The theme of the international meeting is “The transmission of the faith in the family.” On this matter we can learn a great deal from the experience of the Vincentian Family of Spain. For my part, in order that we can learn together and deepen further the role of our Family in today’s world, I wish to propose a slight change in the formulation of the theme: The Vincentian Family and the Transmission of the Faith. I would suppose that this new formulation would not change essentially our theme.
International meeting of famlies
Valencia, spain
05-09 July 2006
Theme: “The transmission of the faith in the family”
First of all I wish to thank the Vincentian Family of Spain for inviting me to participate in this meeting, precisely within the very same international meeting of families. All of us feel as members of the large human family and of the family we call Church, within which we are a “charismatic” family, with a charism that favors the poor.
In a special way, I wish to convey to one and all the greetings of Father General, Gregory Gay, who is at the moment in the United States. He wishes to affirm and thank the exemplary work of the Vincentian Family in Spain. In this land, so greatly blessed by God with many saints in the Church, there has been the consciousness of being a Family who values and lives the charism of our spiritual Father, St. Vincent de Paul. From this country, many missionaries were sent to other countries, clerics, sisters and lay people, in order to announce the good news of God’s love for the poor. At present, this commitment is being confirmed among the members of our Vincentian Family here in Spain, making this reunion in Valencia possible. To all of you, I wish to extend my heartfelt thanks.
The theme of the international meeting is “The transmission of the faith in the family.” On this matter we can learn a great deal from the experience of the Vincentian Family of Spain. For my part, in order that we can learn together and deepen further the role of our Family in today’s world, I wish to propose a slight change in the formulation of the theme: The Vincentian Family and the Transmission of the Faith. I would suppose that this new formulation would not change essentially our theme.
At the outset, I wish to make a brief clarification: I am aware of the different senses with which we understand the word “family”. In general, I will use it in its most common sense, i.e., family of flesh and blood, as the most recent issue of “Caminos de Misión” calls it, or what we call “domestic family”. In various instances, however, it will have a more qualified meaning, as in human family, or ecclesial family. I believe the sense of the term will be understood in its proper context.
This conference has three parts:
1. The Family Today
2. The Trinity, Example for the Family, and
3. How To Transmit Our Faith?
John Paul II has said: “the family is the future of humanity.” The letter of convocation for this meeting speaks about the family as “something irreplaceable in the initiation and maturity of children in the faith.” In the reality of today’s world, what is the family?
1.1 Contemporary Images of the Family
Today, when we think of the family, there are images than stick out:
∑ families of the victims of HIV/AIDS; like, for example, a family I met in Tanzania – a grandmother with 4 grandchildren, whose parents died of AIDS – she has to perform the duties of a mother for the second time in her life; also the children without parents or grandparents, precisely due to the same disease;
∑ families of migrants in Europe who are looking for work and livelihood: they leave behind the formation education of their own children in the hands of relatives and neighbors;
∑ families of refugees who have to flee their own countries on account of political and cultural discrimination, as we are witnessing in Sudan;
∑ families who are victims of war, whether it is ethnic or against terrorism;
∑ families who live in the margins of the big cities and small villages: they earn their living by rummaging on the trash from these cities, as we observe them in the Philippines, Cambodia, India and other places;
∑ aged and elderly people with or without families who have been left alone, etc.
These families are to be found not only in Africa, Asia or Latin America, but also in Europe and even in the most prosperous country, the United States, where the hurricane “Katrina” had shown to one and all the poverty of some of its families.
Of course, it is not my intention to paint the image of the family solely from the negative perspective. But these images confront us daily at the same time that it places before us a challenge that we as Vincentian Family can ill afford to ignore.
Nevertheless, it is also necessary to recognize the many things about the family today, things that underscore the goodness, generosity, commitment of many persons, groups and institutions. This International Meeting of Families is an excellent example, as is our own Vincentian Family which is spread out throughout the whole world, but especially here in Spain. In many cases, there are many families who are in solidarity with others, truly missionary, fine examples of charity and communion, both human and divine. For its part, the United Nations (UN) has as one of its Millennium Objectives “the strengthening of international associations for development.” Side by side with the UN are the different Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) who work continually with the community, involve the poor in their own human development, promote the sense of solidarity and form groups towards self-sufficiency.
1.2 Globalization and its Consequences
To complete the picture, all these images need be seen from the perspective of our World today, a world of globalization and rapid communication. In a study on this matter, a member of the AIC says that “the principal factors of globalization have been technological progress and the collapse of the soviet system.” Without having to speak about this topic lengthily, we can say that globalization has brought about a number of consequences, among them, the proximity of nations, the quick and prompt search for information, yet also, the priority placed on the market or the “economic” and its values, the pressure on basic institutions, etc.
It is true that globalization puts us much closer to one another and that the unity of the world, at least externally, is much more palpable now than in times past. At the same time it cannot be denied that as it brings us together in a network of relationships, globalization also provides the occasion for the loss of identity and even of personal belongingness, not to mention institutional belongingness. In many cases, there is no structure that could give a person a sense of security as he establishes social bonds. Mde. Choppin de Janvry describes it in very clear terms: “At present, with so many rapid economic, social and cultural changes, very strong pressures are made to bear on institutions that provide social belongingness: this can provoke a loss of certain points of reference, a loss of direction and hence the risk of anti-social behavior.”
More concretely, she writes about the family: “in the industrialized countries, one out of three marriages ends up in divorce . . . many families break up because of sickness or violent death . . . the family suffers the syndrome of ‘living together’ and of the consequences of poverty. Instead of values and culture, what are transmitted are the difficulties of living in a society that is changing so quickly.”
Overall, the image that persists in a world of globalization is that of a ‘global village’ that is located in the midst of technological advances, the Internet or the Web, which is the network of all networks. It is a village too where nothing exists that a globalized person cannot achieve and/or overcome. This is indeed an image that is all too good, were it not for the numberless people who do not know how to use a computer, the many poor people who do not have the power to change their life of poverty, the many less developed countries that spend their scant resources to pay for their debts to the World Bank, as well as countless women who have to degrade themselves in prostitution, and the millions who are sold as mere objects in child-trafficking. From this perspective, the world appears more and more self-sufficient and independent of history and the values of universal humanity, a world that does not seem to have any need for God.
1.3 Challenges for the Vincentian Family
Face to face with this contemporary reality of the family, we stand as a Family within the ecclesial family and the family of humanity. Our charism consists in transmitting principles, values and a way of life that gives to all, especially the poor, the possibility of living as children and privileged family of God. In a world found wanting in material resources, moral and religious values, what are the challenges that beg from us concrete and long-lasting responses?
To my mind, they are the following:
∑ To encourage and deepen the consciousness that maintains the balance between the individual and the common, a consciousness that respects the freedom of each person and at the same time the common good, personal identity as well as the social and community nexus.
∑ To promote projects that give flash to this consciousness in families, society, and especially for and with the poor.
∑ To support and network with institutions that respect human dignity, personal creativity, as well as mutual cooperation and community initiative.
Within our Vincentian Family, these challenges can be responded to quite easily. After all, we are a Family whose members include men and women, elderly and young, clerics and lay. In his homily on the occasion of the beatification of Frederick Ozanam, John Paul II spoke about the new Blessed as one who “has the heart of a believer, denouncing all forms of egoisms, as he participates actively in the renewal of the presence and action of the Church in the society of his own time.” Heirs of the charism of Vincent, we cannot do less. This would indeed be difficult if we did not have the examples of St. Vincent, St. Louise, Blessed Frederick Ozanam, and especially, of God Himself.
Whenever we speak about the family, in general we do not see it from the point of view of the Holy Trinity. Most probably this is because for many the Trinity is a mystery that is incomprehensible. Yet, at the heart of our faith, the same one that we wish to share and transmit to others, there stands the God of the Holy Scriptures revealing to us that God is Father, Son and Spirit. In my opinion, the mystery of the Trinity is most important as the fundamental basis not only of Christianity but also of humanity, of a human society, and hence, of a family of flash and blood.
2.1 God One and Three
I will not summarize here the entire doctrine of the Church on this matter. However, for our purposes it is necessary to explain, however briefly, this central mystery of our faith. At the risk of being too theoretical, I simply want to underline some points concerning the Trinity that will help us understand why and how God, One and Three, is our model as we form our human community and family, be it ecclesial, Vincentian, or of ‘flesh and blood.’
In essence, what do we mean when we proclaim “I believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit?” To say Trinity is to say that the one and only God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, is Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who manifests and sends the Holy Spirit as gift proceeding from the Father through the Son. “We do not confess three gods, but one God in three persons . . . The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each one of them is God whole and entire.” In this way we safeguard the unity in God. At the same time, the three divine persons are really distinct from one another. The Father is Father, the Son is Son, and the Spirit is Spirit. They are not modalities of the divine being but “are distinct from one another by the relations of origin.” In this way, we preserve the distinction among the three persons. But this distinction, again, does not mean that the persons are not interrelated one to the other. The truth is that the divine persons, Father, Son and Spirit, far from being independent of one another, in fact remain in relation to one another and among themselves.
There is one more point that I wish to add. At the depth of God’s being, as Trinity, lies the love which each person has towards the other two. That is why we are able to say that God is Love. (On this topic, Benedict XVI has spoken clearly in his first and recent encyclical.) This love does not enclose itself within the Godhead but goes out of the God-self towards the creatures, towards the whole world. The ultimate end of the “divine economy” is for creatures to participate in the perfect unity of the Blessed Trinity.
To sum up, then, what are the points that we attempt to underscore here? Briefly they are the following: in the Trinity there is
∑ Distinction of Persons;
∑ Unity and communion in love;
∑ Mission towards others.
2.2 The Family, Image of the Trinity
Using these concepts then, we can now see the same structure that is to be found in the human family.
∑ The family consists of distinct persons, each with its proper identity, character, and way of being.
∑ The family, however, is a communion of persons, primarily because of the love that exists, or at least ought to exist, among the members of the same family.
∑ The human family does not exist for itself alone, but has an end directed towards other families, other persons, and other beings in this world.
2.3 The Trinity and the Vincentian Family
Our Vincentian Family is also like this. We exist as different branches, with their respective identity and organization, in different countries and cultures. In different historical situations, these branches developed in order to respond to the needs of the poor. But these are branches of the one and the same tree that is the charism of St. Vincent, each branch complementing the others. Precisely, we unite and work with each other by reason of the same charism, which is directed towards the poor. “Our heritage is the poor,” as St. Vincent would say. The principle of unity in the Family is nothing less that the same love that is at the center of God, the love between the Father, Son, and Spirit, the same love that in Jesus Christ is poured out throughout the earth. Love is God; in its deepest sense, love is the Trinity.
Speaking to the Daughters of Charity, St. Vincent says: “for, Sisters, since God is but One in Himself, and in God there are three Persons, without the Father being greater than the Son or the Son being greater than the Holy Spirit, it should be the same for the Daughters of Charity. They should be the image of the Most Holy Trinity; and even though they are several, they should form but one heart and one mind. Among the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity, even though their operations are diverse and attributed to each one in particular, they are related to one another, without implying that to attribute wisdom to the Son and goodness to the Holy Spirit deprives the Father of these attributes, or that the Third Person lacks the power of the Father or the wisdom of the Son.” (SVP, XIIIb, 274-275)
In this consists our faith, the faith of the Vincentian Family we wish to share and transmit to others: as one family we wish to give witness to the Family that exists in God’s very being.
∑ God has given us the world in order to attend to its needs. We wish to be co-creators with God of a world that respects the dignity and identity of each person, family, group, association, town, etc. We wish to give witness to the providence of God the Father, his eternal mercy and compassion for all.
∑ In the person of Jesus Christ, God proclaimed in a manner without equal how God loves his people, so many times wounded by sin, injustice, discrimination, indifference, etc. We want to testify to the love of Christ crucified who urges us to love others, especially the victims of AIDS, the migrants, those discriminated against, those who have lost all hope in life, the refugees who search for relief from their exile, the innocent victims of terrorism and the war between nations and ideologies. We wish to testify clearly to God’s liberating Word, who is the way, the truth and the life.
∑ Jesus Christ sends the Spirit as the continuing, permanent and constant spirit of love between the Father and the Son and their love for all created reality. As Vincentian Family, we desire to give witness to the inspiring presence of the Spirit, the wisdom of love and the promise to be always with us until the end of the world. We want to be witnesses to the voice of the Spirit in the Church and in the family, in the signs of the times, in our efforts and those of persons of good will, so that this world really would be transformed into the home of God.
This is the faith of the Vincentian Family. How can we share and transmit it?
We all know how difficult it is to create a Christian family. And yet, the Vincentian Family, not wishing to enclose itself and be oblivious to the needs of this world, is being called upon to lend a hand in the building up of families. How are we to do this? Here, I suggest some ways by which we can transmit our faith.
3.1 To recognize and strengthen, through a genuinely evangelical life, the presence of the Holy Trinity in our family by
∑ Respecting the identity of each branch, its capacity and its goodwill;
∑ Feeling as one and in communion with the whole Church;
∑ Living and promoting the unity of our Family as heirs of St. Vincent’s charism.
3.2 To communicate and to disseminate to the world of today our charism by
∑ Making use of the network of communication; those who do not know how to use them, that they learn so that the voice of the poor whom we serve and their situations of poverty be better known;
∑ Developing and strengthening the ties and bonds, on the one hand, between different branches, and on the other, between our family and society in general;
∑ Fostering the celebrations of our Family in order to give homage to our models and at the same time to attract other believers, evangelizers, and new members to our family. We cannot underestimate the importance of the liturgy and other celebrations, like this international assembly, in order to call attention to the charism that has values different from what the world of today offers.
3.3 To promote projects of collaboration for the poor, particularly in the families, by
∑ Making sure we have direct contact with the poor; in this way, we will always be on “solid ground” and not only remain on the level of theory; at the same time this direct contact with the poor gives us the occasion to be evangelized by the poor – an opportunity of grace which we cannot neglect;
∑ Never forgetting that Vincentian charity has 3 expressions: charity as aid or assistance; charity that promotes the development of the poor and their involvement in it; and prophetic advocacy. Likewise we ought not to forget that charity, justice and human rights are intimately linked one to the other;
∑ Always taking into account that when we act together, we are able to do so much more – “against all forms of poverty, to act together” as the AIC World put it; and
∑ Collaborating with other organizations who work also for the poor.
In the Acts of the Apostles, Christ tells his disciples: “you will be my witnesses until the ends of the earth” (1:8). And in the Gospel he advises them to “proclaim the Gospel to all peoples.” (Mk 16:15). To a globalized world, to the disadvantaged and suffering families, to the families who are victims of egoism, violence and injustice, we declare with profound conviction that God is love, and that Jesus Christ is the incarnation of God’s love, and God is a merciful Father, ever near to us, who wants nothing more than that we all become a world of brothers and sisters.
Today, St. Vincent would repeat with greater urgency the very words of Jesus himself: “Go into the whole world and announce the Good News.” This is our mission: to announce by word and deed the Gospel to the poor.
Manuel Ginete CM
Delegate for the Vincentian Family
07 July 2006