Home Visit

Contemplation: Payment for Tears of Joy

Contemplation: Payment for Tears of Joy 1080 1080 SVDP USA

“Help …becomes honorable,” Bl. Frédéric taught, “when it may become mutual.” [O’Meara, 177] It is this teaching that inspires our Rule’s call for Vincentians to “form relationships based on trust and friendship” with the neighbor. [Rule, Part I, 1.9] Because after all, what is friendship if it is not mutual?

Asking for help can be humiliating. In some places, beggars on the street prostrate themselves, hiding their faces as if ashamed, literally with hats in hand to ask for pocket change from passersby. In the impersonal offices of many agencies, people in need often interact primarily with impersonal clipboards and application forms – forms that can be more complicated than a loan application. And unlike a loan, the assistance they receive for food, medicine, housing, and other needs is not something they will ever be expected to pay back. Yet, it is natural to feel an obligation to repay gifts, and when we can’t, to feel emptied in spirit while being replenished materially.

In Frédéric’s time, there were even critics who believed that charitable works wrongly obligated the poor. To them, Frédéric replied that you could only believe assistance imposes a one-way obligation if “you have never experienced the obligation it confers on him who gives.” Those who visit the poor, he explained, “know that in accepting bread from their hand, as he takes the light from God, the poor man honors them; they know that the theatre and every other place of amusement can be paid for, but that nothing in this world can pay for two tears of joy in the eyes of a poor mother, nor the grasp of an honest man’s hand when one has enabled him to wait till he gets work.” [O’Meara, 177-178]

Not only is the obligation mutual, so are the gifts. This is natural among friends. That’s the reason why, when we need help with something – especially something difficult, or that we’d rather not confide in a stranger — we ask a friend. A friend won’t judge us for the mistake we made that led to our predicament. A friend won’t abandon us. A friend won’t embarrass us. A friend won’t ask us to repay the favor.

In a way, asking for help is proof of friendship in itself. Asking somebody to be Best Man or Maid of Honor at a wedding is asking for a very great commitment of time, effort, and sometimes money, yet no friend considers this request an imposition. Rather, it is an honor, and a demonstration of trust.

In this sense, then, it is the neighbor who calls us for help who takes the first step in establishing this friendship. They trust us with their problems and their secrets. When we respond as friends, for love alone, we earn their trust. When we offer not only material assistance, but our time and ourselves, we earn their friendship. In our mutual giving and receiving, in both seeing Christ and in imitating Him, perhaps both we and the neighbor may exclaim, “Oh, what a friend we have in Jesus!”

Contemplate

Do I thank God in my prayers for the friends I have made on my Home Visits?

Recommended Reading

Apostle in a Top Hat

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

Contemplation: What Good Have I Done?

Contemplation: What Good Have I Done? 1080 1080 SVDP USA

In the course of the works of a busy Conference, we often become overwhelmed. The needs are many, and often are greater than our resources enable us to alleviate. We no sooner complete one Home Visit than the phone rings again. It can be exhausting, and even discouraging, if we measure our works the way they are measured by social service agencies or philanthropic societies. We may begin to question whether we are really helping the neighbor at all.

This feeling can lead us to a crossroads where we must choose: do we seek “efficiency” by trying to divvy up the resources as widely as possible, substituting phone calls for Home Visits, or asking the neighbor to come to us instead of we to them? Do we stop meeting, because our “business” can be conducted by phone or email? Or do we pause to reflect that these are the same questions that led to the Society’s founding and defined its purpose; the perpetual questions raised in the minds of members for nearly 200 years? Do we choose to recommit ourselves to the true good that we are called to do?

The introduction to the first edition of the Rule, written in 1835, assures us that “we must never be ashamed on the smallness of our alms.” Indeed, shortage of funds for “considerable works of charity” is, it said “one of the conditions of our existence.” [Rule, 1835] Our works and the good that we do have never been measured by the amount of money we can offer, or by the number of problems that we “fix.”

In founding the Society, Frédéric and his friends were challenged to show the good of the church in the modern world. Their challengers were quite convinced that they had better answers to poverty and the social question. What they could not see, but Frédéric could, was that the true good of the church, the message of Christ’s incarnation, is not that we are promised material abundance, but that we are promised eternal life by a God who loves us so much, He sent us His only Son. Bringing ourselves closer to eternal life and His love to the poor, is the good that God calls us to do.

Our Conference meetings are not business meetings. They are opportunities to share in prayer and reflection the ways in which we have grown closer to God, and the ways in which we have encountered Christ in our works. To the critics of his own time who accused the Society of not doing enough, Frédéric replied that they were only repeating the challenge the Saint Simonians had posed 15 years earlier. [Baunard, 279-280] But the measurement of achievement only in material terms will always lead to disappointment. The poor, we are taught, will always be with us – not as burden, but as a challenge, a measure not of our alms, but of our love.

The good that we do is not in our works, but in our charity – our love of God and neighbor.

Contemplate

How often do I pause to reflect on the presence of Christ in my Vincentian encounters?

Recommended Reading

What Good Have I Done – a poem that asks and answers the question

11-09-23 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

11-09-23 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 720 720 SVDP USA

A recent airline announcement at the boarding gate caught my attention. Passengers are no longer permitted to carry previously purchased alcohol on board to consume. Of course, the airline is still pleased to sell you some in your seat. A pilot seated next to me said that “too many passenger fights showing up on the Internet” was the driving force behind this new federal regulation. In that case, it might have been easier to ban cellphone videos rather than alcohol!

People who want to get drunk on an airplane will find a way to do so. They might have several drinks at that bar just a few steps from the gate. They might mix alcohol with that Coke or Sprite they just bought in the post-security gift shop. So long as they don’t appear too intoxicated when boarding, they can manage around the regulation. Therefore it’s the law-abiding good person, as so often happens with regs and legislation, who is the real disadvantaged patron of the rule, intentional or not.

Before we cry about this unfairness, let’s first look in our Vincentian mirror. Chances are, we have our own rules for serving people in need that were created because of one or two bad experiences. Remember that guy who came to us every month for rent assistance? That’s why we limit our help to (number) of times annually. Remember that family who asked for rent, then utilities, then food, then anything else not bolted down? That’s why we now have a financial limit on how much we can spend per family. The exception has sometimes driven our policy for everyone. In some Conferences, the people who needed the most help ultimately restricted the help we can give anyone.

In the interest of “fairness,” have we made life harder for some whom we seek to serve? In a quest to standardize operations and financial decisions for our volunteers, have we bypassed or totally cut out conversations about support around the Conference table? Have we forsaken the opportunity for personalized service, and even sound judgement calls? Do our policies not only demonstrate that we don’t trust those we serve, but also that we don’t trust our own members?

Any two Vincentians might disagree on how much or how often to help someone in need. The personal encounters we have in our Home Visits provide us with more information, and context, than can be provided in an application form or initial phone call. I hear all the time how someone came to a Conference for help, and we gave them more than what they requested, because they didn’t know the scope of our resources. Or perhaps they were embarrassed to ask, but our visiting team saw the need and asked if the Society could please help.

Please take time at an upcoming Conference or Council visit to review your giving and other policies. Perhaps dollar limits were set when your group had a different level of available resources. An annual assessment based on the past year’s experiences and economy might be a good idea. Do your rigid policies need to be only softer guidelines, subject to what we see and in individual cases and subsequent discernment?

Can policy be replaced in part with member training, so that everyone understands the need for some restraint but operates at a judgement level informed by experience and observations?

Can part of every Conference meeting be devoted to discussing those we serve, their needs and requests, and recommendations from our visitors for the Conference to decide together?

As a parent, would you ever limit your child to asking for help only once every year, or every quarter? Of course not. We might instead have to say No to some of their requests. The difference between the policy restriction and the individual response is in the formation and strength of our relationships. Help desks and nameless bureaucrats limit requests. Real people, especially Vincentians, listen whenever possible and seek solutions together even if money isn’t always available. We are the Face of Christ to those we serve. Would Christ ever tell us to come back and pray again for help in 6 or 12 months?

Resources are always limited. God’s love, however, is infinite. How can we as Society members do better to take both in consideration as we serve our neighbors?

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

Contemplation: This Sweet Business

Contemplation: This Sweet Business 714 714 SVDP USA

“Let us go to the poor!” was the stirring declaration which founded the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Challenged to demonstrate the good of the church in their modern world, our young founders could find no better way than to imitate Christ, who descended from heaven to visit us in our poverty. [Baunard, 416]

As Christ Himself explained, He “did not come to be served, but to serve”, to give…to visit. The one that hosts is the one in the place of honor; the one that visits is the servant. Our Rule emphasizes this aspect of our vocation explaining that visits to those in need “should be made in their environment” (their homes). [Rule, Part III, St. 8] But where are they? Where is “their environment” except in their home?

Of course, we know that “home” may be usually, but is certainly not always, a house or apartment. Poor prisoners cry out from their prisons, the poor elderly from assisted living facilities, and the poor homeless from the streets. They cry out to us if we have ears to hear them.

Similarly, poverty takes many forms. “Blessed are you who are poor”, Christ tells in the Gospel of Luke. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” as Matthew recounts this teaching. Whatever the poverty in whatever the home, it is we who are the visitors, we who knock on the door, sit by the bedside, or go to the park bench. After all, as Pope Benedict XVI reminds us “one of the deepest forms of poverty a person can experience is isolation”, and that other kinds of poverty often are “born from isolation … by man’s basic and tragic tendency to close in on himself “. [Caritas in Veritate, 53] How better to alleviate material and spiritual poverty than to break the isolation which contributes to it?

Home visits,” the Rule continues, “are always made in pairs.” [Rule, Part III, St. 8] By visiting in pairs we continue the tradition begun when Christ sent forth His disciples in pairs. In this way, we begin to evangelize through our “wordless witness”, as two friends in Christ, sharing their time with a neighbor, showing them by our presence that they are not forgotten, letting them know we are Christians by our love, gathering as two with the neighbor as a third, and Christ is in our midst.

Christ offered a gift on His visit: His very life. Although the gifts we bring in the form of food, or money, are much more modest than that, those material gifts also are not really the point of the home visit. Though we may not give our lives as Christ did, Frédéric calls us to give them a little at a time, through every action we take, to “smoke night and day like perfume on the altar.” [Letter 90, to Curnier, 1837]

We are called invest much, to pour our hearts into each visit. And yet, as Frédéric tells us “He who brings a loaf of bread to the home of a poor man often brings back a joyful and comforted heart. Thus, in this sweet business of charity, the expenses are low, but the returns are high.” [Address in Lyon, 1837]

Contemplate

What is my investment in charity, and what is my return?

Recommended Reading

Mystic of Charity (especially Home Visits in the Vincentian Tradition)

10-19-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

10-19-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1080 1080 SVDP USA

During my career in business and government service we often found ourselves talking in an internal shorthand that made perfect sense to us but was usually very confusing to new members of the team, and nearly everyone outside the team. These acronyms, as they are called, are so common and confusing that many times you’ll find an ‘acronym list’ at the beginning of reports, books, or reference material so that people reading it can understand what they mean!

The use of these acronyms becomes so prevalent that oftentimes we don’t even realize we’re using them. And that is not good for clarity and understanding when we are discussing things as a Conference or a Council.

Take the term, Home Visit, for example. We all know what it means, right? Well, maybe not. A new Vincentian working in the Food Pantry or the Thrift Store may not feel they are participating in Vincentian service because they have never walked into someone’s ‘home.’  A Vincentian visiting a neighbor in need at a homeless shelter, or on the street, may wonder if they are doing ‘Home Visits.’

Interestingly, the words ‘Home Visit’ never appear in The Rule.

What does appear? The words “Personal encounters or visits.”

‘Home Visit’ has become our internal ‘code’ for the human-to-human, Christ-centered ENCOUNTERS we have with our neighbors in need. Of course we do Home Visits, it is a bedrock and foundation of that Christ-centered human ENCOUNTER. But that does not mean it is the only way we encounter and help our neighbors in need. Every encounter we have, whether it be in a home, a thrift store, a food pantry, a kitchen, a medical clinic, a classroom, or under the tree in a park, is a human-to-human Christ-centered opportunity for us to live our Vincentian vocation and grow in holiness.

Peace and God bless,
John Berry
SVdP National President

One Home Visit Can Change So Many Lives

One Home Visit Can Change So Many Lives 1080 1080 SVDP USA

The hallmark of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s work is the Home Visit. Vincentians go and meet their neighbors in need in their homes, where they are at ease, and feel comfortable sharing their story. There, we can determine the best way to help. Be it financial assistance to keep utilities running, putting food on the table, or help making rent. Other times, the help they offer, can mean so much more.  

Vincentians Fred and Susan from the St. William Conference in Round Rock, Texas went on what they believed would be a run-of-the-mill Home Visit, but it turned out to be anything but normal. 

When they arrived at Rocio’s home, they immediately noticed that something wasn’t right. They were met by broken dishes all over the house and holes in the walls. They had stopped by to offer help with utilities, but as soon as they walked through the door, they knew there was so much more they could do. 

Fred and Susan helped Rocio with her utility bill and left. But they knew Rocio needed more help. “God was talking to us, telling us we needed to go back,” said Susan. 

Over their next few visits with Rocio and her family, they learned that she was the victim of domestic violence. Her husband was a U.S. citizen, but Rocio was undocumented, and therefore, stuck in a bad situation.  

From that moment Fred and Susan dedicated themselves to walking Rocio’s journey with her. They helped her secure her Green Card, assisted her with her finances, and even helped her rekindle her faith.  

“They have taught me everything I know,” said Rocio. “From how to be a mother and raise them and teach them and bring them up in a Catholic home. How to stay stable and how to learn how to manage your money.” 

Fred helped to repair the damage that Rocio’s now ex-husband did to their home. 

Rocio is now living a happy life with her new husband and her five children, and they have come to consider Fred and Susan family as they have walked with them every step of the way. 

“They’re like the parents that are teaching me the proper ways of life,” said Rocio. “But they’re also like mentors to my children and myself.” 

“Rocio’s like a daughter to me and her husband is like a son,” said Susan. “Over the years she has come a long way.” 

While she had accomplished so much thanks to the support she’d received from SVdP, there was still something that Rocio hoped for. She yearned to become a U.S. Citizen. The SVdP Council in Austin stepped in to help.  

The Council offered Rocio a Systemic Change grant to help offset the cost of the citizenship process. And Rocio went on to pass her Citizenship test on the first try! 

“Transformation is possible. It’s not easy. It’s a challenge, and it takes a lot of commitment, but it is absolutely possible,” said Joleen Boyer, a Vincentian with the SVdP Council in Austin.  

Rocio’s life was changed when Fred and Susan arrived on her doorstep. But Fred and Susan were forever changed as well.  

“They have become my family,” said Susan. “Even if I never did anything else I my life, I’ve saved seven souls. That’s pretty good.”  

Contemplation: Damascus, Emmaus, and the Vincentian Pathway

Contemplation: Damascus, Emmaus, and the Vincentian Pathway 940 788 SVDP USA

One of the central tenets of our Vincentian spirituality is our call to see the face of Christ in those we serve. It seems so simple, and yet at times we lose our focus and lose sight of Him during our Home Visits. It is easy to allow ourselves to think ahead to the “solution” before we even learn the problem. We let tomorrow blind us to the present.

But we are called to be present – to be both here and now for the neighbors we serve. Listening is not thinking ahead to our own answer, but listening as if to Christ Himself, looking in His eyes and hearing His voice.

On the very day of Christ’s resurrection, two of His followers walked along the road to Emmaus, discussing all that had happened, including the account of the empty tomb, when “Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.”

Christ was right there with them, in the flesh, and they could not recognize His face. They looked but couldn’t see. They walked and listened but did not recognize Him until He broke the bread with them at supper that evening! In speaking about Christ behind them, they were blinded to Christ before them.

This was not the only time the apostles lost sight of Christ’s face. As Bl. Frédéric pointed out, “The fault of many Christians is to hope little…. They are apostles in the boat during the storm: they forget that the Savior is in the midst of them.” [Ramson, Put Your Hands into Hers, 14] Like the apostles in the boat, we also sometimes allow our “troubles of the day” to overwhelm our senses, and to blind us to the true hope – the hope in which we are called to serve.

Saul of Tarsus, feared oppressor of the early Christians, was converted with great drama on the road to Damascus. Struck blind by a flash of great light, he did not see Christ’s face that day, but heard His voice. Only after three days was his sight restored, as he became Paul, Christ’s apostle, who would later teach, “at present, we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face…

Our moments of conversion tend to be less dramatic than Paul’s, but we, too, are on a journey. Ours may not be the road to Damascus, or even to Emmaus, but Christ awaits us along our Vincentian pathway. We will see Him when we act with patience, when we follow St. Vincent’s admonition to “not tread on the heels of Providence…

He may not always seem obvious, and we may see Him only indistinctly, but we are called to see and to serve Him, even if we have to squint a little, and even if we have to slow down.

Contemplate

Have I looked past Him, or through Him in my hurry to be someplace else?

Recommended Reading

Praying with Vincent de Paulespecially 3. Jesus Christ, the Center

09-16-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

09-16-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1368 1387 SVDP USA

It doesn’t take much time to feel utterly alone.

My wife was away over a weekend and I was home by myself. Even though I went to the grocery store and to Mass, worked out at the local YMCA, and bought some food at a drive-through, it was easy to say perhaps only 10 words the entire weekend. And that includes the “Amen” at communion!

In part this relative quiet was self-imposed. I’m blessed to have friends I could have visited, a Society food pantry where I could have volunteered, and a friendly neighborhood in which to converse with my neighbors. I chose after a very active couple of weeks to retreat instead for a few days and spend quality time with some books and televised sports. All told, I have blessings and choices.

Some of the many people we serve do not have these blessings. We know from membership reporting that “elderly living alone” is our first or second type of family the Society serves in many of our Conferences. Others may have a disability or specific situation that causes them to be homebound. Some are parents who, while they have children around them, lack adult friends and family. It’s in all of these neighbors that we can see the difference between being alone and being lonely.

An extreme feeling of loneliness is an underlying condition that can also lead to depression, suicidal thoughts, and many dangerous behaviors such as addictions. If we could stop, or better yet, prevent such loneliness wouldn’t we all want to do so?

When a pair of Vincentians conduct a Home Visit or drop off a bag of groceries, we can easily measure how we provide for immediate needs. What is less evident is the value of simply being present. Often we have no idea of the life of the person we encounter. We may be the first person that neighbor has spoken to in person for a day, or a month. When we knock on the door, we are the face of Christ – friendly, welcoming of a conversation, helpful, and armed with a smile and, ultimately, hope.

Some members ask if the adaptations we all made over the pandemic period can be retained for the future, such as virtual Home Visits by phone or computer. These were necessary to help satisfy corporal needs of mercy such as rent and utilities assistance. We are blessed that we had the tools to adapt such that our neighbors could get the needed material help they sought. But what about their spiritual and emotional needs? Did we fulfill these even a little bit?

We may have taken for granted how much we mean to an isolated neighbor when we participate in person. Others who perform checkbook charity might feel satisfied that they helped in some way. Yet it is as nothing when compared to seeing the gratitude, friendship, and even joy when we make a personal encounter that, when allowed and appropriate, might include prayer and a handshake or hug. You can’t bottle that feeling and you sure can’t mail it in.

As we return post-pandemic to our Society traditions of in-person Home Visits and other personal encounters, let’s do so intentionally in a spirit of truly being a good neighbor even to those who are relatively unknown to us. That neighbor living alone, or otherwise emotionally very lonely, might never thank you for your appearing at their door. You won’t know that they feel more alive today because they spoke to another person in friendship. Some will know they exist simply because someone cared enough to visit them today.

In our Visits we bring more than tangible help; we bring hope and Christ’s love, and even get to feel a bit of it ourselves. It is said that half of success in life is just showing up. When we show up for someone else, we successfully take a few more steps toward our own holiness. Who will you visit tomorrow?

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

07-22-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

07-22-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1368 1387 SVDP USA

Many Vincentians are downright tenacious in their desire to serve both God and our friends in need. While this is usually a virtue, we must be careful, too. I am asked daily about how we can keep our members safe. Two otherwise incongruous subjects are at the forefront of member conversations; I share them with you.

First, we hear daily – if not more often – about changing requirements, requests and threats regarding COVID re-emergence and new variants. This leads Vincentians to ask how and when they can serve and “what is National requiring” in regard to staying safe. This question is usually about Home Visits, but more recently relates as well to our upcoming National Assembly.

As Vincentians per our Rule, we follow the law. If local authorities require you to stay home, wear a mask, or swing a chicken over your head to ward off a virus, do so. If your Bishop asks his local Catholics to take specific precautions, we strongly recommend that the Society follow this direction, too. National Council will not have guidance that overrules local Church or government decisions. While we all want to get back to normal Home Visits that are conducted where our neighbors live, we need to do so safely even if – for now in some places – this means still conducting visits temporarily by phone.

As for National Assembly, we stay in touch with the Marriott where the meeting will be held next month, and they stay in compliance with local government and industry standards. The Society will comply with the resulting hotel requirements. This has the potential to change every day, so we can’t give you direction today. Anyone registered for the meeting will be sent email information before we travel to Houston.  I can tell you that the Society on its own will not require that everyone be vaccinated, nor will we (unless required by law) ask for proof of vaccination. We trust our members to do the right things. If anyone wants to wear a mask even if not required, you are certainly welcome to do so.

The National Assembly for the most part will not be conducted virtually online because of the large expense. The National Business Meeting on Saturday is the exception, and our National Council Members can either send a live-person proxy for voting or vote electronically during the meeting. Many other general sessions and workshops will be recorded for your viewing and sharing in days or weeks later on our website.

We are not taking these actions to ask you to be afraid to come! In fact, we really want you to join us after our meeting last year needed to go virtual, and we look forward to a grand reunion! We will, though, do everything we can to help you be safe at our meeting. I am writing this column while on an airplane, and it seems reasonable to expect we will be wearing masks on planes and in airports for at least another month. With changing rules everywhere, I always keep a mask in my pocket!

The other questions about member safety are in relation to our pending Safeguarding policy. This will be considered by the National Council at the aforementioned National Assembly Business Meeting. While the safeguarding focus is primarily and deservedly on the people we serve, we should consider as well the potential for safeguarding among and for our members. Vincentians, and anyone, can be victims. Further, we have learned from schools, volunteer organizations, and the Church that an organization’s members can be wrongfully, and even intentionally, accused of sexual abuse and other safeguarding violations. As our leaders discussed briefly in a national call this week, the Society is not immune. Yes, we have learned of accused abuse situations in our Society’s past. These remain possible today. The proposed Safeguarding policy recommends that every Council develop a local policy in accord with local laws and Church requirements of its parishioners. The focus is on those we will serve, but in doing the right things for those in need whom we love, we also protect our own members. The Rule’s requirement for Home Visits to be conducted in pairs, for example, wasn’t perhaps created with safeguarding in mind but this alone largely prevents both abuse situations and the accusation of abuse.

In our fervent desire to serve, let’s please not forget to take care of ourselves and our fellow Vincentians. Sometimes it feels like we have yet another requirement forced upon us every day, whether it be another report to complete, training, fingerprinting or some other action that delays our service and seems to accuse us of doing or even thinking of something unsafe or unsavory. Good people must take unnecessary precautions because bad people, and bad viruses, do exist. Let’s think of all this in the context of keeping those around us safe, and as part of our sacrificial service to God. Considering the alternatives, they are small sacrifices in order to do His work.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

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