Collaboration in the Vincentian Family
by Eli Chaves Dos Santos, C.M.
This year’s theme for the Vincentian Family is collaboration. Our conviction is that collaboration among the various branches of the Vincentian Family is necessary for the qualitative and quantitative development of service on behalf of the poor. Today it seems that every area of life encourages and promotes collaboration. People seek to develop projects that naturally involve networking and cooperation among groups and individuals, projects that will optimize material and human resources in order to achieve better and greater results. The organization and the animation of the Vincentian Family involve a search for learning and developing this spirit of collaboration from a gospel perspective, for the revitalization and the effectiveness of charity and the Vincentian mission. Collaboration is an indispensable key for creative fidelity to the Vincentian vocation. To deny that reality or to be indifferent to it means that we live our life within the parameters of “the culture of the always,” which annuls the power of the Holy Spirit who calls us to move out from situations of stagnation and to build up our Vincentian identity in intimate relation with the new realities and the challenges that history presents to us.
1. Today the Vincentian Family is called to be an instrument of collaboration for the revitalization of its life and mission. Collaboration with the Vincentian Family and as a Vincentian Family helps us to reflect upon and to embrace our Vincentian vocation with all of its present and future possibilities and challenges. As we support one another in sharing our gifts and the richness of our mission in all its diversity, we thus open up new perspectives for the revitalization of the life and the mission of the branches while at the same time promoting joint activities and plans that change the present reality and generate Vincentian vitality. This driving and motivating dimension of collaboration surpasses conventional practices and goes beyond the so called “established boundaries” of the branches because it demands a participative attitude, an openness to new ways of engaging in service on behalf of the poor and the courage to face our fears, hesitations and indecisiveness. Collaboration helps us to communicate and to live the charism with all its newness and also invites each branch to define in a better way its place and role within the Church and within society, thus seeing itself as an effective agent of Vincentian service on behalf of the poor.
a. Collaboration, which is so valued, encouraged and present in today’s world, takes on a functionalist dimension that seeks reorganization on the level of administration and better results and efficiency with regard to production. Let us listen to the words that Pope Francis addressed to the bishops of Latin America: Functionalism. Its effect on the Church is paralyzing. More than being interested in the road itself, it is concerned with fixing holes in the road. A functionalist approach has no room for mystery; it aims at efficiency. It reduces the reality of the Church to the structure of an NGO. What counts are quantifiable results and statistics. The Church ends up being run like any other business organization. It applies a sort of “theology of prosperity” to the organization of pastoral work[1. Pope Francis, Address to the Leadership of the Episcopal Conferences of Latin America during the General Coordination Meeting, July 28, 2013.]. Collaboration finds its soul in the very mystery of the Church which, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is called to create unity through the diversity of gifts, persons, groups and realities. Such unity grounds and stimulates collaboration and is fruitful because the various initiatives are complimentary and enlighten one another. Furthermore, that same unity enables each branch to discover its proper gifts through fraternal confrontation and sharing.
b. The Vincentian Family is challenged to develop its collaborative activity from the perspective of the Vincentian understanding of mission and charity and also as an expression of its love for the poor. In order that the process of collaboration not become functionalistic it must be developed in harmony with the spiritual elements that characterize and define our Vincentian identity. Since we are called to give witness to Christ’s preferential love for the poor, the Vincentian Family is challenged to develop a process of collaboration from the perspective of the cries of the poor. Vincent’s ministry was communitarian and participative … a team ministry. Vincent de Paul gathered together Missionaries and lay people; he mobilized and formed many people; he knew how to develop the process of collaboration in order to establish his various institutions and to accomplish the many plans and projects that involved the mission and charity. The witness of Vincent de Paul invites us to engage in a process of collaboration that is an expression of our solidarity as well as our missionary endeavor on behalf of the poor. In fact collaboration is an expression and a demand of the Vincentian virtue of zeal for the evangelization of the poor.
c. True collaboration is developed from the perspective of an attitude of humility and responsibility that enables groups and individuals to realize that they need one another. It was not accidental that throughout Vincent de Paul’s life and ministry he emphasized humility as an indispensable virtue in the life of a missionary. Humility supposes a continual emptying of self with regard to power and self-sufficiency … it demands an interdependence among persons and communities. No one is sufficient unto him/herself; no member of the Vincentian Family and no branch of the Vincentian Family can view itself as self-sufficient and therefore without any need for help from others. Collaboration leads us to consider collaborators as those persons who have qualities and abilities that can be developed and who can help us to grow in charity. An attitude of reciprocity and responsibility, an attitude of interdependence and openness to collaboration with another requires a fraternal relationship that is not based on power. The humble exchange of gifts and the combining of forces helps groups and individuals to become creative, to discover their own strengths and possibilities, to transform themselves and to collaborate in order to confront the present day challenges and to accomplish their common objectives in a more effective manner.
2. Looking at the present situation of the Vincentian Family we can state that there are still many challenges that must be confronted and many practices that must be perfected and developed in order for us to grow in our ministry that will in turn enable us to be productive instruments of collaboration in service of the poor
a. We are challenged to broaden the horizon of the Vincentian mission. During times of crisis various factors and situations can complicate the process of evangelizing the poor and can create numerous problems that threaten the stability and the missionary outreach of the various branches. There is a great danger that the various branches will close in upon themselves when confronted with difficulties and that attitude will only feed their resistance and fears and will ultimately create a vicious circle that prevents them from finding creative solutions to their problems. In fact as we close in upon ourselves we create a certain rigidity that robs us of the needed flexibility to change and at the same time our common ideals are weakened. It is necessary for us to reach out and to open ourselves to the process of collaboration. Otherwise the branches and their ministry will become asphyxiated and then soon die of anemia. During this time of great challenges and possibilities it is important for us to listen to and to embrace the prophetic words of Isaiah who during the crisis of the exile (and while awaiting the liberation of the people) exhorted the community: Enlarge the space for your tent, spread out your tent cloths unsparingly (Isaiah 54:2). The Vincentian Family is called to be attentive to the movement of the Spirit so that the “tent” of the Vincentian experience can be enlarged in a bold and creative manner, so that a new and broader meaning can be given to the Vincentian mission, and so that we can discern common commitments that will benefit those men and women who are poor.
b. We are challenged to embrace a responsible and coherent option with regard to collaboration. Pope Francis spoke about the divisions and the conflicts within the Church and exhorted Christians to give witness to fraternal communion. He stated: Let everyone admire how you care for one another, and how you encourage and accompany one another … we are all in the same boat and headed to the same port! (Evangelii Gaudium, #99). We are members of the same family and our lot is the poor. Our awareness of a common mission and of the urgent challenges of the present day ought to help us to overcome cultural and ideological barriers and to lead us along the path of mutual assistance. We need to deepen our understanding of belonging to the Vincentian Family and we also need to learn to embrace collaboration as a way of life and as a strategy for our activity.
c. We are challenged to develop and strengthen co-responsibility as well as the processes and the mechanisms for collaboration. The Vincentian Family frequently comes together and has many proposals for different forms of joint action. Nevertheless, the great difficulty is the concrete realization of common objectives as well as working together in common projects. So that the Vincentian Family might function together in an effective manner and not remain on the level of “good intentions” certain concrete and specific decisions and practices are necessary:
• The option for collaboration supposes a strengthening of our communion and responsibility. The proposal to act with the Vincentian Family and as the Vincentian Family needs to be accepted, supported and practiced by all the members. Indeed, the members of the Vincentian Family should cultivate a spirit of communion and team ministry so that as a body we might function in a productive and harmonious manner. If every individual thinks only of him/herself, the Vincentian Family will quickly lose its strength and its ability to act. It is indispensable to believe in the value and the importance of the Vincentian Family, in the value and the importance of each and every member. Each branch must embrace its objectives, criteria, structures and activities and then should develop in a co-responsible manner the commitments that they have accepted (utilizing the necessary means so that those commitments can be fulfilled).
• Collaboration for the development of service on behalf of the poor involves a lengthy process of reflection, maturation and activity. It requires the definition of goals, that is, elaborating a common agenda of long-term and short-term proposals and plans which include specific actions that are to be taken. It is important to create and nourish these processes through a profound interaction with the reality of the poor and the reality of each branch and through constant and determined work.
• The process of collaboration that is proposed by the Vincentian Family is not voluntary activity that is done by a small group of people or by the leaders of the various branches. Collaboration supposes the active and co-responsible participation of all the branches, of all the leaders and of all the members. Therefore it is necessary to create and impel mechanisms for collaboration and participation. If reflection and the proposals of the Family remain the restricted property of a few people or of some specific gatherings, then such proposals will lose their energizing strength and we will find ourselves operating on the level of “good intentions.” Thus it is indispensable to create and encourage mechanism that will involve individual persons and the various branches of the Family in a participative process of collaboration. Participation on the various levels is indispensable in order to define goals, to discern the means available in order to achieve those goals and to commit everyone to the achievement of common projects.
The proposal with regard to collaboration within the Vincentian Family is very enriching but also very difficult and challenging. Pope Francis has warned us: Challenges exist to be overcome! Let us be realists, but without losing our joy, our boldness and our hope-filled commitment. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of missionary vigor! (Evangelii Gaudium, #109). As a Vincentian Family we need to value, to deepen and to promote collaboration and not allow the difficulties to rob us of this important instrument of revitalization with regard to the Vincentian mission of serving the poor.
Rome, January 2015.
Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM