney and Patrick were married on the feast day of St. Francis October 4, 2003. They are excited to celebrate their 15th anniversary this year!  

Lisa Jo and Doug Looney
My husband Doug and I met while volunteering with the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry (FVM). Ours is a love story- love of service, love of community, love of celebrating what it means to be “church.”
With Father Bob at the helm of our FVM experience, Doug, Karen, Michael, Lisa, Mandy and I walked the short distance to the T each morning as we headed into Boston. Grateful for the life we shared together, we were ready to be greeted by the guests and staff of St. Francis House each day. I will never forget that sense of belonging, the feeling that everything was right in the world; I was surrounded by soul mates, our small community that would change my life. It was in these moments that I fell in love with these individuals and the countless others that formed us, fell in love with the journey we were on, fell in love with the man with whom I would spend the rest of my life.
During that year, and the many years that followed, we experienced the power of community. Because of our volunteer year with the Franciscans, Doug and I knew from the very beginning of our relationship that nurturing a sense of community, both local and long distance, would be the crucial link that would sustain our marriage.
The desire to serve grew within us as a couple. We took all that we learned from the Franciscans and ventured to St. Joseph’s Indian School in South Dakota, then headed south to graduate school in New Mexico. From there we held hands and followed our calling to Africa with Maryknoll Lay Missioners. About ten years after our arrival in Tanzania, all roads led to Bolivia with our three kids- all under five years old at the time.
Our Franciscan support network was widened to include the Maryknoll world. We quickly found that these global communities are strongly intertwined. Was it a coincidence that we were in Bolivia at the same time as two other former Franciscan Volunteers? I think not. It was incredible being surrounded by Franciscans and Maryknollers while in Africa and South America. As our bonds of community strengthened, so did our marriage. These communities are life-giving and reinforce the values that we share as a couple and as a family.
Over all these years we have been blessed with countless people and experiences that have changed our life. Off the dusty beaten path there is a small cloister situated in the hills of Mwanza, Tanzania. I will never forget the moment when I looked up from prayer and noticed an adaptation of a quote from Dag Hammarskjol painted on the cracked plastered walls of this chapel next to the Swahili translation: The mercies of God I will sing forever. For all that has been, thanks! For all that shall be, yes!”  Each day we say “yes” to our vocation of being husband and wife, mother and father, family. Each day we celebrate the blessings and challenges of our vocation. Marriage is fulfilling but marriage is hard. And it is during the difficult times of questioning as well as during the times of great joy that we gain strength and hope from all the Franciscans, Maryknollers, and beyond-  life-long friends who have accompanied us on the Way.
Our lives are woven together. And we are grateful.

Thanks to all the volunteers who shared their love story for this post!
To learn more about serving with Franciscan Volunteer Ministry, please click here or Maryknoll Lay Missioners, please click here.  

Faith, Service, and Simplicity

CVN Blogger Feed - Mon, 02/12/2018 - 7:00am
By Christine Convery, Christ the King Service Corps

Six months after my year with Christ the King Service Corps was completed, I met two of my former housemates at a parlor in downtown Detroit and got my first tattoo. Beneath a road map and skyline of Detroit, the artist inked into my skin the core values of our community: Faith, Service, and Simplicity. We walked over to Lafayette’s Coney Island when we were finished, full of adrenaline and hungry for some chili dogs, when we passed a man lying face down on the sidewalk. It was late evening and March in Michigan, so very cold.“Sir?” I asked him, “Excuse me, are you OK?”The man didn’t respond or even move. He wore layers of clothing and from my view he appeared to be homeless. My community mates and I wondered what to do. Was he hurt? Was he dead? Asleep? A small pack of young men were walking towards us on the sidewalk, likely headed to a nearby bar scene and saw us hunched over and cautiously trying to check this man.“Don’t worry about that drunk,” they laughed at us, inviting us to join them instead. When we ignored their calls and crouched lower to the man on the ground, one of the passersby came up and nudged the sleeper with his foot, finally eliciting a response proving that the man was still alive. The crowd of friends continued on laughing to their night of revelry. After a few words and grunts and curses, the man communicated that he’d like us to leave him alone, and we, too, walked away into the cold night.As we walked away I felt keenly aware of how the whole situation called into challenge the words I had just paid to have permanently etched on my skin.

Simplicity reminds us to value people over things, relationships over ownership. The guilt that comes with every meal out or new purchase (or new tattoo) is a recognition that my own excess is a privilege in a world of deadly inequality. Service asks not only for our resources and a sacrifice of wealth but for our time, our hands, and our hearts. There is a removal of the “otherness” of the sick, the poor, and the uneducated when we get to know them by name and recognize a shared humanity.Faith roots it all in place, since it informs us that all that we share is from God who makes all things new. The choice to partake in a volunteer year or a life of service is counter-cultural just as Christ was. Faith gives us strength to persevere, grace to love others, and hope that change will come.

Now several years have passed since I moved out of Christ the King Service Corps and I am grateful for the continued friendship of my 5 housemates from that year of my life. Our community no longer lives under one roof, and we have grown in number as new friends and significant others join our journey. Among my larger community of service corps alumni and lovers of service I have friends who work daily in service to the homeless, who teach in Detroit’s infamous public schools, people who visit seniors in their homes and who organize for better transit and tenant rights. I hope that the next time I encounter a person alone in the street in need, I’ll do more than make sure he is alive, and even more I am determined that my own actions and inaction will not contribute to the systems which allow poverty to flourish and create inequality.There are more comfortable ways to live than in faith, service, and simplicity. It can be frightening to encounter people living in poverty or in need, and it is humbling to accept that there are limits to the change we can enact. It is in shedding our egos and our barriers and in encounter with each other, though, that we find ourselves and experience the joy which is so characteristic of Catholic Volunteer Network programs. We laugh and celebrate and grow in love in defiance of what marketing and advertising tell us. As Pope Emeritus Benedict reminds us, “the world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness.”
To learn more about service opportunities through Christ the King Service Corps, please click here.

Moving Closer to God by Drawing Closer to Each Other

CVN Blogger Feed - Tue, 02/06/2018 - 7:00am

By Zach Wiley, Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry

In his book The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis paints a picture of purgatory as a dreary, sprawling, abandoned town in which no one can stand being around each other, so they keep moving away and out, further and further away from contact with others. They do not move away from each other out of fear, but rather out of a profound inability to coexist and understand the emotions and needs of others. This applies startlingly well to our daily lives. I think of all the times I have automatically avoided eye contact with the man asking for money on the corner, or remained oblivious to the needs of neighbors, friends, and even family. The conscious decision to develop community is the opposite of this; it is the decision to live closely with others, accepting the occasional frustration and discomfort that this causes for the joy and sense of belonging that living in community brings.
Community is a necessary part of the human condition. For most, the first community we know is family, which then extends gradually outward to extended family, neighborhood, church or parish, town, city, state, and nation. Many senses of community extend even beyond the nation, an example being the international and worldwide community of the Church. Members of a community are tied together by shared history, experience, place, belief, and often all of the above at once. Seeing as community is so essential to all of us, it is no wonder that it plays a large role in our religious ceremonies and beliefs. For example, as Christians we worship together, and we celebrate important events such as marriage and baptism not solitarily, but surrounded by members of our community. Therefore, one could say that community has an important interaction with religious belief, both supporting it and being supported by it.             In modern America many communities are hurting and broken. We see this most visibly in our neighborhood in West Baltimore. Abandoned houses and churches stand as testament to families and faith communities that used to be here, but no longer are. This is not to say that no one lives or goes to church here, because people still do, but simply to show that these community ties have weakened.  And this is not constrained to inner city neighborhoods: communities across the country, rich and poor, are suffering from poverties and addictions. From what I have seen, I believe that these maladies are all intricately connected to the health, or lack thereof, of community ties and support. That is, communities are weakened when members, through no fault of their own, are struggling to survive financially, emotionally, or spiritually, and weakened communities are then less able to respond to the demands caused by these challenges. Additionally, becoming a part of a strong community offers more than just material and emotional support: learning to live and empathize with others is instrumental in one’s spiritual growth and relationship with God. Drawing closer to community draws one closer to God, and therefore a rightly ordered community is a glimpse of Heaven on Earth.  Reflecting on the Lenten season that recently ended, I realized that there is a commonality between Lent and community life: both involve challenging the self in order to become closer to God.             When I applied to Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry I was excited about developing community, for its importance in sharing experiences and creating a support network. In the months since I arrived in Baltimore, my understanding of what developing community really means has been broadened and deepened substantially. I have had to adjust some of my own habits and ways of thinking, as have all members of our community. This adjustment to community life, and the discomfort that goes along with it, allows one to arise to new life in community. I have learned that challenges are an inherent part of a community, but that divisiveness is not. I have learned that being nice is shallow and that it is preferable to be kind and direct. Most importantly, community living has given me the space to learn these lessons on a small, personal scale and prepared me to bring these lessons to service in our neighborhood.
Consider an analogy: God’s love sustains a small flame in us. When we do service, we are trying to share the light from the candle with others and to brighten up the darkness in the world. We want to share this light as much as we can, but the world is windy and makes the flame flicker. This is especially true when a person or situation makes it difficult for me to feel empathy. My service site in the Emergency Department of the Bon Secours Baltimore Hospital presents experiences on a daily basis thatmake empathy difficult. The challenging nature of the cases we see, (drug overdoses, assault victims, and patients with chronic disease) creates an environment in which the presence of God at times feels weak. Living in intentional community provides practice in sharing empathy, which prepares us to better extend this empathy to patients. To return to our analogy, the flame becomes brighter and stronger through practice. This means that we become closer to God, in that He dwells in us more strongly, the more we share this light. As each community member individually draws strength and peace from God, the love that we share provides the presence of God to each other. In learning to see God in the members of our intentional community, we practice and strengthen our ability to see the presence of God in the people that we serve. When we ground ourselves in small scale community we are better able to participate in our broader community, especially our neighborhood, but also our cities, states, and country. My community has been an important part of my volunteer experience, serving as an expression of God’s love for me, and as a source from which I draw love and light.
To learn more about service opportunities through Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry, please click here.

Create Your Charism: Jessica Vozella - St. Joseph Worker Program - Los Angeles, CA

CVN Blogger Feed - Fri, 02/02/2018 - 10:00am
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!
The logo of my service site with
St. Joseph Worker Program.Before beginning the St. Joseph Worker Program, I didn’t know the first thing about what distinguished the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet from any other order of women religious, and I definitely didn’t realize how much I would identify with the passion of their charism. The sisters’ spirits and charism can be encapsulated by the words “unifying love.” This is the spirit that drives their heralded phrase, “to serve the dear neighbor without distinction.” It also directs the ministries that the sisters run, including this program, where I get to serve my neighbor in the spirit of love that works to erase division between “me and them.”
In my work at St. Joseph Center and with my community, I see my program’s charism acted out in a few specific areas that I would love to explore.   

Changing world view: With the theme of unifying love behind all of my actions, I begin to see the issue of homelessness in a different light. It seems rather basic to imagine that I would begin truly seeing people who may often seem invisible, but the charism drives me to realize the true humanity and the seemingly small differences that ultimately separate my clients and myself. I’ve also learned the difficulties of “solving” the issue of homelessness because, though all people are linked, it is precisely that interdependence that ensures any efforts to solve this issue impacts all people. Realizing the connection between social justice and each individual person highlights the difficulty in approaching these issues, as well as the intense need for these changes to be brought about.
LOVE statue in Scottsdale, AZ, taken
when I spent a week in my roommate
Anh’s home state after Christmas.
Living in solidarity: Because this love unites us all, the sisters’ charism teaches me to ask questions about our interdependence between people and the earth and to recognize the impact we make. For me this means thinking about how we live in our community, where we are getting our food and products from, and considering what must change in my life to help me better live for justice and the unification of all, even when the connections may be harder to see. Reflecting on low-harm foods, the free-trade movement, and workers justice, among other issues, has been fueled by my desire for social justice through the charism of the CSJ (Sisters of St. Joseph).
My community members Michaella and Angelica
on either side of the US- Mexican border.
One specific example of the program’s charism that came to life in a tangible way was when I got the opportunity to travel to Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico for a Border/School of the Americas protest. Below is a video detailing our experience. Going to the border and walking straight into Mexico only to see the enormous border wall that separates these two countries was powerful. It made me question why, where God sees unity and similarities, we humans see division and difference. It was heartbreaking to understand the hardships of those affected by this wall. (See more at:
: The phrase “that all may be one” is what the Sisters of St. Joseph understand Jesus’ mission to be, and they try to continue this mission today. It underscores the connection each of our services and work has with each other, especially the work of the other volunteers in my community. Together, we are learning to live in an interdependent community where we are all responsible for each other, a concept that I didn’t understand as tying in to our work for justice. However, this unifying love extends beyond “service” and into life with those we interact with always.
We are lucky to have the St Joseph Worker program
community but also the larger CSJ community
 at large! Here we are at Sr. Dorothy
and Barbara’s home in Tuscon, AZ.
My faith: My faith has been informed and shaped by the sister’s charism in a way that comes at a perfect time in this political climate we live in. I think it is a unique privilege to do a year of service at a time when tensions are high and hard issues are coming up more frequently. However, I’ve found that this is also a challenging time to have faith, especially when dealing with the intense suffering of those experiencing homelessness in LA. Unifying love is the opposite of what we hear continuously on the news and from each other, and is often opposite of what my clients are experiencing. However, this charism changes my perspective of God; I see my role in continuing Jesus’ mission as opposed to waiting for God to solve all the problems. Furthermore, I think this charism urges me to focus my faith on the world and the larger population rather than on myself.
“Our charism...sends us into the world as continuous acts of love, a love that is active and inclusive, patient and enduring, fearless and tender, forgiving and giving, steady and steadfast. It forms bridges, makes connections easier and facilitates life for others, enabling them also to stir up love in our world.”
~Marcia Allen, CSJ.
 My vocation: The quote above is an incredible statement about the charism of the sisters and of the St. Joseph Worker program. It helps me when I consider my journey of discernment. I have moved past an idea of vocation as a job or a position, or even the choice between married or religious life. I have started to imagine my vocation as what I am called to be in all areas of my life, and this love that is fearless and inclusive has driven me to consider how I am like that in my relationships, my job, and with myself. I have seen this love when I am working at St. Joseph Center and it urges me to consider where I can more aptly display it in a way that feels comfortable for me in the future. I wonder if social work is the career where this can happen for me, leading me on a path of discerning my career as part of my vocation. I am grateful that through each step of this program, the charism of unifying love in serving the neighbor is there to guide me.

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.

A Year Of Many Names

CVN Blogger Feed - Mon, 01/29/2018 - 7:00am

By Pat Kenny, Amigos de Jesus

    One of the first overwhelming things about starting life at Amigos de Jesus was something that I hadn’t thought about for one second. I worried about not knowing a word of Spanish before boarding a plane to Honduras. I worried about boarding a plane that would land in San Pedro Sula, the city with the world’s highest murder rate. I worried about all of these things complicating my marriage, which was not yet a month old. But neither Ali (my wife and my motivation to volunteer) nor I thought for a second about having to learn a bunch of new names. Through the application process we easily set to memory the major players: Fr. Dennis, Emily Ford, Amy and Wilson Escoto. Once we got here it was fairly easy to learn the volunteers’ names, as they were Americans like us and we spent ten days living in a house with them. The kids’ names were another story.
    Ninety new names was plenty, but as you may have thought, but I never did, the names in Latin America are a little different. Jose, that’s easy enough. But it was a little harder a few minutes later when I met Josue (Hoe-sway), and then felt hopeless the next day when I met Jesuan (Hey-swan). Also, we have a Jose Antonio, a Jose Alexander, and a little girl named Maria Jose.  

    The group of Jose-ish names was just the start of the challenge. Knowing kids names allows you to get their attention and avoid too many awkward “hey there …buddy’s.” To live in this world you also need to know the nicknames. If you insist on political correctness, well come down and change the culture yourself. We have a “Chinito”— little china boy, “Mata Perro" – dog killer, “Negro” and “Negrita” – black man and little black girl, “Chucho" – puppy, “Chango" – monkey, “Chimpa" – short for chimpanzee, “Cabeza" – big head, and “Shrek” – the resemblance fades as he is thinning out and bathing more consistently. You don’t have to use them, but this is all information you need to know if you want to understand what the kids are saying to one another. Though at times, it’s better not to know.
    Eventually we all figured out the names. Counting the staff, plus kids, the total number is about 160 names you need to know. Some of my favorite names are Virgilio, Otilio, Pipo, Ivis, Henrry (roll the double Rs if you can), Arcadia and her little sister Cleofis, and Fany. It took me about two months to commit the last of them to memory.
    Tomorrow is the last day I will be called Padrino. Padrino is my job title; Madrina is my wife’s. The words translate to godfather and godmother. But those weren’t the only names we have been called this year. I have gotten a lot of “gringo” - white man, “viejo" – old man, (which was funny because I am 25 and look about 18) and “perro” – dog, which makes more sense as an insult here because the dogs are filthy animals. Surprisingly, about six months passed before anybody bothered to call me “cuatro ojos" – four eyes. I will spare you the bad words which I have been called in some of our children’s less charming moments.

    Padrino is the name I will miss the most, which is ironic, because it represents a job that was absolutely exhausting to me. It was exhausting because being a Padrino requires the Honduran staff, and for 1-year my wife and I to do what is not possible. The Padrinos work at Amigos de Jesus to compensate for parents, and they fail every day. It is not the fault of the Padrinos, it is not the fault of Amigos de Jesus, there is no compensating for the absence of parents, there is only attempting and failing. They will continue to fail every day as long as Amigos de Jesus takes in kids. They wake up too early, and stay up too late. They clean clothes, bodies, and toilets. They get hit by fists, spit at, food and rocks thrown at. They do what parents do, but they are not parents.  “Godparent” is a good name for them. Not only because they fulfill the responsibility of godparents, but because it reminds us that we are working for and living with God’s children. The children who at times scream at, spit at, and hit us, are the same ones that turn into responsible young adults like Keka, who just spent months working hard to pass a test that will allow him to go to college. Amigos de Jesus – Friends of God, is a good name for this home. Padrino is a good name for the workers, because they are raising God’s children. 
To learn more about service opportunities through Amigos de Jesus, please click here.

Create Your Charism: Allison Reynolds - Good Shepherd Volunteers

CVN Blogger Feed - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 11:39am
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!

The dictionary defines Charisma as “a compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion to others.” I believe this definition is perfect to describe why I chose to serve. I was attracted to service because it was a world of unknowns and adventure, while devoting time and work to others. As I was applying to service organizations, the values of Good Shepherd Volunteers (GSV) stuck out to me. GSV has four core values of Social Justice, Community, Spirituality, and Simplicity while encouraging their volunteers to represent the Sisters’ core values of Individual Dignity, Zeal, Reconciliation, and Mercy. All these values of the GSV program can be broken down into the following words that, I believe, best describe Good Shepherd’s charism. 
C - Calling The dictionary defines the word vocation as “a strong feeling of suitability for a particular career.” I believe when the Good Shepherd Sisters received their calling towards this vocation, they knew they were in the right place. Sisters feel such a strong desire to help others, and they make a significant sacrifice to serve others. I have witnessed this work first hand, and it is incredible. Watching the sisters interact with every person that crosses their path with love and compassion influences me every day to be more open minded without pre-judgments. With this mindset I feel I have been able to reach more people, learn more, and take more risks without fear. 
Andrea and I attending the mass for the Sisters of Good Shepherd vow renewal.H- Humbling Working with GSV has proven to be one of the most humbling experiences. Every day I learn something new, proving how little I knew about life before this experience. Living in Sucre, Bolivia has made me more humble than ever before. I have met people who need to walk 3 hours from their house to get to work, I have seen children wear the same clothes constantly- no matter how dirty they might be, and I have witnessed a corrupt political system full of civilian protests for laws and actions that I have never thought could exist. With these few examples in mind, I have learned how every country, group, or individual is different. If I believe something could be done in a certain way, that does not mean a Bolivian is accustomed to doing things my way. In these moments I truly have to step back, listen, understand and trust the process. I am constantly growing in appreciation and respect for the communities I work with. Learning every day about our communities is difficult and eye opening, but only creates more of a curiosity and attentiveness for what is out there and how we can help. 
Marching with our women to lift our voices against violence.A-Amor Amor; love. Working in communities experiencing hardship, discouragement, violence, neglect, poverty, misunderstanding, and any other negative words you can think of... love is always the most important tool to have. I believe the staff, volunteers and Sisters who work with GSV have a strong belief that everyone is human, everyone has a story, and everyone deserves a chance. Knowing I am working with communities who the political, social, and economic systems ignore, oppress or discourage, I realize sometimes that second chances can only be shown through love and compassion. I am not in this work for the money, or for being the boss and making decisions. I am attracted to this work to be devoted to others and to just be there. The GSV slogan is "Just Love" which means love in justice, and to simply, just love. Playing games with children who come from homes that suffer from domestic violence and seeing their worry-free smiles is why I chose to volunteer. Being able to show these children, and women that someone believes in them and loves them, especially as a complete stranger, gives them hope and confidence they might not have had before. This part of GSV is one of the strongest pieces of the charism to include and inspire others. 
Teaching art therapy at a Good Shepherd Shelter in
Los Angeles, CA in my first year as a GSV (children's faces blurred for confidentiality).R- Rapport Creating rapport is a phrase used in all jobs throughout GSV. From the beginning, I learned I would have to gain the trust of the people I might encounter throughout my year. The best way I have been taught to do that is through love and open-mindedness. Being able to observe the Sisters create rapport so easily has inspired me and taught me different ways to interact with others. Every time I encounter a new person, I know they have a story to tell, and every story is different. Learning how to create rapport has taught me not to assume that everyone has had the same experiences or beliefs. Keeping this in mind, I have been able to have open conversations with many different people by sharing opinions. Being able to accept and value every person’s difference has taught me many new things that I have to credit to my new friends along this journey. 
The Good Shepherd Sisters modeled the importance of having fun
with the kids on Halloween in my first year as a GSV in Los Angeles.I-Intentional Intentionality is a huge part of GSV. Coming into a volunteer year would not have worked if I did not feel intentional about it. I have to want to be here; I have to want to be in it for the hard times and the good times. To live intentionally is to live with purpose, and to live with the idea that every choice you make has an impact on yourself and others around you. As a second year volunteer, I also have a better understanding of the meaning of intentional living. It means believing in your own happiness through a conscious attempt to live according to your beliefs and values. Living on a stipend, living in community, exploring different religious values, adventuring in new countries and cities, meeting new people, teaching my own students; every single one of these GSV experiences (and more) has taught me more about myself, my values and beliefs, and how to live intentionally. 
Andrea and I having fun being GSVs at Orientation last summer, where
I had the chance to reflect on my first year as a GSV and prepare for my second.S- Spirituality I believe Spirituality is one of the best ways GSV is different from other volunteer programs. While GSV is a Catholic based organization, it accepts all religious and spiritual backgrounds. This shows GSV does not discriminate against other religions and is willing to see their volunteers discover their own spiritual journey, allowing me the freedom to express and explore my spirituality the way I want. Admittedly, working with Catholic Sisters at the beginning made me nervous. When I entered a religious world I was unfamiliar with, I pictured having to pretend to be something I wasn’t. I did not attend mass constantly, and I did not understand most of the Catholic world. When I first met the Sisters, I thought I would have to act religious. However, right away I learned that the Sisters love hearing and learning about religious, spiritual values and the backgrounds each new volunteer brings. This has motivated me and showed me how religion can be expressed through personality and curiosity, and that there is more than one-way to express the way you feel spiritually.
Hermana Consuelo and I after renewing her vows! 93 and she
still shows an amazing amount of love towards everyone!M- Moral GSV has showed me what my morals are and what I believe in. I have realized my heart is with helping others. Being in this profession has helped me recognize human character, and how morals can be learned at a young age, but can also be rediscovered and made your own as you grow older. The families and communities GSV works with come from harsh homes, where the morals that have been taught might be considered inhumane. What I love about my job is being able to reteach these children new morals, new values, and how a person should be treated. Watching the violence leave their lives with tiny successes is the most rewarding part about my job. This has been one of the most attractive parts about GSV throughout my experience: the need and want to continue to have these successes with the families I serve, and the curiosity of how I will continue this work when my volunteer career ends. 

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.

A Day in the Life: Ada Lee - Vincentian Service Corps West - San Francisco, CA

CVN Blogger Feed - Thu, 12/28/2017 - 12:36pm
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! 

This year has brought changes to my life in all aspects- physically, mentally, and emotionally. One of the biggest changes has been learning to live in solidarity with the communities I am serving. Oftentimes and unfortunately, we can get so preoccupied with the hustle of our own lives, that we become prone to seeing those who are different from us as a “stranger." The interactions we have with others then become inauthentic and muddled and can even take away from the basic human experience of compassion and human dignity. Pope Francis says, “To welcome the stranger is to welcome Christ," and this has been my personal aphorism for the year.

I am serving at Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep High School through the Vincentian Service Corps and have the opportunity to lead some sophomores on their service immersion trips. These trips are mandated for the students’ English class, but are meant to provide insight into the infamous Tenderloin community right next door, offer opportunities for direct service, and reveal the issues of social injustices in society. Through the St. Anthony’s Immersion program, students serve clients in the dining room, clothing store, or homebound food delivery systems, have lunch with the people they’re serving, and hear a firsthand experience directly from a current member of the Father Alfred Drug & Alcohol Rehab Program.
Going on this experience with high schoolers blesses me with the opportunity to help shape the minds of young people. Prior to the service trip, many students are not aware of the Tenderloin and its resources. In fact, there is a stigma among many young people about this area and the people who live there; while the Tenderloin does have its unique trials and tribulations, there are preconceived notions that the homeless there are just lazy and have no motivation. It is seen as a hopeless place that is better ignored. The students brought these preconceived notions forward prior to starting our service experience. I knew then that it was my role to help break down the stereotypes.
While leading morning prayer, I incorporated activities that revealed to the students the bias and prejudice that we are often so unaware of in our daily lives. First I gave random descriptions of people, and students wrote down their first impressions. We had an in depth discussion afterwards about why we thought certain things about people and how we can better our service experience by breaking down those preconceived notions and entering with an open mind and heart. My students and I formed a community with each other, unique from any other kind of academic experience, because we were able to reveal our hearts to each other. 

During one immersion experience in the beginning of October, I met John David, one of the members of St. Anthony’s Father Alfred Drug & Alcohol Rehab program. John narrated his addiction/ recovery story to the students and even gave us a taste of his spoken word pieces and his original poems. Afterwards, I thanked him for his service to us and wished him well. Last week, while walking through the Tenderloin, I stumbled upon a familiar figure- it was John David again! We stopped, looked at each other, recognized one another, and hugged each other in excitement. I asked him how his poetry was going and where he was getting his inspiration from. With a look of sincerity, he replied that he was honored that I remembered him and his work. “Of course, John!” I responded. “I would never forget someone as talented as you!” John David’s face lit up in happiness. I continued, “Thank you so much for your service to our school and for speaking with and inspiring our students.” John David looked me in the eye and replied, “No, thank YOU for your service to bettering this community and our lives.” 

It is one thing to serve for a day. We can go to a soup kitchen and give someone a sandwich, with absolutely no true intention, zeal, or passion. But to truly make an impact on those being served, it must be as St. Vincent DePaul once said, “with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows.” My hope is that I had enough of an impact on my students so that they can do just that. By serving with an open heart and mind, their perceptions of those in need can start to change. By changing negative perceptions, we can start to truly do good in this world. In doing so, we can show those in need the human dignity and compassion they deserve. 

I implore anyone doing a year of service now or in the future, to be present to all that they’re doing. It is so easy to ignore “the other” in the midst of our own lives, but it’s also easy to be open in receiving and understanding the lives of those we’re serving. In following the words of Pope Francis and by “welcoming the stranger” into our lives, we can begin to understand each other, to really make an impact in this world, and to work towards systemic change and social justice. 

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.

"Do not be afraid" Advent Reflection by Taylor Gostomski, Augustinian Volunteers

CVN Blogger Feed - Sat, 12/23/2017 - 11:30am

In this annual series, current and former volunteers reflect on the Advent Gospels and the Four Pillars of Faith-Based Service: Social Justice, Simplicity, Community and Spirituality. Presented by Catholic Apostolate Center and Catholic Volunteer Network.
Fourth Week of AdventReflection by: Taylor Gostomski, Former Augustinian Volunteer
Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” (Luke 1:26-38)
“The journey is better than the inn,” was written by Miguel de Cervantes in his famous work Don Quixote. Former UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, used to use that phrase to describe how he liked the practices or “the journey,” better than the actual games or the “inn” in his work. Many of us want to get to the destination or result right away – whether it’s
an actual trip or a goal we have set – that we forget the hidden treasure than can be the journey or process itself.

Take time to intentionally think about one of your favorite accomplishments. Was the only good part the moment you actually got your reward? Or was the process of getting there also satisfying? That’s not to say there isn’t hard work, sacrifices and suffering, but we can learn to take joy in that part too. 

In today’s Gospel reading, Mary has, what I would imagine, a very human reaction to being visited by an angel of God and being told something big is about to happen and that she’s going to be a part of it. “Troubled”, “pondered”, being told to “not be afraid” and asking “How” are all pretty human responses. I wonder, if like many of us, Mary wanted to skip to the end of her story and know what was going to happen and whether or not she would be okay.

But ultimately, it seems Mary accepted the value of the process, the journey, when she trusts God’s will. Bearing God’s child, perhaps the “inn”, is a wonderful thing, but maybe the journey is also wonderful—the trust, courage and inner strength that was required of Mary to bring Jesus into the world.

Taylor walking during his journey in Chulucanas, Peru.Focus on Spirituality: Spiritually, I struggle greatly with some of the classic big questions in life. Why is there suffering in the world? I also struggle with more practical questions like, what is my next career step going to be? I really want to know the answers to both of those, but maybe this passage about Mary can help remind us a) it’s okay to have questions and b) it’s also okay to not know the answers and wherever we are in life right now, we need not the answers or to know for it to be enjoyable.

Service Suggestion: If Christmas is our inn, then Advent is our journey. Let’s not only wait this Advent, being stagnant, but prepare, being active. Let’s prepare ourselves so that when the big day arrives, we will be able to more fully enjoy it. Maybe it’s preparing ourselves to have a better attitude when things don’t go our way in life, so that when the holidays come and, likely, something doesn’t go our own way, we are able to take it in stride and maintain our joy during this special time of year and share it with others.

Taylor (right) teaching his Peruvian students.Prayer: God, teach us patience in the journey of life. For we often want to get to the destination so eagerly, we forget to appreciate what happens along the way. Although the journey has its hardships, help us to see the value in those challenging times. Give us the strength to continue on the path set before us and to strive to seek moments of joy in situations where it may be sparse.
- Taylor Gostomski

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

A Day in the Life: Catherine Thanh Nguyen - St. Joseph Worker Program - Orange, CA

CVN Blogger Feed - Wed, 12/20/2017 - 5:45pm
Catherine with some of her smiling kindergarten students at St. Anne School.
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!

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.

"He Came for Testimony" Advent Reflection by Katie Delaney, Lasallian Volunteers & Good Shepherd Volunteers

CVN Blogger Feed - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 11:30am

In this annual series, current and former volunteers reflect on the Advent Gospels and the Four Pillars of Faith-Based Service: Social Justice, Simplicity, Community and Spirituality. Presented by Catholic Apostolate Center and Catholic Volunteer Network.
Third Week of AdventReflection by: Katie Delaney, Former Lasallian Volunteer & Former Good Shepherd Volunteer
A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him. (John 1:6-8)
The first word that comes to mind upon reading this Gospel is humility. In response to questions from the priests and Levites, John explains that he baptizes not as Christ, Elijah, or the Prophet, but as “the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord’.” John is so quick to point out this distinction, so quick to give credit where he feels credit is due. Reflecting back to my years of service as a Lasallian Volunteer and Good Shepherd Volunteer, I think I could have used a slice of this humble pie. How often did I consider myself “the light,” taking on the responsibility to serve, or save, the communities I entered? How often did I fail to see the parts of myself that needed saving, and that this saving work was never really mine to begin with? 

Thanks to time, perspective, and most of all, the grace of God and those I have encountered, I continue to be humbled - moved beyond a sense of my self-righteousness, and into a space of more authentic listening, learning, and loving. These moments, in all their discomfort and vulnerability, become my testimony; through the gift of growth, I can “testify to the light.”

Katie Delaney (bottom right) serving with Good Shepherd Volunteers in Chile, delivering a Namaste blessing
with the Raìces de la Paz (Roots of Peace) women’s group she helped facilitate.Focus on Community: In this Gospel, the questions posed by John’s community invite him to name who he is and what he is about. Community often provides this challenge and gift - holding a mirror up to our past, present, and future and reflecting how all these complexities meld and meet the world. How do your communities help you own your truth? In community, how can we help each other “testify to the light” within?

Service Suggestion: Spend some time reflecting upon someone in your community who has helped you grow more into who you aspire to be. Write a note of appreciation, take them out to coffee, or find some unique way to affirm them and acknowledge the influence they have had. 

Prayer: Our Power to Bless One Another by John O'Donohue (Excerpt from To Bless the Space Between Us) 

In the parched deserts of postmodernity a blessing can be like the discovery of a fresh well. It would be lovely if we could rediscover our power to bless one another. I believe each of us can bless. When a blessing is invoked, it changes the atmosphere. Some of the plenitude flows into our hearts from the invisible neighborhood of loving kindness. In the light and reverence of blessing, a person or situation becomes illuminated in a completely new way. In a dead wall a new window opens, in dense darkness a path starts to glimmer, and into a broken heart healing falls like morning dew. It is ironic that so often we continue to live like paupers though our inheritance of spirit is so vast. The quiet eternal that dwells in our souls is silent and subtle; in the activity of blessing it emerges to embrace and nurture us. Let us begin to learn how to bless one another. Whenever you give a blessing, a blessing returns to enfold you.
- Katie Delaney

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

A Day in the Life: Jessica Vozella - St. Joseph Worker Program - Los Angeles, CA

CVN Blogger Feed - Wed, 12/13/2017 - 5:40pm
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!
It’s 7:30 a.m. on a Friday. I get in the driver’s seat of my volunteer community’s Toyota Corolla and wait until all of my fellow community members get in. Today is a program day; one of the special days that my program, the St. Joseph Worker Program in LA, provides its volunteers to experience service and formation in spirituality, leadership, justice, and community.

While each community member works in a different location throughout the year, on program days we go together to visit one of these locations. Today, as a group, we will drive to where I work every day in Venice, CA. I am the only volunteer from my program placed at the Homeless Service Center at St. Joseph Center, which was started by the Catholic Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Every day I travel to the center and work alongside other case managers as we serve Los Angeles - the city that is home to the most individuals experiencing homelessness in the nation.
This program day will be focused on Bread and Roses, the restaurant-style meal site at the Homeless Service Center. As I drive, my community members sing and dance in the car to “What Lovers Do” by Maroon 5 feat. Sza - our new jam - despite the very early hour. It’s amazing to me that they can have so much energy, while I can barely keep my cool in the infamous LA traffic. However, I am excited to serve alongside them at my service site -- the site I have come to love over the past two months.
A table fully set at Bread and Roses Cafe.As we pull up to Bread and Roses, we see our program director, Sister Judy, who is always ready to greet us with a warm hug before we get to work. At Bread and Roses, we serve the clients of St. Joseph’s- many of whom I am delighted to know by name- a hot meal with milk, juice, and fruit. Unsurprisingly, Sister Judy knows all of the support staff at the site, and with those she doesn’t, she is quick to introduce herself. In this simple way, she embodies community and care for the neighbor while inspiring me to do the same, especially at the Homeless Service Center.
A picture before serving at Bread and Roses Café. Featured are some regular volunteers, as well as Chef James in the middle and Sous-Chef CJ on the left. Sister Judy joins us for the picture with her signature smile. While they usually don’t take pictures as much as Sister Judy does, the Bread and Roses volunteers and staff love where they work, and those smiles are as real as they get!
During the week, I meet with clients each day, orienting new members, and working to find housing for those who have already been through our doors. This program has thrown me head first into a new world of gray- where nothing is black and white, and I must lean on my coworkers for information, support, and encouragement daily. Clients deal with so many hardships that joy is difficult to find. The most impressionable experiences I have are listening to clients describe their lives, needs, or experiences, and watching them walk away just a little lighter. For example, one of my first clients was a single mother living in her car. She had a child with a medical condition and was recovering from trauma at the hands of an abusive partner. She shared her story with me with such genuine emotion that I found myself with wet eyes. It was hard knowing that I could only fill out more paperwork and explain the process ahead toward housing. However, at the end of this meeting, she hugged me and squeezed my hand with a “thank you,” reminding me that our interaction mattered.

Though my days at the center are always full of new experiences, this program day is unusually busy and exhausting. Working at Bread and Roses is fast paced, but allows me to engage with many clients in a different setting – they are not in the office, but sitting down to eat. They are treated with the dignity each person deserves, but which they seldom encounter in their daily lives, and smile and laugh with one another over the delicious meal. This is what the Sisters of St. Joseph talk about when they say that they “serve the dear neighbor without distinction.”
Various snapshots of the day with my community serving at Bread and Roses. I wish we could serve here together every day!

Left to right: Angelica and Molly setting the table for the second serving of the day, Michaella and Manny cleaning up after a full service, and me and Chef James.
After lunch, we head to St. Joseph’s main center, where Sister Judy has arranged for us to hear from Va Lecia, the Executive Director of St. Joseph Center. Va Lecia’s story is rich with faith and illustrates powerful female leadership that our program seeks to encourage and grow.
The presence of leadership, spirituality, and community doesn’t end as we complete our program day. We drive to the Carondelet Center, the center for senior sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Once we arrive, we are officially commissioned into our year of service through a communal prayer service and an introduction to the Sisters. We also pray for the other St. Joseph Workers across the country in our program, uniting us together.
We clean up nice (and quickly!) for our Commissioning in St. Joseph Chapel at the Carondelet Center.Left to Right: Molly, Angelica, Michaella, Myself, and AnhWe are sent off into our year with a blessing and the gift of a Celtic cross necklace, the official symbol for our program. This symbol reminds us of our four pillars of our program - spirituality, justice, community, and leadership – as well as our strong faith in God’s vision for justice in our world. We end the day with the knowledge that we are continually held in prayer by the sisters, and head home to a long night of sleep after an incredibly busy day!

Blog update and prayer request: Since writing this blog, my community has been impacted by the fires in Southern California that have been burning close to Los Angeles over the past week. To date, our community remains safe and we have embraced the Sisters of St. Joseph's charism of caring for the dear neighbor by welcoming four sisters to stay with us. Their living facility was evacuated due to its proximity to the Skirball fire near Bel Air, LA. Amidst the challenge of this evacuation, we did enjoy lively dinner conversations and sharing stories with them over the time of their stay and are grateful for the connection our community has with the congregation. Fortunately, the sisters were able to return to their home on Sunday, December 12th. At this time, we would ask you for your prayers for safety and a quick end to this natural disaster as well as for those who have been immediately affected by the fires across California. We would also implore you to join our prayers for a global awakening to our earth's climate change and the need to take action. Thank you!

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.

"He Will Prepare Your Way" Advent Reflection by Patrick Hubbard, Sojourners Intern

CVN Blogger Feed - Sat, 12/09/2017 - 11:00am

In this annual series, current and former volunteers reflect on the Advent Gospels and the Four Pillars of Faith-Based Service: Social Justice, Simplicity, Community and Spirituality. Presented by Catholic Apostolate Center and Catholic Volunteer Network.
Second Week of AdventReflection by: Patrick Hubbard, The Sojourners Internship Program
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. 
What does it mean to “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths”? The images it conjures, as well as the expectation it sets for those of us anticipating Christ’s coming, are those of restoration and justice. Isaiah follows his initial exhortation with a description of a grand even-ing of the world; the hills lowered, the valleys raised. As God approaches, everything equalizes before Him. Isaiah calls this good news, a sure sign of God’s presence. God descends to Earth, gathering His flock and removing the physical barriers between Himself and those He loves.

His presence is so powerful that all else fades away; the elements are dissolved by fire and even the heavens pass. All else diminishes, leaving only God and His flock. We see that John, the emissary tasked with preparing the way of the Lord, kept to the wilderness, letting others come to him, away from the city and the busyness of life, their homes and their cleanliness and their comforts. He cried out in the wilderness, signifying that God’s arrival carries weight independent of human society. His cry shows us that God’s arrival draws us away from where we are settled, into a place where all that matters is His Advent. In the wilderness, we see the true significance of God’s glory, revealed as dominion over and restoration of the world and its people.
Focus on Simplicity: The call to prepare the way of the Lord rings with the imagery of simplicity. God is described as flattening out the entire earth, laying low the mountains and raising up the valleys, until all that remains is His presence. John the Baptist lived in the desert, keeping to the simplicity of insects and rough garments. When God’s people yield to Him and make straight His paths, they see nothing but Him, and celebrate the wondrous simplicity of what it means to depend on the Lord. The simplest lifestyle is the removal of all superfluities, until all that is left is the presence of God our savior. Making straight His paths, in its truest form, is the distillation of life unto its most essential quality: the encounter with the divine. In all His complication, beauty, and incomprehensibility, God is really quite simple. He brings healing and redemption, and all else fades away.
Service Suggestion: If we are to truly make straight a highway for the Lord, then it is paved with our acts of service and love. Justice shall walk before Him, the scripture says—we are that justice, the foretaste of the truth that shall spring out of the earth. Those who flocked to John received healing and baptism, inclusion into the community of God. This Advent, we should seek out ways to welcome others into our communities, those who may not share our luxuries of warm homes, family reunions, or lavish feasts. We can open our homes to acquaintances, non-family members, or strangers, and listen to the needs and sorrows of our neighbors who may not see any reason to celebrate. We should make sure that no one spends the season in isolation, in such small ways we are able, by offering things from encouragement, to food, to a place to sleep, to a listening ear
Prayer: God, help us to rest in your presence, and celebrate rather than supplement your simplicity. Instill in us the desire to prepare your way—to love, to heal, to be healed, and to celebrate the reduction of life until all that remains is you. As we await your coming this Advent season, let us go out to you in the wilderness to see your glory together. Transform us into followers who mimic you in your redemption of the world you so lovingly brought into being, and even now sustain. And may all this be for your glory, so that all flesh shall see the salvation of God. Amen.
Patrick Hubbard

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

A Day in the Life: Allison Reynolds - Good Shepherd Volunteers

CVN Blogger Feed - Wed, 12/06/2017 - 11:50am
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!

Our new "frenemies," the parrots, at
the Mariposario in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.The sound of a parrot mimicking its sounds at a sheep, who “bahs” back, is my alarm clock every morning around 6:30 AM. I get out of bed, go to the bathroom, and check for water. I turn the faucet handle - no water. This is the outcome at least three times a week. I know this means I have to use the bucket of water, which my community member, Andrea Gaitan, and I fill on other days when we are privileged with water. We use this bucket to brush our teeth, wash our hands, fill the septic tank so we are able to flush the toilet, clean clothes, our faces, floors, and walls, and to boil for drinking water. The water is not safe to drink from the sink, which leads us to spend our Sunday nights recycling the water bottles we acquired from the week before to fill them with boiled, healthy drinking water for our upcoming week. Starting our mornings in this discouraging way can lead me to think: why did I choose this life? Why did I choose to live in a place where the water is not safe to drink, and the air is so thin from the 9,000 ft. altitude that I lose my breath going up stairs?
As these thoughts and questions cross my mind after leaving our apartment, we enter a bus, paying the driver 1.50BS (Bolivianos) for the ride. The journey to work takes about 30 minutes, as we pick up many children catching a ride to school. As the ride continues, it gets very crowded with people hanging out the door and windows. You quickly learn there are no bus stops or stop lights. This leads to the honking language heard everywhere; HONK from the taxi to let you know they are available, HONK HONK from the car going through the intersection to let other cars know they are there, HONK from a car while you are walking on the side walk so you know not to cross the street at that time. "Vamos a bajar," we tell the driver as we come to our stop, to let him know we will be getting off. As we exit the bus, I’m still wondering why I left the world of luxury the United States easily provides. Then we enter our workspace, and I am answered with why I am here. 
One of the Sayariy Warmi participants making a scarf.We work at Sayariy Warmi, a name written in Quechua - an indigenous language that a majority of people here speak. Quechua is extremely different from Spanish, which can lead to difficulties in communication at times. Translated to Spanish, Sayariy Warmi means Lavantate Mujer, and roughly translated to English it means Rising Woman or Woman Rise Up. Sayariy Warmi is a place where women suffering from domestic violence can come claim their independence. The program provides classes ranging from sewing to computer skills, and I am currently helping the program create a group of women leaders to learn about women's rights in politics. Andrea is working with the psychologist and helping with the social work of this program. I have spent most of my first month learning the language, politics, economics of my new country, and other various helpful skills in order to do my job. Because I am still learning Spanish, when I am presented with a woman who speaks Quechua the communication level becomes even more difficult. 
Andrea (left) and I exploring Santa Cruz, Bolivia.While learning about my job, the work environment in Bolivia has proved to be quite the opposite from the work place in the United States. Here, there is not always internet, sometimes there is no water, with transportation difficulties people tend to be late (where as the United Sates culture is to try to arrive 15 minutes early), the lunch break is two hours long and the most important meal of the day, and every day around 3:00 PM it is cultural protocol to have tea and bread with jelly. Andrea and I are lucky to eat lunch with Sisters of the Good Shepherd every day. Working in different conditions than I am used to has taught me to be flexible, to understand that this is the way Bolivians know how to do their jobs, and that there is always a way to figure out how to do something in Bolivia. 
While I am learning how to deal with new ways to work, there are also the communities we serve. Along with the women's center, our other Sayariy Warmi communities are in various places. One is in a place called Barrio Bolivia, in the mountainside. These families live in tiny square houses with no water, electricity, or bathrooms. In order to own a house, the family has to have at least five children; I know of family who has a Mom, Dad, Grandma, and nine children sharing a home without basic necessities and different farm animals running around. In Barrio Bolivia we have a Comedor, dining room, for 47 children from the Chalice program to have a safe place to eat and complete their homework. Chalice is a program where families from Canada sponsor children to help provide for their needs. This dining room provides lunch and dinner, and other volunteers offer homework help and games. 
The Sayariy Warmi team planning.A different children's center, which also happens to be where Andrea and I live, provides an educational care center for other children of the Chalice program. Right now there are around 50 children ranging from ages two to eight who come every week-day from 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM - a day filled with different lessons, games, snack, lunch, and of course, tea time. These children are not always clean, might come from tight living conditions (most houses in this area have seven families in one building, with one bathroom to share), and might have to wear the same clothes day after day. It’s clear that they are poor. But, I learn so much from them as they generously share with me their tiny, fun personalities and laughter. Serving these communities helps me realize at the end of the day how lucky and blessed we are for the days we do have water and other little successes here, and for the life I have been privileged to live in the United States.
When I get home from my workday, I reflect on the day we just had. There are days where I feel a lot of anger, sadness and shock; other days are filled with success and joy. Either way my workday ends, it leaves me thankful for the way my life has been and wish we could do more for these families. It is hard for me to understand how at home in the United States, I can order a new pair of socks on Amazon Prime expecting them in the same day or the next without ever leaving the comfort of my bed, while these families walk miles to go to stores for basic necessities such as socks, water, food, school or any other thing you might think of. These people are working so hard just to live the simplest life. As my nights close with these new mind-boggling thoughts, they tend to end early as I go to sleep around 9:00 or 10:00 PM to be able to wake up to the parrot the next day, awaiting my next Bolivian adventure.

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.

"Be Alert!" Advent Reflection by Shaina Glasgow, Cap Corps Volunteer

CVN Blogger Feed - Sat, 12/02/2017 - 12:00pm

In this annual series, current and former volunteers reflect on the Advent Gospels and the Four Pillars of Faith-Based Service: Social Justice, Simplicity, Community and Spirituality. Presented by Catholic Apostolate Center and Catholic Volunteer Network.First Week of AdventReflection by: Shaina Glasgow, Capuchin Franciscan Volunteer Corps - Cap Corps
Jesus said to his disciples: "Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.”
In my current service placement in the Emergency Room at St. Vincent’s Charity Hospital, it is crucial to be alert and aware of your surroundings. There are indeed dull, lagging moments—but in less than two minutes you can have every room filled, EMS bringing in a full cardiac arrest, and a handful of patients streaming into the waiting room. If you aren’t aware of what is going on around you, it becomes difficult to jump in and assist fellow staff in caring for patients.
When reading this Sunday’s Gospel, I am reminded that this same awareness is crucial for growth in our personal relationship with Christ. It is important to be mindful of Christ’s presence in the midst of everyday busyness. If we are not watchful to the point of being expectant of an encounter with God, then it is easy to miss opportunities to deepen our relationship with Christ. 
Yet how can we listen to, or speak with, God amidst the craziness of our workday? Within each interaction we encounter with those around us lies an invitation from God. He may invite us to respond with love, compassion, gentle correction, understanding, or patience, for example. I believe the secret to becoming attentive to God’s voice is silence. In the mystery of silence, we become aware of the ever-present God and train our hearts to more easily recognize Him internally even when our external world is not silent. Prayer is a great way to practice silence. We can simply acknowledge that God is with us, and allow ourselves to rest in that—no thoughts, just us and God.
Focus on Social Justice: How can we use this awareness to better serve the poor or those in our community both this year and in the future? Many of us closely encounter populations (refugees, addicts, the homeless, etc.) that daily face the consequences of social injustice. It is important for us who serve these populations to be aware of the sociopolitical situations currently affecting their lives. If we choose to do this, to become educated about the ways others are underserved or mistreated, then we can become more attentive and sensitive to their physical and emotional needs. We may even become an example to our coworkers, or others, of how to better interact with and serve those who are often misunderstood in our society.
Service Suggestion: One important aspect of being watchful is to get rid of distractions. A practical way to do this, aside from prayer, could be to silence cell phones when at work. This is tough, especially if nothing particularly stimulating is happening. Instead, try to be alert and present. Ask your coworkers (or those you are serving) if you can do anything to help. Look around for little odd-jobs that sometimes get neglected (for example, cleaning up a messy area). Perhaps you can simply start a conversation with someone sitting or standing near you by asking “How is your day,” and genuinely listening to their response. You’ll get to know your coworkers and those you serve more intimately, and open a lot of doors for yourself (and others) to encounter Christ.
Prayer for Silence, by Thomas MertonLady, Queen of Heaven,pray me into solitude and silence and unity,that all my ways may be immaculate in God.Let me be content with whatever darkness surrounds me,finding him always by me, in his mercy.Let me keep silence in this world,except in so far as God wills and in the way he wills it.Let me at least disappear into the writing I do.It should mean nothing special to me,nor harm my recollection.The work could be a prayer;its results should not concern me.Amen.
- Shaina Glasgow
Looking for more reflections like this one? We invite you to download our Advent Reflection Guide in its entirety, available by clicking here. You can find an extensive library of Advent resources by visiting the Catholic Apostolate Center website - click here.

A Day in the Life: Melissa Feito - Loretto Volunteers

CVN Blogger Feed - Wed, 11/29/2017 - 4:57pm
Melissa 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 Melissa and her fellow Ambassadors over the course of their service year!

The famous green cabinets of the Junia House kitchen.

Our host Maureen, our senior producer Laura, and myself watching the solar eclipse on my very first day of work.

The view of our street from my bedroom, early in the morning.

Myself and my two housemates on a hike on our fall retreat day. That's not our dog, we just know the owner and took her with us. 
This is a screenshot of what this entire piece looks like on the software I used to make it. This is called a multitrack. Each little green box is a sound clip that I have isolated from all the tape I collected, labeled, and as you see have arranged into what you hear in the final piece. The zig-zag lines within each box are the volume levels which have to be manipulated. The first row is mostly dialogue, the second row is music and sound effects, and the third row is more music.The red needle down the middle marks where you are listening to the multitrack. Everything on the right hand side are all the files I've used in this multitrack.

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.

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