September 23 marks the anniversary of the ordination of St. Vincent de Paul in 1600.Pope John Paul commemorated the 400th anniversary in 2000 with a special letter.
While he had aspired to an “honest retirement”, his encounter with men of faith such as Pierre de Bérulle, and especially his discovery of the corporal and spiritual misery of the poor, would soon lead Vincent to a decisive change in his way of understanding and living his priesthood.
His principal concern, which remains so timely, would now be the preaching of the Good News to the most materially and spiritually destitute. It became obvious to him that evangelization was a responsibility for all the baptized, the whole Church. Moreover, it is with the laity, men and women, that he undertook his first great works. However, he would shortly see that the benefits of mission cannot endure if the flame is not kept alive by zealous and well-trained priests who base their lives and ministry on their intimate encounter with Christ. For Monsieur Vincent, in fact, priests are irreplaceable in their role among the souls whom God has entrusted to them. In addition, an awareness of the difficult situation in which many priests in France were then living, especially in the countryside, would prompt him to take an active part in the work of clergy reform which was growing after the Council of Trent. His commitment to the service of priests and to their formation with a missionary outlook would acquire great breadth: retreats for ordinands, Tuesday conferences, the development of seminaries. Thus the Congregation of the Mission, which he founded to preach the Gospel to the poor, particularly in rural areas, would also have the vocation of helping ecclesiastics acquire the knowledge and virtues necessary to their state (cf. Common Rules, I, 1).
“To be authentic witnesses to Christ today as in Monsieur Vincent’s time, a sound human, doctrinal, pastoral and spiritual formation is necessary for priests, but also for the faithful. In this regard, the efforts already made and to be always pursued, especially with young people, are a source of hope for the Church’s vitality and the credibility of her witness. I also hope that Monsieur Vincent’s sons will continue and renew the commitment received from their founder to contribute to the formation and spiritual support of priests in an ecclesial and missionary spirit.”