Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"St. Vincent de Paul Society: 175 years of outreach to the poor"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the May 1, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

Springtime provides the opportunity for many celebrations of Confirmation and First Eucharist. Such gatherings are always joyful and give me the opportunity to visit different parts of the diocese. The numbers of those confirmed and receiving First Eucharist may range from just a few to more than 630 at St. Patrick Parish in Pasco.

Recently, in addition to a Confirmation/First Eucharist celebration at St. Augustine Parish in Spokane, members of the St. Vincent DePaul Society gathered at St. Paschal Parish, Spokane Valley, for the 175th anniversary celebration of the founding of this remarkable organization. We celebrated Eucharist and attended a potluck to mark the special milestone.

The St. Vincent de Paul Society was founded by Frederic Ozanam in France to serve and reach out to the needs of the poor and disadvantaged. France at the time was involved in a culture of cynicism under the influence of Voltaire, accompanied by a clash of classes. The level of poverty was significant. Frederic Ozanam, who has now been beatified, was a husband and father. He was involved in the legal profession. One day when he was challenged why the Church didnít do more for the poor, he along with friends established the St. Vincent de Paul Society to do just that.

Over the years, the movement has grown and has done considerable work in serving the poor in the spirit of Jesus, who asks us to love neighbor as self. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells us that whatever we do to the least of our brothers and sisters, we do to him. The spirituality of the St. Vincent de Paul Society has focused on this profound reality. Jesus strongly urges us to be a brother or sister to everyone. Sometimes that task is challenging enough in our own families, let alone to the stranger, or to the person in great need! The outreach of the Church in this regard has been considerable, and St. Vincent de Paul Society has been an important part of that outreach.

Recently the Family Services Center of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Spokane closed because of financial considerations. This included the food bank associated with the center. Some have thought that this meant that the Society itself had stopped its operation. Thatís not true. Parish conferences of the Society continue in several areas of the diocese and continue to do great work including helping the disadvantaged in the Spokane area with rent, utilities, food, and other vital assistance. The Spokane umbrella organization of St. Vincent, known as the Spokane District Council, is undergoing reorganization, but it will continue to serve as the local societyís head. Times have changed. If anything, the needs have increased. That reality should spur all of us to live the spirit of the Gospel and to give witness to the example of Jesus who, in washing the feet of the apostles, told them to go forth and do in like manner. Obviously, the story provides an encouragement to involve ourselves in a spirituality that focuses on the presence of Jesus in our lives and how we see and serve him in others.

The St. Vincent de Paul Society conferences in parishes have been entirely volunteer organizations. Volunteers are always needed for this work, and I would encourage you to offer your services if time and health are sufficient. At the end of every Mass, we hear, ďGo in the peace of Christ to love and serve the Lord.Ē How does the reality of the Eucharist we celebrate in church take on the dimension of service and witness of assisting those in need? The focus always is upon Jesus, who calls us to go forth in his name.

One of the foundational truths of the Churchís social teaching is the dignity of the human person. Respect for human life from the moment of conception until natural death continues to be a strong call from the Church as we faithfully try to reflect the values of Gospel living and practice. To live out this mission is, and has been, and always will be inconvenient. I admire those who give generously of their time in loving service in so many ways. Yet, such living is an opportunity for growing and building holiness. Look around your parish and notice those who give generously of themselves. That service never stays in isolation, but strengthens and builds up the whole body of Christ. So often a common witness like the St. Vincent de Paul Society gives a powerful message of the love of Jesus for us all. Seeing everyone as precious in our eyes helps us connect to the reality of the fullness of the kingdom of God. No one is expendable. Everyone deserves respect.

Thatís the message that also came through loud and clear during the recent visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the U.S. Thatís the message that we need to live prophetically and genuinely in the Church. May it also be a message that the St. Vincent DePaul Society continues to witness for us as we work together as instruments and servants of the Lord, to love him and one another.

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