Miguel Sánchez Alba, CM of the Province of St. Vincent de Paul (Spain) writes of Evangelization and Charity on the Peripheries of Almeria
In most cities we find poor neighborhoods that tend to be places that are characterized by social exclusion. Almeria is not exempt from that reality. In Puche, members of the Congregation have been ministering there for some twelve years and the poverty level of the people ranges from moderate to poor and indigent. Our task there is to make the Gospel and Charity a reality, not on paper (it is very easy to write nice sounding words), but in the lives of the people who live in this area … people who often do not even have their own face, because they have been robbed of their dignity.
Through a personal pastoral approach in which the ministers take on “the smell of the sheep” and go forth with their eyes wide open … through such an approach we (ministers and people of this neighborhood) have been building a new community in which there is no longer a “them” or an “us” but only a “we”.
With the passage of time, God has entered anew into the hearts of these people whom we once defined as diamonds in the rough. God has once again made their brilliance shine forth. After visiting the homes of the people and walking through the streets of this neighborhood and taking time to talk with people, the church slowly began to fill and people now want to do for others what God has done for them. This has happened in some very simple ways, for example, each Sunday, or on different days during the week, a married couple with their two children help an elderly woman come to church … and all of these small acts of kindness and charity are changing the reality of the parish community. In so many communities one will always find an abundance of words but very often those words are not translated into living examples that communicate and transform life.
We are aware of the fact that a church is alive to the extent that its members, after having been evangelized, reach out and evangelize others. It is with great satisfaction that at this time such is happening in this community: in a community where one would have most frequently found nothing but closed doors, now that community has been transformed and its doors are wide open!
It is with joy that we state that fourteen members of the parish community have formed a group that every fifteen days assists more than one hundred families; members of the VMY are visiting the infirm and involved in catechetical ministry with children; the members of the Miraculous Medal Association visit more than one-hundred fifty families. There is a liturgical committee and the AIC is very active … the parish has also become the headquarters for Radio Maria. The whole Vincentian Family is involved in the parish and little by little people are beginning to feel that Vincent de Paul continues to walk through this neighborhood and is, in fact, present in each and every one of the different pastoral ministers.
We are convinced that Vincent de Paul would reiterate the words of the Pope Francis that are found in his Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudium Evangelii: I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security (EG, #49).
The Congregation will continue to be alive and strong and dynamic as long as its works are among those people who are poor, people living on the peripheries of our cities.
Today, many of our houses and our confreres have been swallowed up by the city. If we want our charism to continue to be life-giving and dynamic, we believe that we should leave the large cities where there is always an abundance of priests and ministers who want to administer these parishes and we should go to the peripheries where no one else wants to go, to the peripheries where St. Vincent sends us forth, to the peripheries where the poor await us!
Why are we so afraid to go forth in this manner? Why are we so afraid to move out from our comfort zone and share life with those persons who are poor? Why, when we are presented with evangelization projects among those who are poor, do we say that this is not the right time. If we offer young people nothing but nice sounding words, if young people do not see us spending our lives in service on behalf of those who are poor … then very very few people will want to follow in our footsteps.
At this time of the 400th anniversary of the origin of our charism, we ask God for the strength to go out to the peripheries. May we also have the wisdom and the boldness to put aside our various forms of security and thus, as Vincent de Paul did, place ourselves in the hands of divine providence. May we be open and willing to go to the places where God wants us to be instead of going to those places where we want to be.
Charles T. Plock. CM