.- Yesterday evening in the "Wiener Konzerthaus," the Viennese concert hall inaugurated in 1913 in the presence of the emperor Francis Joseph I, the Pope met with civil and ecclesial volunteer groups active in Austria. Benedict told those gathered that “[v]olunteer work is really about the heart of the Christian image of God and man: love of God and love of neighbor."
Greetings from the young volunteer workers and talks by the president of the Republic of Austria and by the Pope were interspersed with brief musical interludes.
At the beginning of his talk, the Pope expressed "gratitude and heartfelt thanks for the remarkable 'culture of volunteerism' existing in Austria. ... Love of neighbor is not something that can be delegated; the State and the political order, properly concerned with the relief of the needy and the provision of social services, cannot take the place of volunteer work. Love of neighbor always demands a voluntary personal commitment, and the State, of course, should provide the conditions which make this possible."
"To say 'yes' to volunteering to help others is a decision which is liberating; it opens our hearts to the needs of others, to the requirements of justice, to the defense of life and the protection of creation. Volunteer work is really about the heart of the Christian image of God and man: love of God and love of neighbor."
Volunteer work is characterized by its "gratuitousness" said the Pope, affirming that "a readiness to be at the service of others is something which surpasses calculations of investment and return: it shatters the rules of market economy. The value of human beings cannot be judged by purely economic criteria."
"In the gaze of others, and particularly of the person who needs our help, we experience the concrete demands of Christian love. Jesus Christ does not teach us a spirituality 'of closed eyes,' but one of 'alertness,' one which entails an absolute duty to take notice of the needs of others."
The Holy Father dwelt on the importance of prayer for people involved in charitable enterprises. "Praying to God sets us free from ideologies and from a sense of hopelessness in the face of endless needs," he said.
"Whenever people do more than their simple duty in professional life and in the family - and even doing this well calls for great strength and much love - and whenever they commit themselves to helping others, putting their precious free time at the service of man and his dignity, their hearts expand."
Benedict XVI concluded his address by affirming that "anyone who takes seriously the 'priority' of his neighbor lives and acts in accordance with the Gospel and shares in the mission of the Church, which always looks at the whole person and wants everyone to experience the love of God. The Church fully supports this valuable service that you offer."