If you think that the Vincentian charitable action has been the same since the foundation of our entity, in 1833, to this day, you are wrong. In each time, the Vincentian work has been adapted to the reality of each moment, in each region of the world and with different initiatives. Nowadays, the problems that are presented to the Vincentian Conferences pose even greater challenges and require of the members a specific preparation, always with a lot of creativity.
We live in a selfish and consumerist world. The environment is polluted. People move away from the Church. The family has been destroyed by divorce. Unemployment and lack of education aggravate the social crisis. In this inhospitable scenario the Vincentian Conferences are inserted, which must be innovative to help more effectively people who suffer.
For example: does anyone doubt that digital inclusion must be an effective contribution of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to reduce poverty? For this, several Conferences and even Councils have created computer centers in their headquarters, generally unoccupied for a good part of the month. Another interesting idea is microcredits, which allow the assisted to generate income from small loans, at low interest. A Central Council of Brazil has already signed an agreement with a banking entity, in this sense.
And the joint actions with the other branches of the Vincentian Family? Does anyone doubt that this union of forces is not beneficial for the poor? In several cities, various social projects in peripheral neighborhoods have been very successful and produced excellent results, in charge of several branches of the Vincentian Family. We cannot forget the Fraternal Union between Vincentian Conferences, which also helps to “make charity,” beyond the borders of our parish.
To promote the Vincentian action, United Works and Special Works were created that undoubtedly complement the work carried out together with the most needy: schools, community centers, nurseries, nursing homes, dispensaries, hospitals, orphanages, among many other social ventures. In addition to our works, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has been opening to associations with private companies, other Christian churches, agreements with government agencies and with entities of the Third Sector, with the aim of expanding charitable action, as we are encouraged by our new Rule. Alone, we are not going to solve the question of misery in the world. Brother Furtado de Menezes said: “The Vincentian is not responsible for ending the misery of the world, but he is responsible for all the poor that Christ puts in his way.”
For all this, the members cannot neglect their Christian and human formation. Participating in spirituality events and training courses is, really, a fundamental condition for the Vincentians to be adequately prepared to overcome the new forms of poverty.
In addition, the Vincentians should be attentive to the news disseminated in the media, to be well informed about socioeconomic issues, because thanks to the correct interpretation of these data we can better direct the work of the Conferences. Knowing the Human Development Index (HDI), measured by the United Nations (UN), for example, helps us to better identify the areas of poverty in a given State or municipality.
Dear brothers and sisters: we must be clear that the 21st century Vincentian is different from our predecessors. We cannot “do charity” in the same way as 10, 20 or 50 years ago. Everything has changed: technology, work relations, the family, the media, society as a whole. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul must also change, without abandoning its principles, its charism and the primitive spirit that moved the seven co-founders to create our Society.
Renato Lima de Oliveira
16th General President of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul