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The Church has been celebrating the World Day of Migrants and Refugees since 1914. For much longer we have been celebrating the feast of St. Vincent de Paul. In 2020 these two days coincided. The 2020 theme… “Forced Like Jesus to Flee”.

Displaced people offer us this opportunity to meet the Lord, “even though our eyes find it hard to recognize him: his clothing in tatters, his feet dirty, his face disfigured, his body wounded, his tongue unable to speak our language” (Pope Francis – Homily, 15 February 2019).

A pithy Pope

Pope Francis certainly has a knack for “concise and forcefully expressive words”, the very definition of “pithy”.

Just think of the many phrases and images that have become part of our heritage today… “the church is a field hospital”, “shepherds should have the smell of the sheep”, “a babysitter church”, “shipwreck culture”…

Their very conciseness provokes thought and calls for action.

Six verbs that call for thought and action

As I was thinking of the aptness of the feast of St. Vincent coinciding with the 106th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, 2020 , I was struck once again by Pope Francis’ use of verbs to express his concern for migrants and refugees.

In 2016 he built his whole message around four verbs “We are called to respond to this pastoral challenge with the four verbs welcome, protect, promote and integrate.

Now in 2020 he continues his reflection by saying “To these words, I would now like to add another six pairs of verbs that deal with very practical actions and are linked together in a relationship of cause and effect.

  • You have to know in order to understand.
  • It is necessary to be close in order to serve.
  • In order to be reconciled, we need to listen.
  • In order to grow, it is necessary to share.
  • We need to be involved in order to promote.
  • It is necessary to cooperate in order to build.

His choice of verbs forced me to think more deeply and calls me to action.

Celebrating St. Vincent’s values

One of the things that stood out in St. Vincent’s impact on the preaching of his day was the simple power of his “little method of preaching” – “what”, “why”, and “how”.

In an age of florid and lengthy rhetoric, it was not unusual for homilies to go on for hours! In stark contrast, people loved to listen to the simple and direct preaching of St. Vincent. No excess baggage. He simply told people what was important and why. He offered simple concrete suggestions for how to act on what was important.

I am sure you can recognize these verbs with which Pope Francis reminds us of the “how” to help. (The “what” and the “why” are equally succinct in the document.)

As I look at the concise way Pope Francis recommends caring for migrants and refugees, I am sure you can imagine this set of verbs coming to life through the amazing things Vincent accomplished.

Beginning in 1639, Vincent began organizing campaigns for the relief of those suffering from war, plague, and famine. This work went on for ten years. During that time, Vincent succeeded in supplying Lorraine with help amounting to more than 60 million dollars and more than 38,000 yards of various fabrics. He raised funds initially from the Ladies of Charity and eventually obtained contributions from the highest authorities.  King Louis XIII made a gift of $1,800,000.

I am sure you can recognize the reality of these verbs not only in the lives of St. Vincent, St. Louise but also in those who have followed them over the last 400 years. It should be obvious that these verbs are also crucial for those who seek long-term solutions and systemic change.

Challenge to understand the what, why and how of aid today.

Perhaps for the next week, we can honor our Vincentian heritage each day by taking the verbs Francis highlights as food for thought for the day.

Click below for an audio version of this post.

Forced to Flee Like Jesus