I joined the International Council General in 2001, when I was invited for my first experience of service in the International structure of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, and since then I have played an active part in all the annual plenary meetings, led by the various Presidents General. So I can state categorically that the meeting celebrated in Porto, Portugal, this year, was the best ever. And I say this for a number of interlinked reasons.
The first of these has to do with the results achieved. The main countries of the SSVP, meeting as the International Executive Committee (CEI) – the body specified in the Rule, which represents 85% of all the Vincentians around the world – unanimously approved the institutional reports from Council General (documents produced by the President General and Secretary General), the budget for 2019, the accounts from 2018 and the purchase of new offices in Paris. The discussions took place in an atmosphere of charity and mutual accord, with great transparency and in a democratic spirit. The liturgical celebrations (led by the local bishop, Mgr Manuel Linda, and Father José Manuel Martins, spiritual adviser for the Portuguese SSVP), also made us reflect more deeply on the role of the Vincentian in civil society, and the high expectations the Church has of us.
The second reason, from my point of view, is the festive character of the meeting, since we were celebrating 180 years of the International Council General (1839-2019) during the International themed year of Paul Lamache. Throughout the event, there were a series of commemorations of the occasion: awarding the ‘Charity in Hope’ medal to the Scouts Movement (attended by the world president, Craig Turpie); promoting a workshop on Vincentian community shops (four countries shared their experience); sharing Vincentian spirituality books; launch of the song ‘The Seven Founders’ (in Portuguese and Spanish); and signature of an international cooperation agreement with the Religious of Saint Vincent de Paul, a Vincentian congregation represented by its Superior General, dear Father Bertin Sanon. We were proud to broadcast all these events live on Ozanam TV.
However, the third and most important reason for the complete success of the Porto meeting was precisely because this event was held in Portuguese-speaking countries. Holding the event in Portugal was what really guaranteed its complete success. From the moment we arrived at the airport, we were greeted by the Portuguese team with a white rose, a huge smile of welcome and a big hug. This was contagious, and touched us all! Afterwards in the Diocesan House of Vilar, where the meeting was held, all the infrastructure and logistics were in place for us, so that everything proceeded with efficiency and professionalism. The respect which the SSVP received at the ceremony in the Legislative Chamber of Porto was also moving, and showed us how important it is to be able to relate to the public authorities.
So with all this, at the end of all the work, I declared that I was “the happiest President General in the world”, given all these points, not my own, but shared with the whole of the International Management, the members of the International Structure, the staff in Paris, the countries forming the International Executive Board, and all those good people who work to spread our beloved SSVP, in quantity and quality, without division or conflict.
Many thanks to my fellow members Alda Couceiro (national president) and Manuel Carvas Guedes (president of Porto Central Council) for the welcome, organisation and enthusiasm with which they organised the plenary meeting. Thank you to the Paris staff for their professionalism. Many thanks to the Portuguese delegation which attended the event and learned more about the scale of our institution. May the seven founders, led by Ozanam and St Vincent de Paul, send copious blessings on you from heaven. Thank you, Portugal!
Renato Lima de Oliveira
16th President General of the SSVP