Visit by The President General who also participated in a Vincentian pilgrimage to Fatima
The legacy of the seven founders is very present in the Azores and Madeira, which are two Portuguese archipelagos located in the Atlantic Ocean. The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul was founded in Madeira in 1875 and in the Azores in 1908. However, in all these years of existence, a President General had never made a missionary visit to these places.
With God’s grace, brother Renato Lima de Oliveira, 16th President General, had the privilege of visiting the two islands in April 2023. It was a quick trip, but very meaningful, because it involved several activities that he will miss very much. The President General was accompanied by the President of the Superior Council, sister Alda Couceiro. At the end of his trip, the President participated in a pilgrimage to the Fatima Sanctuary.
On April 17 and 18, the visit took place on the Island of Terceira, one of nine islands belonging to the Autonomous Region of the Azores, 1,500 km from Lisbon. Renato and Alda were warmly welcomed at the airport by brother Carlos Matos, President of the Central Council of Terceira, composed of 12 Conferences and 120 members.
On the first day, Renato and Alda attended the weekly meeting of the Santa Catarina Conference, located in “Cabo da Praia”, which was preceded by a delicious typical Azorean lunch. The next morning, at the Episcopal Seminary in “Angra do Heroísmo”, where the Central Council is located, the agenda included a very fruitful working meeting with the Council’s board and Conferences Presidents.
In the afternoon, a formation session was held, open to all Vincentians of the Azores, where brother Renato spoke about the accomplishments of the current mandate and answered questions about Ozanam’s canonization process. The last activity was a Holy Mass, celebrated in the chapel of the Episcopal Seminary by Father Jacinto Bento, spiritual advisor of the Central Council, when brother Carlos was sworn in as re-elected president.
On April 19 and 20 the trip proceeded to Madeira, which consists of an archipelago of two islands, 1,000 km from Lisbon. Brother Diamantino Santos received the President General and the National President at the Funchal airport. Afterwards a very productive work meeting was held with the Board of the Central Council at the headquarters of that Council, which comprises 35 Conferences and 500 brothers and sisters.
The following day, a formation was held for all Madeiran Vincentians, in “Santo Amaro” Parish, followed by a Holy Mass celebrated by Father Ignácio Rodrigues. After the mass, the minutes were read and signed, very well written, relating this historic moment. A a tasty dinner was served in the parish hall afterwards; the menu was “arroz de pato” (duck rice), a local delicacy. Soon after, Renato, Alda, and Diamantino gave an interview to Radio Funchal, highlighting the Vincentian work done on the island, in Portugal, and aound the world.
In both Azores and Madeira, President Lima de Oliveira gifted the Central Councils with a picture of the seven founders, a SSVP flag, books and music CDs, as well as an authentic relic of Blessed Antoine-Frederic Ozanam. In both places, the importance of the existence of Zone Councils (at the local level) was reinforced as well as the renewal of mandates, the good relationship with the Church and the foundation of new Conferences.
“The presence of the President General in Portuguese lands is always a blessing, even more when we speak the same language,” said sister Alda. “I want to thank, from the bottom of my heart, the welcome we had in the Azores and Madeira. You are very special Vincentians. Continue steadfast in the mission of charity, promoting the poor. Take care also of the good administration of our Conferences and Councils, because this zeal will result in a better assistance to the most needy”, considered brother Renato Lima.
At the end of his mission trip, on April 22, the President General participated, for the first time in his life, in a Vincentian national pilgrimage to Fatima, one of the best-known Marian sanctuaries in the world. Renato hitchhiked in one of the five buses organized by the Central Council of Lisbon. Upon arrival in Fatima, the President General participated in the “flags ceremony”, which culminated with the renewal of the “Vincentian Promise” in the little chapel of the apparitions.
In the afternoon, about 2,000 Vincentians from all regions of Portugal filled the Paulo VI Apostolic Center where a very beautiful and participative assembly took place. There was a beautiful theatrical presentation by young Vincentians of the Porto Central Council on the life story of blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, culminating with the formation of a colorful mosaic with the logo of the SSVP. On this occasion, brother Renato Lima presented the theme “Mary arose and went with haste”, which is also the theme of the Lisbon’s Youth Days 2023.
Monsignor Américo Aguiar, auxiliary bishop of Lisbon, honored the assembly and gave a motivational speech that stimulated everyone. Father José Alves, national spiritual advisor, also took the floor and read his welcome message, focused on the theme of the Youth Days (Luke 1, 39). Besides the assembly, the pilgrimage continued with other activities, such as the Holy Rosary, vigil, candlelight procession and Eucharist in thanksgiving for the 190 years of the foundation of SSVP.
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