“A real and great gospel call to service”
“Something new is taking shape in the way that folk choose to live out their spirituality.” So writes an 18-year-old South African after her month visiting colleagues in Ireland’s Edmund Rice Network.
Throughout my high school career, I’d dreamed of visiting another part of the Edmund Rice world and particularly of visiting the birthplace of Blessed Edmund Rice. Since I first arrived at St John’s Christian Brothers College, Cape Town, I was captivated by the Edmund Rice vision. I joined the Edmund Rice Society and went on to serve on the Edmund Rice Camps in Stellenbosch. The experiences that both the ERS and ERC afforded me shaped my world view. They expanded my horizons and gave me insight into the lives of those who struggle. It also sparked within me a passion to contribute to the dream of Blessed Edmund. And slowly I discerned that my calling was Social Work. I started my degree at the beginning of the year at the University of Cape Town.
During my visit I spent time in Dublin, Waterford, Cork, Kilkenny, Callan, Belfast, and Omagh. I had read about the turmoil in Ireland – the recession, child-abuse scandals, the antagonism towards the church – and was saddened by the empty yet beautiful churches I visited. Despite this I was amazed as I witnessed such a real and great gospel call to service. This was particularly evident in the service given to the most vulnerable – the drug-addicts, homeless, struggling youth, ex-prisoners, and the elderly. I visited and worked with a number of these projects and what impressed me the most was the commitment of the youth to service and volunteerism. Numbers of volunteers could definitely improve in South Africa so it was amazing to see so many young people giving freely of their time and talents.
The S.H.A.R.E. (Students Harness Aid for Relief of the Elderly) project made a big impression on me. For nine whole days, young people stood in rain, snow, and freezing winds to collect money for the elderly. Coming from South Africa, I certainly had never experienced cold like that. The Edmund Rice Camps was also such a blessing to visit as I met not only the leaders but also the children that attended the camps. It was interesting to see the differences between our camps but also fantastic to see that the reason for the camps was the same: to give unconditional love and support to underprivileged children.
A number of stereotypes were challenged on this trip. Many Irish didn’t believe that a pale-skinned, blond-haired girl could hail from Africa. And I had never met with so many ‘white’ impoverished people. In South Africa it is still largely our people of colour who suffer the greatest indignities.
A special thank you to Monica, the O’Reilly family, Brother Chris Glavey, Dr Aidan Donaldson and his family, Brother Pat Madigan, The Marino Brothers community, the New Life in Mission Community I encountered, and also to every single person and organisation and school and project that I visited, for wrapping me so lovingly in your web.
I was amazed at the projects run by the Brothers as well as by people just like you and me, connected to the Edmund Rice family. I pray that Jesus will live in our hearts forever.
published April 2011