How Blend Systemic Change and a “Culture of Encounter”?

by | Sep 9, 2020 | Formation, Reflections, Systemic change | 1 comment

In effect, this is a “guest” post by former superior General Robert Maloney. It presents excerpts from a lengthier reflection for the Vincentian Family Homeless Alliance. He writes…

Over the last several years, Pope Francis has highlighted three themes that have enormous relevance for the Vincentian Family.

First, he has stated repeatedly, as St. Vincent did, that the poor are a gift to us and that we need to let them evangelize us.

Secondly, Pope Francis has often emphasized the need for structural or systemic change. In his encyclical Laudato Si’, he underlined repeatedly how “everything in the world is connected,” a theme that the Vincentian Family Commission for Promoting Systemic Change has been stressing in all its workshops.

Speaking in Bolivia in July 2015, Pope Francis made a dramatic appeal for systemic change.

There is an invisible thread joining every one of those forms of exclusion: can we recognize it? These are not isolated issues.
…let us not be afraid to say it: we want change, real change, structural change. This system is by now intolerable.
…there is a widespread sense of dissatisfaction and even despondency. Many people are hoping for a change capable of releasing them from the bondage of individualism and the despondency it spawns

Thirdly, Pope Francis has urged contemporary society to create a “culture of encounter” and a “culture of dialogue,” in which we are prepared not only to give, but also to receive from others (Francis, 2016, January 17)

He continues with three principles.

1. Offering friendship

One of the principal gifts we can give others is friendship. It is integral to the spirituality of mercy that Jesus outlines in the judgment scene in Matthew 25:31-46.

In our Family, Vincent calls us to treat those we serve not as “the poor” but as persons. He asks us to treat them not as clients but as friends for whom we care deeply.

In the end, all good care is relational. We offer people not just lodging, but hospitality. We visit them in their homes. We reach out to them in friendship.

2. Providing holistic service

Homelessness affects the whole person, physically, psychologically, emotionally, and relationally. We have all experienced how deep the wounds of the marginalized are. Many homeless people suffer the stigma of prejudice within their own country or in a foreign land. Many find themselves isolated and lonely. Some struggle with psychological or drug or alcohol problems. Some do not speak the local language well. Many have legal or medical problems. Many suffer from depression and have lost joy in life.

Holistic service is fundamental to systemic change. Everything is connected to everything else. When any single element in a system breaks down, everything else is affected.

3. Serving as advocates

A systemic approach calls for us to stand at the side of the homeless as their advocates: advocates striving to wipe out prejudice, advocates striving to win the support of governments and foundations, advocates striving to reunite them with their families and with communities which may have isolated them.

Here, let me simply note that many of the strategies formulated by the Vincentian Family Commission for Promoting Systemic Change coincide with the best practices formulated by organizations that are successful in advocating with and for the homelessness.

Basic questions

  • How do offer I friendship?
  • Am I concerned about providing holistic service?
  • In what ways do I serve as advocates for those who are poor?

This post first appeared as a Vincentian Mindwalk

1 Comment

  1. Sr Nancy Dunn DC

    So many homeless people are treated like they are nothing. People walk by ignoring them. I try to speak to them asking their names and why they are on the street. If they are hungry and if a fast food place is near I’ll go in and let them choose what they want giving them the money so they can pay. i try to have one
    or two dollars to give them. It’s only a gesture but they know some one cares. When
    I give them a hug when I can. I find these little acts of kindness means more than if
    I just threw some money in whatever they are collecting
    money in