One of the most beautiful phrases of the blessed Federico Ozanam (“Let’s go to the poor!”) was the invitation that the National Council of Brazil of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul made to all, Vincentians, aspirants, volunteers and collaborators, for the year 2012.
This motto was lived and experienced in the Conferences, in the Councils, in the Works, within the Vincentian Family and mainly in the houses and environments in which we find the people we assist.
Going to the poor means acting in a missionary, active way, without laziness, seeking to practice the Catholic faith with vigor and energy as a baptized person. We must go to the poor and offer them our hands, our talents, our advice, our evangelization and our hopes. Going to the poor is the true attitude of a vocation, that is why we are Vincentians and we love the poor.
In addition to going to meet those who suffer, the Vincentians must welcome the poor. To welcome them means to bond with them, to suffer with them, to feel with them, to be sad or to be happy with them … in short, to live their same feelings. To welcome also means to accept them as they are, without judging or condemning them, but rather by evaluating and contributing to the personal, spiritual and social growth of the families we help.
In addition to going and welcoming, we have to love the poor in such a way that they see in us the face of Christ. We not only seek to see the face of Jesus in the face of the poor, we must also strive for them to perceive the divine saving grace in our acts, gestures and attitudes. We will not have the moral condition to defend the virtues or sacraments of the Church if we do not live those principles in our personal lives. Nobody can teach what he does not believe.
Finally, it will not do anything to go, welcome and love people if we do not show respect beforehand. Respecting the poor must be something daily, frequent, habitual, especially during the meetings of our Conferences, when we feel tempted to speak not always well of a family. This is a serious flaw in some Vincentians, exaggerating criticism and comments about the alleged indolence or lack of hygiene of some. We have to be gentle in our orientations, and convince by example and not by counterclaim.
This is how our presence should be with people who suffer or are in a situation of vulnerability: loving, inclusive and transforming. By participating in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, we need to tune our hearts with the meekness of the heart of Christ. If Jesus were here, physically, at the time of the home visit, what would he say or how would he act with the poor?
This is how we should act. If we consider this task very difficult, let us begin by inspiring ourselves in Saint Vincent and in Ozanam, our closest human examples, so that we may be “excellent Vincentians,” going, welcoming, loving and respecting the poor. There is our mission!
Renato Lima de Oliveira
16th General President of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul