AIC – Vincent’s Spirit and our Journey

by | Apr 1, 2014 | International Association of Charities - Ladies of Charity, Vincentian Family

AIC-LCUSAAs part of their continuing preparation for the celebration of the 400th anniversary of their founding by Vincent the leadership team of the AIC offers another in its monthly ongoing formation resources.


Saint Vincent’s Spirit and Project Inspire our Journey 

Text: María Eugenia Magallanes Negrete — Translation: Father Charlie Plock


AIC (known at that time as the “Charities”), was born out of the spiritual experience of St. Vincent de Paul, who found in his contact with the poor the image of Christ disfigured and also discovered in Jesus Christ, evangelizer of the poor, the real model and the great invisible framework to which all our actions will have to conform.  With eyes fixed on Jesus, Saint Vincent found the spirit that would guide his life, as well as the actions of his followers. This is the gift that the Holy Spirit, through Saint Vincent, gave to the Church and especially to us, the Vincentians. This is the origin of the AIC, the nature, spirit, light and strength of its mission.

Another characteristic of Saint Vincent’s project is the concept of the poor as persons who have rights and dignity and as a result we owe them justice, not pity.

  • There is no act of charity that is not accompanied by justice (CCD:II:68).
  • May God grant you the grace of softening our hearts toward the wretched creatures and of realizing that in helping them we are doing an act of justice and not of mercy (CCD:VII:115).

According to Vincent de Paul the manner in which we love or do not love those living in poverty is a sign of our love for God or a sign of our betrayal of God.

Development of the Theme:

Here we present a practical application of the project and method that our Founders have passed on to us.

1)      The need for organization and training

Saint Vincent, often with the assistance of Louise de Marillac, wrote Rules for the Confraternities of Charity and these Rules were adapted to the distinct reality of the specific place.  Father André Dodin wrote about the Rule of the first Confraternity in Châtillon and called it a masterpiece of tenderness and organization[1].  In the Rule that he wrote, Vincent noted that the people [of that town] have sometimes suffered a great deal, more through a lack of organized assistance than from the lack of charitable persons (CCD:XIIIb:8).  If Vincent and Louise saw the importance of acting in accord with a Rule, then today it is indispensable that our activity be in accord with a plan.

The more unstructured the lives of those whom we serve implies that our intervention should be all the more structured methodologically.  Today professional competency is absolutely necessary in order to respond to and become involved in:

  • An on-going study of the situations of poverty;
  • The development of a critical awareness of the causes of poverty;
  • The development of a plan with measurable outcomes;
  • Appropriate and adequate intervention that involves planning in terms of methods, management and evaluation.

2)      Clarity in our analysis of the reality

Today poverty is not something that is inevitable.  For the first time in the history of humankind there are sufficient resources so that no one should be wanting with regard to basic needs.  Poverty, marginalization, and exclusion are realities that are the fruit of what John Paul II referred to as structures of sin (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #36) … they are realities that are manifestations of our unequal and unjust distribution of goods.  God does not want this situation to exist and Vincent de Paul cried out against this situation as it existed and as he experienced it during his lifetime.  Today, as in the past, there is no such thing as political neutrality.  Silence when confronted with these realities is to become an accomplice in this injustice and means that we are willing to tolerate and to allow the injustice to continue … it is a passive manner of cooperating with injustice.

Before developing a plan it is very important to analyze the reality.  Also as we analyze the present reality it is equally important to know how to frame specific situations so that possible solutions can be discovered and implemented within the community itself.

3)      To be clear about the model of society that we desire and to understand its consequences

In order for our denunciation to be prophetic and morally valid, it should be accompanied by a testimony of our life … thus we must maintain an on-goingtension between denunciation and proclamation.

As a result of our lifestyle we ought to be able to state:

  • That it is possible for “being” to replace “having” as a basic value in our society;
  • That we need much less in order to satisfy our fundamental human needs;
  • That the quality of our relationships fills us with a happiness that is far greater than that which we obtain from our material possessions.

4)      To firmly believe in people

This supposes the development of basic attitudes:

  • Consideration for all people, without exception … we are all subjects with rights and responsibilities;
  • To trust in the ability of all people to better themselves and move forward.

These attitudes imply a perspective of faith: “turn the medal, and you will see by the light of faith that the Son of God, who willed to be poor, is represented to us by these poor people” (CCD:XI:26).

Our elders in the Vincentian charism taught us to view the poor in such a way that we affirm them as being our masters who by their presence evangelize us.  At the same time we affirm them as our lords whom we ought to love with great tenderness and whom we ought to respect at all times.

Direct assistance on behalf of the poor should not be seen as an end in itself nor as some isolated activity but rather it should be viewed as a means that helps us to make the poor aware of the need to move forward in their personal development.  We are not as such attempting to resolve problems but rather we want to accompany people on their journey through life.  This is a slow process and has as its starting point respect for the ability of men and women to organize their own lives.  A criterion to use as we evaluate our activity is to look at the level of autonomy that is achieved by the various persons with whom we work.

The best educators are those who enable people to develop all of their potential and then accompany them in that process of development.

5)      The ability to collaborate and to work together as part of a network

The process that we have referred to is an individual process but it is also a process that should be developed in the group and in coordination with other services.  Our activity should not be isolated and we should not accept a “lone ranger” attitude or activity that is being done without the knowledge of others.  Hopefully we will always coordinate our plans with other branches and members of the Vincentian Family … with each branch contributing the richness of the gift that is specific to them.

We should remember that in Châtillon, Vincent intervened in the midst of the environment in which the problem arose and was able to organize action that flowed from the initiative of the people of that community.  The same would be repeated in the other Confraternities.

6)      To recognize the poor as a gift in our life

Even though those who are poor appear to be persons who “receive” because of the extreme situation in which they find themselves, nevertheless, they give us an example about the “openness to receive”.  If during our life we never establish a relationship with people in need, we will never discover all the various abilities that we possess.

With the discovery of our limitations and our prejudices we are able to grow as we then accompany others in their journey through life.  In fact, it is here that the expression concerning the poor as our lords and masters acquires its true significance and value.

We should never place an excessive trust in our resources because such an attitude will make us forget about God’s providence.  In order to evaluate our service we must understand that we follow Jesus whose life was an apparent failure; we must understand that we are the spiritual children of Vincent de Paul who was focused on accomplishing God’s plan in the same manner that Jesus did, as expressed in the Gospel of Luke:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19).

Personal and Community Reflection:

May Mary, our Mother, who always knows how to provide for the needs of others, help us to reflect more deeply on each point in this presentation.  May Mary also help us to give life to the concepts that have been explained here.  Finally, may Mary help us to live our life for the glory of God and for the greater well-being of those living in poverty.

Activities and Questions:

  • Describe how Saint Vincent’s spirituality has inspired you in your work?
  • In which points of this presentation do you find some important elements with regard to systemic change?
  • In our Operational Guidelines, we use the phrase: education is a two-way process …. Where do you find this concept expressed in this presentation?

Prayer, followed by a hymn:

All powerful and eternal God, who filled the heart of Saint Vincent de Paul with charity, listen to our prayer and allow us to share in your love.  In imitation of Saint Vincent and Saint Louise help us to discover and to serve you, Lord Jesus, in our poor and marginalized brothers and sisters.  May we learn how to love you with the sweat of our brows and the strength of our arms (Cf.CCD:XI:32).  Free us from hatred and make us mindful of the fact that one day we will be judged on the manner in which we have loved.  Gracious God, you who desire the salvation of all people, provide us with the priests, monks, nuns and AIC volunteers that we so urgently need and may they be witnesses of your love.  Virgi the Poor and Queen of Peace, give our divided and anguished world the gifts of your love and peace.  Ame

AIC International Secretariat – Rampe des Ardennais 23 – 1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium

+32(0) 10 45 63 53 |  7: +32(0) 10 45 80 63 (fax) | Â

AIC, an international network that fights against poverty, which works primarily with women.

[1] Dodin, CM, André, Vincent de Paul and Charity [Translated by Jean Marie Smith and Dennis Saunders], New City Press, New York, 1993, p. 25.


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