I would like to open night schools, Sunday schools and inaugurate in the districts of Paris as many Centers of Arts and Crafts, as many popular Sorbones as were necessary, where the son of the worker could find, like the children of doctors or lawyers, the treasure of a higher education. […] Let us forget ourselves, let us be selfless in the service of God and for the benefit of our neighbor, and live with that holy bias that gives greater love to all who suffer more.

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Frederic Ozanam, address to the General Assembly of the Society os St. Vincent de Paul, in 1848.

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Reflection:

  1. Frederic was, much of his life, a teacher, most of his time in the famous university of the Sorbonne of Paris. He always considered knowledge and education as a fundamental tool for the development of the person, and for the promotion of the impoverished. He himself was what we would consider a savant today, because of the breadth and depth of his knowledge in many fields of science and letters.
  2. The illiteracy rate in France was around 50% at the time of the revolution (late eighteenth century), although it improved over time and reached 20% in the mid-nineteenth century. Even so, the levels of education among the French working class, at the time, were very worrying. Therefore, as a way of promoting the poor and the oppressed working class, he exposed the above ideas in one of the General Assemblies of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
  3. The last sentence is especially significant: neither God nor we can be impartial. In the face of suffering, pain, poverty … the loving gaze of God, and therefore also ours, will always be directed towards those who suffer these unjust realities. In this we Vincentians have discovered our vocation and the way of sanctifying ourselves, forgetting ourselves and working selflessly for our neighbor.

Questions for dialogue:

  1. Do we consider that giving education to the needy is part of our Vincentian vocation?
  2. Are our Vincentian educational institutions basically oriented towards the most needy of our surroundings?
  3. Are we on the side of the poor?

Javier F. Chento
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