Berry

05-16-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

05-16-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

On Monday of this week, I spent the day in meetings at the Vatican in Rome. Working alongside Juan Manuel Gomez, the President General International of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and CGI Board Member Sebastian Gramajo from Argentina, we had three meetings: first with Monsignor Luis Marin de San Martin, Undersecretary of the General Secretariat of the Synod, then with Maria Lia Zervino, Institutional Director of World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations, and lastly with The Secretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Sister Alessandra Smerilli, and Fr. Patrio Salgat of that office.

Each of these meetings was vitally important to the work of the Society, both here in the United States as well as globally. The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development was established by Pope Francis in August 2016. The work of the Dicastery, as directed by Pope Francis, is to express the Holy See’s concern for issues of justice and peace, including those related to migration, health, charitable works, and the care of creation.

The Dicastery promotes integral human development in the light of the Gospel and in the tradition of the Church’s social teachings. The Dicastery also expresses the Holy Father’s care for suffering humanity, including the needy, the sick and the excluded, and pays special attention to the needs and issues of those who are forced to flee their homeland, the stateless, the marginalized, victims of armed conflicts and natural disasters, the imprisoned, the unemployed, victims of contemporary forms of slavery and torture, and others whose dignity is endangered.

That mission certainly sounds a lot like what we do as members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, doesn’t it?

This meeting was important in helping us understand how we can work more closely with the Church and the Bishops in supporting the work of the Holy See in areas such as Integral Human Development.

Similarly, our meeting with the Office of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations was very informative, as we learned about the work of the Church in helping to empower and lift women out of poverty across the world. SVdP USA does an incredible amount of Twinning and project support overseas, and it was good to hear about project work being done through the Vatican. Additionally, the Vatican is looking for our support in some of the work they want to do in the United States, especially around poverty, women, single mothers, and other areas. We will be honored to help!

The meeting with the General Secretariat of the Synod was very interesting and enlightening. We had a wonderful discussion about VisionSVdP, and team at the Vatican were thrilled to hear about what we are doing! They had a lot of questions about our reasons for launching the effort, and were excited that we were modeling our efforts on the theme of Adapting to a Changing World.

One of the things that Msgr. San Martin kept emphasizing was the changing technology of the modern world and how we must adapt not only our processes and procedures, but also our approaches, to ensure we do not lose the spiritual closeness in the drive to technical efficiency and the electronic world. He was speaking my language! He was saying what I have been saying since I first put myself forward as a candidate for National President.

While we can, should, and will change and adapt our systems and our technology to make ourselves more effective and efficient as an operating organization, we cannot, must not, and will not ever lose the human-to-human, Christ-centered Encounter that is the foundational basis of who and what we are. At our core, at our spiritual center, at our faith grounding, we are people serving people through a process of encounter: Encounter in a Home Visit, a food pantry, a thrift store, a pharmacy, a housing program, a shelter, a prison visit, any of the many special works we provide.

My visits to the Vatican helped to define further areas and opportunities for collaboration and cooperation between SVdP and the Holy See to support people in need in the United States and internationally. Those visits also helped to reinforce to me the outstanding work of the Councils and Conferences across the country in support of our neighbors in need and in alignment with Catholic Social Teaching.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

05-02-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

05-02-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

In the South, where I live, the beginning of May signals the beginning of the end of the school year for students. My granddaughter in South Carolina has already had her Prom (yes, she was beautiful) and her Graduation from high school is in a few weeks. For most students in the northern parts of the country, the school year will continue on until at least Memorial Day. But in either case, come early June, most students will be off for the summer and free of the classroom, homework, and getting up early for school.

Some of you may remember the song written in 1932 by George Gershwin for the opera Porgy and Bess, “Summertime.” Its most famous line, oft repeated, is “Summertime and the livin’ is easy.”

How often do we think about children and summertime — no school, just having fun, no cares in the world — and think they’re “livin’ easy”?

For many, that’s likely true. But for too many others, their summertime is anything but easy living — because for too many children in America today, no school means no breakfast, no lunch, maybe no meal at all for the day. And for too many families in America today, no school means no childcare, no one to watch the kids while a single Mom or Dad tries to work so they can pay the rent or put food on the table or clothes on their children’s backs.

No, the reality in America today is that when school ends many, many families don’t celebrate, take vacations to Disneyland, or cook out in the backyard. They despair, and suffer, and try to hold on.

And that’s why we, the SVdP Councils and Conferences, must exert special effort and energy in the summer to support families in need. And for us that can often be a very big challenge, because our children are out of school, we are traveling, our Church attendance and collection amounts are lower due to vacations. Our need is highest when our human and financial resources are lowest.

Think for a minute about the counterintuitive nature of our work and our effort. I would venture to guess that we devote the largest number of volunteer hours, food drives, and organized Conference activities to two times of the year — Thanksgiving and Christmas. But when you think about it, so is every other charity, church, civic organization, and just about any other organized group you can think of.

What if we tweaked the narrative a little? By devoting a larger effort in the summer, when need is huge, and people aren’t as focused on helping, we could really make an impact on helping people desperate for help.

Think about it. Talk about it. Make a difference.

Maybe you can help make someone’s “summertime livin’” a little easier.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

04-18-2024 Letter from Servant Leaders

04-18-2024 Letter from Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

By John Berry
National President

Over the last few months, as we’ve launched our VisionSVdP initiative and begun to conduct our ‘family conversations’ regarding how the Society of St. Vincent de Paul USA will adapt to a changing world, the feedback I have received from Vincentians across the country has been overwhelmingly positive and excited. People feel that this is the perfect time for us to have these conversations and in many cases, they feel the conversations are long overdue.

From the very first email that went out about VisionSVdP, people have been sending me their thoughts and ideas. Although the process is designed to take place in the Listening Sessions (which begin at Regional Meetings across the country this week), people felt so passionately about the things that they believe needed to be discussed, that they decided to send comments in via email.

Be assured that, if you were one of those people, your comments will be included in the process. But I hope that you will still actively participate in the Listening Session at your Conference, Council, or Region and make your views known. Because your voice matters. Every voice matters.

The number and variety of comments I’ve received have been very interesting. They range from the very specific to the very broad. And that’s fantastic because it is exactly what VisionSVdP is all about — to raise up all thoughts, opinions, and ideas on all aspects of the Society and how we can adapt to a changing world.

This week, the most important phase of VisionSVdP begins. Listening Sessions at Regional Meetings (the Southeast meeting starts Friday) will begin an all-out national network of Listening Sessions at EVERY Conference, Council, and Special Work in the country.

Within the next few weeks, a very simple process for conducting the Listening Session at your location will be sent out. The process is very easy. Some guide rails and guidelines for the sessions will be included. And most importantly, the process for getting the output from the session back to the National Office will be provided. A link to a video from Archbishop Bellisario and a link to a spiritual song and prayer to kick off the conversation will also be provided.

We are asking all Councils, Conferences, and Special Works to have their Listening Sessions completed by the National Assembly in August.

But not everyone is on board. Some people still have doubts about why we’re embarking on this effort. And some people don’t understand how it’s supposed to work. Some people are uncomfortable without strict process guidelines, and some people are uncomfortable sharing in a group.

I understand that. And I appreciate that we’re never going to get 100% buy-in to anything we try to do. No one does. That’s just life. Baskin-Robbins sells 31 flavors because not everyone likes chocolate, right?

But EVERY VOICE MATTERS. Even the ones who think theirs doesn’t — or those who don’t want to share theirs — or those who don’t understand why we want to hear it. But it matters. And we need to hear it. And you deserve to have it heard.

So please, put aside your doubts (should you have any), put aside your fears (should you have some), and put aside your hesitancies to participate (should you hold them) and let us know what you think.

Because every voice matters. Every. Single. One.

Peace and God’s Blessings,
John

04-04-2024 Letter from Servant Leaders

04-04-2024 Letter from Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

It has been six months since I assumed the office of National President of the Society. The time has flown by, and it is hard to believe that it has been that long (although to be honest, sometimes it feels like it has been six years!). I have been truly blessed to meet so many of you, and I am looking forward to meeting many more of you as we enter the 2024 Regional Meeting ‘season’ and I get out to many of the meetings.

Since I served on the Board of Directors for six years when Ralph Middlecamp was President, I was aware of what to expect as National President. But I must say that I have been saddened and disturbed by the number of situations that the Board, the Staff, and I have had to deal with in just six short months about individuals, Conferences, and Councils that have needed intervention or disciplinary actions.

As I reflect on these situations, many still ongoing, it has become obvious to me that they almost always stem from root cause failures in one or more of three areas: money, spirituality, or governance. In one case it is usually too much — money. And in the other two, it is usually not enough — spirituality and governance.

The money issues we deal with are not all what you might expect as you read this. They are not all about people stealing or diverting resources. No, most problems we see with money are the improper use of Conference and Council funds in violation of The Rule and hoarding. Coming out of COVID, we were (and are) blessed with bank balances in some places that are exceptionally large, well beyond the needs of the Conference or Council in the short or even medium term.

All too often, what happens is that, in good faith and with good intentions, they decide to see who else they might help. So, they decide to help the Parish get that new roof, or build a playground, or donate to the local Red Cross, etc. These are all wonderful things. The Rule also forbids them. If you have excess funds, reach out and find other Conferences and Councils in your area or beyond who do not — there are A LOT OF THEM! — and give them some help. Twinning is what we do.

Spirituality is another area that underpins so many of the issues I see as National President. Or rather, to phrase it properly, a LACK of Spirituality is what underpins so many issues. And it is not just that we do not focus on spirituality, it is that we focus on the wrong spirituality! If your Conference of Council is not using the Vincentian Spiritual resources provided by the National Formation Team to create your spiritual reflection periods at your meetings, then you are doing it wrong.

We are the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. We are not the parishes’ Adult Education Program. You should not be using the Spiritual Reflection time at your meeting to be focused on those things that are not related to our work as Vincentians. If you need help in putting together a great spiritual time of reflection, contact Tim Williams or Sister Consuelo in the National Office. They will set you up. Oh, and if your Spiritual Reflection period at your meetings is a five-minute reading of the weekly reflection and then ‘on to the business stuff’ please give them a call — you need them!

Governance is the last and most complex area where we see ongoing issues. Governance can be tricky and complicated, and not everyone understands it. As the former Chair of the National Governance Committee, I have a special passion for governance and governance issues. It is an area that can quickly get you into trouble, both legally and internally with the organization. We have a robust and ready Governance Committee led by First Vice President John Hallissy. If you need any support, have any questions, or just want to have what you are doing checked out, contact John.

We can all do things a little better to make our jobs easier. I understand most of you are volunteers — so am I. But that does not mean we should not be doing everything we can to be the best volunteers we can and be doing things right, every time.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

04-03-24 VisionSVdP Update

04-03-24 VisionSVdP Update 8335 2555 SVDP USA

Dear Fellow Vincentians,

Now that the Midyear Meeting, where we rolled out VisionSVdP, is over, I want to give you a report on how things went at the meeting and let you know about the next steps in this important ongoing national initiative.

You will be hearing much about VisionSVdP over the next two plus years; this is one of the most important and impactful things we have undertaken as a Society in the last 25 years. And it will take the commitment, dedication, and full participation of every Vincentian at every level of the Society to make sure that the work we do will enable us to adapt to a changing world and ensure that our work and our relevance in supporting His people in need and growing in our own holiness and spirituality will continue for generations to come.

The launch of VisionSVdP at the Midyear Meeting was exciting and powerful! Almost 250 people, attendees and staff, participated in five separate listening sessions. Was there some nervousness? Some confusion? Some desire for structure and specific questions to answer? Of course there was! If there was not, I would have been very concerned. This is new ground we are breaking. This is quite easy for some people and exceedingly difficult for others.

These listening sessions require that we not only listen to each other, but that we listen to the Holy Spirit speaking to us and through us. They require that we be candid and open and honest and free thinking. If we gave you a bunch of questions and asked you to answer them, what we would get is — a bunch of answers to questions we asked. What we would NOT get is the things in your heart and in your soul that matter deeply and passionately to you. We would not get the voice crying out in the wilderness with the idea that might make all the difference in the world.

So going forward, if you are looking for a lot of structured conversations in VisionSVdP you might be disappointed, because you are not going to get that — at least not in this phase. But if you come to this process with an open heart and an open mind then I think any disappointment will turn to excitement and joy as you journey together, you and your fellow Vincentians on this path to adapting to a changing world. What this synodal process will provide you is an opportunity for open dialogue; listening sessions that are freeform and unstructured with thinking that is inspired by the Holy Spirit.

So, what is next? 

Now we are going into the Regional Meeting phase. We will hold listening sessions at every Regional Meeting over the next few months. I will be at many Regional Meetings to help facilitate; but since I have not yet figured out how to be cloned, I cannot get to them all. So, Dave Barringer will be at the ones I cannot attend, and the RVPs all participated in the launch at Midyear, so they are familiar with the process. There will be a video from our National Spiritual Advisor, Archbishop Andrew, to kick off each session and help center us on the task ahead.

After the Regional Meetings we are asking all Councils, Conferences, and Special Works to hold VisionSVdP Listening Sessions, preferably before the National Assembly. And I want to make a key point here. When I say we want all Vincentians to participate in VisionSVdP, I mean all Vincentians; Full Members, Associate Members, Staff, and Volunteers. And at some point, we will also determine how we can engage with the people we serve, our neighbors in need, to get their views on the Society and how we need to adapt to a changing world to best serve them.

All the comments from all the sessions will be gathered into a national database where we can all look at it. And when I say we, I mean we — you, me, and every Vincentian — because every voice matters, today and tomorrow. In Phase II, we will all begin to ask ourselves: What does all this mean? Then we will start to determine patterns, similarities, trends, commonalities, and areas where we want to focus. But we will also be looking for that voice in the wilderness.

There will be further updates as we continue the process. Thanks for your continued participation and support.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

03-07-25 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

03-07-25 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

This is the last in a series of three Servant Leader columns before next week’s Midyear Meeting that address VisionSVdP.  Today I’d like to explain a little more about how the process will work over the next year, and talk a bit about how you can get involved.

We will formally ‘kick off’ VisionSVdP at the Midyear Meeting in St. Louis with five Listening Sessions. All Midyear attendees will be randomly assigned to one of five groups and will meet for approximately 1 ½ hours. This will occur following a session by me on the process, and after a Keynote Address by the National Council President of Australia, who will speak about the process there, and a Spiritual Retreat by Archbishop Andrew Bellisario, CM, our National Episcopal Advisor.

At the Listening Sessions, Midyear attendees will have a free-flowing discussion about the Society. They will all begin with the same question: What does the Rule, Part 1, 1.6: “Adaptation to a Changing World” mean to you?

From there, they will discuss anything and everything that they want to. Someone at each table will capture everyone’s comments — because every voice matters. Two moderators per room (typically Regional VPs) will then attempt to capture the essence of the discussions; when the entire group reconvenes, we’ll have a conversation about the process. The goal is not to highlight any comments as more important than any other, but to debrief how people felt. Were their voices heard? Did they learn anything? Did anything ‘click’ from the conversation?

This process will repeat itself at the Regional meetings.

So, you ask: What about me? I’m not going to Midyear or the Regional Meeting. How do I get involved??

GOOD QUESTION!  You get involved because we want every Conference and every Council and every Special Work to do this as well. AND WE WILL HELP YOU!

Now, let’s be very open and very, very honest here. We will face many naysayers and people who just want to keep on doing things the way we always have, either because it’s easier, or because they fear change. Then we’ll have the inevitable organizational inertia that will never find the time to schedule the sessions — we’re too busy, we’re too important doing other “real Vincentian work,” etc, etc. They will all resist doing these sessions. WE CANNOT LET THAT HAPPEN.

Engage with the VisionSVdP process at your Conference and in your Council and Region. Become a Champion for the effort! Contact your Regional VP, contact your Council President, contact me. Make sure the process gets to you and is carried out. Because your voice matters.

After all these sessions are held in 2024 (including at the National Assembly in Phoenix), we will start a National Conversation process in 2025 about what we have heard and what it means for how we adapt and change.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

02-29-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

02-29-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 8335 2555 SVDP USA

Last week I announced the kickoff of VisionSVdP in an email to all Vincentians. Today, I’d like to spend a little more time discussing the reasons we’re launching this very important initiative at this time.

Let’s start by looking at why VisionSVdP is so important for us from the standpoint of all the great and positive things going on across the Society — things like these. (And there are a whole lot more!)

  • While we have seen declines in Conference membership as a whole (more on that later), we’ve also seen new Conferences being created, new membership growth in places, and even new Councils being formed. We need to talk about how and why that’s happening so we can capture the best practices; figure out how to support and scale those gains across the country; and help reverse the decline in membership we’re seeing in many places.
  • During COVID, many Councils and Conferences found an incredible surge of innovation and creativity in programs and services. New ways of serving people in need have been implemented and are now part of a better, more effective, and more far-reaching support system for our neighbors in need. We need to talk about those programs and help others implement them locally.
  • Councils and Conferences across the country have developed programs that are providing free medications to people with low income, moving people from the streets to homes, feeding thousands of people a day (yes, a day!) through kitchens, providing food via food pantries, doing so much more. We need to talk about how they’re doing these things, while other Councils and Conferences are struggling to answer the phone calls. What is making the difference?

And we also need to talk about the negative things. Here are just a few to think about.

  • Since 2016, we have lost almost 1,000 Conferences and nearly 10,000 members. Why? What can we do about it? Is it our structure? Do our meeting schedules make it impossible for working people, young families, and students to attend? Is it something else? Is it a combination of things?  We need to talk about how we make the Society a more welcoming and supportive community for people to serve, grow in spiritually, and grow in friendship and community.
  • The reality — and part of the answer to the question above — is that our Vincentians are getting ‘burned out.’ They are overworked, not fed spiritually, and burdened with necessary (yet still challenging) paperwork and reporting. We need to talk about all of these things. We must determine new ways to make being a Vincentian a joyful experience.
  • Face it, people generally run away when we ask them to consider Leadership roles in the Society. We need to talk about why. And then we need to talk about how we are going to fix it.
  • Our efforts to increase diversity have not kept pace with the growth in the diversity of the Church. While we have moderately increased the number of Hispanic, Latino, and African-American Vincentians, the percentage increases have not tracked with the increases in the Church.

So — that’s a bit of a deeper dive into why we’re launching VisionSVdP.

We need you to be part of it. For one simple reason.

BECAUSE EVERY VOICE MATTERS

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 02-15-24

A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 02-15-24 1200 1200 SVDP USA

The 2024 Midyear Meeting is about a month away in St. Louis. Every year as we approach Midyear, Regional Meetings, and the Annual Assembly the same question comes up. “Is it appropriate for Conferences and Councils to use their funds to pay for members to attend these meetings”? Or a variation on the same question. “Does the Rule allow the Conference or Council to use the funds they have raised to pay for members to attend these meetings?”

The answer is a clear, resounding, unequivocal YES! Not only is it appropriate and allowed, but it is a very important — and smart! — way to improve service to your neighbors in need, make your Conference or Council better and more effective, grow your membership, develop deeper spirituality within Conference and Council, and deepen friendship and community within the Society across the country.

The RULE (3.12 Formation of Members) states:

It is essential that the Society continually promote the formation and training of its members and Officers, in order to deepen their knowledge of the Society and their spirituality, improve the sensitivity, quality and efficiency of their service to the poor and help them be aware of the benefits, resources and opportunities that are available for the poor. The Society also offers members higher training in order to better help to raise the cultural and social level of those who request this support.

I have heard people say that spending money on sending people to the Midyear, Regional, or Annual Assembly is “taking food out of the mouths of the poor.” Well, with the deepest love and respect to those who say that, let me say that I could not disagree more!

If you want to put more food on the tables of those who are hungry — come to the Midyear, Regional, or Annual Assembly and learn how your fellow Vincentians across the country are innovating amazing new methods to collect food, create food pantries, develop partnerships with supermarkets and others, and delivering food to the hungry as we are called to do in Matthew 25.

If you want to help house the homeless and prevent those who are housed from losing their homes — come to the Midyear, Regional, and Annual Assembly and learn from your Vincentian Family across this country how they are developing incredible programs to move people from the street to homes, from extended stay motels to homes, preventing evictions, and working with community partners to address the many and complex issues of homeless prevention.

If your Conference is suffering from burnout and a lack of Vincentians to help the people in need coming to you for support, don’t suffer in isolation and silence – come to the Midyear, Regional, and National Assembly and learn what your Vincentian Family is doing to address the Spiritual needs we all have. We are all called to grow in holiness. See ways in which other Conferences and Councils across the country are innovating and creating exciting spiritual growth opportunities for their members.

If you are struggling to make the checkbook balance last until the end of the month it may seem counterintuitive to spend money to go to a meeting. But how else are you going to learn how to get over that fundraising challenge? Reach out to National and your Council and your Region and get the scholarship support you need (and YES — contact ME for help) and get to the meeting and learn some new development techniques so you can begin to be effective in helping to grow your monthly collection income.

St. Vincent once said, “The poor suffer less from a lack of generosity than from a lack of organization.”

When the Society was in its early days, Members gathered often for meetings to exchange ideas, learn from each other, grow together in spirituality, and grow in friendship and community (Our Essential Values). But remember that these Men (and they were all Men back in the day) were all wealthy individuals who paid their own way and funded the Society.

Today the Society has members who bridge the socioeconomic spectrum. We proudly have Members who were once people we helped. We have young people, retired people, rich people, and not-so-rich people. We are One Society representing ALL of American Society.

That is why we must use the resources we have been given — diligently, judiciously, and with discernment — to help train and empower our membership to lead us into the future. Our work is NOT just happening locally, in the vacuum of a Conference or Council, but in the community and friendship afforded them by attendance at a Midyear, Regional, and/or Annual Assembly.

Be prudent, be reasonable. Many people can pay their own way. Many, many people do. But many cannot. And do not just send your leadership, but look at the Emerging Leaders, the unsung heroes of the Conference/Council, the spiritual leaders, the new people who will come back and fire up the others. And support as many as you can to attend the Midyear, the next Regional, the Annual Assembly.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

02-01-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

02-01-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

It’s February, the month of Valentine’s Day — and the traditional month of the celebration of love. Exchanges of flowers and chocolates, romantic dinners, and many an engagement will occur on February 14 as people celebrate their love for each other. A day to celebrate love is a good thing, because by focusing on the more personal and intimate love we have for each other, we can hopefully reflect on the universal love that we are called to hold for all.

Love is foundational to our humanity. It is the most important commandment given to us by God. When Jesus was asked what mattered most, he told us; love God, love your neighbor as yourself. The Gospel of Matthew 25, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and so many others are all about love. Love for our brothers and sisters in this world.

Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta left behind a legacy of compassion and selfless service to the destitute. She celebrated love every day for those who had no one else to love them. One of her profound statements that resonates with the human spirit is, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.” In these simple yet powerful words, Mother Teresa captures the profound impact of emotional destitution and the significance of human connection. She captures what our Vincentian Encounters with the people we serve are all about. We are not just delivering food or clothes, or payments of rent and utilities. We are bringing love to those who suffer the terrible poverty of feeling unloved, uncared for, and abandoned.

Loneliness is a silent affliction that can impact even the most prosperous individuals. Mother Teresa, having devoted her life to helping the poor and marginalized, recognized that material poverty is not the only form of deprivation. She understood that loneliness, accompanied by the deep-seated belief of being unloved, could lead to a sense of hopelessness that ignores economic status.

Mother Teresa’s quote speaks to the universal experience of loneliness, a condition that transcends geographical, cultural, and socioeconomic boundaries. Loneliness exists in many ways, affecting people of all ages and backgrounds. It is not confined to the elderly or those living in isolation; it can afflict the young, the successful, and those surrounded by a bustling social circle. In our interconnected world, where virtual connectivity often overshadows genuine human interaction, the epidemic of loneliness is rampant, and the consequences are profound. Social factors such as past trauma, social bullying, and social ostracism can dramatically increase loneliness and isolation even among those who seem to ‘have it all.’

The connection between poverty and loneliness, as highlighted by Mother Teresa, extends beyond the material realm. While addressing the physical needs of the poor, she recognized the importance of acknowledging their emotional and psychological well-being. In the impoverished corners of Calcutta, Mother Teresa confronted not only the scarcity of resources but also the profound sense of abandonment experienced by those who felt unloved. Her work was a testament to the belief that alleviating poverty required an integrated approach, one that encompassed not just material assistance, but also genuine human connection and compassion.

That goes to the core of our commitment to the encounters we have with those we serve. To that human-to-human Christ-centered connection. We are not just case workers, although truly we are often in that role. And let’s be clear, there is no negativity to that title or role – it is important and necessary! But we are caseworkers with humanity and human connection and compassion as our guiding star. We are Vincentians who know that it is love that people need as much as material needs, and we can, and we do give them both.

As Vincentians we demonstrate, every day, the transformative power of love and human connection. We demonstrate that in the embrace of love, the impoverished find solace, and the lonely heart discovers warmth. We demonstrate that acts of kindness driven by love, no matter how small, have the potential to alleviate the most profound forms of poverty.

In today’s fast-paced and digitally driven world, where virtual interactions often replace face-to-face connections, the epidemic of loneliness has only intensified. Social media, while providing a platform for connectivity, has also contributed to a sense of isolation and inadequacy. Mother Teresa challenges us to reflect on the quality of our relationships and the depth of our connections. She asks us to prioritize genuine human interaction and empathy over the superficiality of online engagement.

St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s quote, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved,” captures in one short sentence the profound impact of emotional destitution and the transformative power of love and human connection. Her life’s work, dedicated to serving the poorest of the poor, was a testament to the belief that true poverty extends beyond material lack and encompasses the loneliness that accompanies the feeling of being unloved.

Our work as Vincentians has always been done on that spirit. In the movie Monsieur Vincent, St. Vincent de Paul tells a new Daughter of Charity: “It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them. at all times and under all circumstances.”

As we navigate an ever-evolving world, the words of St. Vincent and St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s serve as a timeless reminder of the importance of compassion, empathy, and meaningful human connection in alleviating the most profound forms of poverty.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

01-18-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

01-18-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

Well, here we go. We have been reflecting on change recently, and just as we begin a new year where change and how we are going to adapt to it will be a major focus of discussion and discernment for us all — a substantial change is announced.

Last week, Dave Barringer made public his plans for retirement. If his ‘retirement’ is anything like Ralph Middlecamp’s or mine, it just means he will be working just as hard for the Society… but — as my Archbishop once told me — for indulgences rather than dollars. Seriously though, Dave has done a wonderful job for us and replacing him won’t be an easy task. Luckily, he gave us notice that this was coming long before my election. So the Board and I already have a search firm working on finding a successor, and hopefully there will be a seamless transition in September.

In 535 BC, the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus is purported to have said, “The only constant in life is change.” And there really wasn’t a heck of a lot going on back then, right? He’s probably talking about a couple of changes a year, maybe two a month in a crazy time. Heck, it took three months for a letter to get from Rome to Athens! (And talk about change — letters were chiseled on a stone tablet. Think about that postage stamp today.) So, can you imagine what he would be thinking about change today? In today’s world, change comes at a dizzying pace.

Back in the 17th century, when Vincent de Paul was championing the cause of the less fortunate, the world was a tad different too. No smartphones, no internet — can you imagine? Encounters were purely face-to-face, and if you needed directions, you had to ask an actual person instead of Siri. Ah, the good old days!

Fast forward to the 21st century — our opportunities to create Encounters with those we serve have evolved. We are not just knocking on doors; we are navigating through virtual spaces, sending emails, and sharing information with other organizations. While we may miss the simplicity of the past, it is important that we embrace the opportunities that technology offers to expand our reach and impact. We can, must, and do leverage technology and change to maximize our ability to create personal Encounters with those we serve. But we cannot, must not, and never can allow technology and change to replace the human-to-human Christ-centered Encounter that embodies who we are.

Frédéric Ozanam once said, “Charity must never look beyond the needs of the present hour.” Wise words, indeed. Our ability to expand our encounters may have transformed, but the essence remains the same — addressing the needs of the hour through the Encounter has not changed. We sit with people. We pray with people. We talk with people. We serve people. We do not serve computers. We do not serve phones. We do not serve paper. As some of our trucks and signs say, “We serve people.”

Technology can be — and is — our friend. Picture Saint Vincent de Paul trying to send a text message with quill and ink — “Help needed at the soup kitchen. Bring bread!” The challenges of communication in the 1600s…so much easier with an iPhone, eh?

And Frédéric Ozanam might have appreciated the convenience of a group chat — “Team, we have a mission! Let us band together and make a difference. Who’s bringing the coffee?” Because come on, let’s be real, coffee is essential for any charitable endeavor.

As we navigate these changing times, let us remember the spirit of Vincent and Frédéric. Our Encounters are a testament to the enduring power of compassion. Each interaction is a chance to bring warmth, understanding, and a touch of humanity into someone’s life.

As we embrace change, and use it to do what we do better, we must make sure we also continue to cherish the human encounters that define the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Whether it is a 17th-century doorstep in the slums of Paris or a 21st-century personal Encounter in the suburbs of Atlanta (set up through a text message to the caseworkers that came from the Vincentian on Intake who took a call off the Conference phone line), our commitment to serving with love remains unwavering.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

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