Dear Vincentian Friends,
Last week I was able to experience the reality of Blessed Frédéric Ozanam’s vision of a network of charity embracing the world. For six days I attended the International General Assembly of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Rome with about 100 other presidents of national councils. Our business meetings were translated into five languages, but at the meals and in the hallways, we were on our own to share our common Vincentian interests and concerns. Like all meetings of the Society, our network of charity was also a network of friendship and shared spirituality.
We were in Rome to attend to the business of the Society at the international level. The first and most important duty we had was to elect the next President General of the Council General. Three very qualified candidates had been nominated. After the Assembly affirmed the Election Board’s procedures, each national president came forward to submit their ballot. Juan Manuel Buergo Gómez was elected as the 17th President General, succeeding Renato Lima de Oliveira. Juan Manuel’s installation will take place in Paris this September – on the feast of Blessed Frédéric Ozanam.
Juan Manuel is the current national president of Spain and will be an excellent servant leader. I have known him for seven years and count him as a good Vincentian friend. We shared similar elected terms as national council presidents and have served on several international committees together. We both have a strong interest in the historical roots of our Society and the promotion of the canonization of Blessed Frédéric.
The Assembly business also included making seven revisions to Part Two of Rule, which governs the Society’s international structure. Most of us don’t need to pay much attention to these statutes, but they are very important to the international organization, and in many cases they need to take French law into consideration. Good governance is very important, and our documents related to governance – as with every other aspect of our Society – need periodic review.
As Interim Chair of the Statutes Commission, I presided during the Assembly over an afternoon Commission session that included several hours of debate and discussion – with simultaneous translation into five languages. The most significant changes coming out of that session were raising the upper age limit for the President General at time of election from 65 to 75 and changing the meeting of the General Assembly from once every six years to once every three years. There were several other recommendations that lacked consensus and were deferred for future investigation.
Like our National Assembly, the International General Assembly featured workshops on familiar topics – but with a global slant. We had sessions on spirituality, training, governance, safeguarding, youth involvement, twinning, and disaster funding. It was interesting to see that our network of charity has similar concerns in every part of the globe. Our daily agenda also included keynote addresses and celebrations of the Eucharist, including one in St. Peter’s. Of course, there were the meals with lots of pasta, wine and good conversation.
If you have taken part in our annual National Assembly or in a regional meeting, this international meeting probably sounds fairly familiar. Workshops, business meetings, prayer, food and friendship strengthen our Society and our ability to serve our neighbors in need. I attended many regional meetings during the past few months, and at every one of them I sensed the joy of Vincentians gathering again after several years of isolation. These gatherings renew our enthusiasm for our vocation and give us new ideas for better performing the work we do.
You don’t need to go to Rome to experience our network of charity. You can join us in St. Louis this September and attend great workshops, see a new national president installed and make Vincentian friends from all across the United States. Check out the invitation in this e-Gazette. Maybe the most noticeable difference will be that pasta will not be served at every meal.
Serviens in spe,
SVdP National President