The purpose of the Society is to form a group or association of mutual encouragement for young Catholics, where they can find friendship, support, example, and a substitute of the family where they have grown up … And after that, the strongest bond: charity, that is the principle of true friendship; and charity can not exist without expanding outwards … If we meet under the roof of the poor, it is less for them than for us, it is to make us friends.
[The Society] has only one purpose: to sanctify its members in the exercise of Charity and to help the poor in their bodily and spiritual needs.
Frederic Ozanam, Letter to Courier, November 4, 1834 [first paragraph], and address to the Conference in Livorno, May 1, 1853 [second paragraph].
- In countless passages, throughout the correspondence and writings of Frederic Ozanam, we find the reasons and foundations that led to the birth of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. At its inception, on April 23, 1833, the first charity conference was born with two clear purposes: the personal and Christian growth of its members, and charity as the foundation of faith.
- A little more than a year after the foundational meeting, Ozanam writes Courier a letter in which he recalls these aspects. The aim of the Society is to bring together the Catholic youth, who came from different regions of France to study at the University of Paris, as did Frederic himself when he moved from his family in Lyon, at only 18 years old, to Paris to study Laws. The Society would, thus, be a “second family” for all of them, who were immersed in a environment hostile to the faith. The three words with which Ozanam describes this association are very interesting: “friendship, support, example…”
- Charity is the foundation of the Society, “principle of a true friendship;” charity among its members but going much further, because charity “can not exist without expanding outwards” towards the poor and needy.
- Many years later, almost at the end of his life, Frederic being very sick, in one of his last public acts before the Conference of Livorno, he returns to this same idea, polished already with the passage of time. It is necessary to emphasize how Frederic says that the Society has “only one end:” they are not two, but only one. Personal sanctification unfailingly passes by the exercise of charity and by helping the brother in need. They are two realities that, for the Christian, are so intimately united that we can not understand one without the other. We can not truly be followers of Jesus Christ if we do not serve the “poor,” physically and spiritually; and vice versa: in the service and exercise of charity we find the true foundation of our faith.
Questions for dialogue:
- Let us reflect on the presence of young people in our Vincentian institutions. Are we working to have them living with enthusiasm their follow-up to Jesus Christ from the Vincentian charism? What are we doing to encourage more and more young people to come to us? Do we give them space to live this fraternity from “friendship, support, example”?
- How can we — and should we — help each other in the various branches of the Vincentian Family to carry on with our common charism? In what specific aspects does this collaboration have to take place?