I have been a member of the Council General International (CGI) since 2001, when I was invited to my first service experience within the international structure of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul and since then I have played an active part in almost all the annual plenary meetings, led by the various Presidents General. Hence, I can state categorically that the meeting held last June in Porto (Portugal) was the greatest of all. And I say this for a number of reasons, all of them being convergent.
The first reason has to do with the results achieved. The main SSVP countries, gathered in the International Executive Committee (CEI) – a body set out in the Rule, accounting for 85% of all Vincentians around the world – unanimously approved the institutional reports issued by the Council General (documents drawn up by the President General and Secretary General), the budget for 2019, the annual accounts for 2018 and the acquisition of a new headquarters in Paris. The discussions took place in an atmosphere of charity and harmony, with great transparency and a democratic spirit. In addition, the liturgical celebrations (led by the local bishop, Mgr Manuel Linda, and Father José Manuel Martins, the spiritual counsellor of the SSVP Portugal) made us reflect more deeply on the role of the Vincentian in the civil society, and the great expectations the Church has placed in us.
The second reason, from my standpoint, lies in the festive nature of the meeting, since we are celebrating 180th anniversary of the Council General International (1839-2019) during the International themed year of Paul Lamache. Throughout the event, there were a series of events to commemorate the occasion: the awarding the ‘Charity in Hope’ medal to the Scout Movement (with the presence of the World Chairperson, Craig Turpie); the promotion of a workshop on Vincentian thrift shops (four countries shared their experience); the dissemination of books on Vincentian spirituality; the release of the song ‘The Seven Founders’ (in Portuguese and Spanish); and the signature of an international cooperation agreement with the Religious of Saint Vincent de Paul, a Vincentian congregation represented by the Superior General, dear Father Bertin Sanon. We were proud to broadcast all these events live on Ozanam TV.
However, the third and most important reason for the overwhelming success of Porto’s plenary session was precisely because this event was held in Portuguese territory. Holding the event in Portugal was what really guaranteed the great success of the meeting. The moment we arrived at the airport, we were greeted by the Portuguese team with a white rose, a warm welcome smile and a big hug. This was contagious, and it touched us all! Then, in the Diocesan House of Vilar, where the meetings were held, we had all the infrastructure and means necessary for everything to be developed with the utmost efficiency and professionalism. The homage the SSVP received during a ceremony held in the Legislative Chamber of Porto was equally moving, and showed us how important it is to know how to get along with the constituted powers.
All that being said, upon concluding the work and in view of all these facts, not my own, I stated that I was “the happiest President General in the world”. I want, though, to share them with the whole of the International Management, the members of the International Structure, the staff in Paris, the countries making up the International Executive Board, and all those good people who struggle to make grow our dear and beloved SSVP, in quantity and quality, without divisions or conflicts.
Many thanks to our fellow members Alda Couceiro (national president) and Manuel Carvas Guedes (president of Porto’s Central Council) for the welcome, organisation and zeal with which they have organised the international meetings. Thanks to all participating fellow members and guests who travelled to this blessed land. Thanks to the Paris staff for their professionalism. Thanks to Ozanam TV for their work. Thanks to all those who made this fraternal event possible. Many thanks especially to the Portuguese delegation that attended the event and made known, just a little more closely, the greatness of our institution. May the seven founders, led by Ozanam and St Vincent de Paul, bless them immensely from heaven. Thank you, Portugal!
Renato Lima de Oliveira
16th President General of the SSVP