A new Cardinal in the mold of St. Vincent de Paul

Imagine a parish that has 100,000 people in 53 distinct communities… and 3000 trained ministers!

St. Michael Archangel Parish is not an imaginary parish. It has a membership of 100,000 people in 53 distinct communities in the area, according to the pastor, Augustinian Fr. Max Ozuna. He has two associates working with him. Perhaps in a sign of what the future holds, the parish also has more than 3,000 trained lay ministers — everything from musicians and readers to catechists who go into the communities to teach and prepare people for sacraments. It’s a necessity, the pastor said, because last year, 1,300 parishioners were confirmed.

Now imagine a diocese where more than 10,000 lay ministers serving the church working in parishes.

Cardinal-elect Ramazzini is the visionary and driving force behind such a vibrant church in Huehuetenango, Guatemala. At first, I gulped when I read two background pieces presented in the NCR. Cardinal-elect was a Francis bishop before Francis and A church that requires a different kind of bishop

Then I realized similarities with St. Vincent

Then I gulped again when I realized the similarities with St. Vincent

Okay! So St. Vincent did not have a parish of 100,000 people. But over the course of his lifetime empowered an uncounted number of laity who ministered to the poor and forgotten of 17th century France. He empowered and organized laity, especially women, in parishes all over France and beyond. They were called the Confraternities of Charity. These confraternities we key to his de fact “pastoral plan”. It is not a stretch to think of these Confraternities as a vast network of lay ministers.

Vincent also transformed the clergy of France. He began with continuing education for the more promising younger clergy in the form of what was then called Tuesday Conferences. Then he quickly realized that more was needed.  He almost single-handedly created a seminary system where none existed and was desperately needed. It is no surprise that he was posthumously given the Church title “Father of the Clergy”.

And there are other similarities

Vincent was a great listener who lived “see, judge and act” long before the lay apostolate movement of the last century and today. Cardinal-elect Ramazzini says…

“All of these years have been an experience of learning, gathering additional knowledge, of dialogue, because for me an important part of being a bishop is knowing how to listen, to pay attention to what people are saying. … I think a bishop truly needs to be an expert at listening.

He was an expert at recognizing and running with good ideas.”

[Inferestingly, the new Cardinal succeded a Vincentian  Rodolfo Francisco Bobadilla MataC.M. (1996–2012)]

What can we learn from these two great apostles of the laity?

They both were insightful enough and courageous enough to “see, judge and act”

They both recognized in the laity the untapped gifts and energies of dedicated laity.

They both empowered laity to use these gifts to “bring good news to the poor.”

I could not help thinking of the similarities to a more recent Vincentian – Fr. Thomas Augustine Judge   CM +1933

Thomas Judge, CM was a dedicated missionary, a man of faith and action. He disturbed the religiously complacent with his thoughts and plans concerning what more could be done for the Church and souls. His avowed purpose was to make every Catholic a missionary. In so many ways, he foreshadowed Pope Francis and the call to go out to the peripheries.

And yet, his was a ministry that almost never happened.

Questions for followers of Vincent and Louise today.

  • What can I do to raise consciousness and empower laity today?
  • In what ways do I personally “bring good news to the poor”?
  • What ways do I go out of my comfort zone to listen to the cries of the poor?

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