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.
In 2008 I composed a song to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Congregation of the Mission in Peru. The chorus proclaimed: Vincentian, you ought to celebrate with the poor who today await you. This year 2020, twelve years after I composed that song, I have discovered a new meaning of what it means, for a member of the Congregation, to celebrate the feast of Saint Vincent.
We know that in the beginning, Vincent, a country boy whose parents expected much from him, lived a very different life from what would later be total dedication to service on behalf of the poor. Vicente sought the life of a noble and became a priest because that enabled him to obtain some benefits. But, when he discovered the reality of those who needed God, those who were hungry, those who thirsted for justice… God met Vincent and his life was turned around. Vincent began to understand God’s plans for him. As the letter to the Hebrews states, Vincent’s priesthood became existential and he himself was a pleasing offering to God … he gave himself to all people, but especially to those men and women who were poor.
During this year we have experienced that this pandemic has distanced us from many people and customs. At the same time, it has exposed the qualities and defects of many people but has also deepened our sense of solidarity that is alive in the heart of so many people who are willing to assist those who are poor.
What Jesus said is true: You will always have the poor with you and you can help them whenever you want. Today, everyone has seen that poverty abounds … not only when campaigns are carried out, not only when a bomb explodes, not only when there is a natural disaster, not only when there are political campaigns… there are always poor men and women.
Vincentians must keep their eyes open to see these new forms of poverty, to see and attend to these situations, to assist and give hope to people and to restore dignity to those men and women who are poor. Our active ministry is intended to give life to the Word. Therefore, our liturgical celebrations should also reflect the way in which we celebrate the faith, that is, the people with whom we share our celebrations. We celebrate with the poor! Is this not what we are all about? He has sent me to proclaim good news to the poor: to those who are in need and today, more than ever before, it has become very evident who are the people who are in need. Vincentians do not act once a year, but every day … they have the poor in their heart and the poor are their concern, their dream, their project. Indeed, the poor give meaning to their lives since they pursue what Christ sought when he was on earth.
Celebrating the solemnity of Saint Vincent de Paul, in the midst of a pandemic, was not the same as always: celebration of the eucharist with large masses of people, cultural and artistic events, lunches or parish dinners, etc. This year those “usual events” were put aside and we celebrated this feast in a new way. Yes, it was different to have Roger, Vero, Bryan and Jorge serving as deacons while almost a thousand people participated through the various social networks. We were united in joy. Yes, God continues calling young people who respond with a generous “yes” and so the mission continues. The poor have someone who will speak with them about God and the charism continues to shine forth in the midst of the world.
That is why I decided to live this feast day in a different manner. I was visiting and sharing the Good News in some rural communities: We will have deacons! Listening to them and seeing them made me aware of the necessity and the urgency of our prayer so that God “might continue to summon his chosen ones who, in turn, are willing to give their all”. It is really a joy to see people rejoice as the messengers of peace come down from the mountain … those messengers who visit them and who learn to overcome difficulties and risk everything in order to communicate, in word and deed, the love of the merciful God. These messengers of peace journey, together with the people, along the path of salvation.
On the morning of September 27th, celebrating the Eucharist with only five people, was a melody of grateful responses: thank you, Father, for allowing us to be here! Thank you, because you agreed to celebrate this day with me.
I did not celebrate the 27th in a big way, but I did celebrate it in a very special way, accompanied by those who want to know more about God through word and action … the 27th of this year 2020 was both distinct and difficult. I listened once again to the words of the song that I had composed: Vincentian, you ought to celebrate with the poor who today await you.
Erick Félix, CM
Vincentian Missionary in Peru.