Interview with Sr. Lucía Fernández, OP, DVI Director (by CIDALC al Día): “Volunteering: a Sign of the Times for our Age.” During our interview, the Spaniard Dominican sister did not hesitate to issue a call to the entire Dominican Family to heed the fact that “having lay people who are committed to the preaching of the Gospel is a gift from God. A gift we must cultivate and take care of diligently.” She admits that her dream is to have many more welcoming communities and she adds, “another dream would be that the entire Dominican Family becomes a place of welcome. My hope is that our volunteers do not have to wait more than necessary to be able to go on a mission experience.”
The director of DVI exhorts the Dominican Family to share in the mission, to help one another, and to work together.
Her family of origin (including 12 brothers and sisters) gave her the necessary training to face her future tasks. Although it may seem contradictory, she admits that community life has been both the most difficult aspect of her vocation and the one that has given her the most joy.
This month marks her first anniversary as director of Dominican Volunteers International (DVI). This responsibility was entrusted to her by the Order of Preachers. Sister Lucía Fernández, OP accepted to be interviewed by CIDALC al Día and answered straightforwardly all our questions.
She shared with us that her greatest preoccupation is the lack of welcoming communities. She has a numerous group of volunteers who are able and willing to share in the mission of the Order, “but the doors do not open so easily,” recognized sr. Lucía. She attributes such scarcity to fear of loosing privacy on the part of the receiving community and to ignorance regarding DVI’s true nature and goals.
During our interview, the Spaniard Dominican sister did not hesitate to issue a call to the entire Dominican Family to heed the fact that “having lay people who are committed to the preaching of the Gospel is a gift from God. A gift we must cultivate and take care of diligently.” She admits that her dream is to have many more welcoming communities and she adds, “another dream would be that the entire Dominican Family becomes a place of welcome. My hope is that our volunteers do not have to wait more than necessary to be able to go on a mission experience.”
Sr. Lucía, you have done work mainly in academic circles and in the pastoral care of families and the young. What challenges do you find in your new work as director of Dominican Volunteers International (DVI)?
It is true that I have always been involved in the academic world, but when the time came to get involved in the pastoral care of families and of the young, I was ready to respond to that challenge. I mean, I left behind my “professor persona” and adapted to the needs of the people I had in front of me. So, as I begin this new job in the Order, I will have to respond to its demands in yet a different way than the ones I have used in the past. For example, communication is established here mainly through modern means of communication – as opposed to a direct, face-to-face way, which is how communication happens in a classroom and in pastoral settings. In this sense, this is very different. But on the other hand, now I have more time to reflect before having to give an answer.
During the time you have worked as director of DVI, what are your impressions regarding the volunteers’ experiences and that of the welcoming communities? Is the balance always positive for everyone?
I have been at DVI for almost a year and it has been an intense and enriching experience so far. The close and constant relation I have to maintain with candidates, volunteers, ex- volunteers and even their families on special occasions – like during departure times – has made it very much so.
This is also true for my connection with the welcoming communities, especially at the beginning. The outset is a time to connect communities and candidates and facilitate mutual knowledge before the volunteer arrives and becomes part of their family. There are extraordinary welcoming communities and others that are subtler in their enthusiasm, but our volunteers have always been very well received and that is what matters the most.
At the moment, where do you have Dominican volunteers and where do they come from?
I am not going to name all the communities that have welcomed volunteers in the past. I am only going to talk about present communities because those are the ones I know and with which I have communicated since I became the person in charge.
In the Dominican Republic we have Rocío from Peru. She lives with the Dominican friars. In Timor Leste, Oecussi, we have Jorge from Portugal. He lives with the Dominican Sisters of the Rosary. In Cuernavaca, México, we have Renessa from Trinidad and Tobago. She lives with the Sinsinawa Sisters. In Trinidad and Tobago we have María Ángeles from México. She lives with the Sisters of Siena Etrepagny. In the Philippines we have Luke Samy from Australia. He lives with the Dominican friars. Lastly, in Cuba we have Astrid from Guatemala. She lives with the Dominican Sisters of Granada.
Besides, Geisson, from Colombia, has recently returned from his mission in Ecuador. He lived with the Dominican friars; Stephanie from Trinidad and Tobago lived in Perú with the Sisters of the Rosary and Matías from Uruguay lived in México with the Dominican friars. We are still waiting to find welcoming communities for other 12 volunteers.
There are four key players involved in the project for the Dominican missions proposed by DVI, namely: the sending community, the welcoming community, the volunteers and the director of DVI. At the moment, are all those participants equally involved? Are there some stronger and some weaker players? Which ones?
The sending communities play a very important role in the selection of candidates. I do not personally know those who want to participate in our mission. It is the sending community the one that knows them and judge if a candidate is apt or not to go on a mission. For that reason, we required that the sending community accompanies its candidates during certain period of time to get to know their real motivations, that is, what truly moves them to want to give a time of their lives to the Lord and to take part in the Preaching. Later on, this preparation process is done in direct contact with DVI’s director. The sending communities are in charge of issuing a letter of recommendation. It is not until we receive such letter that the preparation process begins. Thus, our sending communities are real assets. They are indispensable for the good functioning of DVI.
Regarding our welcoming communities, instead of complaining, I would like to send a message to all the branches of our great Dominican Family: laity, friars, sisters and nuns. I believe that we still do not fully understand that DVI is a project that belongs to the whole Order. This may be because we are a little locked up in ourselves and we fear the loss of our privacy, which we think the volunteer is going to “invade.” I believe this to be a huge misconception. Our volunteers know what to do, since they are prepared to go on a mission in all aspects involved with it. They know what the Dominican mission and the charisma of the Order really mean.
There are very few communities that open their doors to welcome volunteers, even though they know that we depend on them to carry out our mission. This worries me because presently there are many volunteers who are very well prepared and who are excited about being able to share in the mission with our brothers and sisters. However, the doors are not opening that easily. I still think, however, that it is not due to our not wanting them in our communities. I think it is because a lack of knowledge regarding the true nature of DVI.
This is partly our fault because we have not spoken much about DVI, about its true relevance, especially at a time in which there is a shortage of vocations. I believe that volunteer work is a sign of the times for our day and age. I believe that our missions need lay missionaries who are seriously committed to further the mission of the Order: to carry out the preaching of the Gospel. I believe that a volunteer is somebody summoned by God to fulfill that mission. This is very important.
I am convinced that we must share our mission, we must help one another, we must work together. This is something that the Master of the Order, fr. Bruno Cadoré, OP repeats frequently. It is a fact that the brothers and sisters who have hosted a volunteer are the ones requesting us to send more volunteers to help them. I believe that this is a good sign.
I WOULD LIKE TO BE VOLUNTEER
What are the requirements for someone who wants to be a volunteer? What are the requirements for becoming a welcoming community?
There are several requirements to become a volunteer. I will name only those I deem indispensable to become a volunteer “à la Saint Dominic.”
A volunteer must know the spirituality, life and mission of the Dominican Order. He/she has to be in good physical and emotional health. He/she has to be able to adapt and to learn from others. He/she must respect other people’s pace and be patient. He/she must be discreet, optimistic and joyful. He/she must be free of economic and familiar responsibilities during the time he/she wants to serve as volunteer. He/she must know how to look at daily events in light of his/her faith.
In order to become a welcoming community, the most important requirement is to be willing to share the preaching of the Gospel with those whom the Lord calls. This means to be willing and able to open the doors to a volunteer and to share with him/her your life and mission. This is done according to Jesus’ style: in a compassionate, missionary way. It is also done according to St. Dominic’s style: in the way of a preacher, in an inclusive way, to form community with your brothers and sisters and to promote the whole human person.
What is the profile of a Dominican volunteer?
A Dominican volunteer is a person who, like S. Dominic, feels compassion towards others and responds to God’s call by making a personal commitment to offer her/his time and work in a selfless way on their behalf. She/he sees in the other a sister/brother with whom she/he is going to share. She/he knows that helping and learning work both ways, that is, it is a process of mutual growth.
What are the main challenges faced by DVI at the present moment?
I wish the entire Dominican Family would realize the true importance of having lay people who witness their faith in the midst of a heavily secularized world, a world that strives to keep God as far away as possible. Lay men and women who are committed to the preaching of the Gospel are a gift from God. For that reason, we must diligently cultivate and take care of this gift. As the person in charge of DVI, this is my greatest challenge.
It is precisely because of this that I believe we must advertise our project and its real impact in the Church and the world. This is part of my task and I want to do it as well as possible so that every year we have more volunteers. More volunteers mean more opportunities to proclaim the Gospel in the world, in the small parcel we tend in the great “vineyard of the Lord.
I would like to thank CIDALC for this opportunity to speak about DVI and I would like to add that many of our volunteers are from Latin America. This continent used to be a mission land and it is now a land of missionaries. What an awesome truth! So, I want to thank this continent and its people with all my heart.
What are the steps someone has to take to become a volunteer?
It is rally easy. The person has to get in touch with the Director of DVI – at the moment, that means calling me, writing a letter or sending me an E-mail. In my response I will spill out the concrete steps a candidate must take to become a volunteer.
We have a Web page (www.dviop.org) for all to see. We also have a page on facebook (Dominican Volunteers International, Facebook). There, you can read testimonies from our volunteers in the mission field as well as from those volunteers who have already returned. These testimonies are supposed to inspire others to want to share their time and work in favor of those most in need. The field of our Dominican mission covers the entire world; thus, there are endless possibilities. The commitment is for a period of a year or two.
What goals would you like to achieve during your time as DVI’s director?
My main goal is to turn this project into a preaching tool that employs St. Dominic’s style and charism of preaching the Gospel in a humane way. A different goal is to get the entire Dominican Family involved in this project, not only in words but also through concrete actions. After all, we are all brother and sisters in St. Dominic and this project belongs to all of us.
My concrete dream, however, is to find many more welcoming communities. Or even better, I would like for the entire Dominican Family to become a place of welcome where our volunteers do not have to wait more than necessary to be able to go on a mission experience.
“PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE, IRREGARDLESS OF WHERE THEY LIVE.”
You have already visited some welcoming communities. What images have been imprinted in your memory and recorded in your heart?
In all honesty, I have not visited any welcoming community that is hosting volunteers just yet. Instead, I have visited possible welcoming communities, such as Congo and Kenya. Those visits were a very rewarding experience. The communities of brothers, sisters and lay Dominicans there are very warm. All of them are willing to open their arms to receive our volunteers. But there is a great barrier in Congo: the language barrier. At the moment, we have a volunteer who will go to South Africa and a Spanish-speaking married couple that wants to share their talents with whichever community in Equatorial Guinea that is willing to open its doors and their heart to them. I am certain we will find that welcoming community soon.
The fact that powerfully caught my attention in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Kenya was the huge number of kids I saw on the streets. It was incredible! They were everywhere and in a question of minutes I was completely surrounded by them. It was a feeling of great satisfaction and joy.
How have your past academic and pastoral experiences contribute to your personal and professional work?
Every working experience gives you a new set of skills for life. Every experience is unique. My work in schools and with the youth kept me young. To live and work with young people is always rewarding. One learns how to listen, how to share dreams and desires and how to be very patient. In the pastoral field I have always felt very comfortable, especially during my experience with married couples. They have gifted me with profound warmth and gratitude. The relationship that is established during these encounters is of a very special nature. It is a relationship of equals in which trust and affection are very much present. This turns these encounters into a far more enriching and deeper experience than most.
What have you learned regarding the people and culture of the countries and continents where you have lived?
I have learned a very important thing: people are people regardless of the particular place where they live. People suffer, enjoy, yearn, want happiness and pursue it with all their might, regardless of race, religion and color. I have learned much more than what I have taught. I keep friends from all the places where I have been. And they will remain my friends for the rest of my life.
What has been more difficult in your life as a Dominican sister? Where do you find strength to overcome difficulties and to move ahead?
We face difficulties in every state of life. I believe that what has been more difficult for me is community life; however, it has also been where I have found more joy. Even though we live in a community, each one of us has her own way to be, to act and to look at things. And somebody else’s ways can be totally opposite to mine. These differences cause friction and, at times, even suffering. But even if religious life is not easy, I can say that living in community gives you many joys. You can always share with your sisters what is going on in your life, your apostolate, and even your desires and struggles. Besides, the shared moments of prayer give you strength to overcome any difficulty you may be facing.
How do you feel living in Santa Sabina? What do you miss from your country? What do you like about living in Rome?
Living in Santa Sabina has not been difficult for me. I have received real understanding and affection on the part of the friars and from my co-workers. So, when one is well received and welcomed, the rest is easy to face.
I miss my family and friends back home. I miss to be able to share with them the joy of being with family. However, Rome is not too far from Spain and I can go and visit them every year. I have spent a long time outside my country. I was a missionary to The Philippines, Taiwan, Chile, etc. So, I am used to changes. I understand this to be part of my vocation. It makes me very happy to be OK in Santa Sabina and in my community in Rome.
Living in Rome is a unique opportunity. I discover new and beautiful things every day and I love the city and what it represents regarding culture.
How is the life of a sister who is used to live with sisters and who is now amongst an overwhelming majority of friars from different parts of the world?
In an interview I did not long ago, I said that I belong to a big family. We are a total of five brothers and seven sisters. So, this is neither new nor strange for me. Besides, I have lived in international communities before. Presently, I live in an international community here in Rome. We come from eight different nationalities. This seems very normal to me and I do not have problems to connect wherever I go. I am very used to it.