In April, when we celebrate the founding of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the anniversary of the birth of the blessed Antoine Frederic Ozanam, we recall the famous phrase of our main founder: “Let’s go to the poor!” Ozanam invited all the participants of the group to unite against the misery that was ravaging France in those times and to witness to the Christian faith. Today, we are close to 800,000 followers of Ozanam in more than 150 countries[1].

In order to experience Ozanam’s maxim, the National Council of Brazil chose as its motto the sentence “Let’s go to the poor!” to lead the Vincentian works in the country throughout 2012, to guide all the Vincentian units in the search the strengthening of spirituality in the service and evangelization of the poor, as inspired by the Rule of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. That is to say, that the subject will infect not only the members, but also and above all, the rescued families.

Going to the poor, through the weekly home visit, is the main characteristic of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. It is the element that distinguishes us from other social entities and non-governmental organizations. But how should we go to the poor?

Let’s go to the poor with joy and enthusiasm. The Vincentian must be happy with the grace that God has given him. We are blessed people in a world full of injustices. We should always be happy, especially at the time of the visit, when we are most observed. Our message of enthusiasm should encourage those in attendance to overcome their limitations and difficulties. The Bible teaches us: “The righteous rejoice, and before God they leap and shout for joy.”[2]

Let’s go to the poor, with firmness and determination. Our actions must be focused on the continuous improvement of the living conditions (material aspect) and the spiritual improvement of the assisted families. We can not lose that focus, on pain of falling into welfare. With determination (that is, with the firm desire for things to improve), we can contribute a lot to the poor. This is what the Bible teaches: “The will of God is to become saints.”[3]

Let’s go to the poor, effectively and and with information. The Vicentian of the 21st century faces immense challenges in the process of the integral promotion of those assisted, and his actions must be efficient to produce results. The Vincentian must be well informed, know the socioeconomic statistics and labor legislation, among other documents, in order to better guide the families rescued. And always pray a lot for them, because the Holy Scripture already says: “The supplication of the just has much power as long as he perseveres.”[4]

Let’s go to the poor, with friendship and charity. Nothing will improve if, carrying a bag of food or a kit of school supplies to a family, we do not have charity. Not every gesture of help can be considered “charity.” We must show compassion in our acts and, above all, be friends of those assisted, making them see that we are their equals and that God does not respect people. Saint Paul inspires us: It is wonderful to receive demonstrations of good friendship.[5]

Let’s go to the poor, with a missionary and service spirit. Undoubtedly, in these two words lies the full force of the Vincentian performance. The missionary zeal moves us to leave the comfort of our homes to visit homes that are very poor, dirty and even with bad odors. Without missionary zeal, we would do nothing. Regarding service, it is unnecessary to mention that this work is done for the glory of the Lord and never for our self-promotion. The Scripture tells us: “That is why you should always be alert. Overcome the difficulties, dedicate yourself to your work as evangelizer, fulfill your ministry well.”[6]

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, the challenges are many but, with Divine Providence on our side, we can undertake a lot. Let’s go to the poor!

[1]     Data for December 2016.

[2]     Ps 68:4.

[3]     1 Thess 4:3.

[4]     Sant 5:16.

[5]     Cf. Gal 4:18.

[6]     2 Tim 4:5.

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

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