In 1848, on the occasion of the celebration of the General Assembly of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Paris, at the celebration of the 15th anniversary of its foundation, brother Antoine Frederic Ozanam, at the request of the then General President (Adolphe Baudon), prepared an address to be read in that ceremony, in which he begins to present his social thought. Baudon was recovering after being shot during the Bourgeois Revolution of 1848 in France, which caused the amputation of one of his legs.
In the speech, Ozanam addressed many issues. He did not forget to recognize the support of the clergy for the growth of the work of the Society. In the same way, Ozanam addressed a praise to the spiritual advisers of the Conferences, considering them fundamental in the daily life of the SSVP. In another part of the text, Ozanam talked about the importance of the economic contributions of the Conferences to the Councils, indicating that “the more the donations grow, the more the Vincentian activities multiply”, thus allowing a greater number of poor people to be assisted.
He emphasized that the needs of the most needy are many, and that financial contributions are important for the maintenance of Vincentian services. In his discourse, he enumerated unemployment, hunger, cold and other deficiencies because, according to him, the charity practiced in the Conferences is destined to alleviate these sufferings of the people. “In the Conferences, we learn to exercise good, and there can not be false presumption or any apparent inferiority of those assisted,” emphasized Ozanam.
Throughout the speech, Ozanam seeked to transmit a message to the newcomers, those who had recently joined the SSVP. He gave advice and made recommendations, reflecting on the social role undertaken by the members. He stimulated those young aspirants with questions of the type: “how to alleviate misery without removing its causes?” or “how to regenerate the world and eradicate evil?” These are intriguing reflections that provoke, even today, our most critical reflection.
Our main founder made a beautiful analysis of the first 15 years of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, also focusing on the importance of almsgiving. Ozanam was forceful in saying that almsgiving is important and consists of an act that should be practiced by all. Remarks that “alms is not a right of anyone, but a duty of all.” For him, social justice joins to charity, and people who have a lot should be more generous with those who have little or nothing. In truth, Ozanam preached that we, Vincentians, will always be “debtors of the poor”.
In this address, Ozanam stated one of his most famous sentences: “It is too little to alleviate the sorrows of the destitute, we must lay our hands on the roots of evil and, through wise reforms, diminish the real causes of the misery of the people.” Thus, it is clear that charity alone will not solve social evils, and that social justice must be promoted to attack the causes of poverty. Ozanam’s defense of social justice is clear, anticipating the Social Doctrine of the Church.
At the end of the text, Ozanam compared the SSVP of 1833 with that of 1848, affirming that the entity is the same, faithful to its primitive spirit. He rejected divisions, strife and discord that could reach the Society. Ozanam also reinforced the need for the weekly home visit and requested prayers for the clergy. They are orientations that we, Vincentians of the 21st century, should also follow.
Author: Renato Lima, 16th General President of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul.