Ahead of Volunteers’ Week, Bishop Paul, members of the Caritas Team, and over 20 volunteers from Caritas services and projects, met virtually to discuss their experiences of volunteering, with a particular focus on how volunteering has changed during the current pandemic. It was a wonderful opportunity to catch up with volunteers, from all parts of the Caritas family.
Below is the reflection for the session, provided by Bishop Paul McAleenan;
Thank you for inviting me to join you today, it is a great privilege for me. I live in Welwyn Garden City, as I am responsible for Hertfordshire. Nearly all my work is being carried out remotely. My time is now spent on the phone on conference calls. What I am finding in phoning priests is that many of them have found a new energy, as they are employed in direct contact with people addressing their needs, enquiring after their health and well being, very focused and not being pulled in many different directions, as often happens to us.
This morning, I went to the parish in Borehamwood. There each Wednesday and Thursday, take away meals are being provided for families and individuals. The food is cooked in the parish hall and packaged in containers. It is then collected by those who are in need, sometimes distributed to those who cannot travel. It was a wonderful experience to participate in this direct action, which is making a positive difference.
What you are doing as Caritas volunteers wherever you are whether in St Joseph’s, Bakhita House, as representatives in parishes or anywhere else shows that at the moment Caritas is leading the Diocese, it is out in front showing the way, doing what no one else can do. Without Caritas and you volunteers, we would not be able to fulfill our mission as a Diocese.
I want you to know that you are in the vanguard of the Church’s mission at present. Whenever we think of Westminster Diocese, just the name, what springs to mind? You might think of churches, the Cathedral, offices, an organisation whose work you can’t always see in a tangible way.
The same cannot be said of Caritas and all those associated with Caritas. Your work is not only very obvious and visible, but it is essential and will remain so. You probably know the analogy that St Paul used when he was describing the Church. He spoke of it as being like a body in which every part is essential. No part of the body can say that it is doesn’t need another part. The eye cannot say I do not need the ear, or the hand can’t say I do not need the foot. We might think we can manage without another part but we can’t. What is absolutely certain is the Diocese needs Caritas and all of you, who are a manifestation of Love in Action. You are able to go where no one else can because of relations you have built up, because of your focus on relief of need, being available, bringing hope and encouragement.
In the Gospel readings of this Easter season, Jesus often uses the image of the vine. He says ‘I am the vine; you are the branches.’ A fully gown vine has branches which stretch a long distance. They have little twigs which are a long, long way, even several metres from the main trunk. Even so, they bear fruit because they remain connected to the vine. I think that is what Caritas volunteers are like. Sometimes we might be a long way from the centre, a long way from the main trunk, a long way from the Cathedral, the Curial offices, the centre. Perhaps we are geographically, but you are the like the vine branches spreading out into the parishes, into the parish halls, into St Joseph’s, Bakhita House, food banks, food stalls, working with the homeless and the hungry, giving hope, being in touch with people and your work is bearing fruit through your work; your action is yielding good fruit.
So I would sincerely like to thank you for all you are doing and to remind you that you are real missionaries. The last commandment that Jesus gave was ‘love one another as I have loved you, then everyone will know that you are my disciples’. That commandment is being fulfilled by Caritas. On behalf of the Diocese, I wish to affirm all that you are undertaking. In a very real and practical way, Caritas is proving to be one of greatest assets the Diocese has. Thank you for your work, to the Caritas Team and all Caritas volunteers.