The Famvin Homeless Alliance (FHA) was commissioned by the leaders of the Vincentian Family in 2017, in Rome, to celebrate the 400th Anniversary of the birth of the Vincentian Charism. The objective was to bring together the global Vincentian Family (about 150 branches present in 161 countries throughout the world), to provide practical help and encourage systemic change for an estimated 1.4 billion people around the world who do not have a place they can call home. The definition of homelessness includes street people, refugees, internally displaced persons, as well as those living in marginalized neighborhoods or in inadequate housing.
After that meeting in Rome, and after successive postponements due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Seville was the city that hosted from June 7-9, the second FHA International Conference entitled, “Accompanying the journey of a refugee.” The reality of refugees, internally displaced persons and human trafficking has been reflected upon and analyzed. Clearly, now more than ever, these issues demand our attention.
In Seville, from June 7-9, 2022, the Conference brought together (in person) 80 members of the Vincentian Family from the five continents, and 100 other members (virtually) from different countries throughout the world. The largest number of in person participants were lay Vincentians committed to their various associations, groups and institutions. The Congregation of the Mission was represented by seven priests from France, Portugal, Ukraine, the Philippines, the United States and a representative from each of the Spanish Provinces.
As a Family we have a four-century tradition of service on behalf of the poor, including homeless individuals. In this sense, the mission carried out by the FamVin Alliance is something that is already known to the vast majority of Vincentians who work throughout the world. However, the significant works or services that are carried out are usually the responsibility of one or another of the branches of the Family, but often have little or no relationship to the other Vincentian branches that share the same charism. For this reason, the Seville International Conference attempted to promote a real sharing of stories, knowledge and strengths that would enable participants to achieve common goals locally, regionally or internationally for the benefit of people forced to emigrate. It also sought to consolidate a network of communication and reflection that gives voice (at the national and even the international level, such as the United Nations) to those who do not yet have it. Hence the effort of the Congregation of the Mission to place at the service of the entire Family such existing structures as: the permanent representative to the United Nations, the Vincentian Family Office, the Vincentian Solidarity Office, the International Secretariat for Vincentian Studies, the Communications Office, and the “13 Houses” Campaign that continues to energize the FamVin Alliance worldwide.
The three days of intense work developed perpspectives in a complimentary, progressive manner.
Day #1: Forced Migration. The complex beginnings of the arduous journey into the unknown . Two prominent speakers: Monsignor Robert Vitillo , Secretary General of the International Commission on Migration, who provided us with a better understanding of the Church’s historical and social response to refugees and internally displaced persons, and Father Robert Maloney, C.M. , who because he was still recovering from COVID-19 asked another participant to give his presentation which dealt with our Vincentian heritage and the hopes of displaced people as their drama unfolds. The day concluded with a very enriching group session (in language groups) discussing practical and future suggestions, followed by a powerful Roundtable discussion on responses to the drama of displaced people (experiences in the Philippines, Guatemala, Ethiopia, and more recently, in Ukraine). Before dinner, we were able to enjoy a heartfelt concert-prayer-testimony offered by a Vincentian musical group from Seville.
Day #2. As Vincentian, accompaniment is a very risky journey. There were two roundtable panel discussions: the morning panel dealt with Vincentian experiences and responses to human trafficking, including the heartbreaking first-person account of Feith Monday , a young Nigerian mother who today, as a resident in the “Alma Vincentiana” Project in Seville, has seen her life and her future restored. In the afternoon, the other panel discussed the challenges in creating a new life. We listened to the testimony of Sister Petra Jedlickova, DC. , who together with the other Sisters of the Slovakian community and Vincentian volunteers, continue to accompany and assist thousands of Ukrainians fleeing the horrors of the present war. The day also included the illuminating presentation of the Fr. Fabio Baggio, SC, Undersecretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development. His presentation examined certain aspects of Fratelli Tutti and the drama of the displaced people whom we want to welcome-protect-promote-integrate, developing an authentic culture of encounter. This day could not have cme to a better conclusion than visiting onsite and in groups, the different projects of the Daughters of Charity of Seville, coordinated by the “Vincentian Family Association”. Upon our return, we engaged in an apostolic reflection in which we were able to express feelings and movements of the heart that we experience during those onsite visits … contemplating the silent spectacle of these men and women who have lived through the drama of traveling to the Spanish coasts in rafts (following one of the deadliest migratory routes on the planet), and who today have found their new home in these welcoming projects of the Vincentian Family.
Day #3. A new place: the arrival as the beginning of another journey to their destiny. The morning of this last day began with the presentation entitled “Welcoming and providing humanitarian aid, and supporting local integration”, given virtually by Rhea T. Tariq, Deputy Director of International Programs at CAFOD (Catholic Agency for Development Abroad), based in London. We were invited to treat migrants individually, not as numbers or some massive group of people, but as individuals. Accompanying displaced persons is long process, but like displaced individuals, a process that is always full of hope. The panel for this day addressed the theme: “Welcome, for this moment or forever”, The participants shared their experiences of welcoming refugees in Australia, Lebanon and Texas in the United States. The permanent representative of the Congregation of the Mission to the United Nations, Mr. James Claffey, also participated in the roundtable discussion, explaining his work (Mr. Claffey is also Coordinator of the International Commission for the Promotion of Systemic Change). We were further encouraged to welcome and accompany the impoverished individuals, helping them so that they can speak for themselves. In such situations, the Vincentian Family can serve as a “moral compass” (in institutions like the United Nations) continually making people aware of the need to act with justice. The work in the afternoon of this last day led to a series of conclusions and future actions:
- Strengthen the “Vincentian network” in favor of displaced persons (webinars, information, resources, meetings …)
- Build the capacity for advocacy at the local level with and beyond the Family
- Extend mapping of our programs and projects with intentional outreach to link all Vincentians working with displaced persons and refugees.
- Together with the Vincentian Family Office, design a basic protocol to respond together rapidly and effectively to conflicts or emergency situations.
- Strengthen the culture of encounter and accompaniment from the perspective of the call of the Church as developed in Fratelli tutti and Laudato Si
- Continue developing projects as part of the “13 Houses” Campaign, even if it is not with bricks and mortar, but as an expression of solidarity and commitment with the poorest. Help anyone who has ideas for the 13 houses campaign.
- Continue to sponsor Conferences of this type for the Vincentian Family… conferences which in light of the various forms of poverty and homelessness promote an exchange of ideas and provide people practical tools.
As was already expressed at the end of the Conference, we express our sincere thanks to the entire FamVin Homeless Alliance Team and the unconditional support of the Vincentian NGO “Depaul International,” for the perfect organization, at all levels, of this experience of communion, participation and Vincentian mission. Equally, and not least, we also express our gratitude to the Daughters of Charity of the Province of Southern Spain, for their testimony, welcome and concern so that we could all feel like a real family dwelling in our own home.
Together with people who are most poor, let us continue to move forward, let us continue to be united in our hearts and efforts and finally let continue to move forward with the only desire to fulfill the will of God.
Mikel Sagastagoitia, C.M.