“I was a stranger and you welcomed me”: this is the motto that guides us Vincentians during this year in which we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the charism.
The story that we are now introducing became viral only a month ago: a boy from a secondary school in the neighborhood of Recoleta, Buenos Aires (Argentina), apologized to his teacher for not knowing Spanish well, and not having the tools to be able to answer the questions of an exam.
The student, of Guaraní origin, asked a classmate to help him write this message:
“I’m sorry for not completing [my exam], I understand nothing at all, and I’m very embarrassed to speak because I do not know how to speak a lot in Spanish, only in Guarani, I apologize, I’m sorry, I hope you understand me, because it’s very difficult to start from scratch in another country.”
We know, with greater or lesser deepening, the immense problems and difficulties that the refugees are facing, forced — for different reasons — to leave their place of residence, to insert themselves in a society that is strange and even threatening. By putting ourselves in their place, we can hardly imagine the degree of isolation and loneliness they can suffer. Today, that the displaced is a hot topic in our global society, us Vincentians want to be aware that they are also the face of Christ on earth, and that we are called to be their advocates and to welcome them in the best possible way.
Many times we say that the poor are our teachers. The young Guarani is giving us several lessons, and not insignificant:
- The pain and helplessness suffered by the poor, displaced and refugees is not something intangible, it is very real: it is a poverty to which we must act diligently and without delay, as if to put out a fire, as Saint Vincent de Paul said.
- Says the young man that he is “very embarrassed.” For me — it is my impression — those who should be ashamed are we, the others, who can facilitate (=make easier) the lives of the poor. Instead we put all kinds of barriers, bureaucratic, political, social … to the fact they could live a dignified and stable life. We are who should ask for forgiveness. “Only for your love will the poor people forgive the bread you give them”: it is said in the famous film Monsieur Vincent, putting the words in the mouth of St. Vincent de Paul. Only for our love made action we will receive the forgiveness of the poor and, consequently, the forgiveness of God.
- It is very difficult to start from scratch in another country … I have sometimes had to listen, filled with shame, some affirmations calling refugees “terrorists” or “lazy people” … as if leaving home would be very appealing. Let us add no more sadness to those who already suffer for their situation!
Can we do something? What would St. Vincent do in our place, in our city, in our Vincentian group, in our parish? These must be the questions that tear our heart until we know how to give an adequate response to the tremendous injustice that millions of displaced people are suffering, who are helpless and ignored by the powerful in the world.
Let our position be clear: at least we Vincentians must always be on the side of the poor.
Javier F. Chento