Volunteering, Dignity and Matthew 25


There’re some amazing organisations here, someone said.
Yes, I replied, it’s a room full of amazing!

And indeed it was. On Saturday we held our first in-person event for two years – a volunteering fair in Cathedral Hall. 

Over the course of two hours, around 70 people – including the Cardinal and Bishop Paul, who delighted us with surprise visits – and representatives from 17 organisations, filled the hall with warmth, chatter, enthusiasm and an energetic buzz. People came from all over London and Hertfordshire, keen to find out how and where they could offer their time, skills and talents as volunteers, or to look into taking on a new challenge. The stallholders were equally enthusiastic and cheerful, while three of our parish Caritas Reps provided gracious hospitality with a smile; meeting, greeting and providing refreshments.

I had been asked to do a short presentation on Catholic Social Teaching as a motivation for volunteering – though when the time came, I felt so reluctant to break into the energy and chatter filling the room! But I went ahead, sharing some aspects of this “best-kept secret”, which lies at the heart of our DNA as Catholics, and can be the unconscious motivation for so much service and concern. 

I began with Human Dignity: the belief that we were all created, equally, in the image and likeness of God: an innate, intrinsic dignity which can never be taken away from us, although circumstances and events can make us lose our awareness of our own worth. Mindful of the charities in the room I listed a few – being homeless or a refugee, trafficking, slavery, poverty, being imprisoned, side-lined or marginalised. I could have added more… racism, abuse, exploitation… so many ways in which we can be stripped of our sense of self-worth. 

And so many organisations working, in different, often creative ways, to heal and humanise, restore, and campaign for change.

That was Saturday. On Monday the Gospel of the day was Matthew 25: 31-46, in which Jesus identifies himself with those most in need. I was hungry… thirsty… a stranger… naked… sick… in prison… Familiar words, in a very familiar Gospel. This time, as I read it, I saw Cathedral Hall, and the organisations which had filled it; heard those words being spoken over the stalls and the people around them. 

And remembering the volunteering fair on Saturday meant that this time I heard those familiar words in a new way. This time, I realised that fundamentally, in this Gospel, Jesus is saying one thing to us all. One thing to JRS, CAFOD, The Passage, De Paul Trust, PACT, Mary’s Meals, Irish Chaplaincy, Bakhita House, Caritas Deaf Service and the many other charities we work with… The same one thing to us all… 

I had been stripped of my dignity… and you restored it to me. 

A powerful challenge and call. 

Where and how do we see Jesus in this state; how can we respond? 

Sr Silvana Dallanegra is our Development Worker for West London and Lead for Catholic Social Teaching.

All photos by Kristofer Whitford (PACT) and Silvana Dallanegra (Caritas Westminster)



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