Day of the Poor, as Saint Vincent de Paul Wanted: An Interview with Father Tomaž Mavrič

On the occasion of the World Day of the Poor, Pope Francis sent to all dioceses and religious orders a message entitled “Let us love, not with words but with deeds,” in which he writes: “The seriousness with which the “beloved disciple” hands down Jesus’ command to our own day is made even clearer by the contrast between the empty words so frequently on our lips and the concrete deeds against which we are called to measure ourselves.  Love has no alibi.  Whenever we set out to love as Jesus loved, we have to take the Lord as our example; especially when it comes to loving the poor.  The Son of God’s way of loving is well-known, and John spells it out clearly.  It stands on two pillars: God loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:10.19), and he loved us by giving completely of himself, even to laying down his life (cf. 1 Jn 3:16).”

From this request, we have met Father Tomaž Mavrič, Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, on the occasion of the Jubilee Year following the 400th anniversary of the founding of his charism at the service of the poor. In fact, in the message for the World Day of the Poor, the Pope has asked for a “true encounter” with the poor:

What is Vincentian spirituality?

From a small mustard seed in 1617, the Vincentian family has become a large tree that today consists of more than 200 branches (lay associations and congregations of consecrated life) with approximately 2 million members in 150 countries. However, the Vincentian Family is also composed of men and women who, although they do not belong to any particular branch, are inspired by the example of Vincent de Paul following in the service of the poor. The various branches of the Vincentian Family are present in several fields: in the formation of the clergy and the laity, in education, in health, social work, direct services to the poor, pastoral work, retreats, popular missions, in the missions ‘Ad Gentes’ and many others.

The needs of the people are great and the territory is vast. We respond as best we can, because Vincent has taught us to love God, but … “with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brow.” We know that the poor are “our masters and lords”, that in the poor we find Jesus, and in Jesus the poor, and that “the love of Jesus crucified impels us to serve them.” We want to make ours the words of the Pope to young people, to those who are inviting to “make noise”. We want to “make noise” for the poor, in favor of the poor and with the poor.”

At the October audience with the Vincentian Family, Pope Francis indicated three verbs: adore, welcome, go. What do they mean for the Vincentians?

The heart of our action is Christ: without being rooted in His Word, without knowing Christ from heart to heart, ours would be a vain and disorganized act, without a goal. Adoration, drinking in the Fountain of Life is fundamental for all Vincentians, because from there springs our strength, which leads us to recognize the suffering and humiliated Christ in each brother and sister. We can not wait for the poor to knock at our door: Christ sent us to preach the Gospel to the whole world and preaching Christ crucified and risen leads us to the front line, where Christ carries the cross again every day. We must go out and go to the material and spiritual suburbs of this world, for material and spiritual progress at the same time.

What was the charism of Saint Vincent de Paul?

Saint Vincent de Paul lived in France in 1617 and changed forever, not only his life, but also the Church and society. In Folleville he began to hear the moving confessions of people in need living in the most remote areas. That same year, in Châtillon-les-Dombes, Vincent encouraged the organization of his parishioners to work together to alleviate the suffering of families suffering from illness and poverty. These two events have helped to shape the Vincentian charism: to serve God in the poor, our masters and lords, through the preaching of the Gospel (mission) and the support of the needy (charity).

In the message of the First Day of the Poor, the Pope urges love with deeds: how to put this request into practice?

With concrete actions. I can mention, for example, the “Global Alliance of the Vincentian Family in favor of the homeless”, a three-year global project that was presented to the European Parliament on June 28. It is a response to a global emergency: the UN estimates that more than 1.2 billion people on this planet do not have a fixed address and that this figure will probably increase due to poverty, economic crises, wars, natural disasters and urbanization. The basic idea is to change the lives of thousands of homeless people, taking their voice on a global level so that it is heard by politicians at the local, national and international level, up to the UN. It is currently estimated that the lack of housing around the world is divided into three areas: those who live on the streets, those who live in refugee / displaced camps and those who live in slums and favelas throughout the world.

Worldwide, we estimate some 65 million refugees worldwide at this time, and 863 million men, women and children living in shantytowns and slums around the world. In this context, the Alliance of the Vincentian Family in favor of the homeless wants to make a difference in the lives of these hundreds of thousands of people by encouraging, on a global level, the growth of new opportunities for refugees, the inhabitants of the suburbs and those who live on the street. We want to build an increasingly strong collaboration network within the Vincentian groups that deal with the problem of homelessness and support the development of this network and its emerging leaders; share research, techniques and concrete ways of operating within agencies and countries through the use of websites and the organization of conferences; encourage and support the growth of new and innovative services; support local, regional and global management in support of the homeless; develop and make available training materials in support of this initiative, always with spiritual accompaniment.

The Pope invited us to stay on the streets of the world: with what style?

“If you dream alone, your dream is still only a dream; but if we dream together, the dream comes true!” Vincent de Paul used to say that ours must be an affective and effective love. Contemplating Jesus through the poor and contemplating the poor through Jesus makes our love affective; collaboration, prayer, reflection, organization and service together, however, make our love effective. We are invited to be in the world today, as was St. Vincent de Paul in his time, being “mystics of Charity”.

This article first appeared in English on FamVin