The focus of the visit was to learn about initiatives for refugees, migrants and the homeless
Between December 4th and 8th, after attending Board meeting in Paris, brother Renato Lima de Oliveira, 16th President General International, visited three European countries: Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. He was accompanied by brother Adrian Abel, president of the Commission for International Aid and Development (CIAD), in order to identify new solidarity projects, especially for the Ukrainian refugees.
The first stop was in Vienna, capital of Austria. The President General was received by the National Vice-president, sister Irmgard Groier, representing brother Christoph Wötzer (National President) who was in a family commitment. The first activity was a working meeting in which we received information and statistics about SSVP Austria.
Afterwards, brother Renato visited a Vincentian hostel (“Vinzidorf”) for 20 persons (men), run by a local Conference, whose president is brother Kurt Grossauer. Immediately afterwards a visit was made to the social special work “Vito”, whose director is brother Christian Haferland, where three meals a day are served to about 50 homeless people. In the same place, a work meeting was held with leaders from Vienna, followed by a dinner (the food served, very tasty, was the same as that served to the homeless). The president of the Area Council, brother Dieter Monitzer, explained in detail the history of the foundation of the SSVP in Austria and the activities underway in Vienna.
Although it was a quick visit, the President General was very happy with the welcome and the information he received. “Our role is to always be close to the countries. The closer we are, the more in tune we will be”, emphasised Renato. Austria is an important National Council within our Confederation, with 165 Conferences and over 50 special works, including shelters, elderly homes and Vincentian centres, as well as social projects for the homeless. SSVP was founded in Austria in 1849.
The second stop was at Bratislava, capital of Slovakia. Renato and Adrian were received at the train station by members of the National Council, including sister Libusa Mihalikova, national president. The first activity was a meeting at the Vincentian Headquarters in Bratislava, called “House of Hope”, with the main leaders of the country, coming from different cities. The Conference presidents presented reports, showing, with photos, the work done. Sister Libusa also spoke about the Society’s situation in Slovakia.
This meeting was attended by Fr Tomás and Nicolás (Congregation of the Mission) and Sister Monica (Daughter of Charity). Father Tomás, who is the CM’s Provincial for Slovakia, stated that the Circular Letters of the President General are important material for formation, and that his dream was that many young people would join the SSVP.
The President General emphasised that the spirit of fraternity and friendship is the central focus of the Conferences, and that Vincentians must take care of their spiritual life in order to better serve those in need. After the event, everyone went to the Parish of Saint Vincent de Paul, run by the Lazarist Fathers (Congregation of the Mission), on which occasion brother Renato was invited to give a testimony at the end of the Holy Mass.
After the celebration, a visit was made to a hostel for homeless people, maintained by Depaul International (one branch of the Vincentian Family). The SSVP delegation was received by the director Joseph Kákoš who explained about the operation of the place, with emphasis on the meals served and the number of beds available (120) for those without a home.
The following day, the Vincentian delegation drove to Surany, 105 km from Bratislava, where it visited a Vincentian social centre in Kopec, which provides shelter for 40 men, most of them unemployed and without family. Father Nicolas celebrated Holy Mass there, and afterwards a delicious lunch was served, prepared by the shelters themselves. The social centre consists of two buildings where the rooms of our needy brothers are kept, and there is a project of expansion to a new module.
The SSVP in Slovakia was founded in 1867 and currently has 22 Conferences. There is a very good relationship with the Vincentian Family, through a common project called “Fight against hunger”. And, thank God, above all, there is a lot of affection and willingness to welcome refugees. On the border with the Ukraine there is a Conference which coordinates various projects for migrants.
The final stage of the trip took place in Budapest, the capital of Hungary, where the President General was received by sister Katalina Eva Nagy (National President) with great joy and enthusiasm. There was a working meeting in which sister Katalina explained how the SSVP works in Hungary, where the Conferences and social works are located. This was followed by a courtesy visit to Sister Cornelia, Superior of the Daughters of Charity, who agreed to help us when we start to organize a new Conference in Budapest. Lastly, a visit was made to a centre for Ukrainian refugees, maintained by the Hungarian government, which is supported by Caritas.
At the end of the official agenda, brothers Renato and Adrian received on Hungarian soil a delegation of four SSVP sisters, representing some active Conferences in the Ukraine. More details of this meeting will be published in a separate article.
“I was very happy with what I saw in Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. We have some challenges to face, of course. However, there are immense possibilities for expanding the charitable services offered to the most needy. We, as Council General, can contribute a lot with training materials, strategies for expansion, suggestions for rejuvenating our Conferences, among other initiatives. One of our focuses is the strengthening of National Councils, as we know that the SSVP will only be strong if it has an organised, prepared and well managed National Council,” said President Lima de Oliveira.
The Council General thanks the three National Councils for the organization and logistics of the trip, especially for the expenses they had with fuel, food and translation services. In those countries, the President General presented the national leaders with a flag, the CGI’s quinquennial report and some books and materials, especially the “Handbook for Conferences”. The National Presidents also received the official badge of our Confederation.
Since taking office in September 2016, the President General has endeavoured, despite his professional and family limitations, to visit as many nations as possible. Since then, 46 National Councils have been visited.