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Volunteers of Suffering Give Meaning to Pain

Interview With Father Armando Aufiero

ROME, DEC. 2, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The Eucharist is the “indispensable food” for the believer as he learns to live with suffering and is transformed into an authentic witness of faith.

So says Father Armando Aufiero, the just-appointed president of the International Confederation of the Centers of Volunteers of Suffering (CVS).

In an interview with ZENIT, Father Aufiero reflects on pain, the Eucharist and the CVS’ pastoral priorities.

Q: What is the charism of the Volunteers of Suffering, and what do they do to change what is normally considered a misfortune, namely, pain and illness, with the testimony of faith?

Father Aufiero: The CVS’ charism is a challenge that conquers illness and the absurdity of pain.

Whoever lives intensely is not resigned to see his own life fail because of a situation that, although at times dramatic, does not completely eliminate a person’s capacity to live which the person perceives in his interior.

The support the CVS offers those who suffer is based on this “desire” to live and struggle for the most possible fulfilled and happy life.

All those who approach the CVS are helped to accept this profoundly human and therefore authentically Christian challenge. It is a path of faith, open to all men and women of good will, which is not resigned to be defeated in the face of pain.

The collaboration of the person directly involved, the sick person, with disability, or suffering, is decisive in teaching him to face life with courage, without hiding in the escape of those who would like to remove the evil from their midst, by the simple fact of not being concerned with it, or resigning themselves to the superficial fatalism that they see in these inevitable unfortunate situations, or of “divine” origin.

Q: In October, the Synod of Bishops took place on the topic of the Eucharist. What does the Eucharist represent for the Volunteers of Suffering? What relationship is there between the healing of the soul and the body?

Father Aufiero: The Eucharist represents for all baptized people the same and infinite sign of the love of God for humanity, of his total involvement in the poor and wonderful existence of his beloved creature.

Of course, when life is more marked by pain, one perceives more radically the need for a “bread” that will sustain one on the path, that will give back hope and meaning to the steps that are still to be taken, so that they do not disappear under the sad shadow of suffering.

The presence of the risen Lord is indispensable food for the pilgrims of suffering, who thus find the strength to be transformed into witnesses of love, following the same path of their life, always loved and redeemed by Christ.

The Gospel speaks to us of an integral healing of man, the life of the children of God, the full realization that the dignity that inhabits them surpasses reductive divisions.

In the CVS, we live the full tension of the health-salvation of the whole person in his integrity. We are healed in the best way without reducing our life to a question of pharmacology.

The struggle against evil consists in conquering not only the pathology that makes one suffer, but the absurdity, the superficiality, the minuteness of everything that reduces the profound dignity of the human person. We are not cured exteriorly or interiorly, we simply become the “redeemed,” children of God on the way to full realization of our existence.

Such a cure is always possible, even when the illness, a sign of the human creature’s inherent limitation, cannot be halted or surmounted by a medical intervention. On the other hand, we cannot forget that death is our common and inevitable end, and that Christ has conquered death: so that our ultimate and definitive “healing” means “to rise to a new life.”

Q: The prevailing cultural model sees only despair in suffering, and so long as it can avoid it, prefers even death. You instead see in suffering the way of the Cross which leads to a plan of salvation. From where comes this source of hope?

Father Aufiero: The hope that can be offered a person who is suffering stems from the Cross, which is a way of life more than a sign of suffering. The Cross presents a horizon of salvation for every situation of the human person, even the most extreme, as is death. If the Cross is the sign that Jesus the Lord has conquered death, there is nothing that cannot be included in the salvation and joy of the redeemed.

Q: As president of the International Confederation of the Centers of Volunteers of Suffering, you have spoken of a program and a pastoral plan that endeavors to make the sick witnesses of faith. Could you explain its most significant points?

Father Aufiero: There are some pastoral priorities that the assembly of the CVS International Confederation expressed at the conclusion of its working sessions last September. They are four points of reference that will guide the coordinating action expressed by the president’s council:

1. To rediscover and live each day one’s vocation: Membership in the CVS is a specific vocation in the Church. It is a beautiful but also demanding vocation that must be looked after, giving primacy to the spiritual life.

2. To increasingly love communion in the Church, aspect that qualifies her being mystery. A communion of all the CVSs in the one body of Christ, which is the Church, but also with the other associations that work in the field of Health Care Ministry and in the realm of human suffering.

3. To be excited about the urgency of the mission. The missionary passion is in the very identity of the Church. It is a question of transforming the “passion” of one’s own wounds into the “passion” of dedication, of love, which is expressed in apostolic concern for the one who feels crushed by the weight of loneliness, absurdity, marginalization and futility.

4. To be collaborators of our brothers’ joy. Whoever has found Jesus the Lord and Mary, his Mother and ours, acknowledges that joy can also coexist with suffering.

These four points will guide the program of activity for the next three years, to consolidate and spread the apostolate that the CVS endeavors to realize for the integral promotion of the person who suffers, according to the teachings of the Servant of God, Monsignor Luigi Novarese who, in the 60s, began our movement of pastoral and social action.

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For more information see: www.sodcvs.org.

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