I have spoken to you all about Peter Gardiner CP before. He is a Passionist Priest and member of our JPIC Committee, and the organizer of our immersion experiences to Vietnam and Cambodia. In these immersions, he has taken groups of up to 30 people, usually connected with us in one of our parishes or communities, to do volunteer work over seas. In Cambodia the work is in conjunction with a building project where the group participate in building housing for poor families. In Vietnam we volunteer at an orphanage for disabled children; a Buddhist run soup kitchen; as well as visit at a hospice for people dying with AIDS run by the Camillian Fathers. I have been on two of these trips myself and found it to be a truly rewarding and challenging experience.
A new venture for Peter is that now he is extending this to doing volunteer work here in Australia, in Sydney, where Peter lives. He told me about the work that he was doing and I asked him if he would share something of his work with me so I could publish it in this blog, and he agreed. This is his story:
For the last eighteen months, for a variety of reasons, I decided to get myself involved in volunteering. Sometimes these might be one off events (e.g. The Spirit of Anzac which toured Australia these last two years, ending in Sydney this last Anzac Day), to more long term events.
One such experience has been volunteering with the Exodus Foundation, at Ashfield. They provide a significant number of services to the disenfranchised and demonized, and I have become involved two days a week in the Soup Kitchen (Loaves and Fishes). Most of my duties revolved around helping prepare the meals. We also get a significant number of corporate and school volunteers, so it usually falls to me to manage those for the day.
There have been some amazing benefits for me.
Firstly, it has been meeting and working with the fellow volunteers. You work with young people, older people, male, female, people from all nations, and you just get in and work, and laugh, together. Given that they are volunteers, they are invariably good, decent people, who want to do something for the community. And people like me, mature white Australians, are in the minority. It’s the United Nations. There are significant numbers of Asian volunteers, particularly from India and China. As one volunteer mentioned to me, all the barriers fade away. I could be, one minute, talking to a young Indian volunteer about anything, and then later I think, “if I crossed that person in the street, I would think I would have nothing in common with them.” It just breaks down barriers, and is a tremendous reminder of the goodness in all people.
Secondly, to me it is truly Gospel ministry. It is truly Passionist ministry. We no longer reach out to those on the margins, we are on the margins. It is no longer just a matter of spirituality but, as someone said, it’s a matter of geography. Where do I stand? It’s a lesson for me to stand in awe at the burdens people carry, rather than stand in judgement at the way they carry them.
One thing that has changed for me is that I no longer believe that “beggars can’t be choosers.” A young volunteer taught me that lesson one day. To explain, when you are poor and disenfranchised you lose the power of having options for the most part. In the soup kitchen the usual standard procedure is to give them the meal, and for them to have as little input as possible. They are not to get too picky about which piece of meat or whatever they want. But one day, a lady pointed out to me a particular pie she wanted, and I was annoyed, thinking that she should just be happy that she’s getting anything. This young volunteer said to me later, “You know, that’s probably the only choice she gets to make each day, the only time she can speak up for herself,” and I thought, ‘she’s right.’ They can now ask me for anything they want.
As I say, it’s Gospel ministry, its Passionist ministry. One of my fellow volunteers and friends, himself a Church attending Catholic, turned to me one day and said, “This is the real Eucharist.”
Most states will have a volunteering office, advertising all sorts of options, from short term to long term, seeking specific skills or just general help. Seek.com.au also has a section for volunteering opportunities.
And who knows, you might even end up on the back of a bus!