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A census can be a trying time, especially if you are poor. Just ask Mary and Joseph about that. But times have changed since the time when Jospeh had to travel to Nazareth with his pregnant wife.

Today the U.S. Census is an important tool and provides great benefits to our country. For the most part people fill out census forms. Census takers visit homes that have not responded.

Recently, in a letter to members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, CEO Dave Barringer noted similarities and differences between census taker home visits and the home visits of Vincentians.

Vincentian home visits

He writes

“We are blessed as Vincentians to have a reputation of being trustworthy and helpful, often even before we meet someone new!

We recognize that Home Visits, food pantries, and other Society encounters are much more than transactions with people in poverty. “

Vincentians are not much interested in gathering data. They view home visits as relationship-building exercises.

In other words, Vincentians are visitors who come as friends. They offer marginalized people emotional, moral, spiritual, and material support.  We also maintain the confidentiality that exists in family relationships.

Pope Francis is constantly urging all to create a “culture of encounter” and a “culture of dialogue,” in which we are prepared not only to give, but also to receive from others.

A Vincentian Legacy

From the very beginning, home visits have played a key role in the Vincentian Family’s service to those in need.  But they were to be no ordinary visits; they were to be a faith-filled encounter.  Vincent de Paul insisted:

When you go to visit them, rejoice and say to yourself, “I am going to these poor people to honor in their person the person of Our Lord.  I am going to see in them the Incarnate Wisdom of God.[1]

Today, the Rule of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul puts it this way:

From the Society’s beginning, the central and most basic activity of Conferences has been the visitation of the needy in their homes.  This is the clearest symbol of our Vincentian charism, which dictates the highest respect for the dignity of the poor.  It symbolizes our Vincentian commitment to reach out to the needy, rather than require them to report to an outside service site.  In the home, needy persons feel most free to confide their stories of struggle.  In that family setting, Vincentians are asked to listen, offer humble advice, and render assistance.

The root meaning of the word “visit”

Father Maloney CM offers some thoughts…

Etymologically, the English word visit stems from a Latin root meaning to see.

So, in its root sense, visiting involves going to see others, looking into their eyes, gazing at their face.  St. Vincent would say that a visit, made with the eyes of faith, involves seeing the face of Christ in the face of the poor person.

In the gospels, Jesus warns about “seeing but not seeing.”  Human experience tells us, in fact, that the failure to see is a frequent occurrence.  In frustration, we might sometimes say to someone whose sight is technically quite good, “Are you blind!  Don’t you see what’s happening!” 

In addition to those who are metaphorically blind, we also know people who are metaphorically near-sighted (lack long-range vision), far-sighted (fail to see important closeup details), or who have tunnel vision (barge straight ahead without seeing the effect on those to the right and the left).

How important it is really to see!

  • When have I felt someone has been blind, near-sighted, far-sighted or had tunnel vision?
  • When have I been blind, near-sighted, far-sighted or had tunnel vision?

Click below for an audio version of the Vincentian Mindwalk

The Census and Vincentian Home Visits