Pope Francis and Ozanam on Systemic Change

by | Feb 26, 2020 | Formation, Justice and Peace, Reflections, Systemic change | 3 comments

Surprised by Pope Francis’ Lenten letter

I should not have been surprised, but I was by Pope Francis’ words related to a current theme of the Vincentian Family… the importance of advocacy and systemic change. What especially surprised me is the strength of his words and the practical steps he himself is taking. Pope Francis wrote in his 2020 Lenten letter:

We can and must go even further, and consider the structural aspects of our economic life... As the Church’s magisterium has often repeated, political life represents an eminent form of charity (cf. Pius XI, Address to the Italian Federation of Catholic University Students, 18 December 1927). The same holds true for economic life, which can be approached in the same evangelical spirit, the spirit of the Beatitudes.

It was not only that he spoke of structural change but also who he quoted in support. A 1927 statement by Pope Pius XI. It also reminded me that our Vincentian heritage goes back even further.

Actually Pope Francis (2020), Pope Pius XI (1927) and Bl. Frederic Ozanam (1848) have much in common.

Surprising things about Frederic Ozanam

There is a side to Ozanam that few in the English-speaking world seem to know.  I have been amazed at the timeliness of the work of Monsignor Baunard in bringing this to light over 100 years ago.


This painting by the recently deceased Austrian artist Sieger Köder captures the richness of Ozanam’s actions on behalf of the marginalized.

Many know the first part of the following quotation from Frederic. But precious few know the second part, here placed in bold relief,

“The knowledge of social well-being and of reform is to be learned, not from books, nor from the public platform, but in climbing the stairs to the poor man’s garret, sitting by his bed­side, feeling the same cold that pierces him, sharing the secret of his lonely heart and troubled mind. When the conditions of the poor have been examined, in school, at work, in hospital, in the city, in the country, everywhere that God has placed them, it is then and then only, that we know the elements of that formidable problem, that we begin to grasp it and may hope to solve it.” (Baunard p. 227)

In these and other quotations, he believed Frederic Ozanam planted the seeds of systemic change. See an earlier reflection “Ozanam on systemic change – little known insights.”

Food for thought

  • Why do so many think that systemic and structural changes are things that Pope Francis invented?
  • Why are so few people aware of the heritage from Bl. Frederic Ozanam?

The excerpts used here and the entire work by Monsignor Baunard can be found on our partner site “We are Vincentians.”

See also VinFormation’s presentation on the roots of Ozanam’s passion for justice.


  1. Elena B

    Beautiful. Amen.

  2. Tom McKenna

    A moving quote…

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