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Stories of service from Catholic Volunteer Network volunteers.
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Share Your Wisdom: Allison Reynolds - Good Shepherd Volunteers

Fri, 07/13/2018 - 11:07am
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. This is her last post as her volunteer year comes to a close - thank you for following Allie and her fellow Ambassadors over the course of their service year! 

What advice would I give to future full time volunteers? Simply: to keep an open mind, and to just love. 
First, keep an open mind. There are so many things that can happen to you within your year of service, so many new opportunities, so many new people you will meet, and different professional responsibilities will be expected of you during different times of your year. My advice during all these times is: do not be afraid, and be open to the new experiences being presented to you. You felt called to this position as a volunteer, and you were chosen to be part of your program for a reason. You must have faith in yourself that you can do anything that will be put in your path. All the challenges you will face is the best way you will grow throughout your entire year. 
This is an art project I did with my students at the Shelter!During my first year of volunteering I worked at the Good Shepherd Shelter for domestic violence as a teacher’s assistant. Then around two or three months into my year, our population of children had increased where they needed another teacher. They asked me if I would be willing to teach Language Arts for 4th and 5th grade. In my mind I was thinking how unprepared I felt - I was not trained for teaching! I was nervous, however, I felt it was a growing opportunity and I knew the Good Shepherd Shelter staff would be supporting me the whole time. It was well worth the risk, and now I know new skills such as lesson planning and grading. During these difficult and new times, always be willing to try new things with an open mind, and if you do not feel comfortable or do not like it, then at least you tried it!
This was a class we hosted for 100 women, and the main language spoken was Quechua. We had interpreters to help us with the language barrier. Secondly, Just Love. Just Love everyone you come across during your service year. Everyone you serve will have a story. All they will want from you is love and acceptance, which are two things they might not have had before coming to you. For example, during my second year of volunteer work I have lived in Sucre, Bolivia where the two main languages are Quechua and Spanish. Quechua, I do not understand at all. Spanish, I understand now, but at the beginning was quite difficult to find the words to express myself. During these times of communication difficulties I chose to smile, give hugs, handshakes, head nods, and say what I could to show them I valued them and was willing to help them. These little gestures of effort can make someone else feel loved and noticed, which is something I had to learn by not being able to talk. This part of my second year has proven to be a beautiful experience, my Bolivian clients and I come from very different cultures, however, we have been able to communicate through love.
Mr. Erik (my supervisor) and I in front of our newly made bulletin board for our shared classroom. In conclusion, Love where you work and Love your coworkers. Their constant support towards you will amaze you and make you very thankful.  Love the work you do, put forward all your efforts, thoughts, and ideas with confidence and take out as much positivity as you put in. Love everything you do and do your best not to have any regrets, as this experience working as a volunteer comes only once in a lifetime and you will miss it when it is over.

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.

Share Your Wisdom: Catherine Nguyen - St. Joseph Worker Program, Orange, CA

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 9:10am
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. This is her last post as her volunteer year comes to a close - thank you for following Catherine and her fellow Ambassadors over the course of their service year! 

All is Grace – The Gift of Presence

The photo is of the current St. Joseph Workers (in the back, from left to right - Katie, myself, Yadira, and Sarah), with (in the front) Sr. Joanna (program director), Fernanda (a 2016-2017 SJW), and Gena (a 2015-2016 SJW and current program manager).  We took this photo in October when we went to Northern California to visit the places where the CSJ sisters serve.   

As my service year comes to an end, I slowly realize how it will actually never end.  The spirit of the St. Joseph Worker Program, and all that I have received through it, has become a part of me that I will carry throughout my life.  Upon college graduation, our formal education in a school-setting ends, but the learning and growth in our area of expertise (and beyond) is a lifelong experience.  All of these moments are opportunities to explore the unknown and challenge ourselves to grow.  Thus, I am grateful for the experiences I have had in my year of service.  Whether it was a pleasant undertaking, or one that proved to be difficult and challenging, all is a grace from God and has helped transform me into the person I am today.  Through it all, this year has taught me to simply be present, and to embrace the present moment rather than dwelling in the past or worrying about the future.  It is in being present to my journey and those I have been blessed to encounter, that I am able to soak in all the graces God pours upon me.  

During my year of service, I am blessed to have the opportunity to begin my days with Jesus in the Holy Celebration of the Mass.  It is in this celebration, particularly the Celebration of the Eucharist, that resonates with my own journey in the St. Joseph Worker Program.  In my day-to-day ministry, I work with small groups of students who need more one-on-one instruction because of their different learning styles.  I also watch over all of the students during lunch and recess times, coach Decathlon, and remind track runners of how powerful the human will is.  Now it can seem almost mundane, if only looked at only from the surface.

So too, before consecration, the host is merely a wafer - so simple and insignificant.  Yet it is in the consecration, that we pray the words that implore the Holy Spirit to come down to transform the “wafer” and “wine” into the Real Presence of Jesus - The Body and Blood of Christ.  And so I’ve learned...Though the works I do at St. Anne and in other program activities are not too difficult nor have a major impact on the world as a whole, I strive to offer all my students and the works entrusted to me to God, so that He may sanctify them and fill in where I am lacking.  This has taught me to be free to serve without being so concerned about the results of my works. After all, it is not my work, but God’s work.  So trusting Him, I have learned to love and care more about my students’ growth in character and as beloved Children of God, rather than results such as passing and temporal grades (though education and knowledge are important).

In a year of service, it can get to a point when I feel so burned out that I wish to reserve my energy and focus solely on my own needs.  It is in these sometimes too often moments when I feel out-of-touch with my dear neighbors - be it my students, those experiencing homelessness in our neighborhoods, or even my SJWP community.  However, looking at Jesus, I see that He, in the most loving and compassionate way possible, always made Himself available to those in need - from the lepers to the tax collectors, from the crowds of 5,000 to the one woman at the well. And He still does make Himself available, especially in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist.  He says, “This is my Body…”  so to remind me of His sacrificial love for His Universal Body - the Church - the dear neighbors that are my own brothers and sisters.  Jesus as well says, “This is my Body, which will be given up for you.”  Following His example and invitation, I too experience “giving up” myself.  From the external comforts of being home with my family, having a salary, and focusing solely on my own needs and ambitions, to the internal comforts of following my own will...this year of service has allowed and nurtured within myself a more compassionate presence - a presence to the needs of others, a presence that is simply open and available.

It is in being broken, that I am able to be given out to others.  Therefore, perfection is not my goal, but rather to love as Jesus loves.  Despite my weaknesses and faults, God can still somehow use me as an instrument of His love, peace, and joy.  Being with the students at St. Anne’s has proven the fact that I am no savior.  I cannot magically make their struggles disappear, be it academics or familial.  However, I can journey with them by simply listening and being available when they need me.  Despite being an instructional aide, the irony is, I have learned and received much more from the teachers and students at St. Anne’s than I have given. In and through their sharings, and even from their smiles, everyone brings to life Christ’s unconditional love to me. The students are the image of what Scripture refers to when calling us to be like children - so pure and totally trusting and dependent on God the Father.

The word Eucharist literally means “thanksgiving,” and to live a Eucharistic life means to live with gratitude.  This year of service has taught me to always be present, being aware and responsive to God’s invitations through my dear neighbors.  In knowing that God is in all persons and situations, I am grateful for all the experiences and the graces received this year. I pray that imitating Jesus in the Eucharist, I may continue to give myself to the Church and to my dear neighbors, even in the most simple form of presence.  
 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.

Share Your Wisdom: Ada Lee - Vincentian Service Corps West - San Francisco, CA

Wed, 06/27/2018 - 10:23am
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. This is her last post as her volunteer year comes to a close - thank you for following Ada and her fellow Ambassadors over the course of their service year! 

My community members and I took a trip to Alcatraz and Angel Island last weekend. With the year winding down, we want to spend as much time together as possible! Trips like these are always special ways for us to bond and connect with each well as be a tourist in San Francisco!Dear future volunteer,
I know you’re probably having excitement and joy, but also doubts and worries as you contemplate the opportunity to serve. A little more than a year ago, I was in your position. In 2017, I would never have thought that I would be moving across the country, serving alongside incredible people, forming compassionate relationships with the marginalized of society, and living in intentional community. I had no idea how much I would change and grow as a person. I had no idea how much a year of service would change my life in all aspects.
Of course, there were times I struggled- and not just financially. There were moments I felt discouraged and had doubt in my faith or in the reason why I was placed here. There were instances of strife and trouble. But in the end, it has all been part of a greater journey of finding myself and being happy with who I’ve become.
And so, wide eyed and eager friend, here are three pieces of advice to take with you as you discern this amazing and life changing opportunity:
1) Dare yourself to use your faith in any and every way possible.
Before I embarked on my adventure with Vincentian Service Corps West, I struggled with my faith. I was unsure about where I was in my relationship with God. Going to church was the least priority in my mind, and I did not have a faith community with whom I felt comfortable. This year, I wanted a change and so I dared myself to try to see God in all aspects of my life.
The moment I let God become the main factor of my life, my eyes were opened and I started to sense His presence everywhere. I no longer see God only at church service. Now, I see God in the everyday, in every moment, and in every person. I see God in the people I’m serving- a God of mercy and truth. I see God in my community members and the support system I have developed here- a God of service. I see God in the moments of being happy and in the beautiful nature of San Francisco- a God of love. By opening myself to seeing God everywhere, I truly do see Him everywhere.
But I also see God in those not- so- nice moments. I see God with me as I struggled to connect with a person I was serving. I see God as I made the hard decision to switch service sites mid-year. I see God in the times my community members and I did not get along. Despite those moments being ones of difficulty, knowing I had God with me in each one gave me utmost inner peace and clarity.  I have been able to find God working in me- transforming my heart and molding me into the person I’m meant to be.
Future volunteer, I dare you to use your faith in every way possible. I dare you to see God in every moment, in every person, and in every day, too.

One of the biggest things I have learned through my time at The Epiphany Center is the power of compassion- for others and most importantly for myself. We all make mistakes and we all have struggles- we are only human and no one is perfect. To admit you are vulnerable and need help is one of the most empowering and bravest things you can do. We live in a time where we are often told that we must stay strong, we can’t express our feelings, and we need to hold in our emotions. The clients of The Epiphany Center have shown me that to admit you’re in need of help and to not be afraid to seek it, is one of the first steps in healing. The clients all have various backgrounds- many from trauma, self-doubt, and fear. But holding in these worries prohibit you from becoming your full, beautiful self. I have been touched by the determination of these clients. They express tenacity in becoming the best women they can be. They have forgiven themselves and learned from their mistakes to move on to become better people. 

Future volunteer, I ask you this: to above, all trust in the work of God (whether or not it is the pace we desire). Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, has said, “Give Our Lord the benefit of belief that His hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.” Believe that He is leading you in the right direction and see this as an opportunity to trust in your faith more.

2) The power of (self) compassion
Before I embarked on the adventure that is a year of service, I was facing a lot of personal issues. I felt lost and confused and unsure of the direction my life was going. This left me very frustrated. When it came time to move across the country and start over in a new city, I was hard on myself when I couldn’t automatically make new friends or get adjusted to the directions and finding my way around. I was living with new people I’ve never met before and readjusting the way I lived.
Forgiving yourself for the missteps in your life journey is the way to achieve your whole self. Taking it easy on yourself through the struggles that this year brings will allow you to see God in even the most difficult of moments. Future volunteer, I implore you to know that good things take time to come to fruition. The best is yet to come. Take it easy on yourself. That’s the best we can do in this one life we are given.
3) The courage of ‘letting go’- let go, let God
Before I went on the adventure that is living on the other side of the country, I found it hard to let things go. I used to keep every single paper I’ve ever received since 1st grade (really!). When my program informed me that I was only allowed to bring two suitcases and a bookbag to stay in solidarity with the act of living simply and with the people we were serving, I made the sporadic life-changing decision to live a life of minimalism. I thought to myself, “If I’m going to be living simply this year with the intent on it influencing my whole life, I might as well take the steps to make this happen.”
I donated 90% of my stuff to charity the summer before I left for California. This was the hardest, but first, step for me on this journey. I struggled, cried, complained about letting go of my possessions- to the point where my friends had to forcibly take things away from me. But once I let them go, a huge wave of relief settled over me. How much of those things that I owned affected a huge part of my life? By letting go of the material possessions that I once thought owned me, I was stripped down to my basic and simple core. Now, I can focus on myself and the work God has planned for me. Let go of the things weighing you down, of worldly items, and let God provide and work through you.
And so future volunteer, I end this letter with a choice at the crossroads of your destiny. The decision is yours now. The power to decide is at your fingertips. But whatever happens, I got your back. May God bless you on your decision.

Ada, a current volunteer with Vincentian Service Corps West, blogged  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.

Supper with Sisters: Melissa Feito - Loretto Volunteers, Washington DC

Wed, 05/30/2018 - 10:41am

With her signature humor, style, and spunk, Loretto Volunteer and Serving with Sisters Ambassador Melissa Fieto interviews Sr. Maureen Fiedler: “Sister of Loretto, tireless advocate for peace and equality, radio pioneer, author, political junkie, cat lover, gardener, diet cherry pepsi drinker, and founder of Interfaith Voices.” Enjoy this podcast, and stay tuned to hear more from Melissa and her fellow Ambassadors over the course of their service year! 

A poster of Sr. Maureen, the founder of Interfaith Voices who recently retired after 15 years on the air, watches over the staff and volunteers in the Interfaith Voices office.
Melissa (middle in tweed dress) and Sr. Maureen (right of Melissa in white shirt) at a recent event hosted by the Quixote Center, where Sr. Maureen used to work and where Interfaith Voices was born. 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.

“Compartir”: The Mission of the Church

Mon, 05/21/2018 - 6:00am
By Magdalene Van Roekel, Franciscan Mission Service

“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)Frequently in the bible, we read that we are all members of one body, making up the church in our world. We must work as one body, sharing as one large group, the church. Although I’ve heard and read this teaching several times, for most of my life I still saw the church as a building. Sadly, this imagery left me with gaps in my understanding which impacted my spiritual life.In Spanish, the word “compartir” means “to share.” One of the biggest impacts that mission and life in Bolivia has had on my spiritual life is the “compartir” culture. Not only do people share with their friends and the people they know well, but they share with everyone. I am currently serving as an overseas lay missioner at the Universidad Academica Campesina-Carmen Pampa (UAC). So far in my time here in Carmen Pampa, Bolivia, I have witnessed everyday acts of sharing. People don’t always have much, but they are always happy to share what they do have. On campus, students have shared their snacks with me. A student invited me to his home to share about Bolivian culture with me. Whenever students attend events and are asked why they chose to come, the resounding answer is simple: “compartir.” Their desire is to share.

I learned a great lesson on what it means to share while on a recent trip to a local town with a group of students in Pastoral, the campus ministry group at the UAC. It was a day full of activities to get to know one another: we played games, shared in music, celebrated mass, and ate wonderful food. I had a great time and really got to know some of the students better. I was amazed by the way that everyone shared their time and energy, even when it would have been easier to let someone else take charge. Because I was so amazed by all of the sharing, I was caught off-guard by a conversation that occurred a few days later at our Pastoral group meeting. The group leader asked each person to share a reflection about the trip.The first student to speak shared that she thought the trip had been “mas o menos”, “more or less.” I was a bit confused. As we continued around the circle, many people voiced similar thoughts. I was shocked that the trip I thought was so beautiful had left others feeling disappointed. Then someone started to go deeper: the reason many people had felt a little discouraged was because during most of the trip, people had been in separate groups—one group working on the cooking, one group singing, one group playing soccer. We hadn’t truly been sharing as one.

I thought back to what was the most powerful part of the trip to me, and I realized that it had been in mass. The church was small and made of cement. It had plain, cracked windows, and we sat in red plastic chairs. But during mass, we had all come together as one group to share in praise to God, to share in the word of God, and to share in the Eucharist. It had been so powerful because we were all there as one.I want you to close your eyes now and come up with an image of church. I’ll admit that every once in awhile, I’m still going to picture a building. This building may have the most pristine stained glass windows, with beautiful mahogany pews, and a perfectly polished tabernacle. But no matter how beautiful the building may be, this image still leaves gaps. Because no matter how many people are packed in that church, there are still hollow spaces when it is just a building.Like Jesus taught us, we are the church. As the church, it is our mission to act as the body of Christ here on earth. The truth is that we aren’t truly acting as the hands and feet of Christ until we use those limbs to reach out and share. And reaching out isn’t a task we were made to do on our own. Christ’s body was made to work as one unit. When we spread the gift of sharing as one people, we begin to  fill voids. The desire of my students to share and to work together as one community and one body has been such a powerful experience. I am still learning what it means to truly “compartir” each and every day. I’m learning how to see myself as a part of a larger, complete body. In embracing this life of sharing, I have found myself more deeply appreciating my time with others, as a part of God’s church, and so becoming closer to Him and to His people.
To learn more about service opportunities through Franciscan Mission Service, please click here.

Supper with Sisters: Allison Reynolds - Good Shepherd Volunteers

Wed, 05/09/2018 - 11:34am
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!

While living in Sucre, Bolivia I have adapted to a more closed-minded atmosphere than what I am used to, showing me how different parts of the world may think and act. However, Hermana Verónica (Sister Verónica) is a beautiful open-minded Bolivian soul who has allowed me to have someone to go to for guidance, advice, and faith, while working with oppressed communities in this culture. I appreciate her focus on life, and for that reason I chose to interview her about her ¨yes¨ to religious life and other aspects of becoming a Sister. 

Q: How was your childhood? Was it religious? How was your family?A: Hermana Verónica took her vows at the young age of 26; however, she explained to me that she felt spiritual, religious and the presence of God from the young age of 6. She knew she had this feeling, but could not completely understand it. When she received communion, there was no preparation and no schooling. Her church did offer preparations, but they felt the children did not want to understand or would not understand. So, she simply learned how to receive the Eucharist without any knowledge of why. As a little girl, however, Sr. Verónica felt God was speaking to her and could feel Him explaining to her why this sacrament was important. The story continues to her Confirmation, when she also did not feel prepared, but knew it was the right thing for her because God was telling her. She explained her purpose in life was to work for the love and strength of God - she felt she was put on this earth to fulfill His work. This became difficult for her because she grew up in a family which did not value religion, and they were not the ones influencing this value she had discovered on her own.Then, when Sr. Verónica was in high school, one of her cousins entered a convent. This particular convent would not let the women leave the building in which they stayed, only to pray all day. This knowledge of the convent life actually turned Sr. Verónica away from thinking that would be the life she wanted to live forever. However, because she had this idea of vocation in her mind and the lifestyle of prayer interested her, she was determined to discover more about religious life.Hermana Verónica pointing herself out in a photo of an old Good Shepherd Sisters reunion. Q: Did you ever date or have thoughts of marriage and children?A: After high school, Sr. Verónica became a first grade teacher. She met a friend there who she connected with, and her friend also felt the same strong religious experience she felt. One day she met a boy named Alberto, and she felt a strong connection to him. Her friend, however, warned her and told her if she went to parties with him until late at night, she would not be respecting her religious call. Sr. Verónica explained how she loved dancing (but never drinking), and felt a curiosity towards Alberto. She needed to discover for herself if a relationship with him was the right thing for the rest of her life. She and Alberto were together for three years before they had to move away from each other due to family reasons. They continued to write to each other, until their distance had grown strong and he started seeing another woman. At this moment Sr. Verónica said she needed to discover herself and continue discovering her religious journey.

Hermana Verónica with her community of Good Shepherd Sisters renewing her vows. Q: What did your parents and friends say when you decided to enter religious life? Were they proud? Worried?A: Since Sr. Verónica’s family was not as religious as she was, it came as a shock to them. When she explained to them that she would be leaving Alberto, they did not understand why. In their minds, he had been the perfect gentleman, provider, and was strong, loving, and caring towards her. Her mom, dad, and siblings could not understand how she would be leaving to discover religious life when she had, what they perceived as, a perfect future as a wife with Alberto. Sr. Verónica quickly became stern with them and explained how she felt this was right for her, even though it pained her to see how little support they offered her at the beginning and how sad they were to see her go.Hermana Verónica (right) with her community member Hermana Victoria, enjoying a United States Thanksgiving meal!Q: How were you first years in community life? What types of jobs did you have?A: Sr. Verónica described that, just like any community, there would always be differences in opinion while living with other people. I could resonate with this statement because living in community life as a volunteer, I understand what it feels like to have differences in opinion and having to compromise on how something should be done. She explained how their strong love towards God has always kept her and her community members close, and how beautiful it is to see each individual person create their own relationship with God. I believe this statement also relates to volunteer life because each individual volunteer is finding and creating their own journey through their volunteer experience. Watching your community member(s) grow spiritually, mentally, and physically, is one of the benefits of this experience.One of Sr. Verónica’s first jobs as a sister was working in a group home for adolescent girls who had recently been incarcerated. She was a supervisor of the Project, and helped the girls learn responsibility and life skills before they were immersed back into society. She continued this path by working with others in need throughout her life as a sister.

Hermana Verónica is a shining example of how to love all of God´s children. Her love for God is so strong, and she shows it in many different ways. She is always making me and my community member, Andrea Gaitan, laugh, smile, learn, and appreciate the little things in life worth having. She loves to dance and have fun, and whenever she gets the chance, she insists on giving us Bible Study lessons. Living and working with Sr. Verónica and the Sisters of The Good Shepherd has given me life long lessons and skills I will never forget. 

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.

The Ascension and Stepping into Service

Wed, 05/02/2018 - 6:00am
By Janice Smullen, Franciscan Mission Service

Dear future volunteer,

Each time I revisit the Ascension stories in the Gospels, I find numerous points that relate to mission and service. Throughout my own time on mission in Jamaica, I see similarities between these verses and my challenges and blessings in a daily life of service. I hope to offer encouragement to you, future volunteer, as you research and discern the many opportunities for service available to you.
“He rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart…”  (Mark 16:14)
My strongest prompt to mission came as I reflected on a painting of St. Francis gazing at the cross and being told to rebuild the church. The question written with the painting asked, “Am I willing to do God’s will?” For many years, I have read, heard, and tried to practice in small ways, the example of Jesus doing the “will of my Father,” and loving others as God loves me. Now I felt that God had put the nudge toward mission into my heart. Two years of overseas mission service seemed like a very big step into the unknown but I had the stories of Francis and many others as examples, and I felt that if I said “Yes,” God would enable me to shed my worries and, thus, soften my heart and make more room for his Grace! Future volunteer, God will do the same for you.
Mission has taught me to expect the unexpected and to trust in God’s plan. Though I was open to other ministries, there was a pretty high expectation at my future mission site that I would be helping in schools, and that is exactly where I found myself. My first classroom was noisy, chaotic, cramped, and undersupplied, but I found that I had the most difficulty countering the common teaching approaches, which I perceived as overly physical and sometimes belligerent. During the first days and weeks, it was very easy for me to get caught up in the prevalent practice of shouting, derision, and physically putting someone into their chair or the corner. I didn’t like myself doing that. Continually, readings in the Franciscan prayer book kept telling me that Peace IS the path. One time, a student told me that he didn’t like me putting him into his seat. The next day, I got down to his eye level and apologized to him. He listened, we hugged, and I felt that I was on my way toward a better practice. Future volunteer, are you ready to be stretched and molded according to God’s will?  

“The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.”  (Matthew 28:16)
I always notice the number eleven here; it is a particular mention to the fact that someone is missing. Dear future volunteer, are you worried about leaving your loved ones to do service? There are times when I am missing someone familiar from my table. It is different people at different times and my heart misses them. The last phrase—”to which Jesus had ordered them”—strikes me as being particularly relevant to mission and service. What are Jesus’ orders? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, go and make disciples of all nations. Mission is an opportunity to do just that. My heart believes that God does and will take care of me while on mission, and the Almighty and Universal God is also able to care for my loved ones even when they are on a different continent!
“He led them out to Bethany...They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy and they were continually in the temple praising God.” (Luke 24:50-53)  
Dear future volunteer, as you discern your service, there is great help to be found in being “continually in the temple praising God.” I couldn’t have made my decision for mission without some serious prayer and reflection. The question of “Is this really God’s will?” was a focus for my Lenten prayer before I began my time of service. Contemplative silence and guidance from trusted friends helped me to find peace in the answer to that prayer. This ending of Luke’s Gospel account shows the disciples returning to the Temple, and I have reflected on how this seems to be the strength they needed before departing to their ministries that are recounted in Acts.

“Jesus came and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” (John 20:19; 21:22)  
Ahhh, my prayers were voiced and answered; my heart found peace, and my decision for mission was made. In John’s Gospel, Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. In the next chapter, I see another of my tendencies:  my desire to get a quick summation of God’s plan.  Peter wants to know about the future for the Beloved disciple…(nudge, nudge, wink, wink) and he is gently reminded by Jesus, “What concern is it of yours? You follow me.”  
The disciples encounter the resurrected Jesus in their everyday lives while fishing, walking, eating, and interacting with others. As my mission time unfolds, I also see Jesus in everyday life.

I see him in the faith voiced in the locals that I meet and in new forms of singing and praise. I feel discouragement at the discrepancy of incomes and lack of faith just as Jesus felt while gazing at Jerusalem. I marvel to see God’s hand in creation as I walk by household gardens or explore the hills. And, like the disciples, I see Jesus working through me, giving me a stronger dependence on prayer as I realize that I will not be able to fix systemic problems, and a stronger sense of humility as I realize that I am an outsider here, but I truly have been sent by God.  
Jesus ascended and asked his disciples to go and teach all nations. Mission service makes us a viable part of that eternal and mystical plan. Jesus may have disappeared into the clouds, but we are able to make his presence real today.
I really think that He was having a good chuckle as He ascended. He knew how much mission would change us!
Dear future volunteer, are you ready to be changed?
To learn more about service opportunities through Franciscan Mission Service, please click here.

Supper with Sisters: Jessica Vozella - St. Joseph Worker Program - Los Angeles, CA

Wed, 04/25/2018 - 8:56am
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!

When Sister Claire and I sat down for lunch, her first comment to me was “I was thinking about this and I don’t know why you asked me about my story, I don’t really have much of one.” I was a little caught off guard because I knew that her statement was the furthest thing from the truth. After working at St. Joseph Center for 8 months, I knew that everyone has a story that is intricate and interesting, even if they don’t see it that way. I had asked Sr. Claire to share her story because I was already captivated by the person she is now and was curious about the journey that brought her here.
I also came to this lunch and interview with the new understanding that though she answered yes to a different call than I have, there is much less that separates me from Sr. Claire than originally perceived because of her vocation as a sister. This shift in perspective is exciting because it allowed my conversation with Sr. Claire and her story to have an impact and wisdom for me, even though religious life has not been part of my discernment journey.
How the Call Came
Like many of the sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet that I have met this year, Sr. Claire entered the convent right out of high school, at 18 years old. When she recalled her discernment and decision to enter religious life, Sr. Claire described the influence of the sisters who taught in her school. Listening to her describe her draw to the sisters was incredible, as she was almost in awe of how they cared for others and exuded a sense of love for God and neighbor. What was beautiful to hear was her certainty that these were the women that influenced her life trajectory. She knew she wanted to be like them. This yes to religious life sounded as if it was a given as Sr. Claire described her decision and that of some of her friends to enter the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, while other friends went off to college, business school or got married.  Career options for young women at that time were limited, including women religious. Most religious communities were involved in health care and education. This was fine for Sr. Claire who always thought she would be a teacher. Education turned out to be a lifelong career, as she served children, families and the church.    
What struck me about Sr. Claire’s call is that it didn’t present itself as a huge decision about which she had to fight back and forth with herself, or that she resented before accepting, or something she saw as particularly profound. I found comfort in the simplicity of her decision, knowing that not all vocations are found so easily, but that some are as simple as following the desires of your heart. Furthermore, the beauty with which she regarded the sisters and their vocations inspired me; it was beautiful to hear her tell me that she just wanted to be like these women who were embodying their faith and love for God by serving the world. 

Sr. Claire (seated, second from the right) and other members of the Board of the St. Joseph Worker program.Challenges to the Call
Though the call and yes to her vocation were easily distinguishable and accepted by her, Sr. Claire’s family found her vocation a little harder to embrace. Their only daughter and one of their only two children, Sr. Claire’s parents did not completely eschew her desire to become a sister, but they were not as thrilled as she seemed to be. This was challenging for Sr. Claire, especially her father’s hesitation at her decision. However, with a strength that inspires me, she knew that what she was doing was the right thing, and pushed past the challenge this reception presented.
When I asked Sr. Claire about other challenges she was faced with, she told me of times where she had to reaffirm her “yes” to God despite frustrations and uncertainties. One of the first things that presented itself as a challenge was the change in lifestyle being a woman religious presented especially during the formation period –“ learning to become a nun.” With relatively little socializing,  especially with the outside world, was a drastic change in the way Sr. Claire lived her life. Being separated from friends was challenging, and there were some tough days on her journey, especially at the beginning. Despite these valleys, striking was the sureness Sr. Claire felt about her decision; “not once did I think about leaving.”
As Sr. Claire journeyed through life as a Sister of St Joseph, she held fast to her trust in God, enduring the tests that time and life brought to her. A relatable and very human challenge she spoke about was watching many of her friends get married and start families. She spoke of watching those on different life paths with less of a longing and more of an appreciation, yet openly noted that she wondered what her life would have been like had she chosen a different path-especially to be a wife, mom and grandmother. Yet recognizing the woman she is today is due to all the experiences, opportunities, people she has encountered as a Sister of St. Joseph.  I admired her acknowledgement of these wonderings and her vulnerability in talking about what might have been, as I can relate already to deal with the different life directions my friends and I have taken.
I asked specifically if there had been any times in Sr. Claire’s journey in religious life when her “yes” became strained and she graciously opened herself up to me in sharing a particularly hard time. She had been teaching at a school in a small farming town with three other sisters – involved with the school families, participating in parish life and active in the civic community. As she was happily living in this farming community, she unexpectedly received word that the sisters had to withdraw from the school. Alternatives they presented were not an option; the decision had been made. Sr. Claire recalls asking God why this would happen. That vulnerability and questioning before God struck me as relatable; if nothing else, I can relate to thinking you’ve got it all worked out and you are happy only for things to change. I appreciated hearing Sr. Claire speak of this disappointment and questioning, while holding steadfast to her certainty of her decision and in God.

Sisters and St. Joseph Worker at the St. Joseph Worker Program opening retreat,
featuring Sr. Claire closest to the camera!Lessons in Discernment and Vocation
Listening to Sr. Claire was a wonderful opportunity for me to simply ask more and intently listen to the life story of someone I have had the opportunity of getting to know over the past few months. What struck me the most about this experience was the lessons and wisdom she knowingly or unknowingly imparted on me and the impact her words have on my current journey through my year of service. Sr. Claire’s discernment and yes to vocation looks differently than the discernment I find myself in, but her feelings and understanding of how God speaks to her resonates with me. Hearing the joy and desire for the sisters that Sr. Claire felt as a high school student reminds me to pay attention to the great joys in my life, where they are directed, and where they are directing. She teaches me, through her past and present, to hear God in a way that isn’t only through silent prayer and reflection, but also in the busyness and explosive aliveness of our everyday. 
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.

The Visitation

Tue, 04/24/2018 - 6:00am
By Catherine Hope Sullivan, Franciscan Mission Service

My morning began the same way it usually does - I entered the large green metal doors of the women’s prison, said good morning to the familiar female guards, went through the various security measures, and walked into the main entrance.
The prison opens into a large concrete courtyard that is usually full of drying laundry hanging from various levels of clotheslines. On the main floor of the courtyard, there are many small stoves plugged into the walls that serve as cafes—providing teas, coffees, and food for one boliviano (~14 cents)—all run by inmates. Many of my days in the prison are spent here, just chatting with friends over tea and bread. On the second and third levels are small concrete rooms for women who can afford to pay for their own cell, since in Bolivia men and women in prison have to pay for their own room and board. On the third floor, there are also a few small classrooms and recreational rooms.
This particular Friday things were different than usual. There was a buzz of excitement in the air--a sense of expectation. In the prison courtyard, the laundry lines had been moved to make room for a table draped with a golden cloth, adorned with red flowers. I was curious, but quickly fell into conversation with a friend as we walked to the classroom together.

Waiting was a group of friends ready for our Friday reflection. Many of these women have been incarcerated for reasons of sheer poverty due to an unjust system: they are imprisoned for unpaid debts despite constantly working and raising young children. Even in the prisons, they have to pay for their room and board. We had a fruitful discussion about injustices pertaining to women’s rights—most of these women are dealing with sexual violence trauma, not to mention separation from their families, unfair labor laws, and much more. We had a lively and passionate conversation; clearly, the buzz that I had felt upon arriving had followed us into this room.
After the group discussion had finished, one of my friends, Marta, and I began to talk one-on-one. She had been having a very difficult time, not having seen her sons in months. She told me that the only good thing that came out of her time in the prison was that she had found God. She explained that people accused her of only turning to God in desperation, of needing to believe in something when surrounded by such difficulty. Rather, she had explained, it was because she had hit rock-bottom, and when nothing else was there to distract her from the foundational truth and life’s profundities, she saw very clearly that God was there—in the simplest, loneliest levels of human need, human dignity, and life. She began to laugh about how perfect it was that such a hard day fell on the same day the Virgenwas coming. Suddenly, the pieces came together—the set-up downstairs, the excitement in the air—a statue of the Virgin Mary was on its way.

This was no ordinary statue - it was the Virgen María de Urkupiña- the apparition of Mary that appeared to a poor shepherd girl upon a hillside just outside of the city of Cochabamba. Every year a large festival is held in her honor. Because of Pope Francis’ very intentional visit to the prison when he was in Bolivia, it was decided that the statue of the Virgenwould be carried to each of the prisons of Cochabamba, before being placed on display for the festival.
We walked back to the courtyard just as women were beginning to gather, rosaries clenched in their hands. White handkerchiefs and candles were distributed, as well as sheets of song lyrics. The women, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, stood waiting and craning their necks to catch the first glimpse of Our Lady. Finally, she entered, carried on the shoulders of military men, followed by priests and government officials. The women only had eyes for her. She was beautiful, wearing bright white garments, a sash of the Bolivian flag, and a lace veil over her sleek black hair. She was holding the Christ child in her left hand and a crown of gold in her right. A large halo encircled her body, and luminescent sun rays reflected off of its surface. Many of the women broke into tears, waving the white cloths above their heads and singing with passion in their voices.
One by one, the women went to touch the Virgen, reverence and understanding in each caress, leaving their prayers at the feet Our Lady. Among them was Marta, holding her rosary tightly to her heart and  looking into the face of Mary. Here with these women and their rock-bottom faith, in this prison—this is consistently where I find Christ the Redeemer and the accompanist.
These are women who fight to wake up in the morning, women who are dealing with separation from family, sexual assault, PTSD, poverty, depression, debt, loss, and much more. And here, before them, was a statue of a woman who had lived in such systems of injustice, such poverty, had seen such loss, had wept for her child, had borne the weight of true suffering. Here she was, holy and glorified, entering their rock-bottom, their hell, and standing with them in love and solidarity.
To learn more about service opportunities through Franciscan Mission Service, please click here.

I Chose Service: Josh Maxey serving with Franciscan Mission Service

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 5:17pm
Name: Josh MaxeyVolunteer Program: Franciscan Mission Service, DC Service Corps 15’-16’Service Site: Street Sense Media, Washington, DCHometown: Rochester, NYCollege: Saint Bonaventure University, Political Science major
1. How did you first learn about post-graduate service? I first learned about post-graduate service through Saint Bonaventure’s Center for Social Concern. My junior year of college, the Director of the Center for Social Concern asked me if I had ever considered doing a year of service. While I attended St. Bonaventure, I was very active in Campus Ministries and volunteering with the local community.
2. What other options were available to you, and why did you decide on your service program? I always knew I wanted to end up in Washington, DC after graduation, but I didn’t exactly know where I wanted to work. I thought about getting an internship on Capitol Hill, and looking for work at different non-profits. I eventually came to the conclusion that taking a year to really give of myself and learn more about life outside of my comfort zone was the best approach. Prior to my service year, the one thing that always surprised me about Washington, DC, is the amount of people living without adequate housing, and living on the streets. I knew I wanted to help, and learn more about this epidemic that seems to be plaguing America, especially youth.
3. Tell us about your service experience. My service site was a program called Street Sense Media. Street Sense is a nonprofit organization that  “creates content in print, film, theater, photography, audio, illustration and more, all for the purpose of providing economic opportunity for and elevating the voices of people experiencing homelessness.” During my year, I served as the Vendor Manger. As the Vendor Manager, I was the primary contact for the homeless individuals in the program, helping to set up both programs, as well as working with our staff social worker.
4. What benefits have you gained from this experience that you might not have received otherwise? From my time volunteering, I have learned so much about myself, and the type of person that I would like to become. I learned skills about event planning, nonprofit management, and the systemic issues affecting those in homelessness. Living in an intentional community also taught me the value of relationships.

5. What advice would you share with someone who was considering faith-based service? For anyone that is considering a faith-based organization, I would suggest that you take your time and really find the program that will be the best fit for you. Look at their website; reach out to former program volunteers if you are able. This way, your year of service will not only be about you helping other people, but your personal growth as well.
To learn more about post-grad service opportunities, check out our RESPONSE directory, listing thousands of opportunities across the United States and abroad.

Supper with Sisters: Catherine Nguyen - St. Joseph Worker Program, Orange, CA

Wed, 04/11/2018 - 12:29pm
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!
Fiat - A Sister's "YES" to God's Call

In this podcast, Catherine interviews Sr. Katherine "Kit" Gray about her calling to the vocation of religious life. 
            In the months of serving with the St. Joseph Worker Program, I have been graced with the presence of the religious Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange (CSJ).  The sisters have exemplified the beauty of religious life in the way they each uniquely live out their congregation’s mission.  As advocates of social justice, the sisters are proactively present in the local communities where they reside, to be with and for our dear neighbors.  However, their charism is not kept to themselves; they desire, and have succeeded, in extending their mission to other laity who partake in it. 
I am always in awe when I learn about the history of the CSJ Sisters and the impact they have had in their local communities.  For example, here in Orange County, St. Joseph Hospital is a renowned health-care facility.  Founded by the CSJ Sisters in 1920, the original St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka, CA has extended throughout the nation.  In order to sustain and continue the legacy of the CSJ Sisters, those who work in such facilities are also called to take on the mission of the sisters and make it their own. 
            Through the St. Joseph Worker Program, I have encountered many CSJ sisters who have taught me the meaning of humility and compassion.  I have found that humility and compassion are indispensable in the ministry of healing and reconciliation, which is the charism of the sisters.  Humility has allowed me to be free from controlling situations and the results of my work, thus entrusting all to God and His Providence.  In humbling myself, I am more disposed to embrace Christ’s Presence in others, and desire their good, rather than focusing on myself.  Compassion towards others is rooted in self-compassion.  In knowing myself and my own needs, I have found a balance to meet those needs while also ministering to the needs of those around me.  Seeing not merely with my eyes, but with my heart, I have learned the art of loving the human person and the sacredness they embody.   
As each sister has their unique ministry, each also models the different ways of saying “yes” to the Lord and His invitations.  In this podcast, Sr. Katherine ‘Kit’ Gray shares with us her own “yes” to God and how she lives out her vocation as a Bride of Christ.      

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.

There is no Greater Medicine than Compassion

Tue, 04/10/2018 - 6:00am
By Nritya Venkat Ramani, Good Shepherd Volunteers.

Compassion. Often I have come across this word, be it in sermons, in ancient scriptures, in NGOs, or in casual banter. But what is compassion? What does it truly mean to be a compassionate individual? The guidelines for compassion are dictated by many factors such as individual personality, religion, culture, language, literature, music, arts, and many others.
Compassion has been the driving force behind my passion for social justice. Though it can be frustrating, demanding if not downright depressing, the need to do right overpowers all other emotions. I am inspired by Edmund Burke, an Irish statesman, who actively criticized the British treatment of the American colonies and supported the American Revolution. His most famous words are:
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
Doing nothing is the death of compassion. The pull of despondency and inaction is strong, and yet we must not give in if our societies are to remain at all compassionate. This is where my year of service as a Good Shepherd Volunteer (GSV) played a vital role.

My volunteer posting was at Euphrasian Residence, an in- house facility for girls coming through human trafficking, gang activity, juvenile prison and the foster care system. On my very first day on the site, my supervisor assured me that if I could work in Euphrasian, I could pretty much work anywhere in the world. This was not going to be easy. Having been denied a foundation of concrete values and a stable childhood, the young women took a toll on the staff with their emotional outbursts and disorderly conduct. Sometimes I wondered what I was doing here, and why I was putting myself through this. While some of my college mates were in graduate school, an internship or an actual job, here I was waking unruly teenagers up for school, getting sworn at, and breaking up fights during lunch. This was not what I imagined my Manhattan 'high life' to be. But isn't that what compassion is all about? Pushing those boundaries beyond your comfort zone to go where others don't tread? Yes, it's uncomfortable and challenging, but I became stronger and resilient because of it. It made me appreciate the true value of compassion in our lives, especially during infancy and childhood. Compassion builds trust, something these young women struggled with. For once they trusted me; they showed a kind of raw love and fierce loyalty which was different and touching. It was why after my GSV experience, I continued to work with at- risk youth at The Door, FEGS, and most recently, The Refugee Youth Project.
Being an active advocate for interfaith dialogue and having committed to similar forums, I am convinced that service compels us to dive deep into our spirituality and explore what God expects of us. It is not the mere regurgitation of scripture or ritualistic practices that lift up our souls. It is only through the deliverance of other living beings, that we can redeem ourselves. Many have asked why a Hindu girl works so willingly in Christian- based volunteer missions. The answer is very simple. We will all be judged not by the earthly labels we impose on one and another, but by the service we have rendered to this world. That and that alone is where I draw my faith from. This sentiment was echoed in one of the GSV retreats, where each volunteer had a private spiritual session with one of the Sisters. When it was my turn, I was directed to pull out a stone from a bag filled with many colored stones. The one I picked out had the word 'Faith' inscribed on it. I still remember the words the Sister said to me:
"Of all the volunteers who came in, it is unusual that the only non- Christian should receive the Faith stone. You will draw your courage from your faith. And others will draw their courage from you."

Those words couldn't have resonated more. A few years later, I lost my only sister to cancer. It was a period of such darkness, where sometimes I wondered if there was any light at all. Supporting my parents and preserving my own inner peace became increasingly turbulent. I know that if it were not for my strong faith in service and God, my family may have never bounced back from this tragedy. By enrolling in NGO work in India as well as practicing mantra meditation and congregational worship, my family was able to heal themselves.  While this may seem miraculous, the medicine is there in plain sight. There is no greater medicine than compassion, for in healing others you heal yourself.
I believe that there are different forms of compassion. Some people are compassionate because the recipient is a loved one or someone they care deeply about. Some are compassionate about certain issues because of past experiences or community spirit. And yet, some others are compassionate because they are inspired by faith and spiritual rewards. Finally, there are the ones who are compassionate because of a higher calling that is to love for love's sake only.  My year of service as a Good Shepherd Volunteer allowed me to introspect and define what compassion meant to me.  During this process I met incredible people from all walks of life, most of who I still remain connected. By exploring their views and experiences, my compassion has developed profoundly. Compassion in its loftiest form calls for complete relinquishing of ego. One can only truly serve when one harbors no judgment, no fears and no desires. I hope to reach that form one day.
To learn more about service opportunities through Good Shepherd Volunteers, Please click here.

Final thoughts after one year of service

Tue, 04/03/2018 - 6:00am
By Christian Ruehling, VIDES USA

Time flies. At least, that is what most people would say. But for me, it did not.My year of service was slow, but I am OK with that. The year never seemed to end, but I appreciated that I had more time to enjoy the year and to do the work that I set out to accomplish.The first half of the year certainly felt slower in Ethiopia, which had more to do with the fact that I was not living in a society connected to 24-hour news cycles, instant access to communications, deadline-driven environments, and so forth. I learned to enjoy time at a slower rate than usual, which allowed me to reflect on the community I was living in.
My favorite memory of Ethiopia was the smiles of the children, adolescents and young adults whom I taught and worked with in Dilla. Their smiles and infectious laughs reminded me that we can be happy regardless of how much or how little we have.I also learned that being a teacher is no easy job, and I congratulate all the teachers who are able to go day in and day out to work with many children and help them develop into our future generation. You cannot imagine how many times I was in front of the classroom, thinking, "How am I going to get through this class?" But I managed to get their attention, get through the class and have fun, as well.Often, I would think about my old teachers, and I finally understand how they must have felt since I was now standing in their shoes. So while it was a challenging role, I enjoyed using my mind in a different, creative way and channeling my energy to doing something more creative and hopefully rewarding for my students.
My visit to Rome over the summer to attend the VIDES conference was special because not only was it my first time in the city, but it also connected me with many other VIDES volunteers of different cultures, backgrounds and ethnicities. We all had one thing in common, and that was our desire to help children and adolescents through the Salesian family spirit.Going to Rome after my sojourn in Ethiopia was also a good segue for the second part of my journey in Geneva. In the "city of peace," I admired how others dedicated their lives to promoting human rights, but I was also dismayed that in this day and age, humanity has not yet reached a point of maturity in which we can respect the rights of others to live peacefully without the feeling of being threatened or insecure.I am also grateful that I was exposed to the theme of unaccompanied migrant children, which somehow wove itself through my year of service. It started in San Antonio, where we spent time with adolescents who crossed the border from Mexico and other Central American countries.
In Rome, my VIDES colleague and I co-presented on this topic at VIDES' XI international conference. The presentation focused on children migrating from Central America and what programs VIDES and the Salesian sisters were doing to ensure that they receive proper treatment: health, education, and security.Finally, in Geneva, I delivered an oral statement on this topic at one of the U.N. Human Rights Council sessions. I also wrote a report on the global issue of unaccompanied migrant children for our human rights office because Salesian sisters work with these children and adolescents on a regular basis in their missions across Africa, India, Latin America and Southeast Asia.These children are a vulnerable segment of our society that need help from our communities to feel safe and integrated. Our actions toward them make an indelible mark at their age and could set a positive or negative course for the rest of their lives.When I sought out this journey, I am glad I pushed myself out of my comfort zone to see what life was like outside of my own Western world. It made me appreciate that life is so much different in other countries than what I was used to. It was also amazing to see the good that is being done by others, whether they are missionaries, teachers, volunteers, or NGO workers for the betterment of the communities that they work in.
There is much going on out there, and people need help. And not just the monetary kind, but also old-fashioned human interaction: a hand to lift, a mind to grow, a body to heal and a spirit to nourish.More importantly, I am glad I made this experience through VIDES and that I was exposed to the world of the Salesian sisters. Every community that I passed through received me with warmth, care, spiritual healing and a good plate of food.But more importantly, I learned a lot from the sisters who have dedicated their lives to helping children who are poor, marginalized, lacking in a proper education and do a lot to break the vicious cycle of poverty they live in. Every sister I met had an interesting story to tell about the lives they touched and the challenges they faced, but they all carried the spiritual adversity to continue on their mission, no matter the odds. I only wish that my heart had been touched by the Salesian spirit at an earlier age, but at least I am satisfied with the experience and knowledge that this journey brought me and with which I can carry forth in the years ahead.
To learn more about service opportunities through VIDES USA, Please Click here.

The Resurrection of the Lord Reflection by Bekah Fulton

Mon, 04/02/2018 - 9:00am

Lenten Reflections to support your spiritual journey over these forty days - brought to you by Catholic Volunteer Network and the Catholic Apostolate Center.
The Resurrection of the Lord Reflectionby Bekah Fultonformer Intern with The Sojourners Internship Program 
“He has been raised; He is not here.”(Mark 16:1-7)
For most of my life I have struggled to get up early. I do not have an inherent disposition to mornings, but waking up before 7 a.m. has never sounded good to me. However, I have recently felt like I might be missing out on something by only ever waking up to fulfill a responsibility. Unless my commitments are tied to another person or work, it is hard for me to get out of bed, whether that is for myself, or worse, for God. 

So as I meditate on the passage in Mark 16, which depicts the fervent passion Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Salome had for Jesus, I feel convicted. Rising early, they rushed to serve Jesus with spices and burial rituals, completely forgetting to consider how they would get past the behemoth boulder standing firm between Jesus and the rest of the world. How often do I let the boulders in my own story quarantine my zeal for serving Jesus? How often do I sleep in just because I don’t have a “plan”? 

One thing I have learned in my 22 years, and will most likely continue to learn, is that confidence in Christ – “the riches of assured understanding” (Colossians 2:2) – is strengthened in situations contradictory to the plans I make for myself.

Focus on: Community
In addition, these women are an example for me in my own community. Even in their service and dedication, they were surprised when Jesus was no longer in the tomb. Yet instead of remaining in awe, they were commanded to “go and tell.” We are called to be witnesses and servants of the Good News, not spectators. This passage reminds me not to be shocked by the work of God when we gather in community to serve the Lord and to trust in the promises of God!

Lord, I pray for the energy and discipline to rise early and lean in, with anticipation, to the work you have prepared for me. May I not become disheartened by the boulders I cannot see around or the plans that don’t seem to come together. I pray you soften my heart to trust in your promises and to rejoice through word and deed as I heed your command to “go and tell” of your great works. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Service Suggestion:
Similar to a budget, how we spend our days and who we give our time to is a declaration of our faith. As an act of service, give the Spirit space to move. Whether this requires an earlier start to your day or a portion of it to be left unscheduled, join me as I work to center Christ in my life!

About the Author:
Bekah Fulton is from Cypress, Texas, a graduate of Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, and currently a part of the 2017-2018 Sojourners Internship Program in Washington, D.C. She has developed a recent love for science fiction, likes to collects fridge magnets, and enjoys dabbling with various artistic mediums.

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.

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

Wed, 03/28/2018 - 11:55am

Ada is one of five CVN Serving with Sisters Ambassadors – volunteers sharing the joy, energy, and fulfillment of serving alongside Catholic Sisters in CVN member programs, through creative reflection, conversation, and experience. Enjoy this post, and stay tuned to hear more from Ada and her fellow Ambassadors over the course of their service year! 

At first glance, an outsider could say that Sister Barbara and I have nothing in common. We differ in aesthetics, demographics, interests, and preferences. So one might inquire, how can we learn from each other? I met up with Sister Barbara at a diner on the outskirts of Daly City for an informational conversation as hearty as the meal. In retrospect, it is our differences that brought us together and allowed us to share our religious journeys with each other.
Sister Barbara was born into a religious home with Catholic parents and was born and raised into the faith. She knew from the early age of 7 or 8 that she wanted to dedicate her life to God. She worked alongside Mexican Americans in poverty in San Antonio. She spent 42 years in Taiwan serving refugee families who fled communist China. This experience allowed her to immerse herself into the culture and learn the different Mandarin dialects.
I was not born into a religious home. My parents were not Catholic and going to church was always seen as a secondary task. I did not know what I wanted to do with my life at 7 or 8 years old, never even considering dedicating it to the church and to God. I’ve been to San Antonio once in my life- not to serve those in poverty, but to eat Mexican food and Texan barbecue. I spent 42 days in Taiwan in an attempt to learn Mandarin Chinese, only to be thwarted by distractions of friends, social events, and tourism.
It appears that we have nothing in common. Yet, we are alike. We are similar in that we are both on a never-ending journey of seeing God in every person and in every life moment. Our faith journeys have followed different paths of living simply with humility, intentional community living, and serving the poor of our society. But they both have the same destination: growing closer in our relationship with God.
Simplicity and Humility
When Sister Barbara was seven years old, a priest told her that she would “look nice in a habit.” This inspired her to think about pursuing the religious life. She didn’t fully do so until after she finished nursing school and she was able to discern with the help and encouragement of the Sisters and priests. She says, “I felt that God was speaking to me through other people who could see I had a vocation.”

I never thought I looked nice in a habit. At seven years old, I would never have thought I’d be dedicating my life to service. However, through my experience this year, I could feel God speaking to me through the people I am serving. He is saying that my passion is helping others be the best they can be- and I’m inspired now to live that goal to the fullest, no matter where life takes me upon completion of this service year.
Sister Barbara and I are living with humility and simplicity to God. We are actively choosing not to focus on the extraneous things of life, rather to dedicate our extra time to serving others, our community and to Him. We are choosing not to let money get in the way of forming compassionate relationships with others. Most importantly, we are choosing to “Let go, let God.” We both never thought we would be where we are now, but life has humbled us enough to let God guide our way and to listen to wherever He wants us to be. Living a humble life- for myself and for others- has simplified my relationship to Him. I feel closer to God now more than ever before.
Community Living
Sister Barbara has lived in community longer than I have been alive. She has truly seen it all- the qualms, highs, and lows of her community members. She regards her community as “one with its own characters and personalities.” Likewise, I also live in a community filled with different interests and passions. I’m more willing to go out and explore on weeknights, while my community members are more likely to stay in. The differences we have in what we do with our time does not make one better or worse than the other. Rather, it meshes together as one large, dysfunctional functioning family.
I, as Sister Barbara would say, “would not want to live alone….for I would not be able to accomplish, for Christ, what I want to accomplish.” Though our communities are filled with different people of various generations and backgrounds, we all have the same formation-  learning to imitate Christ by serving Him as St. Vincent and St. Louise envisioned the service of the poor.  Sister Barbara says that “no matter where we go in the world, we find that Sisters will support each other in their life of serving the poor and in praying together.” I have learned that my community has made me stronger- in my faith, in my emotions, in the belief of myself and my abilities. We have had our ups and downs, but we are bonded by the respect we have for each other and the people we serve, as well as for our love of Christ. This bond keeps us together and holds us up. Sister Barbara and I and our communities are united by our common vision.
Left: My community attended the Religious Education Conference in Anaheim. It is the largest congregation of Catholics in America! It was a fantastic weekend of speakers, lectures, and prayers. Here we are outside the Anaheim Convention Center. Right: Of course, when you're in Anaheim, you got to go to Disney! Here we are posing with Queen Elsa.Serving the Poor
Sister Barbara served the poor in Taiwan for 42 years. She served refugee families fleeing communist China, people who lived in conditions of imprisonment, mistreatment and filth. She claims it as “the most powerful impact” on her life as a Daughter of Charity. “I would return home at night with the thought of those poor people living in such conditions where they were so helpless.  I was so comfortable in my own room and among companions who were so accepting and solicitous of my needs.  The helplessness of removing them from such a situation when compared to the life I lived, made me ask God how I was granted the life of such comfort and freedom from fear and abuse.”
This year, I am serving women and children afflicted by drug and alcohol abuse. These women have had traumatic backgrounds and have either been formerly incarcerated and/ or homeless. For them, returning home to a residence that is comfortable, accepting, and solicitous of their needs gives them hope. They no longer want to go back to the streets or the situation their lives were in before. It prompts me to ask God how I can help them build a life free from fear and abuse.
Both Sister Barbara and I are serving the poor. This doesn’t necessarily mean poor in monetary standards, but poor in spirit and faith. As Mother Teresa once said, “We think sometimes that poverty is only being naked, hungry, and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for is the greatest poverty.” The Daughters of Charity look forward to serving the very poor since their vocation and community is essentially for that purpose.  As a Vincentian volunteer, I call on that same purpose as well. St. Vincent taught us that if we go to serve the poor ten times a day, we have served Jesus ten times a day because we should see Him in the poor.
I concluded my time with Sister Barbara by asking her what advice she would like to give me before we parted ways.  She said:
As a young volunteer, you already have a sense of responsibility of helping less fortunate persons.  I would advise you to continue that spirit and deepen this practice no matter where God leads you.  See God in your spouse, your children, your co-workers, those who serve you at McDonalds or Walmart or carry your garbage away.  Every one of those persons is Christ and how you treat them, you treat Christ.  If you act in this way, you have begun to bring peace to yourself and to others and to the world…..I see God in you as a young person because you’re working to make this world a better place. 
I see God in Sister Barbara as well because she has taught me how to live, laugh, love like a true Vincentian. We part ways for now, but we remain connected by the same heart.
Ada, a current volunteer with Vincentian Service Corps West, will be blogging about her service experience as part of our ongoing Serving with Sisters Ambassadors series. This series is sponsored by CVN's From Service to Sisterhood Initiative, a project made possible thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.