On a recent summer morning as I was preparing to go on an errand of mercy, I found myself addressing God in the words that Jesus said to Peter when Peter couldn’t stay awake and pray with Him the night before the crucifixion: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” How many times in these last many weeks of events in our nation and throughout the world have I paused to reflect on my own weakness in doing what the gospel of Jesus asks of me? It is nearly impossible to follow through without God’s help. That is why prayer is so especially important!
Sometimes I borrow the words of scripture, or other times, the words prayed by those we name as our saints. This brief plea of Mother Teresa, is especially fitting for us who aspire to grow in humility as we live our Vincentian vocation in humble and demanding service:
“Make us worthy, O Lord, to serve our fellow human beings…”
Lately, I have had occasions to see the special works of our area Vincentians as they live out Jesus’ mandate to “feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty” through the ministry of the Matchan Nutrition Center. Appropriately so, this ministry is done from a facility of the St. Vincent de Paul church, Pontiac, Michigan. All through the year, meals are prepared and served to 150-200 neighbors every Tuesday and Thursday by a crew of committed volunteers who are some of the hardest working, and most dedicated folks I have even seen.
Along with the nutritious meals served, there are, normally, other needed services provided for the guests in this social setting. However, during this time since mid-March with all the restrictions that are in place as we protect one another from the Corona 19 Virus spread, the work of the Matchan Nutrition Center has had to adapt constantly without missing a beat in serving the hungers of our neighbors.
With social distancing restrictions, the hot meals turned into “take out” sack meals, served from a tent- like covering that did not always protect from the sleet, the wind, rain, and now the warm sunshine. While some are serving outside in the elements, a whole crew is in the hot kitchen diligently preparing the nutritious food. The area that Matchan serves is literally a food dessert, with grocery stores at a great distance for those with little or no transportation.
Because the Matchan volunteers are so diligent in finding resources and maintaining relationships, including regularly picking up and hauling grocery donations from generous businesses, neighbors-in-need are also able to pick up needed fresh vegetables, fruits, breads, cheese and other food items they can use. Nothing goes to waste!
Dear fellow Vincentians,
A PROGRESS NOTE
The Pandemic is still with us for who knows how long. As numbers change by region, States across the country are shifting into reopening stages, with varied results from state to state.
We as Vincentians, our friends and family and our neighbors in need also have varying thoughts and emotions on entering a reopening stage. If you or someone you know has been exposed to this virus or have known someone who has died from it, the willingness to return to what was considered normal may be far different than one who has limited their exposure to the media’s outpouring of information.
What’s next? When will life as before the Pandemic return to us? Dinners and visits with extended family and friends are an important part of life, yet so many are not ready to host an event at their home or plan a meal at a restaurant. So, we toddle on using phone, facetime and Zoom technology to check on each other and be as supportive as needed.
Although Vincentian life in so many ways is on hold, some of us have stepped out of our comfort zone, by attending a few in person meetings for St. Vincent de Paul business with adherence to the guidelines for social distancing. However, some Conferences have yet to meet in person and the majority of members are very cautious in their response to such meetings.
Frustration at this stagnation of life is tremendous, despite the belief that each day should be appreciated as it comes to us. Yet we need to plan, to be active, productive and still remain safe.
There are many issues on our Vincentian plate, both Conference driven and Central Office concerns.
- Conference sustainability for membership, service and spirituality
- Initiation of home visits
- Formation availability for Ozanam Orientation and leadership training
- Diversity inclusion in leadership and membership
- Camp maintenance/updates 2020, and planning for Camp season 2021
- Systematic change programming
- Microloan availability
- Conference and Central Office coffers
- Fundraising and celebratory events.
- Disaster response
- Council Strategic planning
As we step softly and carefully in moving forward, life is returning to a new semblance of normal. Our neighbors in need have not been forgotten, just as we have not forgotten our friends and family. Vincentian life is a commitment of oneself to our mission.
We have not forgotten that mission:
The Mission of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul
“A network of friends, inspired by Gospel values, growing in holiness and building a more just world through personal relationships with and service to people in need.”
God bless to all of you,
President, Board of Directors
Dear Sister & Brother Vincentians,
Peace be with you. I hope that you remain safe and are doing as well as possible during this dreadful health crisis. Heartfelt thanks to those who, like our staff, remain active helping others during this quarantining.
I am also deeply grateful that, thanks to a very concerted team effort, our Council – Vincentians and staff alike – continues to serve those in need while adhering to recommended safety protocols. In addition, relative to many other Not-for-Profits, our Council continues to maintain financial stability. That is essential if we are to continue helping others, especially in light of anticipated, increased needs ahead.
Our Leadership Team worked very hard on all aspects of our operation during the three months that our offices were closed. Our entire staff has made extraordinary efforts for the past three weeks as we have safely, carefully, and successfully re-opened operations. I am deeply grateful to all of them for their extraordinary efforts.
1. A New Normal
Naturally, a frequent comment heard lately is “I cannot wait until we return to normal”. While totally understandable, comments like that cause me to wonder what is normal anymore and whether that should even be our goal.
For months, our nation has been staggered by two existential crises: an insidious health pandemic and the resultant economic crisis as well as the killing of an African American man in custody. The death of George Floyd unleashed illuminating light on many other such tragedies that has caused our nation to erupt into a fury of widespread, sustained cries for justice. Troubled times have come to our nation (& world). While it is true that difficult times can bring out the best in people, crises undeniably also surely trigger other, less desirable reactions as well.
In our May 2020 Conference Connection, I addressed the alarming rise in inequality in our nation (and in Southeast Michigan) in regard to health care, education, housing, employment, criminal justice, among many other essential aspects of life. In effect, that situation was part of our “normal” prior to anyone ever having heard of Covid-19. We now know that those unaddressed inequalities left so many, particularly among our African American sisters and brothers, terribly vulnerable to this ferocious virus. And the Covid-19 crisis is far from over.
Covid-19 has inconvenienced all of us. But it has devastated so many. They are our neighbors. They are in need. The question that I ask is “together, what more can our Vincentian community do about this worsening situation? Our humanity depends upon everyone’s humanity.
2. Defining “Community”
We just celebrated Mother’s Day and then Father’s Day. Both are truly wonderful occasions that recognize the immeasurable contributions that parents make as a result of the love, guidance, training, and efforts that they willingly bestow on their beloved children. Families are a cornerstone of our society.
Perhaps the next most critical social group after family is “community”. Unlike family, however, that term lends itself to considerably different definitions. To demonstrate, some define community as only those who live in their neighborhood, look like them, vote like them, and basically share the same religious and socio-economic beliefs. Others have a much broader sense of the term. Some believe that all should be considered part of our community.
When one views another as a fellow member of a community, that person tends to receive the benefit of the doubt, e.g. he/she is “one of us.” Unfortunately, the converse tends to be true as well, e.g. no benefit of the doubt if “he/she is not one of us.” Consequently, how one defines the term community, e.g. narrowly or broadly, is quite critical to one’s willingness to accept differing views and people of different backgrounds.
Consider the following. If we brought together a two year old from the African American, Asian American, Hispanic American, Arab American, Native American, Caucasian, and other racial and ethnic “worlds” that comprise our diverse nation, they would have no problem “getting along”. To the extent they had problems, it would surely not be because of racial, religious, or ethnic differences. But if we brought that same richly diverse group back together sixteen years later, a different ambiance would likely exist among the group. That tells me that cultural and partisan differences are acquired traits. Once acquired, they tend to galvanize through constant interaction only with those who share those views, whatever they may be. This can be a terribly destructive disease in a pluralist nation like ours.
Undeniably, within our richly diverse nation, many priceless cultures – “worlds” – exist. But, at the end of the day, we are one nation. For many reasons, we should view our nation as one community. The same holds true for our Society of St. Vincent de Paul, i.e. we are One Society, one community. Both are aspirational visions.
The reality is that, currently, we live in “divided houses.” Cultural differences get emphasized and attitudes harden. Whether liberal or conservative, old or young, or one race or ethnicity or another, it is time to examine and better appreciate the reality that, while divisiveness may work well for some, it is simply contrary to our nation’s and our Vincentian core beliefs. Our charge as Vincentians is to advance our inspirational mission and to adhere to our core values of Friendship, Spiritual Growth, and Service.
We are about to celebrate perhaps our most significant national holiday. It celebrates our experiment in democracy that affords “liberty and justice for all.” All includes those without fathers or mothers. It also includes people of all races, backgrounds, and beliefs. In the inclusive spirit of our nation and our Vincentian Society, we should strive to help each other broaden our sense of community. In that important sense, perhaps community is more a state of mind than a geographic area.
3. Our Vincentian Rule Promotes Inclusion, i.e. a growing community
We belong to an extraordinary global organization founded in 1833 by a remarkable group of students at the University of Paris. Our Vincentian mission calls us to follow Christ and thereby bear witness to His compassion and liberating love. It encourages us to provide any form of personal help to anyone in need, e.g. regardless of creed, ethnic or social background, health, gender, or political opinions.
We strive to seek out and find the forgotten, the victims of exclusion or adversity, and the vulnerable. Our Rule expressly encourages us to adapt to changing world conditions and the new types of poverty that may emerge from continual change. We are encouraged to give priority to the poorest of the poor and to those rejected by society. Why?
The gospels reveal that those who tended to follow Jesus were those outside or on the periphery of communities: e.g. the lame, crippled, blind, deaf, prostitutes, and foreigners. Jesus chose to view them as neighbors. He consistently invited rejected people to be part of His community. How truly inspirational.
Vincentians are not clones. Neither are Americans! Each of us is different. Like members of all organizations, our members likely have varying definitions of the term community, some less inclusive than others. Rather than focus on where each finds oneself currently, the real question is where are we heading both individually and as an organization? As we embrace and create the future ahead, let our inspirational mission and Rule serve as our guide.
Our Vincentian Rule clearly encourages us to broaden our definition of community (and help others do the same) through loving service to those in need. We are all on a journey back to God. But we take exquisitely unique paths getting there. Along our path, love is the best gift that can we bestow on one another. Our Vincentian Rule invites us to be part of this solution.
Rather than strive to “return to normal”, therefore, we should assure those excluded that they are welcome in our Vincentian community. We need to bring more goodwill to so many in desperate need of it, including each other. By our actions, we need to say to neighbors in need and to each other, “you are welcome in our inclusive community.”
4. Racism is a pandemic that destroys community
How can the concept of an inclusive community be credibly discussed and celebrated without addressing painful, destructive walls of exclusion that another pandemic has wrought upon our nation? Like the term community, it is apparent that minds differ on how to define the term racism. Notwithstanding how one defines the term, one thing is undeniable: unlike Covid-19, racism has cast darkness, despair, and death upon our nation for centuries. It stands as a major impediment to building and growing community. Unlike what we hope to discover soon for Covid-19, there is no vaccine to cure racism.
Racism has been roundly condemned by our Vincentian organization at every level. We have rejected it as being a “cancer that corrodes our society”, i.e . our sense of community as contemplated by our Rule. Part of the eventual solution mandates that we listen. Particularly in light of the recent, shocking tragedies, I have committed to doing so; and I urge you to do the same. Numerous, powerful African American voices are speaking out. I reference just one herein.
NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recently shared that “racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible – even if you are choking on it – until you let the sun in. Then you see it everywhere.” Systemic racism is a shameful yoke that weighs heavily upon our nation’s soul. We should all listen and reflect when our African American sisters and brothers share their experiences. For a host of reasons, racism is totally irreconcilable with our faith and our Vincentian values.
Listening, while essential, is only a first step. As a Dutch proverb says, “between saying and doing one often wears out a good pair of shoes.” We need to “walk the talk” and follow up with intelligent, impactful action by reaffirming our commitment to serve the excluded, the needy, the voiceless, and all those who suffer hateful discrimination based upon the color of skin.
Recently, our national Voice of the Poor committee hosted three webinars on systemic racism. They served as an example of how our Society can convert listening into action. I urge you to take the time and listen to them (see link below). Doing so would be a necessary “next step” to creating a future consistent with our faith and our Vincentian values. As we do, let us be ever mindful that so many of our African American brothers and sisters continue to endure the heavy burden of unjust, unequal, and abusive treatment. Racial prejudice – illegal discrimination of any kind – should have no place in our nation. It should not be welcome or tolerated in our Vincentian society, either.
Our Council is exploring impactful ways to convert our talking on this important topic into “walking”. This may include education, advocacy, recruitment, and encouraging voting. We need to (and will) walk the talk. Please share any additional suggestions that you may have.
This message, of course, is not new. In fact, striving for racial justice seems more like a marathon than a sprint. But it is a struggle that should be sustained and won. In that regard, fifty-two years ago, Senator Robert Kennedy had this to say the day after Dr. King’s assassination. He was comparing a sudden, savage murder to a slower, more agonizing destruction. Given the profundity of his comments, I share the following, rather long, quote.
” . . . there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions – indifference, inaction, and decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books, and homes without heat in the winter. This is the breaking of a man’s spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man amongst other men.
We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers [and sisters] as alien, alien men [and women] with whom we share a city, but not a community, men [and women] bound to us in common dwelling, but not in a common effort. We learn to share only a common fear – only a common desire to retreat from each other– only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force.
But we can perhaps remember – if only for a time – that those who live with us are our brothers [and sisters], that they share with us the same short moment of life, that they seek – as do we – nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment that they can.
Surely this bond of common fate, surely this bond of common goals can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at the least, to look around at those of us, of our fellow man [and woman], and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and [sisters] countrymen once again.” (emphasis added).
Senator Kennedy’s profound and powerful words still resonate today.
We may never return to the “normal” we knew before even hearing of Covid-19. But that may not be necessarily bad. These are days of unprecedented challenge. They may also be days of unprecedented change. The future has not yet been written.
St. Ignatius believed that every experience, good and bad, has the potential to motivate within us a deeper response to God and to one another. During these most challenging times, let us focus on helping transform our incredible nation into a community that is less destructive, more peaceful, and more inclusive. Choosing to do so is precisely the essence of our faith and of our Society. Fr. Matt Malone, S.J. recently observed, “This is our faith. . . . It is the faith of an Easter people; a people who recognize that Good Friday contains the seeds that bloom on Easter Sunday.”
Clearly, some see ominous darkness, uncertainty, and fear during these unsettling days. Let us feel the spirit of optimism that, as we draw closer to Christ through loving service to others, it will no longer be us who loves, but Christ who loves through us.
Let us also see the possible and work together toward “what can be.” Perhaps at its most basic, let us commit to helping each other to broaden our definition of “community” and thereby become in our hearts “brother, sisters, and countrymen once again.”
As all who have eyes can see, something is dying. But perhaps something is being born as well. Valarie Kaur, an attorney and filmmaker, recently put it this way, “what if the darkness we see around us is not that of a tomb, but of a womb?” Our noble struggle continues.
In the true spirit of community and the “self-evident propositions” upon which our richly diverse nation is founded, I extend you, your families, and all those you love a healthy and Happy Fourth of July! Stay safe. Please continue to practice both social distancing and emotional closeness. God bless.
In Blessed Frederic Ozanam’s name,
Due to little change in the Governor’s orders that impact most of us, my message is much the same as the May 2020 Connection article. As of May 27, 2020, we find ourselves still under “shelter in place” orders due to this horrific pandemic.
Our Governor has made limited modifications as we move forward in phases and the volume of vehicle traffic has increased as the weather warms and people move outside to enjoy the season.
Some Vincentians have experienced illness and deaths of their family and friends. Other Vincentians are very blessed with enough food, a comfortable home and sufficient income. It is a time of grief and time of quiet.
Vincentian Life has dwindled in time and energy. Our Vincentian world has become quite silent except for those conferences distributing food and assisting the homeless. It is remarkably easy to forget about the poor in your neighborhood as one stays sheltered at home, focused on one’s personal situation.
What will our future hold?
Will our Vincentian lines flood with calls when the suspensions end and employment/Federal benefits expire?
- Will there be sufficient resources for our neighbors?
- Will we have compassion and consider their need with kindness or will we display irritation and initially ask “what did you do with your stimulus check or why aren’t you back to work?
- Many Vincentians fit the description of the most vulnerable to Coved 19/over 65 and health issues. What individual risks are we ready to take to help the poor?
- Will some of us give up being a Vincentian due to fears?
There is no recommended date for initiating home visits at this time. We must rely on the Executive orders in place as our guideline for safety. Our Society’s prayer is that Vincentians will step forward and face the anticipated onslaught of need, with courage, strength and as much creativity as necessary.
Stay safe, stay healthy and stay strong.
Dear Sister & Brother Vincentians,
Peace be with you. I hope that you continue to stay safe and healthy during this on-going, unprecedented health crisis. Our Council has surely faced crisis before, but nothing quite like this. Globally, Covid-19 has crushed For Profit and Not-for-Profit organizations alike. Other than Amazon, Google, Facebook, and a seeming handful of others, virtually every company and organization has suffered stunning financial losses; and this crisis is far from over.
Relatively speaking, thanks to the incredible, collective efforts of our Leadership Team, SVdPD has come through this pandemic – so far – in remarkably good shape. Returning to some semblance of “normalcy” will require an overall team effort of our staff and Vincentians alike. It is in that spirit that I share the following about our Districts, Conferences, and Retail operations. Please note that what I share herein is the result of proactive planning by several members of our Leadership Team. At the same time, I have emphasized to our team the necessity of remaining “nimble”, i.e. we may need to shift direction on a dime. So what is shared herein is clearly subject to change, perhaps significant change.
Lots of questions remain to be answered. Lots of uncertainty lies ahead for our nation and for our Council. In a sense, it is like our nation is awakening from a self-induced, economic coma. It would be difficult enough if we had a comprehensive, holistic plan for returning to normal. But we do not. Instead, we seem to be embracing the future in a very decentralized, patchwork manner. So it places additional stress on small organizations like ours to improvise. Our best bet for creating a future for our Council that we can be proud of, therefore, is by working together in friendship and with a common goal of advancing our Society’s mission.
1. Covid-19 Emergency Aid to Districts & Conferences
In light of the various unforeseen circumstances related to the COVID-19 national emergency, it is anticipated that the needs of our neighbors will increase significantly in the coming months. In an effort to help position our Districts and Conferences, the Detroit Council and the Board provided each District substantial funding to address the increased need created by this crisis. These funds are to be used specifically towards this effort. In return, each District has been asked only to submit a cursory report on how the funds were used.
Funds from three different sources were combined to provide our Districts and Conferences much needed additional financial wherewithal to meet the growing needs of our neighbors. Funds were distributed to Districts on an equal basis. No administrative fees were deducted. These funds will not be subject to solidarity consideration, either.
These are difficult times. But difficult times can bring out the very best in people. Every day presents opportunities to “be there” for others. During these challenging days, let us choose to focus on that which sustains us. Indeed, Frederic Ozanam reminded that, “Scripture tells us that we will be judged, as a society and as individuals, by how we care for the poor, the vulnerable, the orphans, the elderly, or those in need of spiritual or physical aid.” Let us create paths based upon grace, compassion, and service.
2. Guiding Principles
For the past ten weeks, our reduced staff has worked “remotely” pursuant to the following, clearly communicated guidelines.
First, SVdPD employee and Vincentian safety is paramount. Many of our staff and Vincentians are in the high vulnerable category. We have made all discretionary decisions in light of that reality.
Second, SVdPD and each of its employees has a civic duty to help reduce the spread of Covid-19. We fully intend to follow the directives of Governor Whitmer and all other relevant government directives.
Third, during this pandemic crisis, absent a compelling reason, our Council will focus on existing programs only.
Finally, our Leadership Team will do its collective best to make the best business decisions possible for our Council.
So far, so good. But this crisis is far from over.
3. Future Plans for Retail Operations
The overall plan for re-opening our stores and RRC safely and effectively requires “flexible scheduling”. Preparation will be completed pursuant to phases. The overriding goal of these considerable efforts is to give our staff, our Vincentians, and our customers as much “peace of mind” that we can give in light of these very unsettling circumstances, many of which are outside of our control. Here is just a sampling.
Phase I calls for progress being made on several parallel tracks. For example, defining, and documenting a SVdPD Covid-19 Preparedness and Response Plan for the entire organization. For the retail operations, it naturally includes thorough store and vehicle cleaning and disinfecting, and working to prepare appropriate PPE and signage aimed at keeping employees and customers safe.
The plan includes having adequate supplies, arranging for the return of furloughed store employees, compiling daily reports and checklists, installing safety equipment, e.g. plexiglass shields for counters, and creating plans for controlling store traffic as well as schedules for periodic cleaning and disinfecting.
In regard to our RRC operation, we have planned carefully on how best to prepare for what we anticipate will be a tremendous outpouring of clothes and furniture donations. This has included, among other things, training a Donations Coordinator, setting up telephone banks to handle and coordinate donations, researching the salvage market for reliable vendors who will help increase our revenues through baling, and establishing a proactive cleaning schedule for both our warehouse and our fleet of trucks.
Phase II includes continued store preparation and cleaning, especially as more furloughed colleagues return, as well as hanging signage in our stores that outlines our new rules for the visiting public. At the same time, the RRC operation will shift into high gear. Donation bins throughout the Archdiocese will be cleaned up, a new telephone bank will be fully operational to handle the increase in calls for donation pick up, drivers will be trained on newly developed strategies and routes, and the entire RRC team will be back and functioning. Of particular note, it will also include a concerted marketing campaign as a follow up to our “Wait to Donate” donations campaign. We expect that our Vincentians and the public will respond enthusiastically!
Phase III will begin on Monday, June 8, 2020. Subject to any further directive from Governor Whitmer, our stores will officially open, albeit on a limited basis, e.g. limited hours, no more than ten customers in the store at one time. All PPE, e.g. masks, gloves, sanitizer, social distancing, etc. will be utilized. We will accommodate “curbside” donation drop-offs, and staff will begin officially processing donations in all stores.
All of the above is consistent with the aforementioned guidelines. It is all aimed at giving staff, Vincentians, and the public as much peace of mind about our stores as reasonably possible.
4. What Can Vincentians Do To Help?
Great question! Here are some thoughts regarding how Vincentians can help support our retail operations during these unprecedented times.
Volunteer! While we understand these are uncertain times, your support and willingness to volunteer in our store locations is needed now more than ever. The store teams will be overextended with the additional daily tasks created by the new COVID-19 safety standards. Here are a few ways you can assist. Rest assured, PPE supplies such as masks and gloves will be provided:
- Assist with greeting customers and monitoring the flow to ensure not more than 10 are in the store at one time
- Assist with directing cars to the curbside donation drop off areas
- Assist with additional light cleaning and sanitizing efforts (i.e cart sanitation, floors, high traffic areas etc.)
- Assist with donation collection and processing; and
- Coordinate with Debbie Jackson to be “on call” when a store in your neighborhood needs help.
Additional ways to assist include:
- Advocate for, and promote “Bundle Sundays” or other sponsored donation drives;
- Donate! We need all the product that we can get. To do that, we need your help and your Conference’s help; and
- Pray! Pray for all adversely affected by this pandemic.
Thank you for your anticipated assistance.
Clearly, we remain firmly in the midst of this crisis. Our road to re-opening and returning to “normal” will be a slow, iterative process. Frankly, we do not know what lies ahead. How long will it take to reclaim our customers? Will there be a second wave, and if so, what will that mean for our Council? So we move forward into an unknown future. But, as briefly described herein, we do so with a prepared and talented team ready to embrace whatever lies ahead. We urge you to choose to become an active member of that team in some meaningful way.
I am very proud of my entire Leadership Team. They have worked extremely hard and stayed laser-focused on our mission during this crisis under less than optimum conditions. We are also very proud of what has happened at many of our stores during this shutdown, especially our Utica store. Please make a point, once restrictions are lifted, to visit (and support) your local SVdPD store.
Best wishes on all ahead. In true Vincentian spirit, let us help one another get through this crisis one day at a time. As we do, may we see each day as an opportunity to help others in need. Please stay safe. God bless you, your family, and all those you love.
In Blessed Frederic Ozanam’s name,
Dear fellow Vincentians,
The past month has presented difficulties for all. Some see us as suffering, some are. Some have died, way too many. We are staying home, seeing the horror of the virus through media eyes, unless it has hit us directly, through family or friends. We are chastened in our normal routine, not so normal now. Some have protested, believing their rights have been taken from them. Others are grateful for the governmental orders that serve to protect us.
There is an old phrase that depicts the difference between the wealthy and the poor, used here with a different slant to it: The Haves and the Have nots.
- We are well and not infected with the Virus, or not
- Our family members are well at home, or not
- We have a steady income / retired, or not
- We are receiving unemployment benefits, or not
- We are able to order food for home delivery, or not
- We can pay our bills, or not
- We have family at home to watch over us, or not
- We live in a safe place with people that treat us right, or not
During this period of confinement, the majority of calls to Vincentians reflect the need for food. When evictions and utility shutoffs are no longer suspended, those calls will come soon enough. Will Conferences have funds to handle requests? Will Conferences with greater reserves share with those less fortunate and more needy?
How selfish are we? Have we stayed at home due to our own vulnerability, our anxiety or fear of dying? Have we given or done anything to help our Neighbors in Need during this difficult time? Have we listened to our children who have ordered us to stay in, due to their own fears and concern for a loved one? What is our motivation as we go about our daily life as we stay safe in our homes?
The Haves and the Have-nots could be any Vincentian or Neighbor in Need. This virus has affected all of us, our friends, relatives, and Neighbors in need.
Please reflect on your attitude and behavior during this difficult time. Please reflect on how you will help our Neighbors in Need when protective orders are lifted. Will we be more generous with our time? Will we still be afraid?
There is no right answer to these questions. There is no judgment no matter what avenue is chosen.
What would Frederick Ozanam, Blessed Rosalie Rendu, or St. Vincent de Paul do in a pandemic? Different times, surely, but the poor have always been with us.
God bless to all of you. Find strength in prayer and friendship until service is a greater option.
It has been too long since we’ve been together! Life is definitely not ‘as usual.’ Putting into action St. Vincent de Paul’s maxim that “love is creative unto infinity” Vincentians are still creating ways to feed the hungry and to practice mercy with those in great need even with all the current restrictions. Some Conferences are strengthening their special relationships with one another and are holding meetings via computers and phones so they can see one another, take care of immediacies in their service and feel strengthened in the isolation we are experiencing for this extended time.
It is still Easter time 2020, and we, followers of Jesus, are in isolation fearful of a ‘killer,’ not unlike the apostles right after the crucifixion of Jesus. But Jesus proved that death had no power over Him, and He just kept showing up in His risen glory—in the garden, in the sealed upper room, on the seashore, on the road to Emmaus and more.
How about you? Has Jesus been revealed to you in any special way during the pandemic? What have you observed and learned? What has this Covid-19 virus done to you spiritually? These are good questions to reflect upon. We know things better when we can write about them or speak about them in our own words. We remember what we experience or share more than what we have heard. That is why journaling and faith sharing are so good for the soul. How about sharing your responses with the members of your Conference?
The Spirit of God is generous, always available to us and is made known in so many ways, not just in the roaring wind or tongues of fire, but also in gentle experiences or the energizing fire in our souls. What and Who strengthens you to keep faithful to your gospel work? Your response to these questions will bring a new fire in you, a new Pentecost!
A good reminder from St. Vincent de Paul to all of us: “Let us allow God to act; he brings things to completion when we least expect it.” For this, I proclaim an Alleluia!
And this message from Rabbi Kanefsky is a good one for now:
Every hand that we don’t shake must
Become a phone call that we place.
Every embrace that we avoid must
Become a verbal expression of
Warmth and concern. Every inch
And every foot that we physically
Place between ourselves and another,
Must become a thought as to how
We might be of help to that other,
Should the need arise!
In prayer with all of you,
Sister Noreen Ellison, SC
Associate Spiritual Advisor
Dear Sister & Brother Vincentians,
Peace be with you. I hope and trust that each of you had a safe, enjoyable, and blessed Easter. I imagine that this Easter Week witnessed each of us being more reflective than in past years. Social distancing certainly promotes reflection!
A relentless virus has infiltrated our ranks with devastating effectiveness and has caused us to engage in unprecedented practices aimed at “flattening the curve.” In last month’s column, therefore, I discussed the corona virus pandemic and how SVdPD has continued to serve those in need. This month, I discuss our nation’s alarming rise in inequality and what SVdPD can and should do to help “flatten that curve”. Of particular note, the discussion includes soon-to-be disbursed funding to help empower Districts to do precisely that.
As of May 1, 2020, our Staff will have worked “remotely” for more than six weeks. During this difficult time, the sustained commitment to our mission and our core values exhibited by our talented staff and dedicated Vincentians has been a source of quiet inspiration for me. To be sure, our “routine” has been terribly disrupted. But SVdPD has responded to this dreadful challenge by finding innovative ways to continue to serve. Indeed, times of great challenge can bring out the very best in each of us, especially if we work together. That is precisely what I am seeing as those in our organization care for neighbors in need and each other. Thank you, all, for remaining outwardly focused and committed to our mission.
This month, our nation faces the truly thorny challenge of striking an appropriate balance between personal safety and re-starting our economy. It seems that the most frequently discussed question these days is when will we “re-open”? Notwithstanding a virtual consensus among medical experts, everyone else seems to have an opinion on this critical and hugely consequential topic. Health pandemics do not come with instructions.
Rather than wade in on that on-going debate of “how and when to re-open”, therefore, I discuss instead social justice. Why? Because, as beautifully captured in our inspirational Rule, our Society is expressly committed to the noble cause of striving for it.
1. What Seems to Be the Problem?
Covid 19 continues to ravage our nation. It has claimed lives in every state. For that reason, some have described it as an “equalizer”, i.e. everyone is susceptible to this virus. In one sense, that is true. But with every day that passes, it becomes more clear that this virus has been far more harsh and devastating on some more than others. Indeed, it is exacerbating the inequalities in American society, taking a disproportionate toll on low-income Americans, people of color, and others who were marginalized long before this crisis hit. Last month, I referenced Pope Francis’s Easter message to the world about, spiritually, how we are all in the same boat with Jesus. Amen! Economically, however, as writer Damian Barr aptly put it, while “we are all in the same storm, we are not in the same boat.” Whereas some are in massive yachts, so many others are riding huge waves clinging to flotsam!
Millions of white-collar workers, while surely inconvenienced, have worked from home. Meanwhile, a disproportionate share of our front-line workers still head to their jobs. As many recent articles, especially one in the New York Times, have pointed out, many are women and people of color. Even among those staying at home, inequality is a huge issue. For example, some order delivery while a growing number of others meet their needs by visiting food banks. SVdPD continues to operate many such facilities.
Overall, a startling lesson of Covid 19 so far is that while the virus itself can infect anyone, those hit hardest by this dreadful health pandemic are those who were already hurting. The following is a sampling of what contributes to our nation’s growing inequality – a crisis of far greater ramifications than even Covid 19 at its worst.
- Pandemics have always had a disproportionate impact on people who are already vulnerable — and often ignored, e.g. people over 65 and those who are immuno-compromised;
- African Americans are disproportionately more likely to get sick and die from Covid 19. An undeniable reason that African Americans are being affected so much more are “the underlying health problems that they are already experiencing, e.g. hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. Each can worsen the effects of the coronavirus;
- At a time when people are being advised to stay home to minimize their risk of exposure, many literally can’t afford to do so. There are people whose jobs can’t be done remotely, like grocery store cashiers, delivery workers, and bus drivers. These workers have already been devastatingly impacted by the virus;
- An estimated twelve million children do not have internet at home. How do they engage in remote learning? Many, many more are missing school lunches as well. Trauma at an early age adversely affects brain development;
- For lower income Americans who lack sufficient rainy day funds, expenses far exceed income during a crisis like this;
- Workers in front-line industries are also disproportionately female. In many occupations within these industries, such as bus driving, warehouse work, and building cleaning, people of color are over-represented;
- In 2020, an estimated 27 million Americans, perhaps far more, do not have access to basic health care coverage; and
- Even among those staying at home during this crisis, inequality is a huge issue.
You get the point. Social distancing? You bet! Moral distancing? No.
Stated simply, the coronavirus pandemic stands to worsen the already enormous problem of inequality in America. As the disease continues to spread and the economic impact increases, more and more people around the country will be in need of help — whether it’s caring for loved ones, healing from their own illnesses, or paying their bills. The impact of the pandemic, now and in the future, will likely remain disproportionately concentrated among those who were already at a disadvantage before it hit.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Robert F. Kennedy once pondered that, “some . . . see things as they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not.” Shouldn’t we?
2. What DOES This Problem have to do with SVdPD?
William Sloane Coffin reminded that the prophet Amos said “Let justice” – not charity – “roll down like mighty waters,” and for good reason. Whereas charity alleviates the effects of poverty, justice seeks to eliminate the causes of it. Charity is a matter of personal attribute; justice is a matter of public policy.” In doing so, Reverend Sloane pointed out that charity, after all, does not threaten the status quo whereas striving for justice can lead to robust debate and confrontation.
The very purpose of our Society is to follow Christ through service to those in need and thereby bear witness to His compassionate and liberating love. Our Society manifests this noble goal by concerning itself with “not only alleviating need, but also with identifying . . . unjust structures” that cause those needs in others. Our Society believes that charity and the pursuit of justice are inextricably intertwined. Chapter 7 of our SVDP Manual could not be more clear and persuasive.
Our Society believes in the dignity of every human being. Rule 7 mandates that we commit ourselves to a more just society in which the rights, responsibilities, and development of all people are promoted. It encourages that we proactively promote a “civilization of love” and that we view social justice from the perspective of those who suffer from injustice. We have the opportunity to be a persuasive voice for the voiceless. Wherever “injustice, inequality, poverty or exclusion are due to economic, political, or social structures, our Society should speak – clearly and forcefully”. As followers of the “suffering Christ”, Vincentians should strive to change the attitudes of those who view the weak or those who are “different” with prejudice, fear or scorn. Why? Because such attitudes “gravely wound the dignity of others.”
Herein lies the essence of being a Christian, a Vincentian, and a good human being. It is not an easy (or painless) path to follow the risen Jesus. But in the Vincentian spirit of friendship, let us commit to helping each other do precisely what Chapter 7 of our SVDP Rule provides. Indeed, according to Fr. Richard Rohr, “you do not think yourself into a new way of living, you live yourself into a new way of thinking”.
3. What can SVdPD do to help?
It is truly ironic that Covid-19 slammed our nation during Lent and Easter season. To date, it has been a microcosm of the mystery between the agony of death and the hope and promise of life. Difficult times can “try our souls”. But they can also bring out the very best in people. We see that currently now as people care for one another through numerous acts of kindness.
A. Advice from Pope Francis about the Pandemic
According to a recent article in America Magazine, Pope Francis said that today’s pandemic crisis parallels that of the disciples of Jesus after his death and burial in the tomb. Like them, “we live surrounded by an atmosphere of pain and uncertainty.” During our fitful hours “between Friday and Sunday morning”, we likewise wonder, “Who will roll away the stone from the tomb?”
Our Pope analogized the stone that sealed the tomb of Jesus to the tombstones of the pandemic that “threatens to bury all hope” for the elderly living in total isolation, for families who lack food, and for those on the front lines who are “exhausted and overwhelmed.” That includes, among others, “doctors, nurses, people stocking the supermarket shelves, cleaners, caretakers, people who transport goods, public security officials, volunteers, priests, women religious, grandparents, teachers, and so many others”. He continued by observing that many are participating in the passion of Christ today, either personally or at the side of others. He reminded everyone: “We are not alone, the Lord goes before us on our journey, and removes the stones that paralyze us.” This is the hope that no one can take from us.
Pope Francis encourages us to be open to the Spirit, who can “inspire us with a new imagination of what is possible.” Let us help each other do precisely that.
B. Being there for others in need
Clearly, effecting change oftentimes take money. There may be a will, but there needs to be a “way.” It is precisely for that reason that I am so grateful to announce that our Council will be rolling out an exciting new program aimed at challenging our Districts to engage in innovative ways to help neighbors in need and offering funding as well. Nancy Szlezyngier and I have shared the concept with our Board. Details to follow shortly!
Be assured, it is not our intent or interest to decide what each District or Conference should do with these funds. Rather, we intend to empower. In that spirit, we encourage you to look around your neighborhood and make decisions on how best to use allocated funds. When you choose, “see the possible.”
Especially during this health crisis, I am so grateful to work in conjunction with Nancy, our BOD, and our very talented and dedicated Leadership Team to position you to help those in need by providing much needed financial assistance.
Tragically, Covid-19 has already left painful scars in countless hearts. But in a real sense, its legacy need not be entirely soul crushing. Each of us will contribute to the eventual legacy of this unprecedented experience by how we choose to respond. Clearly, the “heavy lifting” lies ahead.
Our nation will soon decide when we “re-open” for business and, in effect, how best to get there. That will be a terribly important, hopefully collaborative, process. In a very real sense, though, an equally important question, which we will help answer with our daily choices, will be “what kind of nation will emerge from this crisis”? Will it be merely “business as usual”, e.g. racing back to shopping malls, restaurants, bars, and eventually sporting events and concerts? Surely. Or will it be more? During crisis or normalcy, every day presents opportunities to be there for others. May grace, compassion, selflessness, and justice help guide us in creating a future worth building together. Robert Kennedy also observed that:
“Each time a [person] stands up for an ideal,
Or acts to improve the lot of others,
Or strikes out against injustice,
He sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.”
Together, let us see the possible and ask “why not”?
Our Council is doing its very best to negotiate through this crisis responsibly while remaining rock solid to our mission. In these difficult times, let us encourage one another to focus on that which sustains our spirit rather than on matters that drain us. Let us define our legacy through grace, compassion for others, and, pursuant to Chapter 7 of our Rule, a quiet, but relentless, pursuit of social justice.
Stay safe. Stay home. As we continue to practice social distancing, let’s also be sure to practice emotional closeness. God bless.
In Blessed Frederic Ozanam’s name,