A day or two ago my copy of the March-April issue of Lourdes Magazine arrived. The "feature" topic in this issue is the international meeting of members of Hospitality, that took place in Lourdes 6th-9th December 2007. The Hospitality family has two parts: the diocesan/national hospitalities that accompany individual pilgrimages and the Hospitality of Our Lady of Lourdes which provides services in the Shrine, its hostels, at the railway station and at the airport. The members of these Hospitalities are all volunteers who, paying their own way, spend some time in Lourdes helping the sick.
In recent years, the Hospitality of Our Lady of Lourdes have put in place a four year programme of formation for their volunteers. This combines practical training in such matters as the handling of wheelchairs and simple lifting of the sick with a formation in the history and spiritual heritage of the Lourdes shrine. This formation leads up to a Hospitality member making their "commitment", the core of which is a promise to visit Lourdes each year to spend time helping the sick.
This, the second international meeting of Hospitality members, took as its theme Christian voluntary work. Reflecting the formation given to Hospitality members, the meeting reflected on how professional competence and Christian charity come together in the life and work of a Christian volunteer. Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, conducted a plenary session on the encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" and voluntary work:
"In turning towards God, new and specific elements enter into the manner in which we habitually see humanitarian aid - elements which the baptised Christian should not renounce....As the Pope says, the neighbour 'has always need of something more than technically correct care'. Beyond treatment he has need of 'humanity', 'care which ... comes from the heart.' It is necessary to be rooted in faith and attached to God in order to meet your neighbour."
Sr Veronique Margron OP is the Dean of the faculty of theology at the Universite de l'Ouest in Angers, France. A long extract from her presentation at the meeting is included in the Magazine under the title "Christian attitudes in voluntary work". The extract addresses the question of commitment, in the light of the commitment that Hospitality members make. This is a wide ranging presentation, talking about several aspects of commitment and essentially implying a certain permanence and totality to it. To give you a flavour:
"Your commitment as a volunteer assigns, commits everything you are. .... Commitment is a virtue. Volunteering lived as commitment is a virtue. This commitment generates the theological virtue of hope; fundamentally for the person herself."
This is very striking when volunteering is so often seen as something short term or temporary, a "gap year" kind of activity. Sr Veronique ended her presentation with a paragraph devoted to chastity:
"We could use just one word to qualify the proper attitude of the volunteer here in Lourdes as in any other Church service: chastity, in other words, the proper presence, the proper distance with the other, which is called benevolence and respect, which always considers the other, the person who is helped, my colleagues, as subjects of mystery and freedom - never like objects, not even objects of care or goodness. Hence the importance the whole Christian tradition gives to this beautiful word 'chastity': not as law but as an art of good living, a virtue, a way of life for each one of us and not for a few such as the religious. We are all called by Christ to live with chastity because it is the sign of the love of Christ who loved passionately without ever holding onto his friends, or those he helps, heals and feeds. It is the signature of his art of loving. Chastity is the opposite of the possession of the other. In this way, the closer we are to somebody, the more essential chastity is, like the proper way to love, which will truly do some good. This is then what I eventually invite you to do."
If you have the chance to read this issue of Lourdes Magazine, do so. It combines an attractive offering of news relating to the shrine with some substantial spiritual and theological food