Let Us Look Outward …

by | Dec 7, 2020 | Formation, Reflections

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.


The winter of 1846 to 1847, Ozanam visited Rome. It was the beginning of the Pontificate of Pius IX. Ozanam was received by the Holy Father with the most fatherly affection, and it was returned by a filial love which inspired his whole soul with the loyalty of a chivalrous Catholic. He was «a very beloved but also a very slandered pope»[2]. Frederic experienced only seven years  of this pope’s lengthy pontificate. Perhaps if he had experienced more years of that pontificate, Frederic would have had a different opinion or would have been qualified.

Pope Pius IX governed the Catholic Church for some thirty-one years[3]. During those complex years he had to confront some very serious problems (one of which was the disappearance of the Popal States[4] in 18705]) and made controversial decisions: some were forward thinking while other were in accord with the traditional position of previous popes. Among the more relevant decisions, were the following:

  • established “the consult”, an elected popular representative body that fostered greater citizen participation in the government of the Papal States.
  • proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception (1854);
  • published the famous Syllabus[6];
  • convoked the First Vatican Council (1869–1870) which defined the doctrine of papal infallibility.

During the pontificate of Pius IX, we can find certain seeds of what we know today as the Social Doctrine of the Church. At the beginning of his pontificate, the Pope took some hesitant steps in reforming the Church and expressed his concern for the situations of injustice and poverty that afflicted so many people[7] … but no bold steps were taken[8].

The petrine ministry was never simple and the same could be said today. On June 29, 2013 (the solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul) Pope Francis spoke about this: let us esteem the ministry of those pontiffs who in the midst of complex times raised their voice and spoke clearly and fearlessly, confident that the boat would remain afloat despite any misery or contradiction … they believed that Christ was the boar.

When Frederic wrote the above text, some people saw no other solution than private alms and charities, which were rather remedies to alleviate some of the consequences of the new socioeconomic structure of Europe, but not to attack the roots of the problem. However, a minority made very soon these social preoccupations their own, Frederic among them, realizing that the labor question was a serious problem of justice. At this time there was already a talk of defending workers in fields such as: increasing wages, decreasing working hours, Sunday rest and the prohibition of work for minors. In this situation, the social and political thought of Frederic is way advanced in society and the church of his time. Thus, we can read, with amazement, these words of Frederic:

“The curés must set aside their pious parish congregations, little flocks of good sheep in the midst of an enormous population to whom the parish priest is a stranger. He must henceforth occupy himself, not only with the indigent, but with that immense class of poor who do not ask for alms. […] Now, more than ever, we ought to meditate on a beautiful passage in the 2nd chapter of the Epistle of St. James[9], which seems as if it had been written expressly for these times.”[10]

Those words remind us of Pope Francis he spoke about a Church «that reaches out to other»[11], pastors «who have the smell of the sheep»[12], and in general, about Christians who live in solidarity with those persons who are poor!

Suggestions for personal reflection and group discussion:

  1. How are workers’ rights in our area or country? Are there fair wages, adequate working hours, gender equality, etc.? Is there child labor?
  2. Frederic invites us in the text quoted to be people who take risks, let’s say, stuck in the conflict: close to the poor and all those who, in general, suffer injustice. How is this being done in our community, conference, Vincentian group?
  3. We can read and comment on the implications for our Church today, and for us Vincentians, of chapter 2, verses 1-9, of the letter of James.


[1]   Referene to the calming of storm (Matthew 8,23-27).

[2]   John Paul II, Homily on the occasion of the beatification of Pius IX, September 3, 2000.

[3]   Aside from the pontificate of Saint Peter (which is difficult to quantity), that of Pius IX was the longest.

[4]   The Pontifical States were those territories on the Italian Peninsula that were under the temporal authority of the Pope from 751-1870. At one time those States included Lacio, Las Marcas, Umbria and Emilia-Romana.

[5]   Between 1870-1929 the Vatican was under Italian sovereignty. Then, as a result of the Lateran Pact between the Holy See and Italy the independent state of the Vatican was establishes (composed of 44 hectares … Saint’s Peter’s Basilica and Square take up 20% of that area).

[6]   A document of eighty points (divided into ten section) which condemned alleged errors related to faith, the Church, ethics and freedom (including freedom of worship, freedom of thought, freedom of the press and freedom of conscience). All of this was done in accord with what had already been expressed by Gregory XVI in the encyclical Mirari Vos). Point 80 summarizes the entire document, when it says that the Roman pontiff cannot reconcile or compromise with progress, liberalism and modern civilization.

[7]   Between 1850 and 1870, Pius IX “promoted kindergartens, shelters for the homeless, ovens that sold bread at very low prices for the destitute, popular houses and free medical clinics for the poor” (cf. Anonymous, “Pius IX, an authoritarian and a brutal pope?”  in zenit.org, 2000).

[8]   Pius IX was beatified by by John Paul II on September 3, 2000. In his homily the Pope stated: «Holiness lives in history and no saint has escaped the limits and conditioning which are part of our human nature. In beatifying one of her sons, the Church does not celebrate the specific historical decisions he may have made, but rather points to him as someone to be imitated and venerated because of his virtues».

[9]   Cf. James 2:1-9.

[10]  Letter from Frederic Ozanam to Alphonse Ozanam, March 6, 1848.

[11]  “May the Lord grant us grace to live as a Church that reaches out to others and listens to the concerns of people, a church that is always joyful”, Pope Francis, Homily of May 4, 2017.

[12]  Cf. Pope Francis, Chrism Mass for Holy Thursday, March 28, de 2013.


Javier F. Chento
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