The Preferential Option for the Poor – Part Three
Our Vincentian charism and systemic change
The term “option for the Poor” arose from liberation theologians’ reading of Scripture in the context of Latin America during the 1960’s. The term ‘option for the poor’ began to appear in Church teaching documents in the 1970’s. It continued to grow in usage in other countries and was included in the Pope Paul VI apostolic letter Octogesima Adveniens on May 14, 1971. Paul VI affirmed that the “the Gospel instructs us in the preferential respect due to the poor and the special situation they have in society; the more fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others.”
One more quote comes from Pope John Paul II in Toronto, 1984. He stated, “The needs of the poor take priority over the desires of the rich; the rights of workers over the maximization of profits; the preservation of the environment over uncontrolled industrial expansion; production to meet social needs over production for military purposes.”
When I consider the preferential option for the poor I also remember that the essential requirement of systemic change is the need to change the way we think, to perhaps undergo a personal transformation similar to that experienced by Saint Vincent de Paul. I think that both concepts are interesting in that no one is mandating either action. The term option gives each of us a choice. But why? Don’t we already believe in the common good of all? Don’t we already put the needs of the most vulnerable first? Why do we need to change our way of thinking? What is a personal transformation?
If we consider this option to be a personal choice, perhaps we need to look at what not choosing this option and not changing our way of thinking would mean to our charism. Can we possibly consider ourselves Vincentians without accepting the preferential option for the poor? Can we be true to our charism without keeping our thinking open to change? How can we perform our works of charity without being concerned about the root causes of why this charity is so needed? I shall continue this conversation with the next article and would invite you to consider these questions.
About the author:
Jim Paddon lives in London, Ontario, Canada and is a Canadian Vincentian. He is currently chair of the National Social Justice Committee of the Society in Canada. He is married to his dear wife Pat and they have six daughters and eleven grandchildren. Jim has been a member of the Society since the 1970’s.