SOCIAL AND CHARITABLE WORKS
According to St. John Paul II: “Serving the Poor is an act of evangelization and at the same time, a seal of Gospel authenticity and a catalyst for permanent conversion in the consecrated life” (Vita Consecrata n. 82). St. Vincent de Paul is the heavenly Patron of Vincentian Congregation and also of all the charitable activities in the whole Church. In the vision of St. Vincent de Paul, service to the poor is not merely a social work; but it is the work of evangelization. Social work will stop at providing food, clothing, shelter, and other material needs to a poor person. But the poor human being is a person in the image and likeness of God. He has material as well as spiritual needs. Evangelization aims at the total and integral development of the person. While nurturing the spiritual needs of the poor, St. Vincent de Paul did not neglect their material needs as well. St. John Paul II quoted St. Vincent in his Apostolic Exhortation: “Saint Vincent de Paul, for his part, loved to say that, when one is obliged to leave prayer to attend to a poor person in need, that prayer is not really interrupted, because one leaves God to serve God” (Vita Consecrata, n. 82). Social work among the poor can be done even by non-believers; but evangelization of the poor can be done only by Jesus and his close followers. St. Vincent de Paul very closely followed Jesus and learned from Him his vision of the evangelization of the poor. He understood that Jesus of the Gospels proves himself to be the best evangelizer of the poor by proclaiming the Gospel to the poor through words and deeds (cf. Lk.4:18). The Lord Jesus has called, has chosen and has set apart every member of the Vincentian Congregation in order to continue his work of evangelization of the poor, through words and deeds.
For Pope Francis, “Our faith in Christ who became poor and was always close to the poor and the outcast, is the basis of our concern for the integral development of society’s most neglected members” (Evangelii Gaudium, n.186). The Statutes and Practical Norms of the Vincentian Congregation has documented in very clear terms the specific purpose and goal of life of every Vincentian to be an evangelizer of the poor, especially, the most abandoned in the society. Common Rules of St. Vincent has this formulation: “the end of the Congregation is… to preach the gospel to the poor, especially the country people”. The Vincentian Congregation has adopted the same specific purpose and goal for its members: “Called by God to the Vincentian Congregation each one of us adheres to the spirit and example of St. Vincent de Paul and commits oneself… to preach the Gospel to the poor, especially the more abandoned and to help them in their integral development” (Statutes, n. 2b). In the Apostolic Letter, Witness of Joy, on the occasion of the year of consecrated life, Pope Francis requested the Consecrated go forth to the existential peripheries. “‘Go into all the world’; these were the last words which Jesus spoke to his followers and which he continues to address to us (cf. Mk.16:15). A whole world awaits us: men and women who have lost all hope, families in difficulty, abandoned children, young people without a future, the elderly, sick and abandoned, those who are rich in the world’s goods but impoverished within, men and women looking for a purpose in life, thirsting for the divine… Don’t be closed in on yourselves, don’t be stifled by petty squabbles, don’t remain a hostage to your own problems. These will be resolved if you go forth and help others to resolve their own problems, and proclaim the Good News. You will find life by giving life, hope by giving hope, love by giving love”.
The Statutes of the Vincentian Congregation in its article 92 states: “The fundamental principle of our social and charitable activities is the social message of Jesus revealed in the Sacred Scriptures and practiced by St. Vincent de Paul. As the purpose of those activities is to bring the people to the Kingdom of God they are not mere humanitarian works. The words of Jesus in the description of the last judgment, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of my brethren you did it to me’ (Mt. 25:40), should inspire us in particular”. In the Gospel of St. Mathew (25:31-46) Jesus made himself identified with the least of his brethren, namely the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick, the prisoner, the naked, etc. This call to serve “the least of these” is the duty of every baptized person and it is something indispensable to a disciple of Christ. Hence the members of the Congregation are duty bound to render service to the marginalized, abandoned and the suffering. The major social and charitable activities of the Congregation are given below: