In July 1617, Vincent de Paul became pastor in the little village of Châtillon-les-Dombes. Three weeks later, on Sunday, August 20th, 1617, as Vincent was preparing to celebrate Mass, a woman approached him and told him that there was a family, all of whom were sick and they had no one to care for them. The woman stated:
it is very difficult to describe their state of misery. Vincent was filled with compassion and stated: That touched me to the heart. During the sermon I made sure to commend them zealously to the congregation, and God touching the hearts of those who heard me, moved them with compassion for those poor afflicted people. After dinner a meeting was held in the home of a good townswoman to see what help could be given them, and everyone present felt urged to go to visit them, console them with their words, and do what they could to help them. Vincent also decided to visit that family. Along the way, we met some women who had gone before us and, a little farther on, we met others who were returning home. Since it was summertime and the weather was very hot, those good ladies were sitting by the side of the road to rest and refresh themselves … So, after I had heard their confessions and given them Holy Communion, the next thing was to see how to provide for their needs. There were a great number of people coming and going from the house and Vincent suggested that all those good persons, who were animated by charity to visit that family, might each take a day to make soup, not for those sick persons only, but also for others who might come afterward, and that’s the first place where the Confraternity of Charity was established (CCD:IX:192-193).
Then, three days later, Vincent met with eight women and proposed the creation of an Association that would assist the poor men and women in the village:
the people of their town who have sometimes suffered a great deal, more through a lack of organized assistance than from lack of charitable persons (CCD:XIIIb:8). However, since charity toward the neighbor is an infallible sign of the true children of God, and since one of its principal acts is to visit and bring food to the sick poor, some devout young women and virtuous inhabitants of the town, wishing to obtain from God the mercy of being His true daughters, have decided among themselves to assist spiritually and corporally the people of their town … Because, however, it is to be feared that this good work, once begun, might die out in a short time if they do not have some union and spiritual bond among themselves to maintain it, they have arranged to form an association that can be set up as a confraternity (CCD:XIIIb:8).
In order to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the origin of the Vincentian charism, we are invited to deepen our understanding of Vincentian spirituality which in turn, will enable us to serve the poor in a more affective and effective manner. As members of the Vincentian Family we know that we can do more! Therefore, let us unite together around a common cause and let us struggle together against the multiple forms of poverty.
Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM