Why is the Vincentian Family involved with homeless initiatives?
Following up on last week’s reflection, I would like to share with you some highlights from a recent publication by my confrere and former Superior General. Welcoming the Stranger St. Vincent de Paul and the Homeless.
Homelessness was a major focus of St. Vincent’s charitable work – from accommodating foundling children abandoned by their parents, to organizing aid for those displaced by conflict in Lorraine, to providing soup to thousands of Paris’ poorest citizens.
In many ways, St. Vincent’s initiatives were foundational in establishing the principles of structured and well-administered charity we see today. Central too were the values that underpinned this work: St Vincent demanded diligence and accountability from those who served the poor under his watch.
Fr. Maloney explores how his example, four centuries later, has inspired the creation of a Vincentian Family ‘megaproject’ for homeless people: the Famvin Homeless Alliance. The FHA helps slum dwellers, refugees, internally displaced people, and the street homeless. Fr. Maloney argues an emphasis on collaboration and systemic change are essential to an effective and fruitful project and articulates how this can be achieved, especially through listening to and actively involving our homeless brothers and sisters.
In this article, he presents the issues in three steps:
- Vincent and the homeless
- The Vincentian Family Global Initiative against Homelessness
- Blending systemic change and a “culture of encounter” in serving the homeless
For today I will just offer his summary of the biblical foundations. Keep in mind that, as we are coming to rediscover, Vincent was a man profoundly shaped by the scriptures.
The Hebrew Scriptures, especially Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, often exhort the Israelites to cherish “the alien in the land,” reminding God’s people that they too were once “aliens” in the Land of Egypt.
Among the many references in the Old Testament (Ex. 23:9; Lev. 19:33-34; Dt. 10:17-19, 14:28-29; 16-9-12) he writes
`Most striking of all is Deuteronomy 10:18-19, “God executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the resident alien, giving them food and clothing. So you too should love the resident alien, for that is what you were in the land of Egypt.” The frequent repetition of this theme is an indication that resident aliens were often treated badly.
The New Testament continues the theme.
In Matthew’s gospel, among the criteria by which we shall be judged, Jesus lists, “When I was a stranger, you welcomed me.” The author of Hebrews accents the same point: “Do not neglect hospitality to strangers, for, in doing so,some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
Given this scriptural background, sheltering the homeless quickly found a place on Christianity’s list of corporal works of mercy.
Matthew 25:31-46, describing the last judgment, influenced Vincent de Paul profoundly. In his conferences, he often referred to the climax of the scene, in which Christ identified himself with the poor person: “As long as you did it for one of these, the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it for me.” Seeing Christ in the poor person, Vincent felt a gnawing concern to do the works of mercy listed in the judgment scene, particularly caring for the homeless.
All this is the background for understanding why homelessness was a major focus of St. Vincent’s charitable work even if we have not always recognized it. Next week I will share with you the amazing things Vincent did in his day.