Lay Vincentian Missionaries and Vincentian Spirituality
by: César A. Saldaña Moreno International President of MISEVI
[This article was published in Vincentiana, volume 59, #4 (October-December 2015) p. 493-500].
The Son of God came to evangelize the poor. Are not we, Messieurs, sent for the same purpose? Yes, Missioners are sent to evangelize the poor. Oh, what happiness to do on earth the same thing Our Lord did, which is to teach poor persons the way to heaven! 
The evangelizing mission of Vincent de Paul is grounded on Jesus Christ, the missionary of the Father. That perspective provides the members of the Lay Vincentian Missionary Association (MISEVI) with a way of understanding their missionary vocation in the Church and in society. Furthermore, in response to the call to fulfill their baptismal commitment by proclaiming good news to the poor, the perspective of Jesus Christ as the missionary of the Father enables the members to live their vocation in service of the missions ad gentes, to share their faith and their life within their country of origin as well as beyond of the boarders of their native homeland. They do all of this in various ways: organizing popular missions, through their witness when they are enjoying some vacation time, through their witness in the land where they are missioned.
In 1987 some young members of the Vincentian Marian Youth Association (VMY) engaged in an experience in which they lived as lay missionaries in those places where other members of the Vincentian Family were ministering in some capacity. These lay missionaries collaborated in the evangelization process by participating in different pastoral activities on the diocesan, as well as on the local parish level. Some of these young men and women fulfilled their commitment in this manner for an extended period time (often involving years of service). It was those missionary experiences that gave rise to MISEVI. In 1992 some of the lay missionaries expressed a desire to establish a structure that would provide stability to their Christian commitment as lay persons and also provide a stability to their option for the mission while at the same time providing them with a bond that would enable them to relate to the wider Vincentian Family.
Today the members of MISEVI are ministering in Spain, Italy, France, Slovenia, Lebanon, Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Bolivia, Mozambique, Costa Rica, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, the United States, Poland, Indonesia … and other missionary groups are in the process of being formed.
Without a doubt one of the key moments in the life of the Association has been the celebration of the various General Assembles which provided the delegates with time for formation as well as with time to reflect on the identity of MISEVI and the paths that it would travel in coming years. The Assembles proposed some lines of action and the delegates elected an International Coordinating Team.
Father Gregory Gay, director of MISEVI, is the animator of the Association and has promoted its extension throughout the world, especially in those places where there is a presence of the Vincentian Family.
The spirituality of MISEVI
The poor are the privileged recipients of the Gospel … We have to state without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor (Evangelii Gaudium, #48).
Our lay spirituality is clearly expressed in our option for the mission and for the poor, an option that is lived out from the perspective of the Vincentian charism and lived out in the midst of the ecclesial community. Those dimensions are at the very heart of our “being” and “doing” as lay missionaries.
Our spirituality enables us to discover that living our lay missionary vocation from the perspective of the Vincentian charism is, in fact, a lifestyle in which Christ is the center of our faith and the guiding force of our missionary life.
We want to give recognition to and express our gratitude to the members of the Congregation of the Mission and the Company of the Daughters of Charity for their support as they accompany us and provide us with a process of formation … all of which helps us to clarify and to strengthen our identity as members of MISEVI.
The journey that the members of MISEVI have undertaken during these years has demonstrated the fact that the missionary task is vast. Each day we discover new areas of mission. Pope Francis, with his call to go out to the peripheries, makes us question ourselves with regard to the new places of mission and the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ to those men and women who are most poor and abandoned. We also question ourselves with regard to our vocation and our missionary commitment. At the same time we feel the need to accept certain criteria that impel us to minister in a manner that strengthens our bonds of solidarity with the poorest and most abandoned members of society.
Today, missionary activity still represents the greatest challenge for the Church and the missionary task must remain foremost (Evangelii Gaudium, #15).
It is with great joy and with a sense of great responsibility that we live the experience of being sent forth to the mission and thus able to minister in union with the Church and in collaboration with the Vincentian Family. As we deepen our spirituality and engage in missionary activity we offer people our youthful vitality and our specific charism as laypersons.
The missionary spirituality is, at all times, a motivation that gives meaning to our commitment and enables us to be faithful. That same spirituality enables us to continue to follow Jesus Christ, to respond to the call to holiness and to maintain ourselves in a state of constantly searching for God’s will.
To joyfully proclaim the gospel to the poor implies sharing our gifts, our faith and our life … and doing this in a manner that reveals our affective and effective love. Missionaries are called to grow and deepen their faith as a result of the lived experiences in the mission, recognizing, of course, that they will encounter difficulties, challenges and demands. It is from that perspective that the missionaries express their spirituality, their commitment and their sense of belonging.
The missionary life commits us to encounter the presence of Christ on the faces of our poor brothers and sisters. The missionary life also invites us to become present in the midst of the world and there, in the midst of the reality in which find ourselves, to minister in accord with the will of the Father and in accord with gospel values.
As we embody our missionary spirituality it is most important to have our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ, the missionary of the Father. Indeed, it is only in that manner that we are able to proclaim the kingdom of justice, peace and liberation. The missionary spirituality of MISEVI is centered on living the mystery of Christ who was sent to proclaim the good news. We, too, are sent forth to proclaim the same good news and to collaborate with Christians and non-Christians in building a new world.
As lay missionaries we open ourselves to the richness of the various vocations and charisms which, in turn, demand of us new forms of engaging in the process of inculturation and collaborating with others in ministry.
Vincentian spirituality has as its center an encounter with Christ in those persons who are poor. Vincent lived his life from the perspective of a mission in which he firmly believed that said encounter was transcendental with regard to his vocation: to work for the salvation of poor country people is the main purpose of our vocation … and that is as true as that we are here (CCD:XI:121, 122).
As lay missionaries we are called to embrace that same conviction that will always fill us with great joy as we fulfill the mission. As members of the Vincentian Family we are called to live those characteristic virtues which Vincent saw as indispensable if his followers were sincere in their desire to draw closer to and to serve those who live in the midst of poverty. Those virtues of humility, simplicity, mortification, gentleness and apostolic zeal must characterize, strengthen and distinguish our ministry.
Vincent found humility when he placed himself beside those persons who were most abandoned: the hungry and forsaken men, women and children. He lived simplicity as he spoke clearly and forcefully on behalf of the poor and as he attempted to alleviate their suffering. Vincent’s energy and fervor inspired other men and women to follow Christ and to become ministers of God’s love. The members of the institutions that he established (the Congregation of the Mission, the Company of the Daughters of Charity and the Confraternities of Charity) were sent out to serve the poor. Through sacrifice Vincent discovered a path of spiritual growth that enabled him to become immersed in the world of the abandoned. The form of asceticism (at times referred to as mortification) that was practiced by Vincent de Paul led to a multiplication of God’s gifts among the poor. The lay missionaries, if they want to follow Saint Vincent and serve Christ in the person of the poor, must live their lives in a similar manner.
Vincent would say that the mission directs one’s life toward the poor who are being damned for want of knowing the things necessary for salvation (CCD:I:112). Those people lack the necessary means to take advantage of certain opportunities and to develop their dignity as children of God. We know that all missionaries must make an effort to live in communion with those persons who are poor … and at the same time missionaries must allow themselves to be evangelized by those who are poor.
Lay Vincentian missionaries must cultivate those elements that define their vocation and that enable them to respond to God’s call. As missionaries we want to be light to the world and salt of the earth and thus give witness to the three dimension of our baptismal commitment (priest, prophet and king). It is in this way that we respond to God’s call to serve those persons who are poorest.
Inspired by the Vincentian charism, the laity build up the Church and do so as people of faith, as credible witnesses, as collaborative ministers who communicate and celebrate their faith, thus responding to the needs of the poor from the perspective of the gospel.
As believer, we attempt to harmonize all these dimensions of our faith life through dialogue, community discernment and as we attempt to respond to the call that God extends to us in each moment of our history.
Each community of MISEVI attempts to provide ministries that give priority to the proclamation of the word and catechesis (area of evangelization), to ministries that are life giving (area of social justice) and to ministries that celebrate the good news that is proclaimed in the various places where we minister (area of liturgy).
Jesus’ disciples showed the way to cultivate a missionary spirituality. They learned how to be apostles of faith as they imitated the example of Jesus who was sent by the Father. Vincent has shown us the way to continue the mission and at the same time the members of the Congregation of the Mission and the Company of the Daughters of Charity have shown us the path that we must travel if we are to be faithful to our spirituality. As lay missionaries we are called to live as missionary-disciples of Christ and to engage in a process of on-going conversion in which we become more conformed to Jesus, to his lifestyle and values. In this way we become authentic ministers and experience the interior joy that is given by the Spirit to those who live their lives from the perspective of faith.
As a result of his incarnation, Christ overcame the distances and the barriers that separate the human from the divine. He lived his life in union with the Father and the Father’s plan. In fact, Jesus’ life cannot be understood apart from his intimate relationship with the Father. We, as missionaries and participants in Jesus’ mission, ought to be guided by the inspiration and the activity of the Holy Spirit and (as the Church recommends) we ought to live in profound unity with Jesus by means of individual and community prayer. In this way we become, like Vincent, contemplatives in action.
Christ accepts the human person as he/she is and became poor in order to incarnate himself into our weakness. As we share in the life and the culture of the people to whom we are sent, we maintain ourselves in an on-going dynamic. Every missionary has to engage in a continual process of inculturation and has to fulfill their calling as an exodus events that, in a spirit of renunciation, accepts misunderstandings and failures as they fulfill their mission in imitation of Jesus Christ, that is, as they live a life of integrity in the midst of the people and as they are willing to commit themselves and engage in the process of evangelization for the whole of their life.
Pope Francis tells us: I invite everyone to be bold and creative in their task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization (Evangelii Gaudium, #33).
Lay missionaries, sent forth by their parish and/or diocesan community, continue the life and the mission of Jesus Christ. They do this in imitation of Vincent de Paul and at a specific time in history as they respond generously and whole-heartedly to the call of God and as they immerse themselves into the reality in which they minister (loving and suffering and being formed by that reality). Thus, lay missionaries can view their mission as being accomplished together with the poor, living in the midst of the poor with the gentleness, attentiveness and willingness of Vincent de Paul.
The poor are my worry and my sorrow ; the poor are our lords and masters and we are unworthy to render them our little services (CCD:XI:349). Lay missionaries have to come to appreciate the values in the new culture in which they minister, values that are often embodied in the men and women whom they evangelize.
Vincent found Jesus in the person of the poor … living, serving and evangelizing the poor and revealing to them God’s love. As they proclaim the gospel with joy, the lay missionaries have to announce the freedom that God offers to all people and also reveal the possibility of living a new life.
We follow the example of Jesus as we fulfill the mission that we have received, that is, contemplating Christ in every poor person that we encounter, proclaiming the kingdom of God with humility, simplicity and love, and cultivating our Vincentian spirituality. Our service on behalf of those who are poor is concretized in our gentleness and in that manner in which we draw closer to people. Our missionary spirituality is grounded on prayer and contemplation because we are convinced that it is through prayer and contemplation that we will achieve success. Indeed, it is prayer and contemplation that provide us with the means that are over and above all other human resources: Give me a man of prayer, and he will be able to do anything (CCD:XI:76).
As missionaries we know that it is through prayer that we receive the strength and the inspiration for our ministry. Daily prayer (personal and community prayer), reflection on the scriptures and participation in the sacraments keep us faithful as we continue to follow Jesus Christ.
With the passing of time, we have discovered our commitment in living the fullness of our Vincentian vocation which, in turn, leads us to seek Jesus Christ in the person of those who are poor, thus making our affective love, effective. Therefore, you will find us in schools and hospitals and villages, etc. Vincent has told us: Let us love God, brothers, let us love God, but let it be with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows (CCD:XI:32).
As we minister and love those men and women who are poor, as we collaborate with them in projects that improve their well-being and as we live our lives with simplicity and humility and generosity, we discover a new horizon and a call to collaborate in the process of evangelizing those people most in need.
We live in community as Jesus did with his disciples who left everything in order to follow him. Today, the community of Jesus is formed by those persons who fulfill the will of the Father and who live their life from the perspective of the Kingdom. As members of MISEVI we continually seek to discover and to live in accord with God’s will and his plan and like those first disciples we confront those difficulties that we find in our path, we are united in love and communion and we are nourished by the same charism.
As lay missionaries we opt for a community life, attempting to become more mature, accepting our personal and community limitations (those that limit us in our ministry on behalf of the kingdom) and we seek to live in communion for the good of the community and the ministry that we have chosen. This common lifestyle sustains us in our community prayer, in our projects, our reflections and celebrations of the Eucharist. We seek to continue to form ourselves so that we might be renewed in our ministry of evangelization.
Present challenges for MISEVI
First, we need to strengthen and cultivate a deeper spirituality that has the following characteristics:
- A focus on the Word of God;
- A focus on the heritage that Vincent de Paul has passed on to us;
- A spirituality that is incarnated in the reality;?
- A spirituality in which we are attentive to the signs of the time, to the cries of poor as and to the urgent needs of the Church;
- A spirituality that flows from our personal and community prayer.
We must always question our activity and discern new ways of proclaiming the gospel to the poor while empowering them to be the subjects of their own promotion: Our faith in Christ, who became poor, and was always close to the poor and the outcast, is the basis of our concern for the integral development of society’s most neglected members (Evangelii Gaudium, #186).
Therefore we need to revitalize our mission:
- By evangelizing with creativity and enthusiasm and allowing ourselves to be evangelized by the poor;
- By listening to the poor and promoting their role as protagonists in society and in the church;
- By acting in union with the other branches of the Vincentian Family;
- By ministering with the poor in order to transform the present structures of oppression and injustice;
- By rediscovering the joy and the challenge in evangelization and service.
We have to engage in a process of on-going formation: Of course, all of us are called to mature in our work as evangelizers. We want to have better training, a deepening love and a clearer witness to the gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, #121). We have to prepare ourselves to live out our vocation and mission and therefore we should engage in formation programs that provide us with the following:
- an analysis of the social-cultural situation and its challenges;
- a deeper understanding of the scriptures, tradition, the Church’s teaching, especially her social doctrine;
- a greater awareness of our Vincentian identity as members of MISEVI;
- the role of communication;
- methods of fostering collaboration.
There has been a growing awareness of the identity and mission of the laity in the Church. We can count on many lay persons, although still not nearly enough, who have a deeply-rooted sense of community and great fidelity to the tasks of charity, catechesis and the celebration of the faith. We have to maintain a lifestyle that confirms us in our identity by (1) actively and consciously participating in projects and initiatives of the various local associations and (2) maintaining ourselves informed and interested in all that refers to our Association.
Finally, in order to reinforce our missionary identity we must be ever mindful of the following:
- To be a missionary is to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, evangelizing the poor;
- To be a missionary is to have found true hope in Jesus Christ and to have committed oneself to building up the kingdom of God;
- To be a missionary is to be inspired by the Holy Spirit in discerning the signs of the time;
- To be a missionary is to have one’s eyes wide open in order to discover the needs of the poor;
- To be a missionary is to be in communion with the church, to celebrate the sacraments and to serve others;
- To be a missionary is to live in a community of MISEVI.
We cannot leave aside that which is an essential element of our Vincentian spirituality, namely, the important role of Mary, the faithful virgin, the first Christian. Mary is the Queen of the Missions and continues to animate us as we build up the kingdom. May Mary, Queen of the Missions, accompany us and watch over us as we engage in the mission that has been entrusted to us?
 Vincent de Paul, Correspondence, Conferences, Documents, translators: Helen Marie Law, DC (Vol. 1), Marie Poole, DC (Vol. 1-14), James King, CM (Vol. 1-2), Francis Germovnik, CM (Vol. 1-8, 13a-13b [Latin]), Esther Cavanagh, DC (Vol. 2), Ann Mary Dougherty, DC (Vol. 12); Evelyne Franc, DC (Vol. 13a-13b), Thomas Davitt, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), Glennon E. Figge, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), John G. Nugent, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), Andrew Spellman, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]); edited: Jacqueline Kilar, DC (Vol. 1-2), Marie Poole, DC (Vol. 2-14), Julia Denton, DC [editor-in-chief] (Vol. 3-10, 13a-13b), Paule Freeburg, DC (Vol. 3), Mirian Hamway, DC (Vol. 3), Elinor Hartman, DC (Vol. 4-10, 13a-13b), Ellen Van Zandt, DC (Vol. 9-13b), Ann Mary Dougherty (Vol. 11, 12 and 14); annotated: John W. Carven, CM (Vol. 1-14); New City Press, Brooklyn and Hyde Park, 1985-2014; volume XI, p. 283-284; future references to this work will be inserted into the text using the initials [CCD] followed by the volume number, followed by the page number, for example, CCD:XI:283-284.
Translated by: Charles T. Plock, CM