Private companies, and even public bodies, when developing their strategic plans tend to define the mission, values and vision of the future of their entities. The mission has to do with the reason for the existence of the institution. The values, with the beliefs. And the vision of the future refers to how it wants to be seen or perceived by civil society, within five or ten years.
In the case of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, its mission and vision are contained in the Rule, a document created in 1836 by our founders and that, after a few updates, reaches the 21st century with the same primitive spirit that guided our ancestors.
The mission of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is to seek the personal sanctification of its members, through prayer and the visits of those who suffer, practicing the evangelical charity preached by our Lord Jesus Christ. Its values are humility, charity, simplicity (three virtues of Saint Vincent de Paul) and the detachment of one’s own opinion. His vision of the future is to transform the exclusionary reality, building a more just and less unequal world.
This work is achieved through the Conferences, which are groups in which lay Catholics meet weekly to discuss the best strategies of charitable action before the poor, where the spiritual perfection of their members takes place. The Vincentian mission, unlike what it may seem, begins at the Conference, and then flourishes in the home of the poor.
For the Vincentian to develop fully, he needs to perfect his faith, his ecclesial practices, his way of seeing the world, his reflection on social inequalities and his way of proposing solutions to exclusion, suffering, abandonment, forgetfulness, misery and the lack of God in a secularized environment. This is the Vincentian’s mission: to be salt on earth, to be light in the world, to be a condiment among people, to be the sprout that germinates in arid soil, and to make a difference in the desert of human adversities.
The Vincentian mission today is the same as in the times of Ozanam, Bailly, Sr. Rosalie, Le Prevost and the rest of the visionaries who founded the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in 1833: we refer to charity and the integral promotion of those assisted. For this action to be efficient, it is necessary that the members prepare themselves better for the challenges of the contemporary world, where poverty has other facets (such as digital exclusion) and where evils continue to persecute the people of God.
At the same time, when we hear the word “mission” we soon associate it with the challenge, the goal that has to be achieved, the organic action with a specific purpose. Thus, the mission in the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul is the strengh that moves its Councils, its Social Works and its Conferences, seeking the overcoming of misery, the transformation of the current reality and the sanctification of its members.
We almost always associate the Vincentian mission with the Vincentian vocation, and it is fully understandable, since our vocation is to follow Jesus Christ, bearing witness to his liberating love, “serving in hope,” helping to alleviate suffering or misery and promoting the dignity and integrity of man in all its dimensions.
It is very important that we orient well the aspirants who frequent our Conferences and who are savoring what it is to be Vincentian. They need to know the mission of our Society and not have a distorted vision of our action. Sometimes, some neophytes confuse the Society of St. Vincent de Paul with service clubs, with some NGOs that act in the social field, with Caritas, with the “Social Pastoral” or, simply, with a group of volunteers who deliver basic baskets to the poor. But, in reality, these are not the elements of the true Vincentian mission.
Thus, the Vincentian mission is basically the encounter with the poor, in their homes and shelters, in homes where we hardly find a single smile, taking a friendly word, a material donation and a Christian counsel. For this type of work, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is unique. It does not look like anything out there. For this meeting (which we can also consider a kind of sacrament, since it is the encounter of the Vincentian with Jesus in the person of the poor), the divine Holy Spirit exercises a preponderant role, guiding the visit and making it an instrument of peace, joy and liberation.
In the same way, the Vincentian mission is intrinsically linked to the evangelizing mission of the Church for its visible witness, in actions and words, in favor of the poor, seeking a more just and equitable social order that leads to the culture of life and to the civilization of love. There is our mission!
We leave a question for the debate at the Conference meeting: What characteristic of the Vincentian mission is the most important for you? Why?
 Motto of the International General Council.
 Subjects contained in item 1.3 of the International Rule.
 Cf. International Rule, 7.2.
Renato Lima de Oliveira
16th General President of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul