The Vincentian Family Homeless Alliance (FHA) 2020 ‘Conference on Refugees and Human Trafficking,’ is due to take place in Seville later this year unless COVID-19 forces us to postpone this until spring 2021. As part of the FHA’s endeavor to build global capacity within the Vincentian Family on homelessness, the conference seeks to shine a spotlight on the Vincentian response to the homelessness that is experienced by refugees, trafficked persons and asylum seekers.
Seville, the location of the conference, is also home to a 13 Houses’ project called “Vincentian Soul.” It provides a home to over 50 either refugee or migrant women, sometimes accompanied by their children. The objective is to extract and protect these women from organized networks of human trafficking. As well as providing accommodation and other material assistance, the project is about instilling self-esteem and finding juridical security and spiritual guidance. Women receive training which helps them to transition to their new home and way of living in Spain.
One client of the project, a woman named Flore, fled Cote d’Ivoire for Spain having endured years of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse at the hands of her husband. Once in Spain, Flore came to the Vincentian Family and the house for refugees. Here, not only did she find a place to stay, she found an opportunity to learn new skills, to find employment, a safe and secure existence, and perhaps most importantly of all, she found a loving environment.
The shelter is the embodiment of the recognition that any definition of homelessness must include refugees; the significance of which must not be underestimated.
In Matthew 25, Jesus says that those at his right hand will inherit the kingdom because when he was a stranger, they welcomed him. Confused, the righteous ask Jesus when it was that they welcomed him as a stranger. Jesus replies, “As you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Here, Matthew indicates that Christians should see Christ in everyone they meet.
In fact, scholars argue that in the New Testament, “stranger” and “neighbour” are actually synonymous and are used interchangeably throughout the gospels. As such, the Golden Rule, “love your neighbour as yourself,” refers not just to people you know, or those from the same country as you – our “neighbours” in the traditional sense – but also to people you do not know, from outside of your town, city, country, or culture.
Vincent himself recognised this. During the wars in Lorraine, he worked to find shelter for thousands of displaced people. One of Vincent’s assistants, Brother Mathieu Regnard, would regularly cross enemy lines to deliver money from Vincent for the relief of those in war zones. On his return trip, he often brought back people that he had found in dire circumstances, and he and Vincent would feed and settle them.
When we hear recollections such as this, of Vincent’s work four centuries ago, it is in stark likeness to the work of the Vincentian Family today, and experiences such as Flore’s. It is clear the extent to which his legacy has continued both in practice, through our work, and in thought, at this year’s conference.