In 2017, Pope Francis proposed that the Catholic Church celebrate, on the Sunday before the Solemnity of Christ the King, “the World Day of the Poor”. This year, that celebration falls on Sunday 19 November and offers us a providential occasion to reflect on the value of this day for a Vincentian. Because it is dedicated to the poor, God’s favourites, “our masters and our lords, and we are unworthy to render them our little services” (XI,273), this day is fundamental for a Vincentian. Indeed, the invitation to deepen our Vincentian vocation on that day is not optional since it is decisive for the authenticity of our Vincentian being. The essence of being Vincentian lies in being born and living in the service of the poor. Thus, the reality of the poor is paramount for a Vincentian, for through them he can better glimpse the company of Christ in his life. St. Vincent, upon seeing and discovering the reality of the poor of his time, radically changed his way of life by dedicating himself totally to caring for the poor and remedying their material and spiritual needs. In this way, he was able to have a clear conviction that he had found Jesus Christ (cf. XI,393). For this reason, she strove, above all, to have “an inventive love for them to the end” and to communicate to others the passion of not turning her face away from the poor and of extending her hands to them.

As Vincentians, this day is of great value as it invites us to examine and question the work we have done in the light of the passion that Vincent de Paul communicated to us: What have we done with it? Certainly, to rekindle this passion for the poor, the Vincentian of today would have to rediscover the face of the poor. However, discovering the face of the poor has never been an easy task. Because human societies always find it difficult to see and, above all, to recognise their poor. Today more than ever, the celebration of this day challenges us to see and recognise the poor in order to commit ourselves to them. But this commitment must be firmly based on “evangelical realism”.

Modern civilisation continually manufactures its poor. This means that we can no longer speak of the poor in the abstract, dwelling only on statistics. The poor of all times have names and surnames, they are people, they have faces, stories, hearts and souls, they live near and perhaps under the same roof. They are brothers and sisters with their merits and their faults, like everyone else, and it is important to enter into a personal relationship with each of them. The cry of the poor continues to resound within us, as Pope Francis warned in the Angelus prayer on Sunday 29 March 2021: “the cry of the poor is ever more serious and alarming, and requires decisive and urgent action to turn this crisis into an opportunity”.

Indeed, the cry of so many poor should find the Vincentian on the front line, always and everywhere, to give them a voice, to defend them and to stand in solidarity with them in the face of so much hypocrisy and so many broken promises, inviting them to participate actively in the life of the community. As a member of the Church, a Vincentian has no general solutions to propose to eradicate poverty. It would also be very unfair to ask a Vincentian to eradicate poverty in the world. But yes, by their witness and their actions in sharing with the poor, Vincentians can improve their existence. Perhaps lovingly sharing your resources, food, clothing and personal hygiene items with people in need on World Day of the Poor will not change their condition as poor, but it will certainly improve their lives on that day.

So, Vincentian, on this World Day of the Poor, “if you can’t do big things, do small things in a big way” (Napoleon Hill). Let us also remember, as we celebrate this day, that our Vincentian commitment to the poor must be for the glory of God and the good of the poor. Thus, the call to share with the poor resonates all the more eloquently in the Vincentian, since his responsibility in the face of poverty is all the more profound. To help the needy is a duty of justice even before it is an act of charity. This is what our saint also thought: “May God grant us the grace to warm our hearts in favour of the poor and to believe that, in helping them, we are doing justice and not mercy” (VII, 90).

This day is also valuable because it gives us the opportunity to remember that “poverty is not a curse, it is a situation. It can be overcome by human effort”. (Nelson Mandela). Indeed, a large number of Vincentians have helped many poor people to overcome poverty with their resources. So, in a certain sense, this day is also a day of thanksgiving. How can we not give thanks to God for so many people who, in silence, far from the spotlight of the media society, carry out in this spirit generous actions of helping others in need? They are “people of all ages and social conditions who are welcoming and committed to those who find themselves in situations of marginalisation and suffering. They are not supermen, but neighbours whom we meet every day and who silently make themselves poor with the poor”. By their noble actions they have expressed the truth of their being. In other words, they are people who were not created for themselves, but for God and for their brothers and sisters (cf. 2 Cor 5,15). This day is not just another day. On the contrary, it is a day that encourages the Vincentian to follow the example of Vincent de Paul with generosity and intelligence. By following his teachings, the Vincentian will learn to make of his life a total gift and by imitating him he will be ready to give, not so much some of what he possesses, but to give himself.

May this day enlightened by charity and justice inspire our hearts as Vincentians not to forget that helping a poor person is never too much. May we always “not turn our face away from the poor” and “stretch out our hands to the poor.” May we recognise that “no one who has lightened the burden of his fellow man will have failed in this world.” (Charles Dickens). May we know that, as friends of Vincent de Paul, we make a difference on this day. And, also, may we ask the Virgin of Providence, patroness of Puerto Rico, to protect all the poor and to enlighten the hearts of those we can help, to achieve for them a better quality of life.

By Jean Rolex, C.M

[1] Francis (2023). Message 6th World Day of the Poor: “Do not turn away from the poor” (Tb 4,7).

[2] Francis (2020). Message 4th World Day of the Poor. “Reach out to the poor” (cf. Si 7,32).

[3] Saint Vincent de Paul and the new poor, in Quaderni Vincenziani (1999). En tiempo de San Vicente de Paúl y hoy. Salamanca: CEME.

[4] Francis (2023). Message VI World Day of the Poor: “Do not turn away from the poor” (Tb 4,7).

[5] Francis (2020). Message IV World Day of the Poor. “Reach out to the poor” (cf. Si 7:32).

[6] Benedict XVI (2008). Message for Lent.