Echoes of the International Voluntary Service of the Sacred Heart: Lived from the Province of Belgium-France-Netherlands

Why does our province of France-Belgium-Netherlands support an International Voluntary Service of the Sacred Heart for young men and women between the ages of 18 and 35?

More and more young people are going abroad. Some hope to be involved in a powerful human and spiritual experience, through the discovery of another culture or through service. As a congregation we have unbelievable treasures: love of youth, our faith, our qualities as educators, an international family with apostolic communities established in 41 countries on the five continents. So we simply want to use these treasures in the service of the young.

Do you have any statistics?

During the last five years, 388 young people have made contact, 108 have had their overseas experience with us, about the same number for short periods (1-2 months) as for long periods (2 months-2 years).  

They have been welcomed by our sisters in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Korea, Scotland, the United States, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Uganda, Peru, Philippines, DRC. This year, as security allows, it will once again be possible for young people to be sent to certain other countries, e.g. Egypt.

The average age of the young people we send abroad is about 21, mainly Christian women.

What is the purpose of this Voluntary Service?

In response to their desires, the main reason for which the volunteers are sent is to meet people from another culture, to let themselves be enriched by them humanly and spiritually, to give service and to come back transformed, committing themselves with and for the most destitute (materially or otherwise) in our western societies.

What are the local arrangements?

To encourage such meetings and such human and spiritual transformation, the volunteer lives either in or near a community of the Sacred Heart established in an area that is rural or poor. The community shares her meal, prayer, its network of contacts and mission. The volunteer meets regularly with a member of the community to discuss what she is experiencing, and to help her to fit in with the community and its mission.

The service confided to the volunteer is in collaboration with the local population: in socio-educational projects, teaching, health, or faith-education, or other projects in which our sisters are involved. This service may or may not correspond to her professional competence; this depends on what was discussed before she left.

In order to encourage immersion, the volunteer is generally sent alone. They make a financial contribution for food and lodging, according to what was agreed before they set out, and they pay all travel expenses. In certain places, several volunteers may be sent together, if they are working on a specific project.

How are the volunteers prepared?

All young people asking to go abroad are welcomed in a personalised way by one of us (either Roselyne or Claude): by oral exchanges and on the basis of a written dossier that helps them to reach a clearer understanding of their motivation, aspirations and fears. Drawing their attention to other kinds of overseas service also offers us a way of companioning them.

For those who wish to continue with this volunteer service, it is indispensable to take part in two week-ends of preparation. With others who have the same aspirations, they keep working at their personal projects, developing in this way and preparing to meet people from another culture, and to serve in a context of poverty. They are nourished by the times of prayer offered, by the witness of volunteers who have returned, by meeting with the sisters of the Sacred Heart. If they feel “at home” here, there is a strong chance that they will feel “at home” over there!

And upon their return?

When they come back, the volunteers have the benefit of personal interviews based on a dossier of evaluation. They also take part in a week-end with other volunteers of the Sacred Heart who went abroad during the year. The aim is to help them to contemplate and celebrate what they experienced while on voluntary service, to digest the hardest aspects, to experience their return as a new beginning… towards Life!  Affective, vocational, intellectual choices arise, as though they were the result of their voluntary service.  The young people can then display in their daily life something of what they have discovered: a form of solidarity based on reciprocity, in which each one has so much to give, to receive, to build with others…

Some echoes from the young people

“For me, this experience was a meeting with myself, with others, with a country, with God.”

“After so many years of religious practices, I discovered the living Christ: in relationships.”

“I didn’t have much time for prayer or informal time with the community, but how generous the sisters are in the mission, what a welcome, what love!”

“I’m not the same now with people in the street, with the migrants I meet.”

“What can I do to live here the joy these children have, though they are in want of everything?”

“I thought I would give a lot during my voluntary service. Yes, I worked hard professionally, but I over all received meeting some wonderful people: thank you!”

For us as well, this voluntary service is a gift

What a joy to witness the volunteers’ human and spiritual progress. Through this service, we are fortunate to learn more about what our sisters and the friends of the Sacred Heart experience throughout the world. What an opportunity to be renewed and at the same time challenged by what young people are seeking in their thirst for prayer, for community life, and  for commitment with the most vulnerable.

We are so full of thanksgiving for the love and generosity our sisters have for the volunteers. This is shown in our Province  – especially by our older sisters, who pray for the volunteers they have been given as “godchildren” –  and also in the welcoming countries.  

We ourselves hope to welcome volunteers, aged between 20 and 35, prepared by our sisters from other countries.

“Cor unum et anima una in Corde Jesu”.  Yes, this mission with young people which we share with our sisters, gives us, with all that it demands, the chance to savour in a special way our motto: “One Heart and one Soul in the Heart of Jesus”!  And to experience that humanity is One throughout the world.

Sister Roselyne Sernesi (voluntary service 1-2 months; )
Sister Claude Deschamps (voluntary service 2 months-2 years; )

Section |International News

Province |Belgium/France/Netherlands