The Vincentian Family of Portugal gathered at the Sanctuary of Fátima for their annual pilgrimage, under the motto “Wherever I am, that’s where God wants me to be!”
This year, once again, members of the various Branches of the Vincentian Family of Portugal – International Association of Charities, Congregation of the Mission, Daughters of Charity, Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, Vincentian Marian Youth, Miraculous Medal Association and Collaborators of Vincentian Mission – went on pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Fátima, on October 5th (national holiday for the establishment of the Republic), for the 17th National Meeting of the Vincentian Family. Vincentians from the north to the south of Portugal (islands included) came together for a day of celebration, prayer, reflection and conviviality, with the theme «Wherever I am, that’s where God wants me to be!», inspired by the famous phrase of Saint Vincent de Paul in a conference to the Daughters of Charity, in 1634: «I am neither from here nor from there, but from wherever God wants me to be».
The day started quite early, with the journey to Fátima, many on organized buses and others on private transport. At Cruz Alta, in the Sanctuary of Fátima, everyone was welcomed with a celebration and with broad smiles by the reception team, who distributed the various support materials for the meeting.
Afterwards, the participants gathered at Basilic of the Holy Trinity for the celebration of the Eucharist, presided over by Dom Augusto César, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Portalegre – Castelo Branco, and whose liturgical animation was in charge of the choral group from the vincentian pastoral zone of Felgueiras. Singing the entrance chant, «Be the rock of my refuge», the Eucharist began with the entrance procession, in which a member of each of the seven Branches of the Vincentian Family present in Portugal participated, carrying a poster alluding to the respective Branch . In his homily, Dom Augusto César invited the assembly to look at the life of Saint Vincent de Paul and reflect on the transformation that slowly took place: starting by living as a chaplain to nobles, with the intention of earning for himself and help his family members, at a certain point the Saint of Charity’s heart turned to the poorest and simplest of the people, to the sick and abandoned children. Afterwards, he invited the assembly to look at current times – at the great fires, catastrophic floods and wars, which mean that many of our brothers are treated as “human trash” – and to fight for peace, for fraternity, putting the look at our brothers and sisters who need our help. He also suggested that, imitating Saint Vincent de Paul, we use charity to recognize what God is for us and what we should be for each of our brothers, as Jesus entrusts us with the mission of looking out for the poorest and sickest. In universal prayer, in addition to the daily prayers, we pray for the members of the Vincentian Family, so that, following the example of Saint Vincent de Paul, they know how to recognize Jesus Christ in the poorest, and also for those who suffer most in this world, to that they always have hands available to serve them. The Eucharist ended with the choir and assembly of Basilic of the Holy Trinity singing the hymn to Saint Vincent de Paul: «Glory to you, Vincent de Paul, you revealed the heart of God; you discovered in the faces of the poor, the path that leads to heaven”.
In the afternoon we met at the Paul VI Pastoral Center, also in the Sanctuary of Fátima, for a family afternoon, and we had a very special presence: the mascot of Saint Vincent de Paul, who delighted both children and adults. After the welcome, led by the choir made up of young people from Vincentian Marian Youth, we started the afternoon with a video presentation of each of the seven Branches of the Vincentian Family, explaining the origin, who founded it and under what circumstances and what are the areas of activity nowadays. It was a time for many to become aware of the great richness and diversity of our family, but, at the same time, to see how the spirit of Vincent de Paul is still present in each of the Branches today.
Then, we opened space for a round table, that is, a time of reflection on the Vincentian charisma today, based not only on the testimony of two vincentians (a younger one, Alice Santos, from the Vincentian Marian Youth, and an older, Manuel Almeida Santos, from the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, and responsible for the Vincentian Work to Support the Prisoners), but also from someone who, although he knows our family well, is not formally linked to any of the Branches (Paulo Paiva, from Lisbon). The round table was moderated by Father Pedro Guimarães, Visitor of the Portuguese Province of the Congregation of the Mission, who, after the first intervention by each of the participants, highlighted an expression from each of them about the work of the Vincentian Family: revolution of tenderness, agents of mercy and bearers of hope. Afterwards, they were asked about the main challenges facing the Vincentian Family of Portugal. Alice Santos considered that our family should become a kind of activist of charity; that is, through constructive actions we must join together as a network and realize the dream of charitable activism. Manuel Almeida Santos proposed that the Vincentian Family be a spearhead in raising awareness – among the Christian community, political power, the media and public opinion – towards forgiveness and mercy, emphasizing the social doctrine of the Church, and taking Christian principles to some peripheries (for example, in the prisons). Paulo Paiva, in turn, presented challenges in four different areas: synodality, poverty, ecology and culture. Within the scope of synodality, he highlighted the importance of listening to people and taking action; regarding poverty, he highlighted the need to continue the fight against poverty and support for the most fragile brothers and sisters; regarding ecology, he explained that there is a lot of work to be done, not only at an individual level (reducing consumption), but also in terms of raising awareness about the serious environmental crisis, paying special attention to the people most affected by climate change, pollution and industrial exploitation; finally, regarding culture, he presented the challenge of building bridges, of creating a new language, and of not forgetting that the poor, Christ’s favorites, also need art and beauty, as Pope Francis recently warned.
The round table was followed by an artistic moment led by young people from the College Houses of Saint Vincent de Paul, from the Daughters of Charity, in Lisbon. The presentation consisted of a role play and a dance show in which young people raised awareness of the current culture of individualism, of “I”, highlighting the importance of looking at our brothers, of walking together, in Christ, being builders of a society of “us”. The chorus that they sang and danced to us still echoes: «We are many, we are one, shining brightly like the sun; coming together, one body in Christ; we are many, we are one».
After the presentation, we reviewed the year 2023 of the Vincentian Family of Portugal, highlighting two important events: the World Youth Day Lisbon 2023 and the International Meeting of Young Vincentians 2023. Within the scope of the World Youth Day, Mafalda Guia, from Vincentian Marian Youth, and Rui Magalhães, from the Collaborators of Vincentian Mission, gave testimony about their presence at the Vincentian Family stand at the Vocations Fair, in Gardens of Belém, where they introduced young pilgrims to the Vincentian charisma. Above all, they highlighted the great surprise at the huge turnout of young people, portuguese and foreigners, at the fair. Ana Filipa Araújo, from Vincentian Marian Youth, shared the experience of participating in the organization of the International Meeting of Young Vincentians 2023, which brought together around 1,300 young vincentians from 54 different countries in Felgueiras, in the days leading up to the World Youth Day in Lisbon. She highlighted the enormous joy of spending these days with young people from different corners of the world who share the same charisma, leaving her with the certainty that the spirit of Saint Vincent de Paul remains very much alive in the hearts of young people and, therefore, she considers that there is much hope for our Vincentian Family. This space ended with a thank you to the volunteers and participants of the International Meeting, who, on stage, sang the meeting’s hymn, entitled «In every corner of my yes».
In the end, we ended the afternoon giving thanks to God for everything we experienced and shared, and we prayed, realizing some outskirts where God calls us to serve as vincentians, reaffirming the commitment that “Wherever I am, that’s where God wants me to be!”.
Lisbon, 10th October 2023.
National Team of the Vincentian Family of Portugal