Solidarity towards our neighbour

Anna Bensz-Idziak

Since 2001 we have been observing a sudden increase in interest in voluntary work. Such work has become a way of spending free time, gaining experiences or doing unselfish good for other people. An average Polish volunteer supports religious organisations and groups who help the poorest. Is this the way we realise the task, which John Paul VI entrusted to us eight years ago?

A new "creativity" in charity

In his apostolic letter ‘Novo millennio ineunte’ written at the end of the Jubilee Year 2000 John Paul II appealed for ‘a new “creativity" in charity’, which should be the ‘solidarity towards our neighbour, "getting close" to those who suffer, so that the hand that helps is seen not as a humiliating handout but as a sharing between brothers and sisters’ (No 50).
Two years later the Holy Father returned to those words during a meeting in Krakow, expressing his hope, ‘May this "creativity" never be lacking in the residents of Krakow and in all the people of our homeland. It represents the pastoral plan of the Church in Poland. May the message of God’s mercy be reflected always in works of human mercy!’

‘Volontarius’ means voluntary

‘Voluntary work is free, unpaid and conscious activities for the cause of others, going beyond the family-colleague-friendly relationships.’ The term ‘voluntary work’ is defined by the Act of Law on Public Benefit and Volunteer Work, which has been in force since June 2003. This act is the first document that defines completely the legal framework for all non-governmental organisations and volunteers. It precisely defines who a volunteer is, where he/she can work and what can be his/her social insurance and what costs of his/her work can be covered. According to the Act, ‘a volunteer’ - the term shall mean a person providing benefits voluntarily and at no remuneration under terms and conditions as described herein. The term “Public benefit work" shall mean work performed to the benefit of the public and society by non-governmental organisations within the publicly assigned tasks as described herein.’

‘Why do I want to be a volunteer?’

Anyone can become a volunteer. You can serve in any field of social life, in all places where such help is expected. However, if you want to become a volunteer you should remember that, for example, some people have no predispositions to work with children or the sick. The most important thing is to properly apply your knowledge, abilities, physical and social capacities to the needs of a given group or organisation. The Volunteer Work Centre Caritas in the Diocese of Zielona Gora-Gorzow proposes those who want to become volunteers to participate in the workshop ‘I volunteer’. During the training the candidates learn among other things where they can offer their voluntary work; they get to know the ethical-moral, customary and statutory norms, which regulate volunteers’ work. They become aware of their own needs and expectations as well as virtues, vices, predispositions and limitations. And finally, they answer the question ‘why do I want to become a volunteer?’ Desire becomes the most important and necessary feature of any volunteer and getting to know oneself makes it easier to take decisions concerning proper work.

’Unpaid’ does not mean selfless

A volunteer gets no pay for his/her work but this does not mean that the work is selfless. Since volunteers get non-material pay in the form of the fulfilment of their motivations. Among other things they gain a feeling of sense, respect, increased self-evaluation. Voluntary work does not bring financial means but it carries spiritual riches. ‘Those who do voluntary work most frequently justify their decisions saying that they want to help others, to feel needy, to prove themselves amid hardship, to gain new skills’, says Agata Obszanska from the Voluntary Work Centre in Zielona Gora. Other motifs include: desire to get to know new people, to spend free time and to escape from loneliness or to pay their duties to others. After several months the reasons for doing that work are less essential. The person who waits for another visit, meeting or conversation becomes more important. The Association Klon/Jawor has conducted research on voluntary work and philanthropy of Polish people for six years. In the year 2006 about 6,600,000 Polish adults devoted their free time for unpaid work for others. When asked ‘why they do this work’, 50% of the respondents indicated moral, religious and political convictions (Wolontariat, filantropia i 1%". Raport z badan 2006 - Voluntary Work, Philanthropy and 1 %. Research Report 2006).
John Paul II reminded us that our epoch had many needs that moved Christians’ sensitivity. One cannot speak of concrete fields where voluntary work is especially needed. The scope is very wide and can embrace social help, help for the disabled, health protection, education, ecology or humanitarian help. Volunteers’ work can have the form of constant or temporary work or special actions. It can be work with children, old people, raising funds, help in organising meetings or actions, office work, computer work, etc. A Christian who wants to serve others by doing voluntary work has many possibilities. It is enough to use your creativity of mercy ‘here and now’. Then volunteer work becomes an inseparable element of life, teaching solidarity towards your neighbours.

Now is the time for a new "creativity" in charity, not only by ensuring that help is effective but also by "getting close" to those who suffer...
From the apostolic letter ‘Novo millennio ineunte’, 6 January 2001

To ignore the immense multitudes of human beings who are not only deprived of the absolute necessities of life (food, housing and medical assistance), but who do not even have the hope of a better future, is to become like the rich man who pretended not to see the beggar Lazarus (cf. Lk 16:19-31).
From the Message of His Holiness John Paul II for Lent 1991

"Niedziela" 15/2008

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: