The following is the text of a talk by Bishop Rhoades at a fund-raising dinner for the Saint Vincent de Paul Society of Saint Henry and Sacred Heart Parishes, Fort Wayne, on April 24:
“God’s heart has a special place for the poor,” Pope Francis teaches us by his words and actions. Our Holy Father is calling all of us to hear the cry of the poor. He says: “Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society.”
When I think about Pope Francis’ call for us to be a Church of and for the poor, I think immediately of the example and work of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society in our diocese. Hundreds of the faithful, like you, in parish conferences throughout our diocese faithfully, and often quietly, day by day lovingly serve the poor, reach out to the needy, in the spirit of Saint Vincent de Paul, a great “apostle of charity” who has been called the “father of the poor.” I thank you and all the Vincentians throughout our diocese for your witness to God’s love through your works of charity.
I have always been inspired by the mission and the spirituality of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society. It is much more than a philanthropic organization. It is an apostolate rooted in the Gospel. It has only one purpose, as Blessed Frederic Ozanam said: “to sanctify its members in the exercise of charity and to help the poor in their corporal and spiritual needs.”
When the founder of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, Frederic Ozanam, was beatified at World Youth Day in Paris in 1997, Saint John Paul said that Blessed Frederic “believed in love, the love of God for every individual. He felt himself called to love, giving the example of a great love for God and others. He went to all those who needed to be loved more than others, those to whom the love of God could not be revealed effectively except through the love of another person. There Ozanam discovered his vocation, the path to which Christ called him. He found his road to sanctity. And he followed it with determination.”
These words of Saint John Paul II about Blessed Frederic remind us that your vocation as Vincentians is precisely that, a vocation, a calling. It is a vocation to love: love of God and neighbor. Your love of neighbor is focused especially on those who are poor and marginalized in our society. When you serve them, you are honoring Our Lord in their persons. Remember the words of Blessed Frederic about those whom you serve: “We must fall at their feet and say to them, like the Apostle You are my Lord. You are our masters and we are your servants; you are for us the sacred images of the God whom we do not see and, not knowing how to love Him in another way, we love Him through you.”
Blessed Frederic Ozanam, as you know, was an exemplary husband and father. He is an example for the laity of living the call to holiness. As a university student in 19th century France, in an atmosphere of much anti-clerical and anti-Catholic opinion, the young Frederic defended his Christian convictions without hating those who were the Church’s adversaries. In fact, he loved them, as Jesus taught us. Blessed Frederic was a courageous believer who sought to spread the faith and renew the Church through action on behalf of the poor. I think what he did is very instructive for us today, in the midst of our increasingly secularized culture. We are called to love the Church’s adversaries and opponents, remaining firmly faithful to the truths of our faith, while also living that faith with the love that attracts others to the truth and beauty of the Gospel.
Here in our diocese, your ministry as Vincentians is a great testimony of what Blessed Pope Paul VI called “a living Catholicism.” You don’t just serve the poor, you love them, you see them as brothers and sisters and as friends. You recognize and respect their dignity. It is not just giving material assistance to an anonymous person. You are to see in each person you serve a child of God, a brother, a sister, a unique individual whom God loves. You are to see in each individual the face of Christ.
I encourage you to read the lives of the Vincentian saints and blesseds, great models for you and for all of us: Saint Vincent de Paul, Blessed Frederic Ozanam, Saint Louise de Marillac, Blessed Rosalie Rendu, Saint Gianna Beretta Molla, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, and others. These holy members of the Vincentian family are great models and intercessors for you.
I have a special devotion to one of the Vincentians, Blessed Pier Giorgio. At the age of 17, when he joined the Society, he said: “Jesus visits me every morning in Holy Communion. I repay him with my poor means, visiting the poor.” He did not love the poor in general; he loved the poor individual. Blessed Pier Giorgio was a man of prayer who loved Eucharistic adoration and the rosary. He loved his friends and family. He was a vibrant young man and outdoorsman. He died at the age of 24. Blessed Pier Giorgio is a great example for our Catholic youth, a young man of deep faith and love for Christ, a man of prayer, a man who had a passion for life, a man of great virtue who loved and served the poor through the Saint Vincent de Paul Society. I think the conferences of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society in our diocese have an important task today to reach out to our young people and invite them to become members. The story of Blessed Pier Giorgio should be shared with them. It will attract them to the Vincentian vocation.
I wish to conclude by thanking you again for your dedication and commitment to your holy charism. Your ministry of aid to the needy is a vital part of the Church’s mission to bring the good news to the poor. May your service of the poor in the spirit of Saint Vincent de Paul help you to grow in holiness. Today, April 24th, is the birthday of Saint Vincent de Paul. He was born April 24, 1581 in a village of southwest France. Here we are 434 years later. May Saint Vincent de Paul, the apostle of charity and father of the poor, intercede for you and for all the Vincentians of our diocese and throughout the world!
The best news. Delivered to your inbox.
Subscribe to our mailing list today.