RMG – Volunteering: Something Meaningful for God!

11 June 2024

(ANS – Rome) – In many countries, summer is the time when many young people make themselves available for voluntary work experience. That is why in this month of June the General Councillor for the Missions, Fr Alfred Maravilla, shares some reflections on the Christian and Salesian meaning of volunteering.

The phenomenon of volunteering has seen considerable development in recent decades not only among young people, but also among professionals and retired people. But what is volunteering really? 

Above all, it is important to remember that people of all ages perform simple activities that are synonymous with volunteering, such as helping in homeless shelters, coaching a sports team, guiding in a museum, or participating in community service to clean up a neighbourhood. Today most volunteering takes place within the framework of a particular organization or group. It aims at doing something for the benefit of others. These “others” can be the whole society, a particular group of people, or a cause.

By its very nature volunteering is a gratuitous service one willingly does to help and support individuals or groups, for philanthropy, religious reasons, or personal motives. Recent studies also indicate that younger generations volunteer because of the benefits they believe they can acquire in their personal and professional life from the experience. Some prefer to serve by lending a hand to their favourite causes. Some prefer to use the specific skills that they have been trained for to support advocacy activities while others volunteer for organizations which fit with their life stage.

Volunteering will surely not change the world. Yet it offers individuals the opportunity to make a real difference through gratuitous service. Volunteers dedicate their time, energy, and talents driven by a genuine desire to make a difference and create a brighter future for all. Thus, volunteers play a vital role in driving positive change in the world around them. 

Volunteering comes also at a cost. Volunteers give their time, talents, and sometimes even personal resources to their volunteering endeavours. It is ‘a big task’ that ‘interrupts one’s ordinary daily life’. Sometimes volunteers ‘give’ so much of themselves, causing them to be stressed, burnt out, exhausted and overwhelmed. However, volunteering is a two-way street. Rendering gratuitous service has a deep and lasting impact not only on those they serve but also on the volunteers themselves.

Volunteering provides excellent opportunities to learn something new. Volunteers acquire a wider mindset and increase flexibility, resilience, self-confidence, intercultural sensitivity, the development of empathy, compassion, and sensitivity to social concerns. For some young people volunteering provides a sense of purpose, adding more zest to life, as well as clarifying and strengthening their focus on a certain career path. 

Christian-inspired volunteering flows from the conviction that the human person is the ‘image and likeness’ of God who revealed himself in Jesus Christ by entering history gratuitously and humbly, and who teaches charity as the principle of the relationship between God and humanity and of people among themselves. It offers opportunities to every missionary disciple to live out the Gospel call to service in daily life and not only in emergency situations.

Volunteering is a way of living concretely a key principle of Catholic Social Teaching: solidarity. Solidarity is the conviction that Charity implies concern for all – especially the poor. As one human family of God’s children we continue to work together in creating social and economic structures that permit everyone to have equal dignity, and at the same time, bring about healing and conversion, regardless of our ethnic, economic, ideological and religious background. 

Pope Benedict XVI pointed out that volunteering is a personal experience of God’s generous love in Jesus Christ which challenges us to serve our brothers and sisters with the same attitude. “The Catholic volunteer work cannot respond to all these needs, but that does not discourage us. … The little that we manage to do to relieve human needs can be seen as a good seed that will grow and bear much fruit; it is a sign of Christ’s presence and love which, like the tree in the Gospel, grows to give shelter, protection, and strength to all who require it.” (Address at the meeting organised by «COR UNUM» Nov 11, 2011). 

Don Bosco fostered different forms of volunteering among his boys in the Oratory of Valdocco. One of the most striking examples was during the cholera epidemic that struck Turin from 1 August to 21 November 1854, killing 1,400 people. However, none of the boys from the Oratory sent by Don Bosco to care for the cholera victims was infected. Today this example is continued through the ‘Salesian Missionary Volunteering’ as a service of solidarity, freely given by a young person (17–35 years), motivated by faith, sent, and welcomed by a community, with a missionary style and according to the pedagogy and spirituality of Don Bosco. Invite the young to do something meaningful for God through the SMV!


For Reflection and Sharing

Do I willingly volunteer my time to serve others?

What do I know about the Salesian Missionary Volunteering?


ANS - “Agenzia iNfo Salesiana” is a on-line almost daily publication, the communication agency of the Salesian Congregation enrolled in the Press Register of the Tibunal of Rome as n 153/2007.

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