Pope Francis told the Archbishop in charge of the Vatican's charity, "Don't wait for people to come ringing. You need to go out and look for the poor.'"
Today, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has three quarters of a million members and over 1.5 million volunteers in 149 countries around the world, assisting an estimated 40 million people every year. Last year in the United States, 150,000 Vincentians in parish-based conferences provided direct assistance to over 15 million needy people. (Full disclosure: I am president of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in the Diocese of Providence, RI.) The Society’s fundamental model of service is the home visit, in answer to Blessed Frederic’s call, “Let us go to the poor.” This is a call echoed by Pope Francis in Evangelii Guadium, where he writes, “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets …”
Pope Francis’s call for systemic change on every level, from the personal to the political, also corresponds exactly with the Vincentian approach. In Evangelii Guadium, the Holy Father writes:
How closely this parallels Frederic Ozanam’s observations in the early 19th Century, when he wrote:
Is Pope Francis a Vincentian? Not explicitly, perhaps. But in his call for a Church “that is poor, and is for the poor” – that is, for a Church that identifies closely with the poor – and in his insistence that this entails personal, loving service to our brothers and sisters, as well as systemic change, the answer is most certainly “yes!” Pope Francis, like Blessed Frederic Ozanam before him, is calling all of us to “go to the poor.” One way you can do that is through a local conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
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