The following reflections begins by looking at the ways the different branches of the VIncentian Family define their ministry. It then addresses who are these poor men and women who are referred to in all the mission statements of the branches of the Vincentian Family? The next installment look at the way in which Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac answered this questions
Since the beginning of 2010 I have had the privilege to do translation work for many of the different branches of the Vincentian Family. What binds them together is commitment to service of those who live n poverty.
This work/ministry has provided me with a new perspective on the Vincentian Family because I have become involved in the translation of International Statutes after they had been approved by the Holy See, translation of documents in preparation for General Assemblies or International Gatherings, translation of lines of action that were approved by delegates at the different provincial, national and international gatherings of the Family, translation of reflections distributed to the members of the different groups for on-going formation, translation of documents dealing with the life and spirituality of our Founders, etc.
As a result of these experiences I would like to take some time to share my reflections and new insights with the other members of the Family. I hope to continue to do this sharing on a regular basis.
What follows them is my first reflection and I have entitled it: the Vincentian Family and ministry with the poor. Here I will examine how the different branches of the Vincentian Family define their ministry with the poor and then present some different descriptions of people who are poor, descriptions based on church documents and other sources. A later article will deal with the development of Vincent’s idea of the poor … were they only the poor men and women living in the countryside of France during the seventeenth century? Who were the poor who were ministered to by the Vincentian Family of the seventeenth century?
The Vincentian Family and ministry with people who are poor
The members of the Vincentian Family are bound together by their ministry on behalf of men and women who live in situations of poverty. Let us begin by looking at the ways in which the different branches of the Family define their ministry:
- The Missionaries say that the purpose of the Congregation of the Mission is to follow Christ evangelizing the poor. This purpose is achieved when … the members … work at evangelizing the poor, especially the more abandoned (Constitutions, Article 1).
- The Daughters of Charity describe their commitment in their Constitutions: The Daughters of Charity … give themselves entirely … to the service of Christ in their brothers and sisters who are poor (Constitutions, Article 7)
- The Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati state: Urged by the charity of Christ, we Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, strive to give compelling witness to Christ’s active presence by doing justice, expressed as loving trust shaping all our relationships, and as sharing our individual and Congregational resources for the liberation of the oppressed (http://famvin.org/wiki/Sisters_of_Charity_of_Cincinnati),
- The Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth describe their mission in the following way: As Sisters of Charity we commit ourselves here and now, to embrace anew the charism given us by Vincent, Louise, Mother Xavier: to love the poor, to love one another, to live simply, and to unite the whole of our lives in the poor and loving Christ (http://famvin.org/wiki/Sisters_of_Charity_of_Leavenworth#Mission)
- In the Statutes of the newest branch of the Vincentian Family, MISEVI, their mission is set forth: To give themselves generously to the missionary tasks defined in the missionary commitment and in the community and pastoral plans, thus, living out a concrete commitment in the service/evangelization of persons who are most poor. (Statutes, article 6.2.1.)
- The young men and women of the Vincentian Marian Youth Association view themselves in a similar way: Through its birth in the Family of Saint Vincent de Paul, it is inspired by the Vincentian charism and makes of evangelization and service of the poor distinctive characteristics of its presence in the Church (International Statutes, article 5) … thus, the members will foster, animate, and maintain the missionary spirit in the Association, especially through missionary experiences, in particular among the poor and the young (International Statutes, article 9).
- The members of the other Marian Association, the Miraculous Medal Association, in their recently approved International Statutes define their mission as one of evangelization and service: the ways of exercising the apostolate are multiple. Traditionally, the Miraculous Medal Association in many countries has carried out its apostolate with the family, for example, visiting homes or spreading the message through magazines, popular publications, personal contact or mailed material. The service of charity is exercised by means of projects undertaken on behalf of those who live in poverty and carried out with other branches of the Vincentian Family or by themselves. Each National Miraculous Medal Association engages in both evangelization and service according to the ways that appear to them to be most effective. (International Statutes, article 7.5)
- The oldest branch of the Vincentian Family, the AIC (International Association of Charity) outlines their mission statement on their web site: the mission of the AIC is (1) to fight against all forms of poverty and exclusion, by actions and projects of transformation, (2) to accompany women in specific ways in their search for empowerment and autonomy, (3) to speak out against injustices, put pressure on the structures and the decision makers, to fight against the causes of poverty.
- The members of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society understand their vocation as one of following Christ through service to those in need and so bear witness to His compassionate and liberating love.
Who then are these poor men and women who are referred to in all the mission statements of the branches of the Vincentian Family?
Are they people living in rural areas throughout the world or are they those persons living in large metropolitan cities? Are they the economically poor, the spiritually poor, the educationally poor, the cultural poor?
Are they the immigrants who on December 12, 2011, received a letter from the Latino Bishops of United States in which they stated: In your suffering faces we see the true face of Jesus Christ. We are well aware of the great sacrifice you make for your families’ well-being. Many of you perform the most difficult jobs and receive miserable salaries and no health insurance or social security. Despite your contributions to the well-being of our country, instead of receiving our thanks, you are often treated as criminals because you have violated current immigration laws.
Or are they those men and women in affluent suburbs who were spoken about on the PBS Newshour on Friday evening, December 30th. Men and women who never imagined themselves waiting in line at a food pantry or shopping at a used clothing store. Men and women who had lived a middle class life and now, because of the economic crisis, worry every day (24 hours a day) about being able to provide for the basic needs of their family.
Are these men and women part of the different groups that were described by the Latin American bishops when they met in 1979 in Puebla, Mexico.
- young children, struck down by poverty before they are born, their chance for self-development blocked by irreparable mental and physical deficiencies; and of the vagrant children in our cities who are so often exploited, products of poverty and the moral disorganization of the family;
- young people, who are disoriented because they cannot find their place in society, and who are frustrated particularly in marginal rural and urban areas, by the lack of opportunity to obtain training and work;
- indigenous peoples, and frequently of the Afro-Americans as well; living marginalized lives in inhuman situations, they can be considered the poorest of the poor;
- peasants who, as a social group, live in exile almost everywhere on our continent, deprived of land, caught in a situation of internal and external dependence, and subjected to systems of commercialization that exploit them;
- laborers, who frequently are ill-paid and who have difficulty in organizing themselves and defending their rights;
- the underemployed and the unemployed, who are dismissed because of the harsh exigencies of economic crises, and often because of development-models that subject workers and their families to cold economic calculations;
- the marginalized and overcrowded urban dwellers, whose lack of material goods is matched by the ostentatious display of wealth by other segments of society;
- old people, who are growing more numerous every day, and who are frequently marginalized in a progress-oriented society that totally disregards people not engaged in production … (Puebla 31-39).
The Occupy Wall Street protest has highlighted the fact that more and more people find themselves in the midst of the scandalous reality of economic imbalance in which the gap between the rich and poor continues to widen. Indeed, the luxury of a few becomes an insult to the wretched poverty of the vast masses (cf. Populorum Progressio, #3).
Who then are these individuals with whom the Vincentian Family is called to minister? In the next reflection we will look at the way in which Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac answered this questions … ctpcm