400 years of the Vincentian Charism and the Rich Heritage of the Family

by | Jan 15, 2018 | News, Vincentian Family

With almost 10,000 members in Eng­land and Wales, the St. Vincent de Paul Society (SVP) is a worldwide org­anization with more than 800,000 members in 151 countries.

It is also part of the wider Vincentian Family of 225 lay and religious associations, all of which share the spirituality of St Vincent de Paul and were inspired by his leadership.

They include the Daughters of Charity, Congregation of the Mission, AIC (formerly Ladies of Charity), Vincentian Marian Youth, Vincentian Lay Mission­aries and the SVP.

Inspired mission – Pope Francis prays at a reliquary containing the heart of St Vincent de Paul during an audience in the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square on October 14th with members of Vincentian religious orders and groups inspired by the saint. Picture: CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

Over a long weekend in Octo­ber, members of the SVP in Eng­land and Wales joined more than 10,000 Vincentian pilgrims from around the world in Rome for a four day International Sympo­sium.

Focused on the theme Welcome the Stranger, this was the culmi­nation of a series of global events to mark the 400th anniversary of the Vincentian charism, and to celebrate the rich heritage of the Vincentian Family.

It was also an opportunity to give thanks for all that the Vincentian Family has achieved over 400 years, to share and learn from each other’s experiences and to look to the future of the Vincentian mission.

Among the highlights was the papal audience in St. Peter’s Square, which was attended by about 14,000 pilgrims.

Ann Towey, an SVP member from Manchester, was there: “When Pope Francis arrived, the whole square erupted and his message of welcome to all branch­es of the Vincentian Family was very special.

“The work of the SVP is clearly very close to his heart.”

In his address, Pope Francis focused on three verbs which lie at the heart of the Vincentian spirit:

— To adore: “To follow St Vincent’s invitation to cultivate inner life and to dedicate oneself to the prayer that purifies and opens up the heart … to then ask that His Spirit come to us and let what is ours go to Him.

“In this way even those in need, with urgent problems, difficult and burdensome situa­tions, enter into adoration, so much so that St Vincent asked us to `adore in God’ even the reasons that we struggle to understand and accept;”

— To welcome: “Those who wel­come renounce the self and bring you and us into life.

“The welcoming Christian is a true man and woman of the Church.

“And so he is a truly faithful son of the Church who is wel­coming, who without complain­ing creates harmony and com­munion and with generosity sows peace, even if this is not recipro­cated;”

— To go: “Love is dynamic, it comes out of itself.

“Those who love do not stay in their armchair, watching, waiting for the advent of a better world, but with enthusiasm and sim­plicity, they get up and go.”

In an inspiring and uplifting talk, Sr. Peggy O’Neill spoke of “a love inventive to infinity” and re­minded the pilgrims of how St. Vincent and St. Louise de Marillac (who co-founded the Daughters of Charity with St Vincent) “re­sponded to human needs and organised institutions to keep charity alive, keep love expressed. They were fully awake to their troubled times and they risked responding to them in new ways.”

“Pope Francis reminds us by words and actions that we have fallen into the globalisation of in­difference … an attitude that it is none of our business.

“He warns us that we cannot embrace our own humanity if we do not embrace the humanity of the other.

“Let us promise to touch each other and our world with a ten­derness that transforms and with a truth that challenges.”

During the weekend, Mark Mc­Greevy, group chief executive of Depaul International, launched the Famvin Homeless Alliance, a bold project to bring an end to homelessness.

“This project is one of the most ambitious undertakings in the life of the Vincentian movement,” he said.

“We aim, with your help, to change the lives of hundreds of thousands of homeless people globally and to make sure that policy makers at a local, national and international level, including the UN, hear their voice. In short, our ambition is to join the crusade to end homelessness globally.”

Fr. Dennis Holtschneider, CM, pointed out that the pilgrims’ day-to-day work brings them into such close proximity to the poor that they can utilise that knowl­edge and expertise for the benefit of the wider family’s work.

He described how the Daugh­ters of Charity and Sisters of St Joseph in the US led the way in handing over all their healthcare works and related assets.

“More Catholic hospitals and religious congregations followed, because they knew that instead of holding tightly to what they had built themselves, they could serve more people, more effec­tively and more sustainably if they created a new organisation,” he said.

“Today, Ascension is the largest health system in the United States and the world’s largest Catholic health system … Who knows what we might do together!”

At the closing Mass at St Paul’s-Outside-the-Walls, Fr Tomaž Mavrič, superior general of the Congregation of the Mission and the Company of the Daughters of Charity, encour­aged the pilgrims to “continue to live a deeply spiritual life … com­bine prayer with action in all we do … discover and see Jesus in the Poor and the Poor in Jesus” and to “base our assistance on good formation in all its aspects … and engage more decisively with the `systemic change’ model that frees the Poor from their bonds as victims to become instead equal partners for the good of all humanity.”

SVP pilgrims left the sympo­sium affirmed in their work, spir­itually invigorated and with a renewed sense of their connection to the worldwide Vincentian family.

Mary Abel, an SVP member from Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, reflected on what the experience meant to her.

She said: “It would be easy to remember this unique event only as a celebration of past and pres­ent Vincentian achievements – I’ve taken away great memories of being part of a wider tide of people from all over the world, sharing a common Vincentian identity in our yellow necker­chiefs, as we swarmed through the city.

“But I want also to keep alive the inspiration of Pope Francis and Fr. Tomasz, as their insights and direction give us so much to work on for the future.”

Thomas Gillespie, from the SVP national office in London, was ex­cited to learn of the future poten­tial of the global Vincentian family.

“I was inspired to see how much we can achieve if we har­ness the immense energy of the Global Vincentian family, said Thomas.

“Mark McGreevy, of Depaul In­ternational, hit upon this in his speech about the new Famvin Homeless Alliance and posed a key question about how we can do more to encourage the growth of innovative services for home­less people and refugees in par­ticular.”

Dee Mansi, UK president of the International Association of Char­ities (AIC), the oldest branch of the Vincentian Family, reflected on the encouragement the pil­grims received to draw on pro­fessional expertise in their work.

“We left refreshed, renewed and invigorated, as Fr. Dennis Holtshneider exhorted us to `work smarter’ because `the poor des­erve more than good-hearted am­ateurs. They deserve experts’,” said Dee.

Maureen Dyson, an SVP mem­ber from Bath, Gloucestershire, remembers the warm and friendly atmosphere.

“It was extraordinary and humbling to be part of such a massive gathering, to look across a packed bus or underground train and see the distinctive yellow symposium scarf; to smile, laugh and wave knowing there was a shared purpose; shared values and ideals,” she said.

Elizabeth Palmer, chief execu­tive of the SVP in England and Wales, added: “Recent news and data on trends in poverty and isolation in England and Wales would indicate that the work of the SVP today is as relevant as ever.

“If someone is reading this from the comfort of their armchair and feels inspired to join us, I hope they will take up the Pope’s exhortation `to adore, to welcome and to go’ by joining us or sett­ing up a Conference in their parish.”

Author: Ken Madine
Source: The Catholic Times, 22nd and 29th December 2017