Systemic Change and the Vincentian Family
Call to focus on systemic change
In a letter dated May 31, 2007 Vincentian Family Leaders call for a focus on projects focused on "systemic change".
On the second day of our meeting we listened to a presentation by the Commission for Promoting Systemic Change, whose members are: Norberto Carcellar, C.M.; Ellen Flynn, D.C.; Joseph Foley, C.M.; Robert Maloney, C.M.; Patricia Nava, AIC; Pedro Opeka, C.M.; and Gene Smith, SSVP. The Commission spoke of the nature of systemic change, the spirituality that underlies it, and the strategies that foster it. The members described projects in Madagascar, the Philippines, England, the Dominican Republic, and other places in which our Family is succeeding not only in serving the immediate needs of the poor, but also in assisting the poor to develop strategies by which they can emerge from poverty. Convinced that there are a number of other projects like these already existing within the Family, the Commission asked the heads of the Family to share the stories of such works.
Many of the strategies that the Commission has identified for promoting systemic change flow from the gospels and the Vincentian Tradition, such as:
• Involving the poor themselves, including women and young people, at all stages: the identification of needs, planning, implementation, evaluation and revision;
• Having a holistic vision — addressing a series of basic human needs: individual and social, spiritual and physical, especially jobs, health care, housing, education, and spiritual growth — with an integral approach toward prevention and sustainable development;
• Placing particular emphasis on self-help and self-sustaining programs, with a special view toward addressing the root causes of poverty.
A lively discussion followed. At the end of that discussion, the heads of the various branches of the Family decided to choose systemic change as our focus for at least the coming two years, beginning on 27 September 2007.
Last year, as you recall, we proposed the phrase “Love is infinitely inventive” as the theme for the celebration that the branches of the Vincentian Family organize around the time of the Solemnity of St. Vincent. In continuity with that theme, this year we have chosen as our motto a phrase from the first letter of John: “What we have heard and seen and touched with our hands — we announce to you.. This phrase and, even more, the full citation (1 Jn 1:1-3) emphasizes how concrete the incarnation is and also how concrete are the works of charity that John describes in his letter: “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life — for the life was made visible; we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was made visible to us — what we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; for our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”
With a view toward touching the lives of the poor very concretely, we will reflect on systemic change for at least the next two years, and perhaps longer, evaluating at the end of each year what is happening and then planning for the year ahead. Within the next few weeks we will be sending a study guide consisting of five sessions. We hope that it will be useful to the members of all the branches as we focus on systemic change together and attempt to design projects that aim at bringing it about. Since systemic change is multifaceted and involves much collaborative activity, such projects will be a good opportunity for the various branches to work together and also to cooperate with groups beyond our Family.
Day of Prayer 2007
"This year we are not enclosing a detailed plan, as we have done in the past, for the Family’s liturgical celebration on or around 27 September. Rather, we thought that it might be better for the various branches, in each locality, to plan the celebration creatively together. We have provided only a single two-sided sheet, with some suggested readings and with some quotations that you might find useful. On the sheet you will also find a “systemic change” prayer.
"The concept of “systemic change” is a contemporary one. It was unknown in St. Vincent’s time, though St. Vincent himself expressed many related ideas. When he gathered the first group of women to form a “Confraternity of Charity” at Chatillon-les-Dombes in November 1617, he stated, in the Rule he composed for them (SV XIII, 423), that the poor sometimes suffer more from lack of “order” than from lack of charitable persons. He continually urged the members of his Family to love the poor “spiritually and corporally” and “affectively and effectively.” He encouraged his followers to examine various elements in the lives of the poor to see what their most important needs were: nourishment, health care, education, work, spiritual care, etc. Today we are conscious that the poor live within a social system where some or many of these elements are lacking, a system that, if changed, can help a person emerge from poverty.
"As we celebrate the Solemnity of St. Vincent this year, we ask the Lord to help us be creative during the coming year in helping bring about systemic change. With gratitude to the Lord for all that he enables our Family to do in his service and in the service of those who are poor, we remain, your brothers and sisters in St. Vincent,
Vincentian Prayer for systemic change
We praise and thank you, O God, Creator of the Universe.
You have made all things good and have given us the earth to cultivate.
Grant that we may always use created things gratefully,
and share them generously with those in need.
Give us creativity in helping the poor meet their basic human needs.
Open our minds and hearts so that we might stand at their side and assist them to change whatever unjust structures keep them poor.
Enable us to be brothers and sisters to them,
friends who walk with them
in their struggle for fundamental human rights.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. AMEN