St. Vincent de Paul told us “We should assist the poor in every way and do it both by ourselves and by enlisting the help of others…. to do this is to preach the gospel by words and work” (CCD 12: Conf. #195). The Vincentian family was invited to focus 2015 as the “Year of Vincentian Collaboration.” We were called to explore new ways to collaborate within the Vincentian family and reflect on ways we are already doing so.
By collaborating with the Vincentian family, the poor are more effectively served. The International Confederation of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul put it beautifully as they agreed: “A more extensive and effective charity could be achieved, bringing together ideas, creativity, work and spirituality, with the common mission of serving Christ in the poor and needy members and growing in their spirituality.”
In Fr. Greg Gay’s letter to the Vincentian Family on January 30 calling for the Year of Vincentian Family Collaboration, national and international Vincentian leaders were asked for their thoughts and reflections regarding the topic. The responses were as diverse as our family itself – not only in their countries of origin, but also in their answers.
The Year of Vincentian Collaboration was given the theme “Together in Christ we Vincentians make a difference.” That became evident as answers were received about how Vincentian collaboration is happening all around the world and continues to develop.
The answer of what Vincentian collaboration meant to them was clear – to collaborate in simple ways to make their area of the globe better, so that the poor may be better served. While all expressed a great sense of desire for their collaboration to grow, all were already practicing collaboration in wonderful ways. Their practice of collaboration was diverse and creative.
Some Vincentian collaboration is done by various branches of the family working together in ministry. In Mexico, two works were created with assistance of various branches of the Vincentian family – “Casa Vicentina” (for human promotion) and the project “Foundation San José de Guadalupe of the Vincentian Family” (for the elderly). Further south, in Cali, Colombia, various branches work together at “Social Service Center Sister María Luisa Courbin.”
Other Vincentian collaboration is done by serving on boards or as spiritual advisors/directors for ministries run by other branches of the Vincentian Family. An example can be in the Western Province of the United States. There, there are CM’s who spiritually guide branches such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Ladies of Charity. It was also shared that new Conferences of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul are often formed by members of the Congregation of the Mission or Daughters of Charity.
Another way that branches collaborate is through celebration and the spread of our charism and vocations. Many around the world spoke of their connection to the Association of the Miraculous Medal, a wonderful way to connect lay people with this important devotion and vital part of our Vincentian history. The Association of the Miraculous Medal itself collaborates with branches of the Vincentian family, as can be seen in Spain. They support the Daughters of Charity in their service in a home for the elderly. They also collaborate with catechists of JMV (Vincentian Marian Youth), which leads into the next point.
This collaboration also spread to young people, even extending to primary school. St. Vincent’s Parish in Sydney, Australia, was the first to establish a group called the Minnie Vinnies, “a programme for primary school children who are introduced through prayer and practical support of the needy to the Spirit of St Vincent.” The group has been a success. In Untermarchtal, Germany, Fr. Christian Rolke, C.M. of the Province of Austria – Germany, participated in a large youth meeting and presented a workshop on Vincentian vocations.
Our work in collaboration within the Vincentian family, however, does not end with the closing of the 2015 – 2016 year. There is still much work to be done.
We are blessed with many branches of the Vincentian family but knowledge of each one’s special charism and ministry still needs to grow. Relationships between some branches still need to be made and kindled. Mgr. Ing. Libuša Miháliková, president of St. Vincent de Paul Society in Slovakia, admitted that collaboration has decreased in the country and they truthfully don’t know a lot about other branches. This concern was not limited to Slovakia, as the Association of the Miraculous Medal in Spain suggested meeting to get to know the various branches of the Vincentian Family. The Daughters of Charity in Milan, Italy recommended more meetings to animate and sustain growth in Vincentian collaboration.
An understanding that all branches of the Vincentian Family (consecrated or lay) carry a key to the charism still needs to be promoted. The “key” to the charism doesn’t solely belong to the Congregation of the Mission or to the Daughters of Charity. St. Vincent and St. Louise emphasized the need to learn from others. We can all agree that oftentimes we learn more from others, whether it be those we serve or other branches of the Vincentian family, than we ever could teach them.
Fr. Mick Walsh, Visitor of the Province of Oceania, brought up an important point – “Here in Oceania, we pride ourselves of working with, learning from, and being inspired by many other Christian, non-Christian and secular groups who care for the poor. Famvin [the Vincentian Family] should open us to the goodness of the world not only tie us down to those who are related to Vincent.” Not only are the needs of the poor calling us to this, but so is our Church.
When speaking at the International Meeting for Peace in 2013, Pope Francis said “Dialogue can defeat war. Dialogue makes people of different generations live together, who often ignore one another; it makes citizens of different ethnic provenance and different convictions live together. Dialogue is the way of peace. Because dialogue fosters understanding, harmony, concord, peace. Because of this, it is vital that it grow, that it spread among people of every condition and conviction as a network of peace that protects the world and the weakest.” While the Holy Father used the word “dialogue,” the same could be said for “collaboration.”
Zafen, a non-profit for micro lending in Haiti, is a perfect example of how this can work. While two of the founders included the international Vincentian Family and DePaul University in the United States, it also included two secular groups – Fonkoze and the Haitian Hometown Associations Resource Group. Where the needs of the poor exist, so do others that care.
We thank the leaders of the Vincentian Family around the world, who spoke so honestly about their thoughts, struggles, and joys of Vincentian collaboration. We pray that this Year of Vincentian Family Collaboration was an inspiration to us all to not lose heart and to seek new and creative ways to work together into the future on behalf of those living in poverty.