As we all know, this old year, 2020, has been particularly difficult due to the health crisis, which has afflicted humankind, thus causing shifts not only in our behaviour and our way of life, but also in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, in the Vincentian Family and the whole Holy Church.
Very difficult months, which have brought— and still bring— much suffering due to the impact of Covid-19: deaths, higher unemployment rates and extreme poverty. Moreover, this can have a negative psychological impact on all of us, some more than others. Social distancing, imposed by health authorities, albeit necessary, has led to an “artificial isolation” among people. In other words, we have all been harshly affected by the pandemic: members of the Vincentian Family and the people whom we serve.
But we are Vincentians and we never give up! We do have faith and hope in brighter days, with “charity, courage and prudence”, as St. Vincent taught us. Hence, despite all that we have gone through, we can say that 2021 seems to be a promising year. Within the SSVP’s Council General International (CGI), our driving force is to work even harder to make up for the lost year. We will do our best —as well as the impossible— to do twice as much. Once the pandemic is over and international borders are re-opened, the Council General will gradually undertake new projects, programmes, missions and initiatives, which obviously have been slowed down due to the health crisis.
We will kick off the year on January 31st with the publication of President General’s new Circular Letter which contains some recommendations and reflections for all members. The CGI’s Board meetings will be held on a mixed mode: virtual meetings, for those members unable to travel due to Covid-19 restrictions; and face-to-face meetings, for the rest of the members. The International Rule provides for four Board meetings per year. Thus, these meetings will be held, God willing, on February 20, April 25, September 12 and December 5 (the latter is to be held in Lyon, a very important city in Bl. Antoine-Frédéric Ozanam’s life). The official inauguration of Paris’ headquarters, as well as the launch of an exhibition on the seven founders and the Ozanam Museum will take place on a date close to Ozanam birthday (April 23rd).
On February 8th, the International Themed Year of Jules Devaux, co-founder of our SSVP, will be officially launched. Devaux (1811-1880) studied Medicine, and was elected the first treasurer of the Society, at the Conference of Charity and at the Council General. He had an odd habit: he used to take up the secret collection with his hat. It was Devaux who approached Sr. Rosalie Rendu (DC) and put the group in touch with her. She immediately mentored them in the work of charity. He married Adèle Marie Louise Picard in 1849, and had two children, René and Louise. There is very little information about our beloved Devaux. He died in Paris at the age of 69. We are confident that the contest on Devaux will be a great success.
As regards President General’s missionary trips, the institutional agenda is subject to the evolution of the health crisis. If everything goes well, the following visits will be made: Gibraltar, Spain, Brazil, the United States, Malta, Albania, Italy, Grenada, Central America (four countries to be determined) and Africa (Nigeria, Kenya and four other countries to be determined). The Territorial Vice Presidents and Zone Coordinators will also resume their visits to countries to get closer to Superior Councils making up our Confederation.
With regard to the main international events, we do hope, God willing, to promote the following: the SSVP’s 3rd Territorial Meeting in South America, in Aparecida (Brazil) in July; the Council General’s Annual Meeting, in Madrid (Spain), in September; the SSVP’s 2nd ‘All Africa Assembly in Africa in October; and the 9th Pan Asian Congress/Conference (PANASCO) in Asia and Oceanoa in November. As previously mentioned, all these meetings are subject to Covid-19 restrictions.
As far as Communication is concerned, three issues of Ozanam Network digital magazine are to be published, two Talk-Show programmes with President General (Ozanam TV) are to be launched; and a book entitled SSVP International Directory, with updated statistics and information on the Society in each of the 152 countries where it’s present. With regard to cooperation, we are about to sign an agreement with the Order of Malta and with the Lay Vincentian Missionaries (MISEVI), the latter is a member of the Vincentian Family.
With regard to the youth, and like in previous years, a special collection will be taken in July to raise funds for the youth all over the world. The census for the youth, children and teenagers will be completed throughout 2021. The contest for the hymn Seven founders will be launched in other languages (French, Italian and English), also at the request of the Youth Vice President. By the end of the year, in December, the 12 territorial youth delegates will meet in Lisbon to organise new activities. Furthermore, a document on the SSVP and the universities is to be produced.
Due to the pandemic, it was not possible to visit Felix Clavé’s tomb (in Pau, southern France) in 2020, so the Council General intends, God willing, to visit his tomb as well as that of Devaux (in Colombières, in northern France) in 2021. The Project of Themed Years is undertaken not only to launch literary contests, but also to visit the places where our co-founders were buried. The more we speak of the inception of the SSVP, the better informed and qualified our fellow members will be.
Finally, we will boost the ‘SSVP Plus’ Project, which consists of establishing the SSVP in new regions. Besides Tanzania, which joined the Confederation in late 2020 (a real miracle in time of pandemic), there are other countries with a great chance to join in: Greece, San Marino, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Kazakhstan, Morocco, among others. We’ll do our best to found, at least, one Conference in the capitals of these nations. The members of the International Structure (Territorial Vice Presidents and Zone Coordinators) are essential in this Project.
“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19: 21). We kindly ask everyone to pray for the proper implementation of the aforementioned activities, for the greater honor and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Father, your will be done.” (Luke 22: 42).
Renato Lima de Oliveira
16th President General