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VC – A Faith-Based Approach to Development 

By Shane Halpin CEO Viatores Christi

Viatores Christi as an organisation was set up as a lay missionary association in 1960. The founding aims and objectives of the organisation was to dedicate itself to the active involvement of Catholic Laity in the missionary work of the Church overseas.  It embraced wholeheartedly the teaching of Vatican II and its understanding of the apostolate of the laity and that through baptism all are called to mission.  As such VC is firmly rooted in a faith based approach to all its work.

Today, the line between the secular development approach for want of a better description, and our organisation’s faith-based approach is not as clear cut as it perhaps may have been in the past.  The organisation’s understanding of ‘mission’ has moved in line with the Church’s own understanding, from one that set out to win people over to the Catholic Church (an emphasis on the one true faith) to one of journeying and solidarity with the poor and marginalised in the world.

Missionary Congregations and faith-based organisations including our own organisation, make up the clientele of Misean Cara membership.  Misean Cara is an organisation which was set up by Irish Aid to facilitate the financial support of Ireland’s Missionary work overseas. Today there are over 89 members two of whom are lay missionary organisations.  Misean Cara has moved to professionalise the approach to development in an effort to justify ongoing public support for the projects of Irish missionaries and their legacy projects and programmes.   Missionary Organisations have traditionally never been very good at self promotion and detailing the impact of their work and as such are only beginning to come to terms with the need for greater promotion and indeed results based programmes.

Our approach to development

As a faith-based organisation Viatores Christi works towards embedding the Missionary Approach to Development in all its policies, practise and programmes.  This particular approach has been promoted by Misean Cara to its members.

The core values of the Missionary Approach to Development are to operate through justice, compassion, integrity, commitment and respect. In working from these core values, Viatores Christi is informed by gospel values and committed to freedom, peace and justice in the creation of a better world for poor and marginalised peoples.

What makes us different?

-Faith community

VC’s faith-based development approach is manifested in a number of unique ways.  Firstly the organisation operates out of a Christian faith community, a group of lay men and women who have joined together to support one another in their understanding that God has called them to be there for the marginalised of this world.  This calling is for many above and beyond the need for financial reward but is based on personal and deep motivation for the work.

-Longer term intervention

Secondly the organisation is convinced that longer term intervention is preferable to the short term approach.  This is an understanding that change takes time and that volunteers who commit to being a change for better in the world ideally need to give it the time required.  That is not to say there are times when short term consultancy support is valuable, but rather to say solidarity and relationship building takes time. A long term commitment implies speaking the local language and journeying with communities especially in times of crisis.

-Solidarity with the poor and marginalised

Thirdly VC works with missionary partners and faith based organisations many of whom work with the poorest and most marginalised in our world.  These groups are not widely targeted by secular development organisations as it can be extremely challenging to work with this sector.  Many of the faith-based organisations that we work with are based in areas that are maybe overlooked by mainstream development sectors including the slums, favelas and shantytowns of larger cities.  Many have security issues and some are in the very remote areas.

What are the strengths of faith-based volunteering?

In many ways faith-based volunteers are like any other volunteers with the professional skills of community development, finance, capacity building and so on.  However, VC  quite often it receives requests from faith based organisations who have a need for a person who is capable of fitting in to the organisation, be it living with the sisters, priests or brothers or indeed a lay missionary group and has that faith dimension or understanding as to the mission statement of the host project.

-Uniquely placed

VC is well placed within the development sector to a) act as supplier of personnel trained in key areas of need, and b) to act as conduit for grants and technical assistance, be it in proposal development, monitoring and evaluation or project cycle management.

  • Faith based volunteering emphasises the holistic development of the individual, the physical, social, mental and spiritual.
  • Commitment to the cause. There is a long-term commitment to journeying with communities especially in times of crisis
  • VC Volunteers have an affinity with the work of the Mission Partner and unlike secular volunteers can add real value to the holistic welfare and development of the community in which he or she  is placed.
  • VC lay volunteers can bridge the world of Church with the world of the local community and can be useful perspective in male or female only congregations.

Catholic ethos

While VC and its orientation and training course is open to and welcoming of participants of all religious backgrounds and none, all trainees are asked to be respectful of the organisation’s Catholic Christian ethos and its valued tradition.