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POPE-VOLUNTEERS Nov-11-2011 (460 words) With photo. xxxi
Christian volunteers are signs of God's love, pope says
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Through volunteer work, Christians become signs of God's love in the world, Pope Benedict XVI said.
Especially at a time of serious economic crisis, moral uncertainty and social tension, Christian volunteers show "that goodness exists and that it is growing in our midst," the pope said Nov. 11 in a speech to participants at a Vatican meeting on Catholic volunteer activity in Europe.
The two-day meeting, sponsored by the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which promotes and coordinates Catholic charity, was held in conjunction with the European Year of Volunteering. It brought together about 160 bishops and representatives of charitable organizations from 25 countries.
The pope thanked the European volunteers and "the millions of Catholic volunteers who contribute, regularly and generously, to the church's charitable mission throughout the world."
As he wrote in his first encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est" ("God Is Love"), the pope said Catholic charitable activity isn't simply philanthropy, it's a reflection of Christian faith and the obligation to love others as Christ loved.
"His grace perfects, strengthens and elevates" the basic human vocation to love others and "enables us to serve others without reward, satisfaction or any recompense," the pope said.
At the same time, through volunteering "we also become visible instruments of his love in a world that still profoundly yearns for that love amid the poverty, loneliness, marginalization and ignorance that we see all around us," he said.
Pope Benedict also asked the meeting participants to step up efforts to involve young Catholics in volunteer work as "a way to grow in the self-giving love which gives life its deepest meaning."
"We must not be afraid to set before them a radical and life-changing challenge, helping them to learn that our hearts are made to love and be loved. It is in self-giving that we come to live life in all its fullness," he said.
Kristalina Georgieva, the European commissioner for international cooperation, humanitarian aid and crisis response, was one of the speakers at the meeting. She told Vatican Radio Nov. 10 that volunteering is "extremely strong" in Europe, with about 100 million people formally volunteering on the continent or abroad each year.
While volunteers meet many of the needs a government probably should, volunteers are essential because the needs are overwhelming and emergency situations are increasing, she said.
For example, she said, "in 1975 there were 78 natural disasters" officially categorized as such in the world, but in 2010 they had risen to 385.
"Unfortunately, the impact of these disasters has increased because the global population has increased," particularly in urban areas. When an earthquake or flooding hits a major city, there are more victims, more damage, and a need for more volunteers to help, she said.
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