This Lent, Joe Andrew celebrated 20 years of volunteering with CAFOD. Here, he writes about the journey on which volunteering has taken him:
My involvement with the Catholic Church and with groups like CAFOD has gone in waves or cycles all my life. As a teenager I was an altar boy, went to Mass several times a week, and did house-to-house collections, sponsored events, all that kind of thing.
In my 40s I returned to my youthful faith and enthusiasms, and with it a renewed sense that ‘faith without deeds is dead’. With a few like-minded people in the parish I helped set up a local CAFOD group. We did lots of different stuff: raised money by auctions, coffee mornings, raffles and all the things that Catholics are so good at. Within a few years, I felt the need to go further, and applied successfully to become what was then known as a Covenant Volunteer for Birmingham Archdiocesan CAFOD. (‘Covenant’ meant that you ‘covenanted’, that is, committed to spend x hours a year on work for CAFOD).
Now the arrangements are more informal and you do what you can. For me my main role is as a Media Volunteer, and I also speak at Mass around the two Fast Days, visit a few local schools at those times, and also help out with fixing up speakers at Mass for the two Fast Days.
I feel it’s important to give my time to help with CAFOD’s work, particularly during Lent, for several reasons. When I returned to being a Catholic around 25 years ago, I did quite a lot of Bible study and something really sprang out for me from the Gospels. If you look at the way Christ begins his ministry in Luke 4, you find the following:
Jesus goes to his local synagogue, and reads from Isaiah: ‘The spirit of the Lord is on me, for he has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind., to let the oppressed go free’.
As I reflected on this passage, and became more familiar with the church’s social teaching through CAFOD it struck me that Jesus himself seemed to be almost starting his ministry with, in effect, a mission statement! These things are the most important things for you to remember about what I have to say, was how I read these words. And, looking at working for CAFOD, this is, in effect, what we do – through CAFOD we bring ‘good news to the afflicted,’ help ‘give sight to the blind,’ and so on.
I have become increasingly aware of CAFOD’s key messages about the human family, that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Just as we wouldn’t turn away from our actual family if they were in need, then we cannot ignore the needs of, for example, the hundreds of thousands fleeing conflicts like those in Syria, and Iraq. I have come to feel, through working for CAFOD, that, quite simply, we must do something, as much as can to bring the good news of justice and peace.
One of the many great things about being a CAFOD volunteer is that you do feel that you are doing something to remedy the many and manifest injustices of our world. I have felt this on many occasions and in many situations. Some of the best days of my life have been walking through the streets of London, Birmingham or further afield, to let the government of the day know just how deeply many people care about Debt, Climate Change, and all the other great things CAFOD works on.
The main thing I do for CAFOD is being the Media Volunteer for the Birmingham Archdiocese. This involves occasional interviews on local radio, but mainly circulating press releases to media contacts around the area. In any given year I do three big ‘press shots’ (that is, send out a batch of press releases) to all media contacts around the diocese: two at the Fast Days, and one for World Gifts. Inevitably, and sadly, there will be other such ‘press shots’ around natural disasters, or an emergency of another kind. There’s huge help from CAFOD’s media team and regional teams in helping make contact with local media and telling the story about what is going on locally. In addition to these things, I also write about 10 pieces a year- for the Diocesan Catholic paper, Catholic Today. I base what I write on a story or stories on the CAFOD website. For March, for example, I used two sections from the website to put together an article on Syria. Next time, I plan to do something on International Women’s Day.
Being a volunteer for CAFOD is hugely rewarding, inspiring – and despite all the suffering you’re inevitably dealing with, or at least talking about – it can be great fun.
I would you say to other people who might be interested in volunteering that it is really one of the most inspiring things you can do. People often say that it’s good of you to do this kind of work. Be that as it may, what is omitted from this kind of remark is the realisation that the person doing the good is also doing themselves an enormous amount of good, because it really is so fulfilling and rewarding.
If you’re at all thinking of being a volunteer for CAFOD – go on, try it – it will be one of the best decisions you ever make!