On the occasion of the 400th Anniversary of the Birth of the Vincentian Charism Father Eli Chaves dos Santos, CM invites us to celebrate this historical event as a special time of grace and renewal. Indeed there are many themes in this reflection that express the Lines of Action of the 2016 General Assembly.
In 2017, the Church, and more particularly, the Vincentian Family, will celebrate the 400th anniversary of the birth of the Vincentian charism. This is a significant event and can be a special time to enlighten and revitalize the Vincentian mission of service on behalf of the poor.
1) It is important to celebrate this significant Vincentian event as a special time of grace and to search for the light and the strength that will lead to the revitalization and the strengthening of the Vincentian mission during this time of crisis, challenge and new possibilities. In an article on the time of Pope Francis, Father Manoel Godoy presents various meanings to the word time, reflections that are grounded on the writings of the theologian, Albert Nolan. I believe that we will find there profound insights that can deepen our understanding of the four hundredth anniversary of the birth of the Vincentian charism.
a) When viewed as an empty space, measured and enumerated, time is chronos; it is the time of the calendar, quantifiable, situated in history in which events, of varying degrees of importance, occur.
b) Time is also kairós; in Greek mythology, Kairós was the son of Chronos, the God of time and the seasons. Kairós expressed a metaphorical concept of time, making it indeterminate and immeasurable; this is an understanding of time as a quality, as a unique, favorable and opportune moment in which something can be accomplished. In biblical language, time, as such, signifies a new and important event for the People of God; it is a special grace and the Incarnation of the Word is the best example of kairós.
c) Time can also be viewer as escaton, that is, an event that is to take place in the near future, an action of God that determines the quality, the moral environment and the gravity of the present moment. In the prophetic literature, the day and the time of judgment is an example of escaton … an event that is good news for the poor and ruin for the rich and the unjust. In light of the resurrection, escaton is an opening of doors to a new era … it is also kairós, an opportunity for conversion and an opportunity for rejoicing in God’s liberation and the gift of grace.
2) The four hundredth anniversary of the birth of the Vincentian charism can and ought to be an event that produces many fruits of mission and charity … but this is so only as it relates to, is understood and carried out from the perspective of those three different meanings of time.
a) The four hundredth anniversary is a chronological event: during the course of the year we will remember, deepen our understanding and celebrate two important historical events that Vincent de Paul experienced in 1617. The events that occurred in Folleville (the first sermon of the Mission) and in Châtillon (the organization of the Confraternity of Charity) were two special and complimentary events which, as a result of the discovery of the social and pastoral abandonment of the rural poor in France during the seventeenth century, created in Vincent a new understanding of the reality that surrounded him, a new understanding of his faith and of his priesthood. Those two decisive events led to the discovery, the acceptance and the deepening of a special grace (charism) that had been gifted to Vincent and that enabled him to respond in a concrete and innovative manner to God’s call.
The four hundredth anniversary is a time to know and deepen our knowledge about that historical experience of Vincent de Paul, its evangelical richness, its historical expansion and incarnation during the past four hundred years. Following the example of Vincent de Paul, now is the time to come to a deeper knowledge of the present reality of those persons who are poor and to evaluate our various ministries; now is the time to give thanks for the gift of this charism and to strengthen and renew those commitments that have been embraced by the followers of Vincent de Paul throughout these many years.
b) The celebration of the four hundredth anniversary is an opportune time, kairologically, to visit Folleville and Châtillon, to recreate and actualize (existentially and spiritually) Vincent’s spiritual experience. Vincent had a profound encounter with Jesus that changed his life: Jesus was sent by the Father to evangelize the poor and is, therefore, present in the suffering and abandoned poor men and women … and this Jesus called Vincent to the mission and to charity. By vocation and through the grace of God, Vincent accepted Christ, as his first and definitive love, as the evangelizer of the poor, as the ideal which grounded the remainder of his life (a life of total dedication to the mission and to charity on behalf of the poor).
The four hundredth anniversary is an appropriate time to return to the sources and discover the vigor and the newness of the Vincentian charism, deepening our experience of an encounter with Christ, evangelizer of the poor … an essential condition in order to experience the vitality of our Vincentian vocation. It is a kairological time for individuals and communities to recover the vitality of the charism, to overcome routine and weariness and historical misunderstandings; it is a time to introduce the newness of the charismatic heritage that we have received from Vincent de Paul … and to do this in a creative manner.
This is the appropriate time for the Vincentian Family to engage in the dynamic of on-going conversion: to live in greater solidarity with those who are poor, to listen to their cries, to become renewed in the mystical and charismatic inspiration of Vincent de Paul and finally, in light of the Spirit and the new historical demands, to continually reaffirm that inspiration as an orientation for our life and ministry.
c) The celebration of the four hundredth anniversary of the birth of the Vincentian charism invites us to engage in a profound evaluation with regard to the manner in which we have assimilated and lived the Vincentian charism … and to do this with the vision of creating a new time of hope, a time of renewed and creative commitment and service on behalf of the poor. It is time to open the doors to the future, a future of greater prophetic commitment to building up a better and more just society in which all people can live with dignity.
The experiences of Folleville and Châtillon led Vincent de Paul to read his reality from the perspective of faith … which in turn led Vincent to deepen his faith from the perspective of his reality. That experience led Vincent to make certain changes in his life and to become present in a new way in the midst of the social and ecclesial realities of his era, present with new commitments and new plans, present with a profound love for Christ present in the poor.
The four hundredth anniversary is a time to dream, to unite our efforts, to create a new era that incarnates Jesus’ preferential love for the poor (and does that in accord with the example and the spirit of Vincent de Paul). It is the time to make a serious effort at discernment in order to guarantee happiness without falling into the temptation of repeating the past or accommodating ourselves and/or becoming caught up in practices and attitudes that are incompatible with the present demands of the Vincentian charism. This is the time to renew and reconfigure the Vincentian mission “in accord with the movement of mercy.”
Now, in the midst of a world marked by the end of utopias and marked by the presence of a culture of apathy and individualism and consumerism … now is a privileged time to renew and accept the utopia of the Kingdom which belongs to those who are poor.
The celebration of the four hundredth anniversary is not only an historical, chronological moment that is to be celebrated with many activities and then, concluded at the end of the next calendar year. Rather, it is a time of special grace that enables the Vincentian Family to renew and strengthen the primary reason for its existence, that enables the Vincentian Family to build a fruitful future of mission and charity for the well-being of the poor and the glory of God. May this anniversary be a time of growth in creative fidelity for all the members of the Vincentian Family and may they not lose the love that they had at first (Revelation 2:4)!
Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM
 Tempos e Temas de Francisco in Iprosul, XLII, #190 (April-June 2016), p. 14-19.