Dear brothers and sisters of the SSVP, meeting in the beautiful city of Oporto. I am writing to you as I serve the Vincentians in the Central American Province of Guatemala. Some years ago, this country suffered the enormity of the extermination of native peoples, ordered by general José Efraín Ríos Montt. What injustice and sorrow! On the other hand, Frédéric Ozanam showed a strong social commitment, even from a very early age. And he lived a very good life with this. In this way, his words and actions were united with happiness and wisdom. Similarly, as the years go by, we see that Ozanam’s project remains relevant for today.
And again, we see that across much of the world, exclusion and marginality are becoming worse. I believe that, now and in future, as well as serving the poor directly, the SSVP must fight the causes of poverty with even greater dedication. These are many and various. I will list just four.
- Ecological imbalance. Our beloved Pope Francis alerted us to these in his encyclical Laudato si. And those affected first and foremost are those excluded from society.
- Organized crime, of whose many tentacles, drug-trafficking is the most horrible. Wherever organized crime is found, poverty is perpetuated.
- Ill-advised politics and economics. Such as savage capitalism. As Pope Francis says, this is an economy which kills. As do the models of the extreme left. So that today, the failure of the few countries which continue this is clear to see. Moreover, I dare say that many people have promoted these mistaken and ineffective social policies with the best intentions. However it is, both extreme capitalist policies and those of the far left have led to great poverty. In some cases, it has been immediate, and in others more measured.
- Political corruption, of all kinds. This diverts social funds into private pockets. It is worth recalling here a saying from Confucius: “In a country well governed, poverty is a matter for shame. In a country badly governed, wealth is a matter for shame”. There are many causes of poverty, but we will stay with these four for now.
How can we reverse these 4 issues, which are true poverty-making “factories”? How can we achieve a profound change in structures and in mentalities? There are no recipes, but there are criteria. As Christians and Vincentians, the way we act begins to manage other parameters and other risks. This is not to ignore the works of service and of development; but rather to bring together coordinated actions which confront these 4 issues. Those who implement these evils wish us to believe they are invincible…but only God is invincible. Another criterion is that where there is hunger, cold, sickness, violence, unemployment, war, abandoned children, old people discarded, violation of human rights, where these things exist, our social, evangelising activities move forward urgently, to the people and communities affected, seeking an effective solution. Prioritising people, and from there, imagining a healthy social structure. We need to renew the covenant with people, with communities and with their specific needs. We need to win back the hand in hand relationship with the other person, where the encounter is notable for its ethical commitment.
Another requirement is the need for greater training. Out-of-date service to the poor, unexamined, will always be deficient. So for love of those in need, let us willingly look for on-going, quality training. This must be a feature across all types of service carried out by Vincentians. At times, seeing the number of problems we face may distress, frighten or worry us. But we remember what Blessed Frédéric said: “I am happy to have been born at a time when perhaps I will be able to do much good”. I admit that as Spiritual Adviser to the International Council General of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, I am meeting so many good people, with so much commitment to people in need. With these human resources, and with the help of Jesus, Lord of history, we are encouraged to move forward a little more in our work to reduce poverty.
F. Andrés R. M. Motto, CM.