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In the Mist of Crisis, “Seek First the Justice of God”

by | Sep 7, 2020 | Formation, Reflections | 1 comment

Through his writings, we invite you to discover Frederic Ozanam, co-founder of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul and one of the most beloved members of the Vincentian Family (and about whom, perhaps, we may still know very little).

Frederic wrote much in his 40 plus years of life. These texts — which come to us from the not too distant past — are a reflection of the family, social and ecclesial reality lived by their author and which, in many aspects, bears similarities with what is currently lived, especially as regards the inequality and injustice suffered by millions of impoverished men and women in our world.


This text seems to be written for our present time. As in the days of Frederic, more than 150 years ago, our society is suffering a turbulent period of crisis and wars that discourage us. There is no day without news in this regard, in newspapers and newscasts.

The context of this letter is as follows: Frederic is concerned about the problems[1] that arose at the beginning of the industrial revolution, that had severe consequences on those living on the margins of society: the proletariat. With a vision of the future, Frederic planted the need for a new understanding of the concepts of work, salaries, workers organizations, etc.

We could fall into the danger of viewing Frederic as a “programmer of ideas” and nothing else. Yet Frederic was continually concerned about seeking concrete human and Christian solutions for the oppressed, for workers, and for the poor.

Frederic tells us, contemporary Christians, that our first and second duties in these situations is “not to fear and not frighten others”: to preserve one’s calm and to help others to live the situation with hope, “as a storm that can not last long.” However, Frederic’s Christian hope is not static or providentialist. He knows that, in order to solve the problems, we must get down to work: “Be brave, seek first the justice of God” … We Vincentians know what kind of justice is this: to be beside the poor, most of whom are suffering the convulsive shifts of economies and power in our world.

One of today’s heart-breaking issues is the movement of refugees caused by poverty and the endless wars and conflicts of our time. In late 2013, Pope Francis urged religious orders to create shelters in empty convents:

Empty convents are not for the Church to transform into hotels and make money from them. Empty convents are not ours, they are for the flesh of Christ: refugees. […] It certainly isn’t something simple; we need criteria, responsibility, but also courage. We do so much (for refugees), perhaps we are called to do more. […] Charity that leaves the poor person as he is, is not sufficient. […] It is not enough to offer someone a sandwich. […] True mercy, the mercy God gives to us and teaches us, demands justice, it demands that the poor find the way to be poor no longer[2].

Faced with this and so many other unmet needs of today’s poor, Christians have a duty not only to act against the current situation of misery but also to raise their voices and offer a word of hope to the victims. They must denounce the powerful who have caused this unacceptable situation, by action or omission, in the endless struggles for power and wealth, which are contrary to the evangelical message. Vincentians have the opportunity to make “the gospel effective” [3] — as did Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, Frederic Ozanam and many others … to make the gospel effective by being next to and part of this immense population that lives in the midst of a situation of abandonment.

Today, following Frederic’s example, we can take him as a model, keeping in mind as he did, the present historical situation in which we live. Neither better, nor worse, but with a broad platform by which we can expend and consume ourselves in furthering the building of the reign of God.

Questions for personal reflection and group dialogue:

  1. What is my attitude to the situation of need caused by the current crisis?
  2. On an international level, the Vincentian Family, from time to time, makes joint statements about specific problems. These statements are published on the website http: // famvin. org and on various social networks. How could we communicate the position of our Family to our local groups and members?


[1]   Here we refer to what was then generally known as the “social question”, that is, the labor, social and ideological consequences produced by the Industrial Revolution. The changes that this supposed with respect to the methods of production also brought about profound changes in the life of society. Before the Industrial Revolution, the economy was essentially rural and based on agriculture, livestock, commerce, and manual labor. However, the arrival of that Revolution brought with it a progressive transformation towards an urban, industrialized and mechanized economy.

[2]   Words of Pope Francis during his visit to the “Astalli Centre”, the Jesuit Refugee Service in Rome, September 10, 2013.

[3]   Cf. CCD:XII:75, Conference of December 6, 1658.

Javier F. Chento
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1 Comment

  1. Ross

    Thank you very much, Javier, for all that you do for those in need and for the formation of those who seek to help those in need. May God continue to grant success to your work.

    May God prosper also the works of the others like you who have made their own the “worry and sorrow” of St. Vincent de Paul, —among them, Pope Francis (see—, notwithstanding the conflict that their works occasion.

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