When St. Vincent spoke the truth to power… and what we can do today!
Vincent’s courage in speaking the truth to power
While Vincent is best known for his practical works of charity, he also served as an advocate for the poor before the highest authorities, at times at considerable risk to himself. On two occasions he intervened personally to try to bring about peace, when war was wrecking the lives of the poor. He went right to the top.
At some time between 1639 and 1642, during the wars in Lorraine, he went to Cardinal Richelieu, knelt before him, described the horrors of war, and pleaded for peace: “Let us have peace. Have pity on us. Give France peace.” Richelieu refused, responding diplomatically that peace did not depend on him alone.
One of Vincent’s biographers relates an even more striking episode, which he takes from an account written by Vincent’s secretary. In 1649, during the civil war, Vincent left Paris quietly, crossed battle lines and forded a flooded river on horseback (at almost 70 years of age) to see the queen and to beg her to dismiss Mazarin, whom he regarded as responsible for the war.
He also spoke directly to Mazarin himself. But again his pleas went unheeded. Vincent attempted to speak with leaders on both sides and at times felt that a settlement was near, but ambitions and intrigues thwarted his efforts. His attempts at peacemaking earned him the enmity of Mazarin, who, in his secret diary, records him as an enemy. By the time peace finally came, Vincent had been removed from the Council of Conscience.
All those involved in systemic change projects today emphasize the importance of advocacy and need to build a shared vision with diverse stakeholders: poor communities, interested individuals, donors, churches, governments, the private sector, unions, the media, international organizations and networks, etc.
Speaking the truth to power today
But what about us? Does it mean risky and arduous journeys?
Actually not at all! All it takes is few moments of our time. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul offers some insight in a recent item in their weekly newsletter:
Legislators, particularly at the state level, often report that as few as ten calls or emails can get their attention. As shown by the graph, advocacy works, and the more personal you can make it the better. And witness the impact faith-based advocacy has had on the current Federal debate over healthcare for the poor and vulnerable.
We would encourage you, if you have not seen it yet, to visit our new landing page and check it out. Please share it with other Vincentians in your Conference and friends or family who are concerned with the welfare of poor and vulnerable people, and encourage them to sign up as well.
If you are interested in getting more involved with local Voice of the Poor activities, contact Tom Dwyer, National Chair of the Voice of the Poor Committee, to be connected to VoP representatives in your area.
For all you do to protect and promote care and compassion for poor and vulnerable people, may many blessings be yours!
The National Voice of the Poor Committee