How did you hear about the Conference of St Vincent de Paul (CSVP) and why did you want to get involved?
One day, at the end of Mass, the priest said: ‘Our CSVP is looking for an accountant, if you know someone who would like to be involved in this service for the poor, please introduce them to me’. As I trained as an accountant and was looking for work, I put myself forward, thinking that this was a job. As it turned out, it was a voluntary position but, as my mandate as a Lay Eucharistic Minister had just expired, I was available for another post. I began by visiting the poor with the priest and I felt very much at home in this area of apostolic work, even if my initial intention had been to find a job. The more visits I made, the more I felt that God was waiting for me there.
During the meetings, we often talk about the spirituality of St Vincent de Paul and the Blessed Frédéric Ozanam. What is it that touches you in their spirituality?
In service for the poor, especially for those with the greatest problems, you have to strive to see the presence of Christ. However, this is not always easy. Sometimes, when faced with people who are very demanding, I can feel resistance in me, like a spiritual struggle. We sometimes look after people who continue to be dissatisfied, or who, despite help from social services as well as support from the CSVP, do not take any action to improve their own lives. I find this problematic and shocking. At the last meeting, the national president of the CSVP, Mr. Liu, commented on a text about the Blessed Frédéric Ozanam, who had been helping a poor person for several years with a great deal of patience. This testimony touched me deeply and I understood that this patience in the face of what we take for passivity on their part is part of the Vincentian charisma. It’s a big challenge for me. It’s not always easy.
After a year’s service working with the poor, has there been a particular experience that has affected or changed you?
I haven’t completely changed yet! We helped a single mother of three who was pregnant again. In my heart, initially I felt judgemental. And then, when I was in front of her, I didn’t know what to do to help her, because I felt helpless. I blamed her internally for her irresponsibility, because I felt that we at the CSVP cared more about the education of her three children than she did. It made me sad. We were all hoping that these children would get a good education, a good schooling but, for her, that didn’t seem so important, maybe because she herself had not experienced a good education. It felt like she was just piling up mistake after mistake, taking poor decisions, and our advice was doing nothing. But I understood that our main role is to provide support, whatever decisions the poor make. We give our time and our friendship, for free.
Saint Vincent de Paul often said that we should ‘see Christ in the poor’. Have you had this experience?
That’s not something that happens overnight. It is as we faithfully accompany people that we can discover Jesus in them. It is a long spiritual journey. We get to understand it little by little, not intellectually, but with the heart. We discover the presence of Christ in them. I am still on that road.
The CSVP motto is ‘Serving in Hope’. Could you share with us how you see this hope? Could you give us an example? Have you seen hope grow in people?
There are so many examples. Almost every case is an example. More often than not, it is without noticing that I share the Christian hope that dwells in me. By loving these people like Christ, without saying so explicitly, we bear witness to Christ. Sometimes we also have the opportunity to share our experience of faith, to say that Christ helps and supports us, to share this or that experience and to tell the person that they are loved by Christ.
Interviews gathered by Father J., MEP