In this article I am not going to discuss the work of the members with the most needy, nor address the serious social situation in which the world finds itself, nor give advice that can eventually be suggested to the Vincentian leaders. I will talk about internal relations in our Conferences, inspired by the Letter-Circular of the International President of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which, in 2006, had already addressed this issue.

I have observed in some Vincentian units a certain “lack of patience” in relation to the elderly members. It is necessary to respect the elderly and allow them to participate effectively in the meeting, sharing their experiences with everyone. The elderly have much to teach us with their stories and reflections.

I have also perceived that we sin by our lack of charity among ourselves, and among other Conferences that act in the same location. When two or more Conferences work in the same diocese or parish, it is necessary that the presidents be in perfect harmony, so that Vincentian assistance to the most needy is as effective as possible. In addition, any divergence among us can cause a wrong impression to aspiring members, benefactors and parishioners in general. “See how they love each other”[1]  must be the commandment that guides us.

In fact, some problems can occur when two or more Conferences use the same facilities (for example, a common room for weekly meetings) or when the management of special works or joint projects is shared. However, despite the fact that such conflicts are “understandable and natural”, they should be avoided and, if that is not possible, settled under the embrace of charity.

We have to practice, at a very high level, the virtues of patience, of good sense and of detachment from one’s own view, all in the name of a more Christian atmosphere, more conducive to collaboraton and focused on the poor for those who attend. We can not let the “little things” hinder the harmony that unites us and sanctifies us.

We can never speak of “forgiveness” or “reconciliation” in home visits if we do not practice these virtues in the Conferences and the Councils. We will not have the moral condition of asking our assistants for “balance” and “good sense” if we do not exercise those principles among ourselves. We have, therefore, to be coherent with our philosophy, our tradition and our Vincentian practice.

Thus, God expects from us a triple dimension of charitable action: the first with the poor (the so-called horizontal dimension); the second with ourselves (circular or reflective dimension); and the third with God himself (vertical dimension). Let us meditate on this with attention and show the world that, even when we have internal problems (because ultimately we are human beings), we are a serious pastoral movement committed to the cause of the Kingdom, aimed only at the reduction of social inequalities. So be it!

[1] Tertullian, in his Apology against the Gentiles, offers us a first hand testimony about the life of primitive Christians. There we read that “the pagans, admiring the fraternity that was established among the followers of Jesus, murmured enviously: ‘Look how they love each other’.” Cf. Hch 4:32-37.

Renato Lima de Oliveira
16th General President of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul

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