Letter from the President General to all SSVP Conference Presidents around the world

These have not been easy days for humanity, especially for those most in need. Covid-19 has altered the economy and the routine of people, and has had a strong impact on the daily life of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. All Councils, special works and Conferences are affected. In addition to illness, we are seeing an increase in hunger, misery, unemployment, and above all, despair and fear.

Looking after our own

At this moment, I believe it is also necessary to look inside our Conferences, to identify some possible difficulties that our own members may be facing. According to tradition and the Rule of the SSVP, it is the responsibility of the Conference’s president, not only to supervise the activities of the group, but also to take care of the Vincentians themselves – especially the youngest, assisting them in their difficulties and needs, safeguarding the privacy of each one.

The President must love, without reservation, all the members of the Conference, and cultivate true friendship among the members. With generosity and attention, it is up to the Conference president to contact members who are suffering from health problems (physical or mental). This contact should be regular and, if possible, face-to-face. Clearly, social distancing must be maintained during the pandemic, but such contacts can also be made by telephone, email, social networks or messaging applications. Social distancing does not mean emotional distancing.

Reaching out

Sometimes a simple phone call from the Conference president is enough to calm the heart of the member who is experiencing some temporary difficulties. In addition to health issues, Conference members may also be suffering from family, professional, emotional, sentimental, educational problems and, above all, a serious economic situation caused by the sudden loss of employment, increased financial debt and inability to pay the most essential expenses, such as food, rent, water, electricity, gas, telephone and internet. Young people are usually the most affected at these times.

During the coronavirus pandemic, we have discovered that this reality has grown significantly amongst us, and we cannot abandon our companions, ever. Friends help each other, especially in the most delicate moments of life.

“We need to feel supported by each other, to tell each other that we are not alone; we need support, comfort, and prayer. The days of sadness and discouragement are numerous: on those days friendship is precious” (Letter of Blessed Antoine-Frederic Ozanam to his friend Leonard Gorse, 4 January 1836).

Charity begins at home

In one of my articles, entitled “The Second Network of Charity”, I argue that not only can we act with those we visit, but that we must take care of each other as well. The “first network of charity”, focused on solidarity with those assisted, will only be effective and efficient if the “second network of charity” (among us, active members of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul) is a reality. It would be unthinkable to take care only of those we visit and to abandon the Vincentians themselves. Charity begins at home. Let us remain united in prayer and try to minimize the suffering of our brothers and sisters on the Vincentian path.

Mass for victims of Covid-19

I humbly ask that on 9 September, 2020 (Liturgical Feast of Blessed Antoine-Frederic Ozanam), a Holy Mass be celebrated in all the parishes where there is a Vincentian Conference, for all those who died of Covid-19 – especially the people we visit, our fellow members, the members of the Vincentian Family and the relatives of our members who have also died. If it is not possible for Mass to be celebrated in person, I invite you to organize a virtual Mass or meditation on the Holy Rosary in a remote way.

Dear presidents of the Conferences of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul: you are the servants of the servants of the poor. May Ozanam help us overcome this worrying moment for humanity. May Our Lady take care of our lives. May God enlighten and protect us!

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