USA and Canada: We are Family!
When the family gets together, it’s always an intense time. Love and sadness, victory and defeat, past, present and future: it’s all there in a weekend.
These past days, October 23-26, 2015, have been rich. We gathered in prayer and praise to open the Vincentian Family Gathering 2015 ( VFG2015 ) in Denver, Colorado in the USA, to live three days as the Vincentian Family from the United States and Canada. The problem of homelessness is what kept us focused. The presence of 200 brothers and sisters kept us energized. The concept of Collaboration for Systemic Change guided and challenged us.
Led by young adults of the wide Vincentian Family, and resourced by the Vincentian Family Collaborators, over 200 people from all over the North American continent were welcomed with prayer at 4 in the afternoon. There had been a new participants orientation beforehand, so former strangers were already friends. Facebook friends were hugging each other (and not with an emoji) for the first time, and old friends were chatting about the years before, between and yet to come.
After a nice dinner, we moved into the first session, playing the “Game of Life” — a participative game experience of trying to survive as a low income family, facing the trials of maintaining a decent life amidst struggles and hardships. We learned about our strengths and weaknesses, about our vision… and our lack of vision. We learned about our hesitancy to collaborate and think outside our own family system. It was a long and fruitful process. The young adults present (they were an exceedingly large tribe) had their own session, to get to know one another and to make connections. Me? I went to bed and watched “Bluebloods.”
Saturday morning, after a light breakfast and simple prayer, we heard the first of our keynotes: Mary and Mike McManus of Denver on “Collaboration Amidst Chaos: The Difficulty of Sharing Bread in Fragmented World.” Mary and Mike shared a deeply personal vision of what it is like to be a family dedicated to Vincentian service and trying to do that service in a collaborative way in a fragmented and sometimes resistant system — while at the same time trying to maintain an intact personal and family life. There were enlightening moments aplenty. After a short break, we processed some of our learning by using the words of Pope Francis as springboards to reflection. In the midst of all this, Sr. Teresa Kotturan reminded us that we work within a much broader web of people concerned with sustainable development and the eradication of extreme poverty.
Lunch was delicious 🙂
The afternoon was dedicated to breakout sessions and more discreet topics
- Homeless Services through a Vincentian Prism
- A Two-Generation Approach to Ending the Cycle of Poverty
- Serving the Homeless in Denver
- Homeless Youth in Denver
- Moving Justice from Retribution to Restoration
- Ending Homelessness on a Global Scale
- Community-Based Decision Making
- How DePaul University Students Combat Homelessness in Chicago
We re-gathered at 4:30 to share at the table where all are welcome, and extended that spirit through dinner. At night there was a second young adult gathering, this time with an open invitation of “older” folks to listen in. That group will be publishing a special report and connecting far and wide.
Sunday morning we breakfasted and prayed, and welcomed our second keynoter, Vicki Perkins, of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, to speak to us about an interesting transitional shelter project with collaborative roots and process in Leavenworth, Kansas. Again, the value of collaboration in the development and implementation of Vincentian efforts was highlighted, affirming her title, “Benefits of Collaboration.” Her input allowed us to process our own thinking on the needs and challenges we face in seeking to collaborate better: better communication, the sharing of knowledge and best practices, and attention to the real needs of Young Vincentians around employment possibilities within the Vincentian Family and its initiatives.
We did a brief evaluation, and experienced one another one more time as a loving and blessing community, as we allowed the Christ among us to invite us and send us to, “act with justice, to love tenderly, to serve one another, to walk humbly with God.” Amen. You can view/download lots of photos here.
The Vincentian Family Collaborators hosted a lunch meeting to debrief and read the evaluations and to set their own planning agenda for the next Gathering in 2017 in…..?
I had the joy of speaking with Michael Van Dorpe, one of the planners of the event. This will give you an experience of the energy, expertise, and hope that was present. The young members are moving on their plan for a an advisory group to the Vincentian Family.
Finally, all the Vincentian Family leaders met on Sunday afternoon and Monday morning, to process the good work done, to engage in ongoing formation (“The Francis Effect and our Call as Vincentians,” and “Essential Elements of Our Agenda about Poverty and Families.”), to exchange ideas and plans, and to hear about the new Vincentian Family Office. Additionally, the leaders approved the idea of inviting the Young Vincentian Advisory group (now in development, see above) to join them in the future. Starting with the 2016 meeting, they will have full representation in the Vincentian Family Leadership group. It was a joy-filled experience! One of the graces of the event was a visit from Brian Corbin of Catholic Charities USA speaking on, “Political Landscape of Poverty.” He pointed us to the website of an ecumenical organization that advocates for hunger and poverty to be on the electoral agenda of 2016. Take a look: http://circleofprotection.usThere was incredible energy, life-giving community, soul-refreshing prayer, mind-stretching input, and a solidly-grounded hope for the future as we experienced a family standing together and all looking in the same direction. With Frederic, each heart was speaking to the hearts of our sisters and brothers, “Let us go to the Poor!”