185 years ago, on 23rd April 1833, a group of French Catholic laymen, devout and with a forward-looking approach, met to found the first “Conference of Charity”, years later known as the “Society of St. Vincent de Paul”. The motivation of these men of faith was the practice of charity, the personal sanctification, friendship among them and the creation of a fairer world, based on the values of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In a few years, the emerging entity grew rapidly in France, spreading to other countries in Europe and in the world. Currently, the SSVP is present in 153 countries or territories, having 800,000 members and more than one million volunteers, helping 30 million people a year. That first Conference (Saint-Étienne-du-Mont) has become 50,000 new “communities of faith and service”. A true miracle of God through the intercession of our founders! Furthermore, the Church, through various Papal Briefs, has given a broad institutional recognition to the SSVP, on several occasions.
We, Vincentians of the 21st century, need to be aware that, the work we do with the grace of God, although quite discreet, is very effective and has borne innumerable fruit for those we help. There are countless benefits provided to millions of human beings in need, who count on the Vincentian friendly hand to continue overcoming the challenges of life. We do not always perceive the importance and the relevance that the SSVP’s charitable action has in the world.
Here, it is worth mentioning some words of encouragement that the first President General, Emmanuel Joseph Bailly de Surcy, said in the introduction of the Rule of 1835, which I really value:
“The feelings of fraternity among the fellow members must transform our hearts into one single heart, and all our souls into a single soul (“cor unum et anima una”), and that will make our fraternal Society dearer. Although we love much our humble Society, born by the mercy of God, we have to know that it is fragile “.
I could not end this reflection without mentioning the brothers and sisters already deceased in 185 years of existence of the SSVP. We respectfully remember their memory and we say a loving prayer for them, since our predecessors that are already in the Father’s House are part of the “Heavenly Conference”, and continue to intercede for us here on Earth. Therefore, we can consider our SSVP a true “school of holiness”, since we already have around 50 members in different stages of canonization processes, among whom is the blessed Frederic Ozanam.
As 16th President General, and on behalf of the International Board, I would like that this message reached all the Vincentians in the world, congratulating them for the important services rendered to mankind, to the Church and to the civil society. Stand firm in faith, in charity and in hope, always in unity with the General Council, which is the guardian of the Rule and of the origins of our Society.
May the good God keep covering us with blessings and may the Virgin Mary protect us from all evil. Thank you, Ozanam, Bailly, Lallier, Clavé, Le Taillandier, Lamache and Devaux! Thank you, Sister Rosalie Rendu! Congratulations to all the Vincentians in the world! Long live France! Long live the SSVP!
Brother Renato Lima de Oliveira
XVI President General