This past weekend, I spent Sunday afternoon with the State Conference of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. The conference here has been helping people in need for 170 years and counting! I am sure that you see their clothing bins and their delivery trucks in your own travels. For me this was a moving opportunity to meet, pray with, and get to know the people behind the mission.
Inspired by the work of a priest, St. Vincent de Paul, the society was founded by Frederic Ozanam. This layman and gifted scholar of literature, the law, and theology heard the Gospel summons to love for the poor. His Society, 800,000 strong across the world, continues his work of encounter with those in need. The Society is not just a charity, offering contributions or handouts. It is a communion of friends who come together to deepen their faith and to express that faith in concrete love of neighbor. Their insight, drawn from the ministry of Jesus himself, is that their work is deeply personal. They befriend those in need and help them through their suffering. And they know that the relationship with the poor is mutual, bringing to both the truth of God’s love, mercy, and grace.
I was particularly moved by the members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society youth conference. They presented a video about Frederic’s legacy and the work of the Society that was as moving as it was joyful and clever. The music in the video was composed by a very musically talented young man who devotes himself to the work of the Society. In an age when too few have interest in the things of God, these young people filled me with hope and joy.
I am looking forward to time next week with representatives of another remarkable organization, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. Founded in 1926 by Pope Pius XI, CNEWA was established to aid people in the lands of the ancient Eastern Churches. That mission brought them to the aid of Eastern European Christians under the terrors of communism and to the peoples of the Holy Land and Middle East. Today that mission seems more necessary than ever as CNEWA was among the first on the ground in the Ukrainian war and among the most consistent and effective in accompanying the refugees of the many Middle Eastern conflicts over the decades. As the organization describes it: “We have prayed with them when they were attacked, comforted them when they grieved, fed them when they hungered, bandaged them when they bled, sheltered them when they had no place to call home.”
I first learned of the critical mission of CNEWA through the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, who devote themselves to the care of the Holy Places and assist beleaguered Christian communities in the Middle East. I invited the President of CNEWA, Msgr. Peter Vaccari to visit Providence with some of his staff. They will join me at the Saturday evening 5 p.m. Mass at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul on November 18th. Afterwards there will be a simple reception in the hall where folks can get to know the work and consider supporting it. When I invited Msgr. Vaccari several months ago, I did not realize just how timely and meaningful his visit would become as the Holy Land is once again embroiled in war.
Watching the news, it is easy to be discouraged by cruelty, hatred, and violence on every side. I am so grateful for the encounter with these good organizations who remind me of the beauty of the human being made in the image and likeness of God. Take heart, there are men and women who love and who place that love in action – and you and I can join them!