Over two million members that are part of the approximately 150 “branches” present in 156 countries around the world. These are some of the impressive figures of “the Vincentian Family“, born from a double experience of St Vincent de Paul in 1617. Four hundred years of a charism that is getting ready to experience in Rome, in union with the Successor of Peter, the peak of this jubilee year. “A year of grace” as it has been defined by father Tomaz Mavric, Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission and of the Daughters of Charity, 24th successor of St Vincent, who precisely in 1617 had a twofold experience of poverty: the spiritual, with whom he came into contact in the month of January in a rural village of Folleville, and that material one, in the city of Chatillon, in August.
The heart of S. Vincent
There are four strong moments during this anniversary. The first one is the pilgrimage through Europe of the heart of S. Vincent. The relic will arrive in Rome today, it will be on Saturday in Saint Peter Square and then will be transferred to the Basilica of S. Paul Outside the Walls where it will be possible to venerate it during the Vigil organised by the Vincentian Youth. The “tour” of the heart of S. Vincent started from Paris, where it is usually venerated in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal at the Mother House of the Daughters of Charity, and stopped at Folleville, where “the heart of S. Vincent broke for the first time during a confession of a dying peasant ” and where the jubilee year was officially inaugurated. A pilgrimage that over the next four years will cross all the countries of Europe.
The second aspect is the symposium in Rome where from today until Sunday 15 approximately 10,000 people from 99 countries will meet. “It will be a moment of celebration – explains father Mavric – because it will bring together members of the Vincentian Family throughout the world. It wants to be our little contribution to a dream, as our founder said, that if you dream alone it remains as it is but if you dream together it can become reality. We want to globalise charity“.
The Alliance for the homeless
In the course of this meeting, which provides among other things for moments of prayer, conferences and the audience with the Holy Father, the other two initiatives that characterize the Jubilee Year will be launched. One is the global campaign in support of the homeless, a triennial project “divided – explains Father Giuseppe Carulli, Superior of the Curia Generalizia – in three large thematic areas: the one of the homeless in the strict sense, those that are defined ‘homeless’, who sleep on the streets; then immigrants, with the issue of the refugee camps; finally a problem that in Italy and in Europe in general is perhaps less known but that in many parts of the world is widespread, the favelas, the slums. In regard to this we want to raise the awareness of public opinion of the world”. In reality, there was a sort of anticipation of this initiative, which was presented to the European Parliament last 28 June. “Something unprecedented in the history of this institution” said Father Mavric. But how did meps react? “We experienced much sensitivity and attention – says Father Carulli – with the commitment to return on the topics that we have launched and to support our initiatives at political level”.
A world tragedy
“This Global Alliance for the homeless has three purposes – adds father Carulli – The first is to gather at world level the Vincentian Family, around a single big objective; the second is to increase awareness among the whole world with initiatives of all types because public and ecclesial institutions realize the urgency of poverty and may offer their cooperation to resize this problem in the world; the third, that more concrete, is being, us Vincentians, promoters of real solutions for thousands of homeless. For this reason, millions of microprojects are starting all over the world to ensure that a person with a name and a surname and a story that met us and has problems of dwelling, one day can say ‘I no longer have this problem’. The motto of the symposium is ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’. The objective is that thousands of people can say ‘I was homeless and I received one thanks to the help of the Vincentians'”. The UN estimates that on the planet there are 1.2 billion homeless, a number destined to grow; 65 million are refugees and 863 million are people who live in shacks.
The film festival
The last initiative has instead a cultural character: it is the “Finding Vince 400“, a festival to talk about the “globalization of charity”. “For one year – says Father Carulli – we will collect video, short films, movies on the theme of charity. This is not to make a video on S. Vincent but it is a way to raise awareness on these issues in a new way. We accept the contribution of everyone, children, adults, professionals and amateurs, which will then be rewarded in October 2018 at Castelgandolfo”. Three sections: “Seeds of hope”, reserved to children under 18 years; one reserved to screenwriters and last for amateurs. Only condition: talking about the service to the poor.
In Italy, there are about 50,000 religious and members of lay associations which refers to the Vincentian charism. Many concrete works are then born from the missionaries or from the Sons of Charity and develop as local realities devoted to charity. But is there the risk to concentrate exclusively on the material poverty neglecting the spiritual? “The motto of the Vincentian missionaries – still responds father Carulli – is ‘evangelizare pauperibus‘ and S. Vincent asked also to the Ladies of Charity born from the experience of Chatillon, precisely this: go beyond material poverty, offer the Gospel. Even before breaking the bread made of wheat, break the bread of the Word of the Lord”.
A ministry of charity
Anne of Austria, mother and regent of Louis XIV, created for S. Vincent in France the ministry of charity. How much is it needed today a similar Ministry? “Extremely – concludes Father Carulli – we also fought to have a faculty of theology of charity in Italy, and so far, we have not managed to do this. But also a ministry of charity would be essential. Today thanks to God we have this great attention of the Church through Caritas which however are a pastoral response and therefore also a network with public institutions is very important”.