September 27 is a day of celebration at Catholic Charities for two key reasons: the day marks the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, an ongoing inspiration for all of us, and it is also the anniversary of our founding in 1913.
It is no surprise that St. Vincent de Paul is the patron of Catholic Charities, as his tireless efforts to respond to poverty are remarkable. He also worked with prisoners and created seminary education to ensure that priests had proper education to help them minister effectively. The saint co-founded the Vincentian order, as well as the Daughters of Charity. It is said that when he died, all of Paris mourned. His name remains in the public eye in part because of the work of the chapters of St. Vincent de Paul Society volunteers in parishes.
Today, learning from the model of St. Vincent de Paul, the 20 member agencies of Catholic Charities serve five key constituencies in our community: children and youth; young parents; people with disabilities; seniors; and community and family services. A cynic might say that not everyone on the above list is experiencing poverty but such a literal interpretation would indeed be short-sighted, for poverty is not just about one’s bank balance but about the absences in lives that create barriers to living the most productive, rewarding life possible.
That poverty could take the shape of loneliness, for example, and our member agencies are a place to find a friendly face and, often, activities that provide social interaction. Society of Sharing, for example, sends volunteers out to visit isolated, housebound seniors, brightening their day and reducing social isolation.
That poverty could also be a lack of knowledge to help confront new situations. Agencies such as Rose of Durham working with young parents, offering workshops and information to support marginalized young moms and dads, allowing them to flourish in their new roles.
Catholic Crosscultural Services responds to the needs of newcomers, who arrive in the Greater Toronto Area often facing a lack of any – or all of – housing, employment, language skills or connections. CCS offers settlement services, allowing newcomers the ability to imagine that one day their new home really will feel like home.
If we are being honest, some form of poverty touches all of us at some point in our lives, whether it is spiritual, emotional or practical. Agency staff and volunteers are keenly aware that each person they interact with may be carrying a burden at that moment, whether seen or unseen. That knowledge creates compassion and community, because it is a powerful reminder that we live not in isolation but in community, and that we are called to serve one another.
While he was born more than five centuries ago, there are many quotations attributed to St. Vincent de Paul that are remarkably timely and timeless.
“If God is the centre of our life, no words are necessary,” he is believed to have said. “Your mere presence will touch hearts.”
This truth should serve to comfort those who feel they have not done enough to answer the endless needs of modern life. Being present to other people is an invaluable gift, one our staff and volunteers know intuitively.
He is also believed to have said “Charity is the cement which binds communities to God and persons to one another.” Simple but powerful. And absolutely true, whatever form that charity takes. Sometimes it is a donation, and other times the willingness to be present and listen.
St. Vincent de Paul, pray for us.
Let’s do our best beginning right now…to give ourselves to God in everything always, and everywhere, in order to be hungry and thirsty for this justice.