A Black History Month Reflection

A Black History Month Reflection 1080 1080 SVDP USA

Written by: Wayne Bugg and Connie Steward, SVdP African American Task Force Co-Chairs

The 2023 theme for Black History Month is “Black Resistance.”  What does that mean to you? Is it good or bad? We initially concluded that resistance was not a good thing. We perceived it as negative energy. But, after further thought and reflection, we understand this theme is an acknowledgement that over the years many Black Americans have led the charge to resist the evils of racism, calling for a more just society. Therefore, “Black Resistance” is a good thing, and these individuals should be celebrated.

To resist something is to oppose it or stand firm against it. Just as Vincentians oppose or stand firm against poverty, we should all oppose racism. It is appropriate to celebrate “Black Resistance” during Black History Month because it is a specific time set aside to reflect, relate and release – the three R’s.

As you REFLECT on your thoughts about “Black Resistance” – do you reinforce racism or do you resist racism. Hopefully we can all join hands and resist racism.

How do you RELATE to members of the opposite race. Are you comfortable conversing? Are you honest and transparent? Are you respectful? Strong, genuine relationships make for a more just and equitable society.

RELEASE or let go of racist thoughts or actions. They are toxic and will wear you down.

One might ask – what does this have to do with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul? We are an organization committed to “resisting” the many barriers that keep our vulnerable brothers and sisters in poverty. As we journey together and bring our spirituality and friendship to those we serve, it is imperative that we Reflect, Relate and Release.

02-02-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leader

02-02-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leader 900 900 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

Over the past few years, COVID-19 has meant many organizations’ well-intended plans and initiatives were put on-hold or received little attention. For our organization, one such set of delayed efforts were our plans to improve the policies and practices needed for safeguarding vulnerable persons. At the National Council meeting in Houston in August 2021, your delegates approved Resolution 189 – National Safeguarding Policy for all Member Councils. The resolution asks all Councils to create a safeguarding policy that would follow the guidelines provided and also address their local circumstances, paying attention to local laws and the policies of their diocese.

This is not a popular topic to bring up. Creating and implementing a safeguarding policy is complicated, can cost money and brings a variety of responses from our membership. My own Conference had a member resign when we put a safeguarding requirement in place many years ago. That departing member told us, “So, some priests have been abusing children, and now I have to take a class and have a background check.” Many members had similar reactions to our national policy at first, but I hope we have moved past this attitude.

For the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, not much of our work is directly with children, but all of our neighbors in need should be considered as vulnerable persons. I am sorry to say that we have had credible reports of incidents of that vulnerability being exploited, which reinforces my belief that we need to keep working on this.

The safeguarding resolution we approved details a number of reasons why it is important to have an appropriate policy and effective training. Certainly, we want to prevent abuse and protect those we serve, but having a plan for what to do if something is reported or suspected is an equally compelling reason for having our members well-trained. There are many states in which our home visitors and volunteers are even considered “mandatory reporters.” By law, they are required to report observed incidents of abuse. Do you know whether that includes you? Do you know what constitutes a reportable incident or to whom you must report it? Does this include reporting a neighbor in need whom you have visited? Are you clear about the process you should take if one of our members violates our safeguarding standards?

At the January Board of Directors meeting, we discussed the implementation of Resolution 189 at length, and it is clear to your National Council leadership that this is a complicated matter. Many Councils already have policies and training in place. Some of them were required to do so by their dioceses many years ago. Many others have not even started – finding the effort too complex or maybe too costly, or the resistance from members too significant.

As we move forward, our National Council is looking for ways to support your safeguarding efforts and share best practices. Please support your local leaders as they create and implement your local safeguarding policy. Your Council leadership already has plenty on its plate, and I would encourage some of you to step forward to help lead the effort. Forming a local task force of members who see the importance of this process and are willing to spend time investigating options will help us make the progress needed.

Doing nothing is not an acceptable option. So far, fortunately, we have avoided major lawsuits and harm to our reputation. The time to act is before something happens. Our Church and many other organizations have suffered incredible harm because they were not proactive. From the beginning, our founders realized that our home visits should always be done in pairs. That early practice of safeguarding is still a key element of our protecting vulnerable neighbors in need. Unfortunately, it is not enough in today’s environment.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
National Council President

The Call of Catholic Social Teaching: A Reflection on Homelessness

The Call of Catholic Social Teaching: A Reflection on Homelessness 940 788 SVDP USA

Written by: Fr. Patrick McDevitt, C.M., Ph. D., Provincial Superior, Congregation of the Mission, Western Province

I was delighted to be asked to submit this reflection on homelessness through the prism of Catholic Social Teaching.  After some initial thinking on the topic, I was overwhelmed by both the immensity of the body of literature called, “Catholic Social Teaching”.  Furthermore, I was personally challenged on the profound reality Catholic Social Teaching calls us to change, to care, to sacrifice, and love our brothers and sisters who live in poverty.

Catholic Social Teaching is rooted in the biblical tradition of “preferential option for the poor”.  According to the commands of God, the care for the poor is the highest priority.  It is a moral imperative for Christians to love and care for the poor because God is the poor and the poor are God (Matthew 25). This great summons of justice is found in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, and evident in centuries of Catholic Tradition and articulated in the Magisterium Teaching of the Catholic Church. The Christian mandate is to be both charitable and to pursue justice.  It is not enough for Christians to espouse ideals, principles, and credo. An authentic and integrated Christian life must include charity, service, advocacy, and justice.  “To receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brethren [sic]” (Cano. 1397).

The depth of love for our sisters and brothers in poverty need to be accompanied by a commitment to advocacy (a commitment to stand with and to work in the best interest of the poor) for systemic change in policies that deny or limit access to needed resources for the poor.  Catholic Social Teaching shows that we must do more than just “help out” – “give some of our time” – “be nice” – and to do for the poor in order to “feel good about ourselves”.  The Christian call is to advocate for real systemic change to directly alleviate and liberate our brothers and sisters from the suffering and shackles of poverty.  The disease of poverty kills the body and spirit in both those directly affected by the rage of poverty and it deeply affects all of society.

Homelessness is just one of the many symptoms of the complex nature of poverty in our society.  From a clinical perspective, one cannot just address the symptom of a problem; one must look at the etiology deeply underlying the symptoms.  It is only when one “drills down” deep beneath the surface of a problem that real healing and systemic change are possible.

Homelessness perpetuates the victimization and traumatization of highly vulnerable people.  The psychiatric community is only beginning to learn how devastating trauma disables and immobilizes individuals.  Trauma can only be treated within a safe and secure place.  The reality of homelessness continues to expose people to the harsh elements of violence, exploitation, prejudice, loneliness, and fear.

Catholic Social Teaching emphatically states that everyone has the inalienable rights of dignity, community, and care.  Without these inalienable rights, people are devoid of what truly constitutes their basic humanity.

The concept of “Home” is more than just a structure or a shelter.  A home is meant to be a place of safety, security, and grounding for our bodies and souls.  It is only in this type of environment that our humanity can really thrive and grow. Furthermore, it is in this “sacred” place of home that humans discover and rediscover the goodness and divine nature of humanity.  Home is to be a “holy” place for healing and the “safe place” where vulnerability and love can be shared.  The sacred externals of home leads us to the holy and sacred places of our hearts and souls.  “Home is where the Heart is” (Song by Elvis Presley).

Catholic Social Teaching illustrates the communal responsibilities we have to care and advocate for the poor in their material needs, humanitarian needs, and spiritual needs.  The Catholic call is to “look beyond” the bread you eat; to “look beyond” the cup you drink” (hymn by Darryl Ducote, 1969), and to look deeper into life and the social challenges facing society.  In looking beyond and looking deeper, we will find Christ in the poor.  The late British author, Graham Greene reminds us that, “most things disappoint till you look deeper”.

The wealth of wisdom in Catholic Social Teaching serves as a guide to address the global epidemic of homelessness with authentic values and principles.  This treasured wisdom provide us with the constant reminder of our duties and responsibilities to respond with the armor of charity and justice for God’s homeless people.  Finally, Catholic Social Teaching inspires hope that we can and we will bring an end to this cruel reality of homelessness in our lifetime.  We are reassure of this hope by the prophet words of Joshua, “Now behold, today I am going the way of all the earth, and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words which the Lord your God spoke concerning you has failed; all have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed” (Joshua 23:14).

Rendu Orientation: The Spirituality of the Home Visit

Rendu Orientation: The Spirituality of the Home Visit 2560 1920 SVDP USA

The SVdP Seattle/King County Council hosted its Rendu Orientation on January 2t at St. Thomas Catholic Church in Tukwila, WA. There were 28 participants representing 15 parishes and Conferences from across King County.

The orientation, facilitated by SVdP Seattle Executive Director (ED), Mirya Munoz- Roach and former ED and senior advisor Ned Delmore, complements and completes the basic orientation of new members following the Ozanam Orientation. New Vincentians felt inspired and seasoned Vincentians felt a sense of renewal in their Vincentian vocation. The Rendu Orientation focuses on the Spirituality of the Home Visit and is inspired by our founders including Fredric Ozanam and his mentor, Daughter of Charity, Blessed Rosalie Rendu.

Saturday marked the second in-person training this year in King County. Many Vincentians felt revitalized and ready to go back to conducting Home Visits, which is the cornerstone to our Vincentian ministry. The session, which is a part of SVdP Formation Basic Program, explores the significance of seeing our ministry as a vocation and of exercising love of neighbor. This is done by slowing down and dedicating time, putting into practice the act of loving through listening.

The session tackled the importance of reflective listening to hear the deeper needs of our neighbors and of each other in the Conference meeting. The orientation also offered significant points on “twinning” as a necessary spiritual practice that encourages Vincentians to act as One Society, living, sharing, and growing Spirituality together in service to our most vulnerable neighbors and to each other as Conference members.

1-26-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

1-26-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 900 900 SVDP USA

My Dear Vincentian Friends:

Thank you for the trust and faith you placed in me by electing me your next National Council President. I am humbled and honored (and honestly, maybe just a little bit scared) by this great honor. I know that I have big shoes to fill following my good friend, Ralph Middlecamp, as well as all the National Presidents that have served the National Council since its founding in 1845. I pledge to you that I will do my best to serve you and our Society to the best of my ability.

I ran for President because I wanted to help strengthen, grow, and prepare the Society for the future so that all who seek a journey of faith and service can find fulfillment in our Vincentian Family. I need your help to accomplish that. As I begin the transition into my new role, I would like to hear from you. What do you think are the most important and pressing issues we face as we move forward? What are the things we should be doing that we are not, doing differently than we are doing now, or not doing at all? What would help you in your growth in holiness and faith?

In over 25 years of service to the Society at all levels I have met many people. But I haven’t met everyone, and I don’t know everyone’s talents, skills, and desires. So, I’d also like to know how you’d like to help. Let me know if you’d be interested in becoming involved in the Society in a broader or larger role. We need people to serve on committees and task forces, to help with formation and spirituality, to support new efforts in technology and communications, and we need to identity new and emerging leaders to take us into the future.

Blessed Frederic told  us: “Charity must never look to the past, but always to the future, because the number of its past works is still very small and the present and future miseries that it must alleviate are infinite.” We are that future; YOU are that future. So, to put it simply, we need YOU. Become engaged and get involved. This is your Society, and it will be what you help make it. Together we can grow and improve, and continue to be that ‘Network of Charity’ that Frederic Ozanam dreamed of.

Please drop me a note to jberry@svdpusa.org and let me know your thoughts.

I look forward to working with you all and visiting with you over the next six years. I hope to be ‘out and about’ as much as possible so I can hear from you and see the incredible work that I know is being done across the country.

Peace and God bless,


Poverty Awareness Month — Homelessness

Poverty Awareness Month — Homelessness 940 788 SVDP USA

Written by: Sandy Figueroa
St. Boniface Conference in Elmont, NY
African American Task Force Representative — Northeast Region

When we hear the word homelessness, what does our mind’s eye see? People living in the streets in urban cities or sleeping in malls in the suburbs and rural areas. We see people who may have been successful and fell into the downward spiral of addictions. Rarely do we even think that the homeless are employed, but their salary cannot pay the rent for an apartment or even a trailer in a trailer park.

When I take the subway, I carry change to give to those who are begging in the streets. Yet, I know that’s not doing one thing to help our brothers and sisters secure decent housing. And, I know that after a while, many people stop trying and become resigned to living in the streets and are grateful for the handouts of those who have.

My Vincentian eyes tell me that I can and must do something. I can advocate, which I do by sending e-mails to my government representatives. I can join larger organizations and work on homelessness and demand affordable housing. And above all else, I must and can pray.

Yet, what if one of my sons or my mother was homeless, what would I do? Vincent challenges us by stating that if we saw someone in need, would we just stand by with our arms folded and do nothing.

Poverty awareness week/month reminds us as Vincentians, we must pray, advocate, and act for those whose income does not stretch for food and shelter. We must demand and remind our representatives that many of us working may only be one pay check away from homelessness and hunger.

We see the face of Christ of those in most need. Would we stand by and let Christ or our son or our mother live in the streets, the malls, or the subways? By this will all people know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.

Excerpt from: Encyclical Letter – Fratelli Tutti of the Holy Father Francis on Fraternity and Social Friendships

The parable then asks us to take a closer look at the passers-by. The nervous indifference that makes them pass to the other side of the road – whether innocently or not, whether the result of disdain or mere distraction – makes the priest and the Levite a sad reflection of the growing gulf between ourselves and the world around us. There are many ways to pass by at a safe distance: we can retreat inwards, ignore others, or be indifferent to their plight. Or simply look elsewhere, as in some countries, or certain sectors of them, where contempt is shown for the poor and their culture, and one looks the other way, as if a development plan imported from without could edge them out. This is how some justify their indifference: the poor, whose pleas for help might touch their hearts, simply do not exist. The poor are beyond the scope of their interest.

1-19-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

1-19-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 900 900 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

September 30th is a long way away. That is when my six-year term as National Council President ends and someone else steps into the office. Last Friday we learned who that will be. The National Council Election Committee counted the 107 ballots submitted by your Council representatives and informed the Board of Directors that on October 1st, John Berry will become the 14th President of the National Council of the United States.

The election process began last summer with the nomination of four highly qualified candidates. In September at our National Assembly, the field was narrowed to Brian Burgess and John Berry. For the past several months, all members of the Society had the opportunity to cast a ballot for the candidate of their choice. Just as our founders did when they chose Jules Gossin to succeed Emmanuel Bailly, we prayed during those months that the Holy Spirit would direct our discernment. We trust that God’s providence has supplied the leadership we need for the future of our Society in the United States.

An eight-month transition period may seem long, but there’s much to accomplish during this time. In the months to come, I will be working with our current Board to continue the work we have been doing for the past five years, while John will have time to evaluate the organization’s needs and recruit new officers and board and committee members. It is important for him to have this time to put together a new team of servant leaders that is diverse, talented, and representative of the members of our Councils and Conferences across the country.

In 1844, after the Society’s first President, Emmanuel Bailly, resigned, Frederic Ozanam described the qualities he thought the next President should have. Frederic wrote: “He must have the habit of devotion, the spirit of true fraternity, the experience of good works; he must join the zeal which founds with the prudence which preserves; he must be able to maintain the Society in the paths of simplicity and prudent liberty along which God has led it.”

I have known John Berry for many years, and I am confident that you will find him to be that servant leader Frederic Ozanam described. Please join me in asking the Holy Spirit to guide John as he prepares to take office.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
National Council President

Disaster Services Update on California Severe Weather

Disaster Services Update on California Severe Weather 900 900 SVDP USA

This past week, much of California has been impacted by heavy storms that continues to cause extensive wind damage and flooding. California’s Governor Newsom has proclaimed a State of Emergency and a Presidential Emergency Declaration has been approved by President Biden to support response and recovery efforts. There continues to be a potential for more widespread power loss, fallen trees, and downed power lines.

Californian residents are encouraged to obtain the most up-to-date information on the rapidly changing road conditions, please check here for more information. Follow the Cal OES Twitter page for updates and tips on staying safe in the storm. Also, please check with local authorities for evacuation information and to sign up for emergency notifications. To sign up for your county’s emergency alerts, please check Cal Alerts to find your county.

Disaster Services Corporation, SVDP-USA remains engaged with the state Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, local partner agencies on the ground, and is providing support to the SVdP Diocesan Council of Sacramento. DSC is actively monitoring weather activity and will make plans to travel to the state once the all-clear is given and first responder agencies have departed.

Poverty Awareness Month

Poverty Awareness Month 940 788 SVDP USA

Written by: Bobby Kinkela, Voice of the Poor Representative for the Mideast Region

January is homeless awareness month. Homelessness in Michigan is difficult this time of year in the cold and the snow. There are friends in need who are living out of their cars. The trick here, I’ve heard, is figuring out how much gas money it will take to keep the phone charged and the heater on enough so you can’t see your breath. Yet most cars and vans are not meant for living and the car batteries often fry out. Our Conference helped a friend experiencing homelessness purchase a deep cycle car battery to replace her broken car battery. This allowed her to run her household items without quickly burning out her battery. Yet in the state of Michigan, the department of health and human services considers this woman “housed” because she has a van which is considered “shelter,” and so she is not entitled to additional homeless state money. She instead has to save up for move-in expenses.

There are some neighbors in need that take to outdoor camps in tents, even in the snow and cold. I wondered how it’s possible to live in the elements. One neighbor in need shows me how she keeps warm using a personal heater she made. The heater is a metal coffee cup filled with a mixture of hand sanitizer and alcohol lit with a flame. The flame is kept inside a metal boiling pan, so even if the mixture spills, her tent will not catch on fire.

The ingenuity of people and the desire to survive is a very human trait instilled in us by our Creator. Let us admire the ingenuity of people struggling to survive in a state of homelessness, while at the same time try to improve things so that they will not have to.

Written by: Fr. Wayne Biernat of St. Michael’s Parish in East Longmeadow, MA

When we look into the eyes of the poor, do we see the face of Jesus Christ? Do we feel and understand how truly lucky we are to encounter and experience the heart of Jesus Christ in that holy moment? Every time we embrace the gift and the grace of loving and serving the poor, we are given the blessing of encountering the divine. Being present and attentive to their needs is an invitation from God to truly love.  Love changes and blesses the human heart. Love is what we all yearn for in our humanity. The poor are experiencing an absence of love in a profound and life changing manner. When our basic needs are not provided for, we can feel an emptiness within our human heart that is deafening. We are all blessed with the power and strength to bless that emptiness for one another. How will we answer that knock on the door of the heart from God today?


1-12-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

1-12-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 900 900 SVDP USA

Mom passed away years ago, but she left each of us a cookbook of family recipes. Over the Christmas break, I prepared to bake her blue ribbon-winning coconut pound cake for one night’s dessert.  I laid out all of the contents in front of me, followed the directions and eventually had the cake batter ready to put into the oven. That’s when I noticed that I had left out one ingredient – the flaked coconut!

I had used some coconut extract, which is a great invention if you otherwise would need to squeeze actual coconuts, so there was some flavor. And it was still a pound cake. If needed I could have explained that “generic pound cake” was the original intent, not the county fair recipe, but Mom might have struck me down with a spiritual rolling pin! Fortunately, there was still time to add in the flakes, re-stir, and pop it into the oven. Dessert and many calories ensued.

How often do we start on a project, have something change on us, and then we just “make do?” As Society members, we get a great idea, and lay out all of the plans and “ingredients.” Then real life happens, and we no longer have the time, talent or funds we originally envisioned. Or we get so excited about one of the specifics that it changes the nature of the original project. The result is still good, and maybe even very good. What it might not be, however, is Vincentian.

The omission or change of one detail may have had us drift from the parameters of our charism or our Rule. That event may still be an excellent service project, but it became one that any social service agency or nonprofit could have conducted. Sometimes we leave out, or forget, one of our Essential Elements of Spirituality, Friendship, and Service. Yes, it’s a committee meeting, for example, but if it doesn’t have all three Elements, it isn’t a Vincentian meeting.

Fortunately, we have a Society of St. Vincent de Paul recipe and all the basic ingredients right in front of us. It’s called our Mission Statement. Check off the ingredients with me: A network of friends. Gospel Values inspiration.  Growth in Holiness. Build a more just world. Personal relationships. Service to people in need. These are all just as vital as flour and eggs are to a cake batter.

Need some extra flavorings? Look no further than our Society’s seven Cultural Beliefs, and sprinkle as many of them as possible liberally throughout your recipe.

Maybe you are the Bobby Flay of Society activities and don’t need a written recipe. Most of us, however, aren’t master chefs as much as we are technicians who (usually) are good at following directions such as a recipe. We refer as needed to the wisdom and successes of our founders and others who have come before us to create, or re-create, what still works in today’s many local neighborhood “kitchens.” There is always room for new innovations, but we agree as members to stick to our Rule just as bakers rely on their basic formulas to make bread rise. We hope to rise, too!

Just as mom left us her family cookbook so that her descendants could enjoy the fruits – and meats and veggies and desserts – of her labors, trials, and errors over a lifetime, our Society founders and other leaders wrote down for all of us members today what they learned, experienced and envisioned. In my case I can’t remember mom’s recipes, nor can I recite our Rule. I can, however, tell you where it is all written down for me to review when I need it.

When I pulled mom’s cookbook off the kitchen shelf, I could not help but remember her and smile. When I quite regularly pull the Society’s Rule off my office shelf to look up a particular Statute, I smile in memory of Blessed Frederic and all the others who have left us such a rich and powerful legacy of good governance and Vincentian values. Neither are just books; they are blessings!

May your Conference cook up something wonderful, and wonderfully Vincentian, in 2023!

Yours in Christ,

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