185 years ago, on April 23, 1833, a group of Catholic French laymen, devout and visionary, joined to found the first “Conference of Charity,” years later known as the “Society of St. Vincent de Paul.” What motivated those men of faith was the practice of charity, personal sanctification, friendship among them and the construction of a more just world, based on the values of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In a few years, the nascent entity grew rapidly within France, reaching other countries in Europe and the world. Currently, the SSVP is present in 153 countries or territories, bringing together 800,000 members and more than one million volunteers, helping 30 million people a year. That first Conference (Saint-Étienne-du-Mont) has become 50,000 new “communities of faith and service.” A true miracle of God thanks to the intercession of our founders! The Church also, through various Papal Briefs, has conferred a broad institutional recognition to the SSVP, on several occasions.
All of us, Vincentians of the 21st century, need to be aware that, with the grace of God, the work we do, although quite discreet, is very effective and has generated innumerable fruits for the helped people. There are countless benefits provided to millions of human beings in need, who rely on the friendly hand of the vincentians to continue to overcome the challenges of life. We do not always perceive the importance and relevance that the charitable action of the SSVP exercises in the world.
It is worth mentioning here some words of encouragement that the 1st General President, Emmanuel Joseph Bailly de Surcy, said in the introduction to the Rule of 1835, which I greatly appreciate: “The feelings of brotherhood among the members must turn our hearts in one heart, and all our souls in one soul (“cor unum et anima una”), and that will make our Fraternal Society more dear. Although we love our humble Society, born of the mercy of God, we have to know that it is fragile.”
I could not finish that reflection without mentioning the members, brothers and sisters already deceased in these 185 years of existence of the SSVP. We remember their memory respectfully, and we pray a loving prayer, because our predecessors, who are already in the Father’s House, are part of the “Celestial Conference,” and continue to intercede for us here on Earth. That is why our SSVP can be considered a true “school of holiness,” since we already have around 50 members in canonization processes in different stages, among them the blessed Federico Ozanam.
As the 16th General President, and on behalf of the International Board of Directors, I would like that message to reach all the Vincentians of the world, congratulating them on the relevant services rendered to humanity, the Church and civil society. Stand firm in faith, in charity and in hope, always in unity with the General Council, which is the guardian of the Rule and of the origins of our Society.
May the good God continue to fill us with blessings and may the Virgin Mary protect us from all evils. Thank you very much, Ozanam, Bailly, Lallier, Clavé, Le Taillandier, Lamache and Devaux! Thank you, sister Rosalie Rendu! Congratulations to all the Vincentians of the world! Long live France! Long live the SSVP!
Brother Renato Lima de Oliveira
16th General President