This International Year of Volunteers has been promoted by the United Nations to recognise and celebrate the achievements of countless millions of people around the world who volunteer service to their communities.
It gives us the opportunity to reflect upon the spirit of voluntary service. This is the opposite of the spirit of self-interest and individualism that are characteristics of our society, because the volunteer works to assist others and to enhance the common good.
Statistics tell us that more than one million people do some form of voluntary work in New Zealand. In countless ways too numerous to itemise, the women, men and young people of our country involve themselves in serving the community in every activity one can think of.
They care for the young, the old, the sick, the poor, the migrants. They coach, teach, organise and supervise sport, the arts and recreational activities. In fields as diverse as education, firefighting, search and rescue operations and administration of every kind, volunteers are to be found providing the services necessary for society to function effectively. Where would we, as a country, be without them?
At the recent meeting of the Bishops’ Conference, we discussed the massive contribution made by volunteers to the life of the Church here. And we asked ourselves the same question: where would we be without those who volunteer their gifts and talents and precious time to the many forms of ministry that make up the life of the Church? The Church could not carry out its ministry without them. It is good to have an opportunity to reflect upon how blessed we all are through their generosity.
Our worship is enhanced by Ministers of Word and Eucharist, by musicians, altar servers and those who decorate and give visual expression to the feasts and seasons of our liturgical life. We are aware of those who in many different ways administer our finances, maintain our churches and property, serve in our caring apostolates, in RCIA and sacramental preparation, in family support, in marriage preparation and enhancement groups, assist those who are bereaved and those making new beginnings in their lives ö the list is almost inexhaustible.
Working alongside volunteers from other churches in community outreach are those dedicated people who go into the streets, often at night, to provide sustenance for our homeless young "street kids" and who set up food distribution centres. There are also those whose work is less public, more out of sight, not always recognised and appreciated. To them all we express our indebtedness and gratitude.
Volunteering is not confined to an age group or particular section of the community. But statistics remind us that women perform a high percentage of voluntary work. We thank women for the constancy of their generosity, and pray that it may never be taken for granted.
It is not surprising to us to find the degree of voluntary service that is undertaken by young people. We see countless examples of their vision and idealism put into action. This is not always acknowledged by those who can be quick to criticise the young.
Much voluntary service is given to the Church and community by our more senior citizens. We are all the richer for their wisdom and experience and especially for the gift of their time.
No words about voluntary work in the Church would be complete that did not include COVS, that is, Catholic Overseas Volunteer Service. This is an official ministry of volunteer lay people, individuals and families, who go on mission, mainly in the Pacific area but also here in New Zealand. They leave the security of home and employment with no remuneration other than their keep and a living allowance, to put their work and life skills at the service of the poor and marginalised in society. Their work has been described as the "jewel in the crown" of the Church in New Zealand.
We applaud the parishes and other organisations that are celebrating and giving public recognition to their volunteers. We honour them, too, and ask God’s blessings of peace and love on them and their families.
We make our own the prayer of St Ignatius Loyola:
Lord Jesus, teach us to be generous:
to serve you as you deserve to be served,
to give without counting the cost,
to fight without heeding the wounds,
to work without seeking rest,
to spend our lives without expecting any other return
than the knowledge that we do your holy will. Amen.
Peter J Cullinane, Bishop of Palmerston North, President, NZ Catholic Bishop’s Conference
Denis G Browne, Bishop of Hamilton, Vice President
John A Dew, Auxiliary Bishop of Wellington, Secretary
Patrick J Dunn, Bishop of Auckland
Max Takuira Mariu SM, Auxiliary Bishop of Hamilton
John J Cunneen, Bishop of Christchurch
Thomas, Cardinal Williams, Archbishop of Wellington
Leonard A Boyle, Bishop of Dunedin
Owen J Dolan, Coadjutor Bishop of Palmerston North
Robin W Leamy SM, Emeritus Bishop of Rarotonga