At this time, when we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the origin of the Vincentian charism and as we, therefore, continue to walk in the footsteps of Vincent de Paul, it is important that we be attentive to the material needs of those men and women who are poor.
Vincent de Paul stated: if there are any among us who think they are in the Mission to evangelize poor people but not alleviate their sufferings, to take care of their spiritual needs but not their temporal ones, I reply that we have to help then and have them assisted in every way.
For us as Vincentians, there is no separation between material and spiritual needs. It is urgent therefore, that we clothe ourselves with a deep faith as we minister on behalf of those persons who are poor. If anyone were to give priority to the spiritual dimension over the material dimension or were to ignore and neglect the spiritual dimension, then such a person would not be living in accord with the Vincentian charism.
We live in a society characterized by relationships of domination, competition and utilitarianism. Such relationships lead to poverty, misery and social exclusion. Indeed, poor people are most affected by this reality … they are condemned to live in the midst of such relationships and forced to struggle for their physical survival. Their material needs are most often related to their ability to maintain their bodies in good health. Therefore, those needs are primary and fundamental. For example, in this category we would situate their need for nourishment (understood as their need for water and for quality food).
When we speak about drinking water, we are referring to that basic element which is provided by nature, an element that is risk free to both all animals and human beings who consume it. In the underdeveloped world, however, about fifty percent of the population consumes contaminated water, that is, about 1.1 billion people do not have access to safe, uncontaminated drinking water. As a result, thousands of people die because of such contamination. In those places where people do not have access to water that has been treated in order to make it safe for drinking, two things can be done: mobilize people to demand respect for this right to consume safe drinking water and teach people how to purify their water before drinking it.
The lack of food has always been and continues to be an open wound on humanity. Hunger is a lack of food that affects millions of people throughout the world … in fact, it is estimated that there are more than one billion hungry people in the world. These needs are ultimately related to the material needs of men and women. It should be noted that there are sufficient resources in order to resolve these issues and yet so many of our brothers and sisters continue to be marginalized and find themselves on the peripheries. Therefore, it is true that we are called to respond to their spiritual needs and yet as we do so we must understand that we are also called to accompany them with actions that will better the quality of their life.
Charles T. Plock, CM
 CCD:XII:71; CCD refers to Vincent de Paul, Correspondence, Conference, Documents, translators: Helen Marie Law, DC (Vol. 1), Marie Poole, DC (Vol. 1-13b), James King, CM (Vol. 1-2), Francis Germovnik, CM (Vol. 1-8, 13a-13b [Latin]), Esther Cavanagh, DC (Vol. 2), Ann Mary Dougherty, DC (Vol. 12); Evelyne Franc, DC (Vol. 13a-13b), Thomas Davitt, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), Glennon E. Figge, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), John G. Nugent, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), Andrew Spellman, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]); edited: Jacqueline Kilar, DC (Vol. 1-2), Marie Poole, DC (Vol. 2-13b), Julia Denton, DC [editor-in-chief] (Vol. 3-10, 13a-13b), Paule Freeburg, DC (Vol. 3), Mirian Hamway, DC (Vol. 3), Elinor Hartman, DC (Vol. 4-10, 13a-13b), Ellen Van Zandt, DC (Vol. 9-13b), Ann Mary Dougherty (Vol. 11-12); annotated: John W. Carven, CM (Vol. 1-13b); New City Press, Brooklyn and Hyde Park, 1985-2009. Future references to this work will be inserted into the text using the initials [CCD] followed by the volume number, followed by the page number.