The Preferential Option for the Poor – Part Four
Our Vincentian charism and systemic change
The preferential option for the poor can mean different things to each of us. There is no doubt my fellow Canadian members of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul as well as all Vincentians have a sincere interest and love for those living in poverty. Is it enough to conduct our various works of charity which are usually done as an emergency form of assistance? As we help the most vulnerable with food, clothing and furniture we may consider our work is done. We may hope the same people do not have to return for future assistance. We may never see some of them again. We may also fall into the judgemental trap of thinking many people are using us and are trying to get as much as they can from us and other charities. This trap is an easy one to fall into if we listen to what others say and suggest.
If we desire to provide a preferential option for the poor, we need to allow ourselves to take a more holistic approach towards those in need. If we are to believe in the common good for all, we need to allow a transformation which embraces the opportunity to accept everyone we serve as our friends. We need to listen, to learn and to act on what we hear and see. The preferential option must include the two feet of love, charity and justice. The first component of systemic change is to change how we often think regarding our Vincentian mission.
We have a unique and special relationship with our neighbours in need which should include an effort to understand and act on the root causes of their poverty. By having a preferential option for the poor we are following the example of Jesus. We are choosing to be in solidarity with those who are poor, marginalized, or disrespected, while we work for systemic change in the structures that keep them living in poverty. So, in reality as Vincentians there is no option for us, but it is preferential since we are placing a priority on our love to those most in need. There can be no charity without justice, no justice without charity and no other option than to prefer to help the poor in all possible ways.
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.