From Monday, October 17 to Saturday, October 22, 2016 I had the privilege to visit with the Vincentian Family in the Netherlands. My experience was wonderfully organized by Marieke van de Ven, Margriet Kok and Hetty Nieuwaard of the Vincent de Paul Center Nederland – center for social spirituality which is headquartered in Nijmegen. My visit to The Netherlands came from the contacts I had with Marieke van de Ven, coordinator at Vincent de Paul Center, with whom I had e-mail contact about the plans for 2017. She and her colleagues made a wonderful program for my visit including Vincentian talks and visits to projects.
During my trip I met with many individuals and groups from all different branches of the Vincentian Family (VF). To name a few: Fr. Harrie Jaspers, C.M. – superior of the confreres at Panningen; Br. Ad de Kok C.M.M. (Coördinator VF in the Netherlands), Alfons ten Velde (SVdP), Bro. Lawrence Obiko, Superior General C.M.M. brothers, the Board of the Vincent de Paul Center, which also included Toine van den Hoogen (Chair), Albaer Hillen, Broer Huitema, C.M.M. and Peter Reijers. Tjeu van Knippenberg, C.M. was in Vienna to give a Vincentian Retreat.
I had the opportunity to visit projects which are effectively serving the poor sponsored by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (in ‘s Hertogenbosch and Nijmegen), as well as a refugee program of the C.M.M.s in Udenhout. And lastly, I stayed with Brother Broer Huitema, C.M.M. at the new eco-friendly C.M.M. conference facility in Vught.
It would be very difficult to sum up hours of conversation and sharing, but several themes stood out. I had the opportunity to learn much about the socio-religious reality of Dutch society and the strengths and challenges which the Church and the Vincentian Family face there.
Albaer Hillen, a member of the board of the Vincent de Paul Center, gave an overview of Vincentian History in The Netherlands / Western Europe and Charles van Leeuwen, study secretary C.M.M., gave an overview of the spiritual Vincentian sources. The effects of secularism and a “participation society” have impacted the Church’s relationship to, and very way of being in, Dutch society. The established congregations of the Netherlands are in a general decline in their number of active members. Yet at the same time, there is a revival underway in Vincentian spirituality. This is manifested by a zeal for the service of people living in poverty which has taken hold of lay Vincentians and the creative ways in which they are responding to the current demands of social justice.
The Vincentian Family has worked together for many years in the Netherlands. They are loosely organized through the coordination of Brother Ad de Kok, C.M.M.. The newest member of this group is the Vincent de Paul Center Nederland, a lay run organization which is focused on action, research and formation in the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul.
My discussions with the members of the Center focused on two major themes: plans for the celebration of the 400th Anniversary of the Charism and ways in which the Center and the Office can collaborate.
As a result of our discussions, the Center outlined the following plans for 2017:
- A pilgrimage to France in May 2017 organized by the VF,
- the sponsorship of a Vincentian Family Collaborative Action Program in September 2017,
- assistance in the planning of the celebration of the Feast of St. Vincent de Paul in the Netherlands,
- Meditation Cards throughout the year on the theme: ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me….”
- a national evaluation of the Vincentian Year 2017.
As we look ahead, we believe that there were many avenues for collaboration between us. Of great importance is the work being done in formation in the Netherlands which can be a great assistance to the entire Vincentian Family. And as a Center of lay Vincentians, they can assist in the development of new perspectives on the Charism from a lay perspective. We identified three primary fields of future study:
- the development of our understanding of the Vincentian Charism as a Movement (and not an organization) which spans across congregations, institutions, societies, and nations;
- the creation of new terminology for the Vincentian Charism based on current social constructs and from a lay, non-vowed perspective; and
- the effective transmission of the charism from a predominantly vowed movement to a predominantly lay movement so that both its spirituality and works continue to grow and develop.
My visit to the Netherlands was both memorable and fruitful. Even more, it will result in the sharing of many riches throughout the Vincentian Family.
Author: Fr. Joe Agostino, C.M.