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  Vol 47 no 4

Celebrating 21 Years of the Jesuit Volunteer Community in Britain

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Frank Turner

There are many volunteer programmes doing valuable work all over the world, but what makes JVC Britain distinctive is its central values, and in particular its spirit of gratuity-a free response to the grace of God.

Michael Kirwan

In the modern world people feel increasingly disempowered and their sense of identity is increasingly fragile. Volunteering is a way of fighting this disempowerment, for ourselves and for others, and of opening ourselves up to God.

Sarah Willis

The challenges and rewards of living in community are great. For JVC volunteers it is a source sometimes of stress and conflict, but also of growth, love, and becoming more fully alive.

Philip Harrison

The spirituality of Jesuit volunteering is rooted in the Second Week of the Spiritual Exercises, and it opens up the possibility of a crucial discernment that leads to human reorientation towards God and an affirmation of God's call to action.

Joanna Lewis

The pastoral cycle can provide a useful model for thinking about social justice in the context of volunteering-what does the faith of volunteers have to say about their experiences, and how can they act on their thinking for a more just world?

Sarah Broscombe

Volunteering can be of immense value both to recipients and to volunteers themselves. But it is important that volunteer programmes build solidarity rather than underlining differences. Christian volunteering has a vital part to play in seeing that volunteering is respectful and not divisive.

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Paul Nicholson

In Jesuit formation, the Spiritual Exercises are accompanied by five other experiences, known as 'experiments', including working in a hospital, teaching, making a pilgrimage on foot and doing menial household tasks. Placing the Spiritual Exercises in this context is valuable, not only for Jesuit novices, but for anyone undergoing a process of Ignatian formation.

Samuel Overloop

The Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary was set up for the spiritual benefit of the students of the Jesuit Roman College. Its rules set out a structure for the spiritual life and practices of the students, and also makes provision for them to do charitable work in hospitals and education.

Lillian Craig Harris

Suffering may often seem inexplicable, and Christians can value it both too little and too much. But living through suffering, and working to alleviate the suffering of others, remains a means of spiritual growth and of coming closer to God.

Michael Dallaire

Engaged contemplation seeks to bring the social and the political into the contemplative journey. It can enrich secular education with a spiritual questioning, whether from within the Ignatian spiritual tradition or other spiritual traditions.

From the Foreword

volunteer is worth ten pressed men’, the proverb tells us. ‘Ten pressed people’ it might read today. What volunteers may lack in experience or length of service, they can more than make up for in enthusiasm and a fresh outlook. And faith itself, as most religious systems now recognise, should be a voluntary matter. No matter how much I may hope that my neighbours come to share my system of beliefs, this will only be worthwhile if they do so without compulsion. Or, better, the only compulsive force should be that of the truth itself.

This is why the concept of witness (the word martyr comes from the Greek equivalent) has from the earliest centuries been so important within Christianity. It is the witness who is able, in a compelling manner, to present the truth of the way of life that Christ came both to exemplify and to make possible. Witnesses speak with their lives, and at times even with their deaths, rather than simply presenting abstract arguments. They exemplify the truth noted by St Ignatius in the Spiritual Exercises: ‘Love ought to manifest itself more by deeds than by words’ (Exx 230). A prolonged encounter with an ardent witness is likely to challenge me. I may become defensive; I may be led to question the values that I myself live by; I may decide to adopt aspects of the lifestyle that the witness holds dear. I am unlikely to remain wholly unmoved.

Twenty-one years ago the Jesuits in Britain decided to sponsor what we would now call a form of gap-year programme. It was adapted from a programme that had already been offered in the United States for some years. Young adults putting themselves forward to spend a year as members of the Jesuit Volunteer Community would commit themselves to live by four values: Ignatian spirituality, a simple lifestyle, life in community, and a commitment to social justice. To this end they would live in groups of four to six in poor inner-city areas, and work in projects that tackled issues of social concern. Since that time three or four such communities have formed every year, and they now form part of a network across Europe, North America and beyond.

Although this issue marks 21 years of one form of voluntary action, the whole idea of volunteering is one that is currently topical. It is now frequently seen by governments as a means of promoting social cohesion, and regarded as an important element of any adequate CV. Recent events have shown that a blind belief in market forces having the solution to whatever ails us is, at best, naive and unjustified. Volunteering can demonstrate the efficacy of a life rooted in different values. The four key values that the lives and work of Jesuit Volunteers bear witness to, spirituality, simplicity, community and justice, must find some echo in the experience of anyone seeking to live with integrity today.

Paul Nicholson SJ



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