If it is helpful for young people to meet friends and brothers, it is essential for the Society to recruit its members among the Youth. Fourteen years ago, the Society was born: it must not get old as its founders grow old and charity becomes a routine practice. Youth is useful for their audacity, even for their imprudences, for the new ideas they bring, for the works which we had not thought of.
Frederic Ozanam, Extract from the minutes of the general meetings, February 1, 1836 to March 19, 1848, Archives S.S.V.P., reg. 103.
- A couple of preliminary reflections:
- Federic talks about the members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, but we can think that he is speaking to any Vincentian, whatever the branch is, wherever he comes from. His thinking is just as valid.
- Ozanam, although always remaining in the second line, did exercise a considerable influence in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. He could have been the second president of the Society, after Bailly, but he did not want to, and so he told Bailly when he learned that he was going to propose him as his successor (Cf. Letter from Frederic Ozanam to Emmanuel Bailly, April 26, 1844). Nevertheless, the influence that Frederic had in the formation and development of the Society is undoubted; for example, he suggested the idea of the Manual of the Society, on March 3, 1845, and was part of the commission that drafted it.
- This brief paragraph reminds us of three aspects that we can (and must) put into practice in our Vincentian Family of today:
- First: Our Family, our groups, must be welcoming places where young people can “find friends and brothers.” In our society today, it is imperative that teenagers and young people find in us a space where they can develop fully, both in the human and in the Christian dimension. Let us think for a moment about our local reality, that of each of us: is this done?
- Second: We grow old, and we need to be concerned that others have to take over the work. This is a real problem in many parts of the world within the Vincentian Family. To worry is not to mourn, but, rather, to spread the enthusiasm to those close to us. The example of the first members of the Society, in this case, is clear: Where did the new members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul come from? Word of mouth, personal invitation, family and academic environments of its members. Nobody says it’s easy, but we will not stop trying.
- Third: Youth is useful —I would add indispensable— “for their audacity, even for their recklessness.” We should not fear that young people present new, bold ideas, even —from our adult opinion— reckless. They offer us, many times, lines of thought and action that we, more in years, would never think of. Let’s encourage our young people to be the protagonists, accompanying them, more than imposing their steps!
Questions for dialogue:
- Our Vincentian groups must be places where young people can “find friends and brothers.” Let us think for a moment about our local reality, that of each of us: is this done? Do we promote that children, adolescents and young people have the opportunity to live in healthy spaces, where they can cultivate true friendships and find brothers and sisters in the Faith, with their same hopes and difficulties? And this, do we do it only “on paper”? Is it just a wish? A practical example: do we promote spaces, places, clubs, where our young people can meet regularly to chat, play, socialize, meet … and not just for group meetings?
- In our groups, do we regularly review the renewal and admission of new members? Are we concerned about the existance of Vincentian youth groups? What concrete actions do we do to make them exist? And, on a personal level: do I invite my relatives and friends to join the spiritual family of Saint Vincent?
- Do we encourage young Vincentians to be protagonists, to be inventive, to move to the forefront of service and evangelization of the poor? Equally important: do we allow them to make mistakes and learn from their experience, or are we excessively protective and authoritarian?
Javier F. Chento