By Lisa Zengarini
Witnesses like Saint Vincent de Paul and “countless other saints friends of the poor”, remind us that every Christian can “make a difference” in the fight against poverty, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh said on Monday.
Hearing the “cry of the poor”, as Jesus did
During the Mass, celebrated for the local members of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul on the Saint’s feast day, the Irish Primate pointed out that “to hear the cry of the poor, as Jesus did, is a central part of our discipleship as Christians”. The “overwhelming scale of starvation, famine, disease, and war, the sheer numbers of refugees, people being trafficked, or homeless” can make charitable efforts feel “insignificant”. However, he said, “inspiring” saints like Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, and Frederic Ozanam, “help us realise that, in the face of every poor person, one can recognise the face of Christ”, who “was poor for our sake” and “demonstrated the Kingdom values by His action, reaching out to the crowds who were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd”.
The work of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society
This is precisely what the Saint Vincent de Paul Society still does today: “You not only talk about poverty, but you take practical, loving steps to lift up those who are struggling and lend them a helping hand to get back on their feet”, Archbishop Martin recalled in his homily. “Your Society also provides an important voice on issues of social justice, drawing attention to increased fuel poverty, child poverty, the struggles of loan parents and the elderly. You alert us when poverty rates are increasing among the marginalised on the streets, in emergency accommodation, amongst Travellers, the homeless, and you remind us of those who might otherwise be forgotten or abandoned”.
Increased poverty caused by the Covid-19 crisis
The Primate further underscored the crucial role played by the Vincentian Family in the context of the Covid-19 crisis: “During the pandemic your voices alerted us to the phenomenon of ‘in-work’ poverty which can impact especially on those who are self-employed or part-time, and those with temporary or on zero-hours contracts. You are also aware – through the demand you face for food, clothing, fuel, and hygiene assistance – of the scourge of unsustainable debt which binds so many citizens, including a lot of our young adults who have become trapped in a ‘buy now pay later’ culture”.
Social repercussions of the ending of emergency pandemic measures
In this regard, Archbishop Martin also emphasized that “maintaining a basic standard of living for citizens” is the “responsibility of government, not of charity”, warning about the “repercussions of the ending of emergency pandemic measures, including the imminent cut in weekly universal credit payments”, especially in the present context of rising living prices.
Making a difference
The Irish Primate hence reiterated how important it is for Christians to realise that “even the smallest actions of generosity and compassion can make a real difference to someone who is struggling with poverty”. He finally thanked the members of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society for their work during the worst of the coronavirus pandemic: “I have personally witnessed some of this amazing work and I know that it is your closeness to individuals and families who are struggling which earns their trust and confidence and gives them the courage to come forward and ask for help”, Archbishop Martin concluded.
The Vincentian family
The Society of Saint Vincent De Paul (SVD) was founded in France in 1833 by Blessed Antoine-Frédéric Ozanam and is present today in 154 countries around the world. It is a member of the Vincentian Family, which brings together the religious congregations and communities inspired by the charism of Saint Vincent de Paul, founder of the Lazarists and of the Sisters of Charity in the 17th century.