As I meet and talk to fellow Vincentians about social justice, I am often asked what social justice is. When we try to encourage our members to talk about social justice at their regular council and conference meetings, I am asked what they should talk about. When we also ask our councils and conferences to appoint a social justice rep, we are asked what they do.
I prefer to ask questions such as:
- How can we deny the need to become involved in social justice?
- Why can’t we use the knowledge we gather during our visits with those living in poverty to also advocate for change?
- How can we be so aware of poverty and what it does to others and yet not want to do more?
- How can we accept the barriers in our social services that exist without wanting to change them?
- What is stopping us?
Perhaps we are too comfortable with our charitable works that address some of the immediate needs of those we serve. While it certainly does take time and effort to conduct home visits and provide that immediate assistance, it allows us to remain detached from the reasons, the structures and the negative results of having to live a life of poverty and hopelessness. Perhaps the time and energy spent on our charitable efforts leaves very little time or energy to consider the root cause of poverty.
Are the reasons I often hear which prevent Vincentian social justice work valid? We often hear there are not enough members or time to get involved in social justice. The Society cannot get political. We have an aging membership and some of us are simply burnt out. These are all legitimate reasons but if so, why aren’t we doing more to address these reasons? Vincent, Louise, Frederic and Rosalie were effective in part because they did not accept the conditions, they lived in to prevent them from doing something. They were radical thinkers in their times.
What can we do? To be continued…
About the author:
Jim Paddon lives in London, Ontario, Canada and is past president of the Ontario Regional Council of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. He is currently chair of the National Social Justice Committee of the Society in Canada. He is married to his dear wife Pat and they have six daughters and eleven grandchildren. Jim has been a member of the Society since the 1970’s.
Opinions expressed are the author’s own views and do not officially represent those of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.