A wonderful Annual Assembly of the National Council of the St. Vincent de Paul Society wrapped up last Saturday evening in Baltimore. I want to warn our members who did not attend that we who were there are returning home with many new ideas and zeal for the renewal of our Society. I hope you catch some of that enthusiasm. I am back home writing this column with the intent of featuring the highlights, and I am having trouble – not because of my aging memory but because there were so many of them.
It was not the National Assembly’s most important moment, but for me the most-moving highlight took place during our Friday-morning retreat. With fervor, nearly 800 Vincentians sang “Here I Am Lord” with musician and composer Dan Schutte. They sang “I will go Lord, if you need me, I will hold your people in my heart,” and there was no doubt they meant it.
A close-second highlight also came in song. At the end of an informative and passion-filled speech by Renato Lima de Oliveira, the President General of the Society’s International Council, he led us in Matt Maher’s powerful song, “I Need You Lord.” A song fervently sung and meant by the overflowing crowd of Vincentians made tangible the bonds of friendship we forge as we journey together toward holiness.
The most-important thing that happened at the Assembly was the choice made during Saturday’s Business Meeting, when your delegates chose the two candidates for whom you will vote in the months ahead to be your next National Council President. After listening to talks by the four candidates, delegates chose John Berry and Brian Burgess to advance as the final nominees. I want to thank all four highly qualified nominees for their willingness to serve. More will be shared with you about the voting process in the weeks ahead.
One of the specific initiatives we kicked off at the Assembly was promotion of a revised version of an evaluation of our organization at all levels. Started back in 2009, this evaluation framework is called our Standards of Excellence. We will be asking every level of our organization to engage in this self-evaluation process to ensure our Councils and Conferences are prepared structurally to meet the challenges we are facing in the years ahead. Please take this process to heart and use it to assess your current activity and structure and then to create the plans that will make us a stronger, better Society.
The talks, workshops, and liturgies at the Assembly were excellent. The workshops, especially, gave us much to take home and work on in the months ahead. At the meeting, we also celebrated our accomplishments and challenged ourselves to meet the needs of the changing world in which we serve our neighbors in need. We featured the 20th anniversary of the highly successful Invitation for Renewal Program. We also recognized the work of our Disaster Services Corporation, which has significantly grown its capacity and credibility since we established it five years ago. Thank you to all the organizers and presenters who made this an exceptionally great meeting.
Music always moves me and enriches my prayer life. That may be why hearing hundreds of voices singing “Here I am Lord” together in Baltimore was so powerful for me. I hope you, too, can say, “Here I Am,” and make that commitment to serve, to be a leader and to grow our organization. It is not easy work we do. Our need for being spiritually grounded in that commitment could not have been more powerfully communicated to us than it was by having our very own President General choose to sing, “Lord, I need You, oh, I need You. Every hour, I need You.”
I left the meeting in Baltimore with a desire to work for this Society with a renewed commitment in this last year of my presidency. That’s a commitment to serve all of you as we grow in holiness and live out our Vincentian mission together. Even though you may not have been with us at the National Assembly, I hope you choose to renew your passion for that mission with me.
Serviens in spe,
National Council President