Each week a member of the Vincentian Family will share a part of his/her experience during recent months. From the depths of their heart these writers will present a message of hope because we are convinced that there are positive lessons to be learned from this pandemic.
The Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated the social, economic, political and environmental polarization that already existed before the end of 2019 (when the pandemic began). In many countries, social pressures already existed, particularly from minorities and vulnerable population groups. These social pressures were reinforced by migratory crises, a sad phenomenon that affects many developed countries (such as the United States, Europe and Asia) and also reflects the poverty and exclusion of developing countries.
The economy was weakening in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as in several countries in Europe and Asia, not to mention the African continent, where the vast majority of the population lives in poverty.
In both developing and developed countries, there was a political polarization in which populist leaders took advantage of extremist groups, mistakenly classified as leftist and right-wing, or associated with racist behavior.
The Catholic Church has had to confront some very difficult challenges even before Covid-19, challenges which led to a systematic reduction in the number of religious and lay vocations … and the Vincentian Family has followed the same path in most of its branches.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about – and continues to bring about – at least five changes, reinforcing the challenges that already exist:
- Social distancing due to health conditions, as a way to reduce the infection of millions of people, as well as the death of hundreds of thousands
- Deep economic recession (the worst in centuries), which is causing an enormous increase in unemployment and loss of value of assets (financial and physical)
- Social crisis caused by the economic recession, with millions of people entering (or returning) to poverty
- Digital relationships stimulated by the proliferation of digital platforms which, on the one hand, have facilitated and allowed communication between isolated individuals and groups, and on the other hand, have completely changed the way people interact.
- Negativism and pessimism that has lead people to question the basic values of faith, hope and solidarity, in all social, economic, political and environmental aspects.
Obviously, all this has consequences on the life of the Vincentian Family and, in particular, on the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul (SSVP). It is up to us, as Vincentian leaders, to reflect on the consequences of these changes on our mission. According to the definition of the International General Council, the mission of the SSVP is to create
“A network of friends
who seek their sanctification
through personal service to the poor
and the defense of social justice.”
We must reflect on how the necessary social isolation and the “new” digital relationships affect and will continue to affect our network of friends, which came into existence at the time of the establishment of the first Conference in 1833. Likewise, the crisis can positively or negatively impact our spirituality, our way of seeking holiness, through our own knowledge and experience of God. We need to discuss among ourselves the “new” needs of the poor we serve, especially in light of the fact that they are experiencing the same isolation and economic recession. We must also reflect on the best way to visit their homes. Finally, as followers of Ozanam and his friends, we must be aware of the new challenges in order to create an environment of justice and to evangelize from the perspective of social justice.
We can certainly turn the crisis into an opportunity to increase the relevance of the SSVP in its mission … and that is certainly more necessary than ever before. We must faith in better days and trust that we are guided by the Holy Spirit who will show us the way to establish charity, transformed into the love of God.
From the beautiful lands of Honduras, where I live with Andrea, whom I met at the SSVP 35 years ago, social isolation has led me to this reflection. I am sure that many of us have had the same experience of God, following and trying to understand our mission in the “new normal.”
May Blessed Frederic Ozanam intercede on behalf of those who are poor, our families and all the members of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul and the worldwide Vincentian Family.
Would you like to share with the Vincentian Family worldwide some concrete and positive experience of yours during this time of pandemic? If so, please fill out the following form. It need not be very long, 300-400 words is enough: