“Vincent’s spiritual vision was broadened with the passage of time and his direct knowledge of the different forms of poverty was also amplified. “This is the conclusion of Father Jaime Corera, CM in an article newly translated from the Spanish for famvin.
He broadened his vision connecting material and spiritual needs. He recognized many forms of poverty he did not at first see.
“What a difference the passing of years made in the language that Vincent used to communicate to the Missionaries the purpose for which he established the Congregation. Vincent expressed this vision in a conference that he gave in 1658 when he spoke of his vision and referred to the “being” and the “doing” of the Congregation: If there are any among us who think they are in the Mission to evangelize poor people but not to alleviate their sufferings, to take care of their spiritual needs but not their temporal ones, I reply that we have to help them and have them assisted in every way, by us and by others … to do this is to preach the Gospel by words and by works (CCD:XII;77-78).
“Thus we have a clear expression of Vincent’s definitive vision which was spoken as a form of testament two years before his death.”
Witness the following paragraphs from his conclusion…
“This was the result of discovering new forms of poverty in Paris and its surrounding area, then in other parts of France, later in other parts of Europe and yes, even in other parts of the world. In 1617-1618 Vincent committed his ministry to the peasants and the sick poor. Soon thereafter he began to care for the galley salves. Then as a result of his relationship with Louse de Marillac and her Daughters of Charity the poor began to appear everywhere. (in the film, Monsieur Vincent, these words were spoken to Vincent by a nobleman). We can begin to envision Vincent’s view of poverty by simply listing some of the different classes of poor people that became part of his life. This vision began in 1617 with an experience that led him to dedicate his life to the poor peasants and the sick poor.
- 1634: the sick poor in public hospitals (Ladies of Charity, Daughters of Charity).
- 1638: abandoned children (Ladies of Charity, Daughters of Charity).
- 1639: war refugees (Daughters of Charity, Congregation of the Mission).
- 1645: Christians held captive in North Africa (Congregation of the Mission).
- 1648: the people of Madagascar (Congregation of the Mission).
- 1649: victims of the wars in Paris and the surrounding areas (Congregation of the Mission, Daughters of Charity, Ladies of Charity).
- 1650: assistance to people living in devastated areas (Congregation of the Mission, Daughters of Charity, Ladies of Charity).
- 1654: homes for the elderly (Congregation of the Mission, Daughters of Charity); wounded soldiers (Daughters of Charity).
“We could add to this list the assistance that Vincent provided to literally thousands of beggars, to noble families from Ireland who were ruined and exiled, to men and women religious who were fleeing the devastation of war and living in very precarious situations.
“The poor were everywhere…
“The element that all these groups share in common was the fact that these men and women were poor. They lacked those goods that would have enabled them to subsist and this reality was often accompanied by other forms of poverty: religious ignorance, lack of freedom, illness, social marginalization. As a result of Vincent’s experience in Châtillon it was very clear that caring for the poor must involve providing for their spiritual and material needs. The human person must be seen as a whole, in all his/her dimensions and not viewed from the single dimension of their relationship with God nor, on the other hand, from the single dimension of their lack of material goods. The criteria that guided Vincent and the groups that he inspired in deciding to care for one group of individuals and not another was the lack of resources for sustaining themselves. If we do not understand this then we will nor understand Vincent’s concern for noble Irish immigrants who had been ruined as they fled Protestant persecution now will we understand Vincent’s concern for priests and religious women who were living in precarious situations. It could be supposed that these groups of persons did not need spiritual assistance. But then, this was not the motivating factor that led Vincent to act, rather it was the fact that these individuals lacked the most basic resources,
“Vincent de Paul’s vision was expanded beyond his initial experience in Châtillon. This broader vision extended not only to the types of poor people that were cared for but also to the manner in which these people were assisted. The Rule for the Confraternity in Châtillon describes the situation of those person who were ill and thus receiving a form of help that today we might refer to as “public assistance”. This approach continued to predominate not only in the works of the many Confraternities that were later established but also in the activities of other institutions. Yes, this approach was certainly predominant but was not the only approach. In some Confraternities that were established in Paris, their Rule provided for other types of activity that were oriented toward human promotion and the professional formation of young men and women who as a result of said activity were expected to provide for themselves (CCD:49, 54, 79, 81-84). Activities of some of the other Vincentian institutions were also oriented toward human promotion, for example, the teaching of young girls in the villages and town where the Confraternity has been established and the formation of orphaned children (these were ministries that were initiated by the Daughters of Charity).
“Vincent’s experience in Châtillon was not characterized by other ways of working with the poor, ways that might be classified today as different approaches to social work. In other words at this phase in Vincent’s life we cannot say that his ministry involved the defense of the rights of those who were poor or a concern for justice on their behalf (for example, interventions in the political arena on behalf of the social well-being of the poor). Examples of these approaches are found in Vincent’s later life, many years after he had left Châtillon. The experience in Châtillon, together with the experience in Folleville that occurred in the same year (1617), planted the seeds that enabled Vincent to live the Christian faith in a new way and provided a foundation for a new spiritual vision that, little by little, produced fruits and was broadened. This vision inspired hundreds of men and women from every social class, men and women who also contributed to this vision, a vision of being Christian that today we know as the vision of Vincentian spirituality.
The full text of the article is available in the Vincentian Encylopedia
Vincent grew in his understanding of who he was called to served (in all forms of poverty) and how he was to serve (both material and spiritual needs). Much of this growth resulted from being stretched by those around him – Madame de Gondi, Louise de Marillac, Marguerite Naseau and others.
- How has my vision of ministry changed over the years?
- Who influenced this change?
- What new forms of poverty would Vincent be interested in today?
Sr. Ellen La Capria’s portrait of Vincent is available at the Depaul image archive.