Citizens of every condition,

You, to whom the rigor of the times has taken away you the superfluous, you, who lack what is necessary, can do more than others, because of the evils you know. All who have the experience of public charity know that no one succours the poor better than the poor themselves. In the absence of the oblation which Providence will not let fail, you owe each other the mutual assistance of good practices and good examples. When others bring gold to the public treasury, you will have deserved the country better by giving the spectacle of devotion, resignation and hope. Christianity has made hope a virtue, make it the guardian of this threatened society. Beware — for this is the peril of loyal souls and noble hearts — beware of despairing of your age; beware of that famtheartedness which leads so many to give up all effort when witnessing, as they say, the decline of France and of civilization, and who, by dint of announcing the approach of the country’s ruin, end by precipitating it.

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Frederic Ozanam, article «Aux gens de bien» [To good people], in L’Ère Nouvelle, nº 151, September 15, 1848.

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Reflection:

  1. We finish the reflection that we have carried out the last weeks, on the article “Aux gens de bien” [To people of good], of Frederic Ozanam, with a paragraph dedicated to people in general. In previous texts he had addressed various social classes: now he addresses to “citizens of every condition,” to the people, to those who suffer most of the poverties and needs of the time.
  2. The beginning of the paragraph is very interesting: “You, to whom the rigor of the times has taken away you the superfluous, you, who lack what is necessary, can do more than others, because of the evils you know.” Ozanam is, once again, ahead of his time and invites us to bear in mind an idea that is key; said in the words of a Daughter of Charity: “only the poor will save the poor” (Cf. María Milagros Cantón, HC, “Presencia entre los pobres,” in Spanish). This sentence of Frederic is closely linked to the Systemic Change, to the change of structures that are fomenting poverty, the necessary empowerment of those who suffer it, and the fundamental role played by the people assisted in our Vincentian works.
  3. Nobody succors the poor better than the poor themselves:” again, Frederic challenges us with this sentence. Because we can not pretend to assist the poor following the Vincentian charism if we do it from a comfortable life; or to follow in the footsteps of the servant Jesus Christ, who “being rich, became poor for you in order that you might be enriched by his poverty” (2 Corinthians 8:9). It is a direct call to conversion in our personal and community life, to discern where we are really putting the center of gravity of our life.
  4. Frederic ends with a call to hope: “beware of despairing of your age; beware of that famtheartedness.” It is something intrinsic to the gospel: the conviction that a better world is possible is connatural to the Christian faith and to the construction of the Kingdom of God.

Questions for dialogue:

  1. “No one succors the poor better than the poor themselves.” What do I think of this sentence from Ozanam?
  2. Do we count on the help of the poor, in some way, in our works?
  3. When we say that we must empower the poor, what are we referring to?
  4. What do I think all this has to do with Systemic Change?

Javier F. Chento
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