The Liberation of the Poor: the Vincentian Rule to make the gospel of Jesus Christ effective

From VincentWiki

by: Santiago Barquín, CM

[This article first appeared in Hacer efectivo el evangelio y mundo actual, XXVII Semana de Estudios Vicencianos, Editorial CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, 2002, p. 243-340].


We can say that coming to evangelize the poor does not simply mean to teach them the mysteries necessary for their salvation, but also to do what was foretold and prefigured by the prophets to make the gospel effective (CCD:XII:75) [1].

When this presentation was proposed to me, I was also given the title, namely, to make the gospel and the liberation of the poor effective. I liked the theme and I immediately began to look for material related to the concepts of “the gospel” and “liberation”. During my research I discovered that there is a very close relationship between the gospel and liberation. I concluded that today when we engage in the struggle for the liberation of those who are poor, when we attempt to make this liberation a reality for all those persons who find themselves assaulted and battered by life and excluded from being able to rejoice in life … when we do this, we are utilizing the best means that we, as followers of Jesus Christ and Vincent de Paul, have available to us … the best means that enable us to make the gospel effective, the best means to evangelize. Since Vincent demanded that his followers make the gospel effective in their preaching and in their ministry of charity, I decided, after much reflection, to change the title of this presentation to the following: The liberation of the poor: the Vincentian Rule to make the gospel of Jesus Christ effective. Yes, the title is somewhat lengthy and perhaps it is also ambitious.

In this presentation I offer you my reflections on the liberation of the poor. I am aware of the fact that despite my efforts, these reflections have not fully matured. For this I would have needed much more time for research and reflection. I would have had to read many more writings on the theology of liberation which I believe has best utilized the synoptic resources and best interpreted what is expressed in those writings regarding the gospel of Jesus Christ or, if you will, the good news that Jesus proclaimed to the world. The enthusiasm that Jesus sparked in the poor and the marginalized of his era … the manner in which those men and women followed him … all of this is a clear sign that those individuals understood Jesus and that Jesus knew how to respond to their questions and their felt needs. The people discovered that Jesus was with them … that he was one of them. Here, then, we have the key to the problem of liberation of evangelization: to be in the midst of those who are evangelized and to be one of them. It seems as though this has been the difficulty that the task of evangelization has had to confront throughout the centuries. When some people, like Vincent de Paul, become aware of this key concept, then evangelization became effective, efficient and liberating.

I do not want to weary you with this presentation, but here at the beginning I want to take ownership of the words of an exegete, Ángel Gil, who commented on the liturgical texts for Sunday, August 12, 2001 and stated: The Kingdom of God has begun, but it is not yet. A calm silence encompasses our life as Christians as we await the final divine revelation. This is not simply some stage of waiting like a prisoner awaiting the day of his/her release … rather we become involved in a process of hopeful waiting. A profound silence and a productive waiting should transform our whole existence. Injustice must give way to justice and oppression must give way to a generous liberation. Only a Church that liberates people, only such a church can instill hope in all people, at all times. This indeed should be the eternal and sacred law of Christians … everything else is meaningless [2].

I believe that those words speak for themselves. We are in a time of waiting, but active and hopeful waiting … waiting and engaged in activity that transforms the world order and also transforms sin that enslaves the present structures of our world. We are engaged in activity that transfigures all existing reality and eliminates injustice, oppression, misery and exploitation … thus we give meaning to that generous liberation. If this does not occur then our life is meaningless. Therefore, this must be the eternal and sacred law of Christians, namely, to work for the liberation of the poor. Shouldn’t this be the Vincentian rule that enables us, who have opted to live according to the spirit of Vincent de Paul … shouldn’t this be the Vincentian rule that enables us to make the gospel of Jesus Christ effective.

Evangelization is the communication of good news

In both the secular world as well as the religious world, the word “evangelize” has always meant the proclamation of good news, the proclamation of victory [3]. When the New Testament utilizes this word the Hebrew meaning of the word besar [besora] is implied … this word is found in Second Isaiah and in the literature that is dependent on it (Nahum 2:1; Psalm 68:12, 96:2). Here the meaning is the beginning of the era of well-being [4].

Good news is communicated when all people are told that the era of well-being, the era of God, has begun and is becoming a reality. This was the message that Jesus of Nazareth communicated.

Evangelization, yesterday and today

José María Castillo sustains that the inculturation of the gospel message in the Hellenistic culture was accomplished at a great price and has had negative consequences on the church’s spirituality and mission [5]. As previously pointed out, Jesus proclaimed the coming of the era of God, the coming of God’s reign, the coming of the Kingdom of God (we will develop this point more fully in the following section, Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God). Then, however, with the second and third generation of Christians, preaching became focused on the person of Jesus rather than on the message that Jesus communicated and the message that Jesus entrusted to others to proclaim. In other words Jesus had proclaimed that something was happening, but the fullness of that event would only be achieved in the future. Therefore, at the time of the first Christian generation an event that was presently happening was joyfully proclaimed and this event was being accomplished in the person of Jesus Christ … but the event had not been fully realized, had not been culminated. As people forgot this last aspect, the concept and the reality of the evangelizing event became unfocused. J. Schmid has pointed out: In the Bible the gospel or the good news looks forward to that which must still occur. Jesus’ preaching reflects that reality (cf., Mark 1:14ff). The coming of the Kingdom of God constitutes the true theme of Jesus’ preaching (cf., Luke 4:43 = Mark 1:38; Matthew 4:23, 9:35, 24:14). But this foundational Biblical sense of the word “gospel” disappears in the other New Testament writings (the only exception is Acts 8:12 … the word is never used in any of John’s writings) [6].

Therefore, in the Old Testament and in a large part of the New Testament, the proclamation of good news is done from the perspective of the future: it must still occur. That is precisely the perspective from which Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed the kingdom of God … indeed, it was this future perspective that constituted the real theme of Jesus’ preaching, a theme that disappeared (even though it was a slow process of disappearing) from the New Testament writings (the exception being the synoptic gospels). Jesus proclaimed the arrival of the Kingdom of God and took those first steps so that the Kingdom might be inaugurated. His Apostles evolved as they engaged in the process of evangelization, that is, they began by proclaiming the Kingdom and then gave witness to the fact that Jesus is the Lord. We can see that in a short period of time there was a clear shift in the message that was communicated. D. Mollat states: With the Apostles the good news is always the kingdom of God (Acts 8:12, 14, 21ff; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23). They proclaimed that “the promise that had been made to our ancestors” … that promise has been fulfilled (Acts 13:32). Good news is a grace of reconciliation, a gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:28, 3:26, 10:43, 13:38, 17:30). At the same time this is also “the good news of Jesus” (Acts 8:35, 17:18), the good news about the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 8:12), the good news of the Lord Jesus (Acts 11:20), the good news “of the peace through Jesus Christ (Acts 10:36). The resurrection of Jesus becomes the center of the gospel [7].

In a few word then, during the first era of Christian preaching the proclamation of the arrival of the Kingdom was abandoned or almost abandoned and was replaced with the proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the reality of salvation. This was not some form of erroneous preaching but this shift would have serious consequences.

What, then, is evangelization? What do we understand when we hear this word? Our culture and our language (language is a vehicle of culture) can help us clarify the meaning of evangelization. In the Dictionary of the Academy Real we read that to evangelize is “to preach the faith of Jesus Christ or the Christian virtues” [8]. In the General Illustrated Dictionary of the Spanish Language we read that to evangelize is “to instruct someone in the doctrine of the gospel, to preach the faith or Christian virtues [9].

Do we not see some significance in these definitions? Specifically what is significant here? According to these dictionaries in order to understand the meaning of evangelization, we must first understand the meaning of two other words: instruct and preach. It is very interesting to take note of the concepts involved in defining those two words. To instruct involves “teaching and indoctrinating; a systematic communication of ideas; to inform another about the state/condition of something; to communicate some announcement and/or some rules of behavior” [10]. To preach is “to make something evident and clear; to give a sermon; to reprimand people concerning some vice or defect; to advise or make some observation to others in order to persuade them about something [11].

If we then join those meanings to the significance that the majority of people give to the concept of salvation or to save (“to attain eternal glory”; “to go to heaven”) [12] then we will understand José María Castillo’s denunciation and we will also discover the seriousness of this denunciation. He gives us the impression that many people (people who have lived before us as well as our contemporaries) are more concerned about personal virtue and the effort that each person must make in order to attain eternal happiness than they are about fulfilling God’s plan for the whole of humanity. An expensive price with negative consequences has been paid for this transmutation of the message. Preaching has hidden and covered over that which ought to be happy and joyful news and at the same time preaching has become a constant reprimand and denunciation of any number of personal, individual sins while neglecting to speak about other more serious sins, namely, those sins that deal with individual and institutional injustice, sins that assault the life and well-being of people and of humanity as a whole.

Not every evangelizer has participated in this disfigurement of the gospel. There have always been prophets and genuine evangelizers. But as a whole we have to say that we have been unfaithful to the command that Jesus gave us concerning evangelization. We find in Vincent de Paul an exception to this unfaithfulness (and he is not the only exception … indeed, we would not be just if we did not say this. In this regard Vincent reminds us: We can say that coming to evangelize the poor does not simply mean to teach them the mysteries necessary for their salvation, but also to do what was foretold and prefigured by the prophets to make the gospel effective (CCD:XII:75).

If Vincent spoke those words to the Missionaries it was because some of them thought that it was enough to teach people the mysteries necessary for salvation and therefore they did not have to be concerned about making the gospel effective, that is, they did not have to proclaim the message of the prophets.

At the present time we understand evangelization from the perspective of Pope Paul VI who pointed out: For the Church, evangelizing means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new: "Now I am making the whole of creation new" (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #18).

Evangelization should, primarily, transform people through their insertion into Christ. Then, new men and women, who have been transformed and renewed, will, in turn, renew all humankind and will establish a new and just society. The good news that must be brought to every situation is that the Kingdom of God has begun in Christ and with Christ and therefore, we have to make this kingdom a reality in the present moment … thus we prolong the kingdom in the here and now and at the same time we open the future to this same possibility. The good news, accepted and lived, will transform people and make them a new people in Christ. Therefore evangelization is carried on when the good news of God’s will is proclaimed and when humanity is transformed and renewed. People evangelize when they proclaim the fact that God has entered into this world in order to free people from slavery … people evangelize when they exert the necessary effort to make this Christ’s liberation effective, in other words, when they engage in the struggle to eliminate the unjust and sinful structures that surround and encompass humankind. This struggle demands the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows (CCD:XI:32). In this way the regenerative effort of every evangelization endeavor becomes a witness, a witness which involves presence, sharing, and solidarity (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #21). It is then that we realize that the word that should accompany this witness is “the good news”.

Some years ago, in this same forum, R. Ortega clarified the meaning of evangelization. He stated: The Christians activity of evangelization contains a more profound realism then we are accustomed to … evangelization is not only preaching about spiritual activities or some spiritual doctrine and/or ideology, but rather evangelization is the proclamation (with signs and words) of the historical event that was accomplished by God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, this event being the establishment of his reign of saving justice in the world. Just as Jesus proclaimed and made the gospel real, so too then the proclamation of the good news is practically impossible without some explicit reference to the incarnation of the gospel, namely, the person of Jesus Christ. Christ is the gospel [13].

R. Ortega then states: Therefore as it was during Jesus’ time, so now for Christians today the process of evangelization means that we restore the ideal of a Theocracy, that is, that we eliminate the obstacles so that the salvific dynamism of God fully liberates humankind, thus allowing humanity to become whole as Christ desired … namely, people are able to rise above all that enslaves them, including selfishness and unjust structures and all those human limitations. In this way we create a new people who, in Christ, achieve the maturity of a perfect being, that is, they achieve liberation [14].

Summarizing we can say that to evangelize is to proclaim, with signs and words, the establishment of the Kingdom of God in the person of Jesus Christ. This establishment has to be brought about through the elimination of every form of selfishness, every form of injustice and exclusion and misery. Only in this way can all humanity, each and every human person, begin to break the bonds of slavery that they now experience.

Relation between evangelization, salvation and liberation

In the previous section we pointed out that with the passing of time we have failed to fully understand the meaning of evangelization. But we also said that at the present time the gospel concept and the meaning of evangelizing activity are being recovered. We pointed out that a sign of the degradation of the concept of evangelization can be seen in the language that was used at different periods in history. We return now to a reflection on language in order to analyze the present cultural context in which we live and thus we will attempt to discover if there is or is not some connection between the words evangelization, salvation and liberation.

We said that evangelization, in the context of our present culture, implies some form of “instruction or preaching about the faith and doctrine of Jesus Christ as well as instruction and preaching about Christian virtues”. In other words, to evangelize is “to teach dogmatic or doctrinal content and some principles regarding behavior so that people might go to heaven.” Yet, what do we find in the dictionaries with regard to the concept of salvation. Salvation is “the action or the effect of saving or being saved” [15]. At the same time salvation is also defined as “the attainment of eternal glory and happiness” [16]. Thus the verb to save connotes the following meanings: “to free from a risk or danger; to make secure; to avoid some inconvenience, impediment, difficulty or risk; to give eternal praise and glory to God; to overcome an obstacle by confronting it and moving through it; to exonerate and prove the innocence of a person and thus free that individual; to achieve eternal glory and go to heaven” [17]. In a religious and theological sense we generally use the word salvation in the sense of attaining eternal glory, of going to heaven, of giving eternal praise and glory to God and also in the sense of a juridical exoneration of a person that allow such an individual to remain free. With which of these meanings are we most able to identify? Perhaps it is that of attaining eternal glory and going to heaven.

If we analyze the word liberation, we find that it consists of “some activity to set free; the cancellation of some charge that really or apparently deserves the imposition of some penalty” [18]. Reflecting on those meanings we might ask ourselves: does the cancellation of some charge only apply to those that merit some penalty. We know that fundamentally this cancellation ought to be extended to those persons who are unjustly weighed down by the burdens that we place upon their shoulders. This is certainly the biblical meaning that is joined to the declaration of innocence or the declaration of forgiveness. Why hasn’t this meaning become part of our understanding? Is this not because we, as Christians, have not emphasized this in our preaching nor in our activity? I am inclined to believe that such is the case.

In our culture, and as a result of what we have come to appreciate through our research, the words evangelization, salvation and liberation do not appear to be closely related to one another. Nevertheless, in the bible it appears that the objective of evangelization is to free and to save human beings from the slavery and oppression and injustices that afflict them. Let us confirm this reality. Without hurrying through this matter while at the same time not wanting to make people weary with a long list of references, let us reflect on two passages from the synoptic gospels. One is taken from the gospel of Saint Luke and the other from the gospel of Saint Matthew.

Luke gives us sensational news, news that is sure to provoke surprise, tension and a dramatic struggle. The scene can be viewed as a synthesis of the manner in which Jesus preached. Jesus is presented as the Messiah who creates a momentary enthusiasm among the people … an enthusiasm that will soon become doubt and rejection. What happened to those people can also happen to us … perhaps it happens to everyone. The text is as follows: Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:16-21).

If the scope and the meaning of this text are intended to be applied to all Christians then it is even more significant for the followers of Vincent de Paul because Vincent assumed this text as his own personal plan for life and as the Magna Carta for all Vincentians.

Matthew presents Jesus as the long awaited Messiah who was foretold from of old. His actions confirm this fact and will ultimately reveal his identity and his presence in the midst of the world, in the midst of humanity … a presence that is meant to free people from the evils and the forms of exclusion that torture them: When John heard in prison of the works of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to him with this question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me” (Matthew 11:2-6).

John’s messengers were not accustomed to hear and communicate such a message. Quite the contrary! Here, however, they are first made to see the saving, liberating work of God in the person of Jesus and then they come to understand that the long awaited good news has been proclaimed to them. Once again works, gestures and actions (rather than words that often fall on deaf ears) proclaim the truth in a more convincing manner.

The mission of Jesus was proclaimed and carried out in those texts from the gospel of Luke and Matthew. The good news, which was proclaimed openly to the people of Nazareth, became a reality when the word gave way to action … when those actions revealed the same reality that was proclaimed in word. Thus the good news was translated into liberation and salvation. In this way the word became the truth that proved to be true. If it is proclaimed that the blind will see, then this joyful news will become true when in fact the blind are no longer blind, but are able to see. The same must also occur to those who are lame and enslaved and imprisoned … with those who are infirm and oppressed, with those who are lepers.

This is the gospel of Jesus Christ; this is his life and his mission. Through Jesus the realities of freedom and life have been shared with humanity. With Jesus the reign of God has begun and the unjust oppressive structures have begun to disappear. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth are the gospel of God, the good news of the saving presence of God. Therefore, to proclaim today the good news is to make real the effectiveness and efficiency of the gospel.

To liberate the poor is to make the gospel effective

Today the poor and the oppressed have to feel the loving presence of God in their midst. This applies to all those persons who are poor but primarily to those who are poor economically, as well as those who are exploited and dispossessed … the gospel of Jesus Christ must be made effective for them (CCD:XII:75). We are not dealing with some beautiful phrase that the poor are flattered to hear. Rather those words of Vincent de Paul are both a challenge and a demand that at times becomes burdensome and annoying because we do not find it easy to put into practice that which we so often proclaim and preach. Today when we hear the words, “to make the gospel effective”, we immediately realize that words are not enough … action is demanded.

Vincent understood this and taught this. I. Zedde commented on this Vincentian maxim, “to make the gospel effective”, and said: When Vincent stated that evangelization does not simply mean teaching the mysteries of salvation, he meant that preaching and/or teaching is not necessarily the only method of making the gospel effective, even though it is important. At times preaching and teaching can consists of words, words that are well constructed and studied … preaching and teaching can also be reduced to the presentation of some ideology or some oratory/literary technique or some mechanical verbal method. Vincent is saying that words are not enough and therefore action is necessary. People cannot remain on the level of listening and/or being receptors. The word must be practiced and lived in an intimate manner because this is the very reason for which the Word was sent and revealed. Therefore, Vincent stated that preaching is not enough … one must believe and practice that which is preached. One must also act and serve and go forth to encounter the neighbor in need. Just as there is the risk of stripping the word of its real meaning, reducing the word to utterances and private witness so too there is the risk of doing the same to any external act, including service on behalf of the neighbor. It was in this sense that Vincent frequently commented on Matthew 7:21 and Isaiah 58 [19].

Today the proclamation of good news to the poor demands that the messengers allow themselves to be penetrated with this same good news … they must embrace this news in the depths of their being and love this good news and make it operative, that is, they must engage in those actions that are required to make the good news the truth, to make the good news a saving and liberating gesture. If this does not happen, then, like love, the good news becomes a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1). In other words, the good news becomes something like the wind which does not alleviate or help but merely destroys and demolishes and ruins.

Today, to make the gospel effective supposes (according to Vincent’s request) that we fully commit ourselves to the task of building up the Kingdom of God in the manner that this work has been entrusted to us by Christ. Therefore, through our actions we must give witness to the fact that we are followers and disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. Here not just any action is sufficient rather we must engage in the same activity that Jesus did. Therefore, as Jesus of Nazareth presented himself as the living face of God who had become present in the midst of people … presented himself as their liberator, so then, the followers of Jesus must be the living and irrefutable image of God. Those people who love cannot allow those who are loved to be carried along by the whims of life and history. Because God is love (1 John 4:8), therefore, God is also the liberator. This is what J. Lois stated in this regard: The biblical God is understood as the savior who acts in human history … acts in a liberating manner and as a result, salvation is understood in terms of liberation. The Hebrew words “nasal” and “yasa” signify both liberation and salvation. When speaking about the faith of the people of Israel, as professed in the more important creeds (cf. Deuteronomy 6:20ff, 25:5ff; Joshua 50:34), salvation is understood as liberation and God is defined (in reference to the Exodus event) as liberator, as the go’el of the people (cf. Isaiah 43:14, 47:4; Jeremiah 50:34) [20].

He then states: In the Neo-Testament writings the liberation of people is present as the objective that is pursued by God who acts in history. The Kingdom that comes is the offer of liberating salvation [21].

Vincent de Paul called effective love those forms of service that involve effort and sweat. We can say that this is a process of giving birth to new life.

If God the Father frees people from harsh slavery then, so too, does the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth. This is corroborated by Jon Sobrino: Christ is seen, and this and other terms are used to describe him, above all as liberator, with the power to liberate from the various types of slavery that affect the poor of this continent, to give direction to this liberation and to inspire believers to be its active agents. From this point of view, this image is essentially soteriological for the present, but it also has a New Testament origin in a very precise sense: it retrieves the Jesus of Nazareth sent “to bring good news to the poor and to proclaim release to captives (Luke 4:18). From this central fact it revalues the whole life, action and destiny of Jesus in such a way that Christ the liberator --- without any implication of ignoring the totality of Christ --- is, first and foremost, Jesus of Nazareth, the so called historical Jesus [22].

Jesus of Nazareth frees those who are poor from every form of slavery in which they are submerged --- not only slavery to sin --- and therefore, gives true meaning to salvation and/or liberation. Furthermore, Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, urges his followers to be active subjects of liberation/salvation. The action of the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth ought to be an activity that affects the slavery and injustice that exists in the world and their activity should confront the root causes of injustice so that these situations no longer exist. If people fail to engage in the struggle to eliminate oppression and slavery and injustice, then they lose their right to be called disciples of Jesus Christ … to be called Christian.

Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God

Jesus of Nazareth is the messenger of God’s good news. With him the era of God’s incarnation in the world becomes a reality. Therefore, Jesus’ life, his person, his words, his work, his death and his resurrection are the gospel of God. Saint Mark simply states: the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:1). Jesus, in person, is the gospel; his word proclaims the gospel and his gestures, attitudes and work reveal the liberating presence of God. Jesus is the gospel of God … the gospel, but he does not preach himself.

Jesus did not preach himself but communicated God’s liberation

We can say that the following is Jesus’ essential message: After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:14-15).

This is the central focus of Jesus’ message and activity. Mark was very precise in presenting the synthesis that we cited in the preceding paragraph. Matthew offers us a similar summary: Jesus went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people (Matthew 4:23). With great clarity the text states that Jesus proclaimed the good news of God’s kingdom and cured people of every disease and illness. The good news of the kingdom is God’s saving presence … and this salvation is revealed through the healing of people from the various diseases and illnesses. Jesus speaks about the kingdom and restores people to health … bestows upon people the life that God desires for all people (their own life had become marred by death and injustice and desolation).

In another part of his gospel, Matthew restates the above idea and presents a summary of Jesus’ activity in Galilee. He says: Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness (Matthew 9:35). Jesus, moved with compassion, acted because the people were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36). Now, like the days of enslavement in Egypt, God, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, is once again moved at the sight of the oppression of people and decides to enter into this world to free them: I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry against their taskmasters, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them up from that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey, the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites. Now indeed the outcry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen how the Egyptians are oppressing them. Now, go! I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt (Exodus 3:7-10).

God, through Moses, would restore life to the people … life that was robbed from them by the Egyptians. God would pass over this people and lead them from that evil land of slavery and oppression to another land, a land that offered abundance and fullness of life. In the same way, Jesus was moved at the sight of the people who were troubled and marginalized and abandoned and would restore life to these people … life that had been taken from them. This would constitute Jesus’ mission. Indeed this is what Jesus proclaimed and through his gestures and signs he made that proclamation a reality.

Luke offers us a summary of Jesus’ life and activity and his summary is similar to that of Mark and Matthew: At sunset, all who had people sick with various diseases brought them to him. He laid his hands on each of them and cured them. And demons also came out from many, shouting (Luke 4:40-41).

Jesus did all of that in Capernaum and accomplished those things through his teaching and healing. The people there were filled with enthusiasm and wanted to keep Jesus for themselves. But he told them: To the other towns also I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent (Luke 4:43). Luke makes a similar statement as he continued his narration: Afterward Jesus journeyed from one town and village to another, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. Accompanying him were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources (Luke 8:1-3).

In other words, Jesus communicated the meaning of the kingdom of God to the multitude of poor and hungry people who followed him and he did this not only with his words but primarily with his healing gestures and activity. For those persons marginalized from society, Jesus is life and Jesus communicates life … Jesus revived life in those people, life which is a precious gift that God gives to all people.

Thus Jesus’ central message is not himself, nor is it his words or his works (in themselves) … rather his central message is focused on what his words and works reveal, namely, the liberating glory and the saving love of God in is in the midst of humanity, is present in the world. Jesus clearly tells us that God becomes present when we build up the kingdom, when we communicate life to the poor and the oppressed, when we reestablish God’s justice. Therefore if God becomes present in the building up of his kingdom, then it is in that same activity and in the persons whom we help that we encounter God, that we contemplate God, and that we serve God.

Jesus’ preaching and activity are not focused on his person but on his mission. That mission is none other than that of offering life to those are lacking it; to give life to those who do not have it because others have taken it from them. Jesus offers life and communicates life to the world, to those who do not have it or who possess it in a deformed manner. There can be no doubt that Jesus’ signs and works are carried out in the midst of the world and on behalf of the world … but his signs and works also expand our horizon to the future. Thus Jesus’ mission has an eschatological significance. Nevertheless, the synoptic gospels emphasize the service that Jesus engaged in while on earth, service that he engaged in on behalf of men and who were alive in the world, service that he engaged in so that people might live better. In this regard José María Castillo points out: When we read the synoptic gospels and their teaching about the kingdom of God, we realize that even though the kingdom will achieve its definitive consummation in the fullness of time, at a time beyond our death, nevertheless, it is also very clear that the kingdom, as presented by Jesus, is a present reality, a reality that is operative in this life. In this sense, then, there can be no doubt that Jesus continually affirmed that the kingdom of God is present in the here and now. The explicit proclamations of the gospels affirm that the kingdom was a reality from the time that John the Baptist proclaimed the kingdom to be at hand (Mark 1:15), has come upon you (Matthew 12:28), is among you (Luke 17:20). There is no doubt about this … the kingdom of God is the most important reality and is above all else and is a present reality [24].

Therefore, Jesus, through his words and gestures, inaugurates the presence of the kingdom of God in this world and wants his disciples and followers to continue to build up this kingdom.

We can see, then, that the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaims and makes present signifies an offering of life to those who, for whatever reason, lack it or have it in some diminished manner. The kingdom of God is life, that is, living life with dignity: The gospel text begins by presenting the kingdom of God in such a way that we can see that basic human needs and basic human situations immediately impact the kingdom. In other words, according to the synoptics the kingdom is not the result of submitting to some burden nor does it demand that people experience some form of slavery (even in relation to God). Quite the opposite! The kingdom of God comes to men and women as liberation from suffering, from all forms of indignity and from death. This is what the scribes and the Pharisees did not understand and yet this is precisely what is made manifest through the healing of the infirm and the possessed; this is what is also revealed in the message of the beatitudes. In this sense, then, it can be said that the gospels establish a fundamental relationship between the kingdom and life [25].

Jesus not only offers and gives life to those who lack it but he also initiates the process of changing those social structures and situations that oppress and choke life: the kingdom of God becomes present not only when Jesus gives life to those who are infirm and marginalized but also when Jesus changes those hopeless social situations that create poverty and hunger and suffering [26].

Jesus communicates life: I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). To be free means that people have life and are able to enjoy life … this is what it means to be free. Therefore as Jesus gives life to people, he also gifts them with liberation. Indeed, the most important aspect about Jesus is the fact that he is the one sent by the Father to free humankind from all that enslaves them and prevents them from living with dignity and rejoicing in the gift of life … Jesus is the one sent by the Father to drive away all those who attack the life of men and women. By way of summary then: Jesus affirms that the distinctive sign of the arrival of the kingdom is the fact that he, with the power of God, drives out demons (Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20) [27] … and Jesus expects his disciples to do the same: Jesus wants the community of disciples to defend life and alleviate the suffering of men and women [28].

Today the poor are being damned

Jesus consumed his life in activity that enabled all people to live. Jesus proclaimed the arrival of the kingdom of God and made the kingdom a reality in his life and with his life, but especially, through his works, including among those works his death and resurrection. Jesus proclaimed the good news … and this proclamation of good news did not remain on the level of nice words but rather became a reality, became the gospel. According to Jesus, the kingdom of God is the most human and liberating reality that could be proclaimed to another person: This fundamental understanding of the kingdom of God is the most human and liberating reality that can be communicated to another person. For this reason the kingdom of God is “good news”, that is, the kingdom of God is identified with the gospel (Mark 1:15). But, at the same time, the kingdom, understood in this manner, is also more demanding and provokes people to resist and become fearful [29].

The kingdom of God is human and liberating, but it is also demanding. It seems that when people are confronted by the kingdom they resist the invitation to accept it and build it up. This explains why the kingdom of God, initiated by Jesus and entrusted to his disciples, is far from becoming an irrefutable reality in the world. Therefore, in the words of Vincent de Paul, the poor are being damned [30], that is, they are unable to live dignified lives and they are also unable to live full lives. The structures of injustice and sin, the structures of death and slavery still prevail. Why is this so?

It is not easy to find a full response to this question. Nevertheless, we can describe some factors and events that have contributed to this situation (and continue to contribute to this same situation today). We have previously referred to the price that Christianity had to pay in order to inculturate itself to the Hellenistic world. Now we must say more about that situation. Here we will not talk about people who are culpable but rather we will refer to circumstances that, with the passing of time, led to a situation that Jesus did not want … a situation that was not envisioned by the synoptic gospels. With Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, we see the beginning of a shift in the focus of preaching. If we say that the synoptic gospels focused on the kingdom of God, then in Paul’s writings, this was not so. José María Castillo tells us: In the synoptic gospels, the center of Jesus’ gospel is the kingdom of God while the center of the gospel for Paul is not the kingdom of God … according to the synoptic writers (Mark 1:14-15) the gospel of the kingdom is a message that is translated into health, life, and happiness for the infirm and the possessed, for the poor and sinners and those who are considered to be “the least” in society. This is quite different from the situation that we find in Paul’s writings where the focus becomes the Christ event which is concretized and translated into a theology of justification (Romans 1:16-17; Galatians 1:11; 2:19-21). Speaking in more general terms, the proclamation of the gospel becomes the proclamation of universal salvation in the person of Jesus Christ. This is a fundamental truth of our faith, but it was this that caused the gospel to lose its immediate application to the life of those who find themselves in hopeless situations … Paul promoted a way of thinking that is far removed from the concrete situations of suffering that so many men and women must confront [31].

To say this in another way … if Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God, then now, Jesus himself is proclaimed … we speak about Jesus. Little by little the concern for the life and the well-being of the marginalized and the poor and those in need gave way to a discussion about Jesus and what constitutes Jesus as a person intimately united to God. Jesus was concerned about the life of people and this was the focus of his activity and teaching … now the focus is dogma and ethical questions.

The Hellenistic world and its culture have had great influence on all of this. Platonic dualism and Greek subjectivity became part of the teaching that was imparted to the first generations of Christians … and thus preaching was no longer focused on the plan of the kingdom of God which was a primary concern in the synoptic gospels: With Paul we find a new way of understanding and practicing Christianity. Indeed, we find a marked subjectivity when attempting to explain the relationship between humankind and God and when attempting to explain this encounter between human beings and God. This had important consequences because, according to the gospels, men and women encounter God to the degree that they encounter the kingdom of God, that is, to the degree that they align themselves with life. Therefore, people encounter God and encounter the kingdom to the degree that they attempt to alleviate the situation of those who find themselves in misery. Indeed, the kingdom of God is not the objective of history but rather the kingdom of God is the transformation of history [32].

Thus individualism, subjectivity and eternal salvation become more important than the liberation of the community or the people, more important than struggling on behalf of a dignified life for all people. The kingdom proclaimed by Christ has an impact on the here and now situation and is meant to transform the world, but the new preaching is transcendent and future oriented and thus the kingdom also becomes a transcendent and future reality. In other words, we speak now about something beyond the beyond, beyond the here and now.

Furthermore, the gospel of the kingdom proclaimed by Jesus refers primarily to the various concrete, tangible realities of this life (well-being, suffering, oppression) while the gospel that Paul preached refers to transcendent realities (hardly something tangible). Nevertheless, in the view of both Jesus and Paul, faith is indispensable (Mark 1:14-15; 1 Corinthians 15:1-2) in order to live according to the gospel. But the gospel of Jesus, according to the synoptics, has an immediate relationship with those tangible realities that occur in everyday life while the gospel of God (according to Paul) relates us to that which is subjective, with the profound convictions and the most intimate experiences of the subject [33].

In another place the same author states: When compared with the theology of the gospels, the problem that the theology of Paul places before us is not that he speaks about things that are not part of Jesus’ message … rather the problem is that Paul speaks from a subjective perspective and speaks to individuals who were not in the situation that Jesus had referred to. This became a theological method distinct from that of Jesus when he spoke about God and the kingdom of God. But this manner of speaking about God, which did not begin with the life of the people, but rather had its starting point in the experience and interior dimension of the subject, results therefore in subjectivism (ever far removed from reality) and today we continue to see that perspective expressed in different books on theology and spirituality. Those are instances in which theology and spirituality become disconnected from life … to be more specific, disconnected from the life of those who suffer. Thus, theology and spirituality run the risk of becoming focused solely on intellectual speculation [the great truths] and balancing subjectivity [asceticism] [34].

The inculturation of the faith into a specific culture is necessary but also involves certain risks and dangers. Discovering those risks and dangers and overcoming them is a primary task. Faith has to be incarnated in the culture of people but cannot become so watered down that it is no longer visible in that culture. Yes, it must become incarnated so that it can transform the culture … thus faith must become the ferment that transforms the whole mass. Jesus became incarnated into humanity but he did not allow himself to become absorbed by the culture (not even the culture of his people, the people of God). He struggled to dignify the culture, that is, to make it more human. The problem that then had to be confronted was that the message of Jesus now had to become incarnated into a culture that was quite distinct from that of the Jewish culture, a culture that was nourished by a dualist philosophy and in which present day life and the problems of the marginalized and the exploited had no place. The only thing that was important was “true life” which was found beyond “this life” … in some distinct region. This “present life” was seen as something passing, passing among shadows and living in the shadows, but it was not seen as “real” … and the shadows were seen as unimportant. I repeat, therefore, that a very expensive price was paid, a price that resulted in disconnecting the good news from life, and more specifically disconnecting the good news from the life of those who most suffer in this life. As a result, theology and catechetics and preaching have become, on the one hand, more intellectual and on the other hand, have advocated for a life and a path that is more individualistic, more solitary and more ascetical. Each one must “win” and obtain a future life, a life beyond death where God, the only real reality, is found. In other words, people have to be inventive in order to save themselves. Have we not, then, put forth some form of let those who can, save themselves.

Since the kingdom of God was God’s kingdom, it was thought that the kingdom belonged to a world beyond this world and could only be attained through effort, perseverance and time. This manner of thinking radically changed the perspective of God’s kingdom and the effort that men and women had to exert in order to bring about this kingdom. The kingdom was no longer spoken about as a reality that had to be built up in this world, but was rather seen as a goal that had to be achieved in another life. We no longer exhorted people to make every effort so that the kingdom might take root and grow … rather we spoke about developing a personal ascetical life in order to become more rooted in the virtues that one day would enable us to obtain eternal life. Life in the here and now was no longer important and people became obsessed with life in the future, with eternal life. What now became most important was the search for one’s own perfection and, therefore, living a virtuous life. The kingdom that was proclaimed and initiated by Jesus of Nazareth remained behind the scene, hidden from view. Therefore, José María Castillo has stated: The problem here is that since it is practically impossible to achieve a perfect relationship with others and since relationships frequently present difficulties and complications (which we are not willing to confront), we, then, instinctively, without being aware of it, become trapped by subjectivity. This subjectivity becomes translated into a very simple, yet dramatic formula: the focus of life is neither to alleviate the suffering of our neighbor nor is it to make others happy (not even those who share life with us) … rather the focus of life is one’s own perfection. The objectivity of the kingdom, as lived and explained by Jesus, has been translated into the subjectivity of virtue as explained by the platonics and the stoics. In saying this we are putting our finger on the radical and practical perversion of Christianity.

This subjective focus in Christian preaching became more pronounced. We find this in some of the sermons of the Patristic Fathers, for example in a sermon given by Leo the Great on the beatitudes. In that sermon he states that the rich and poor, if they are virtuous, possess the same spiritual riches. I present this sermon simple as an example. Let us read those words of Leo the Great:

It cannot be doubted that the poor can more easily attain the blessing of humility than those who are rich. In the case of the poor, the lack of worldly goods is often accompanied by a quiet gentleness, whereas the rich are more prone to arrogance. Nevertheless, many wealthy people are disposed to use their abundance not to swell their own pride but to perform works of benevolence. They consider their greatest gain what they spend to alleviate the distress of others.

This virtue is open to all men, no matter what their class or condition because all can be equal in their willingness to give, however unequal they may be in earthly fortune. Indeed, their inequality in regard to worldly means is unimportant, provided they are found equal in spiritual possessions. Blessed, therefore, is that poverty which is not trapped by the love of temporal things and does not seek to be enriched by worldly wealth, but desires rather to grow rich in heavenly goods.

The apostles were the first after the Lord himself to provide us with an example of this generous poverty, when they all equally left their belongings at the call of the heavenly master. By an immediate conversion they were turned from the catching of fish to become fishers of men, and by their own example they won many others to the imitation of their own faith. In these first sons of the Church there was but one heart and one soul among all who believed. Abandoning all their worldly property and possessions in their dedicated poverty, they were enriched with eternal goods, and in accordance with the apostolic preaching, they rejoiced to have nothing of this world and to possess all things with Christ.

Therefore, when the apostle Peter was on his way up to the temple and was asked for alms by the lame man, he replied: Silver and gold I have not; but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, arise and walk. What is more sublime than this humility? And what could be richer than this poverty? Though Peter cannot assist with money, he can confer gifts of nature. With a word Peter brought healing to the man who had been lame from birth; he who did not give a coin with the emperor's image refashioned the image of Jesus in this man.

And by the riches of this treasure, not only did he help the man who recovered the power to walk, but also five thousand others who believed the preaching of the apostle because of this miraculous cure. Thus Peter, who in his poverty had no money to give to the beggar, bestowed such a bounty of divine grace that in restoring to health the feet of one man, he healed the hearts of many thousands of believers. He had found all of them lame; but he made them leap for joy in Christ [36].

In my opinion the sermon of Saint Leo the Great is well thought out … it is pleasing to read and his arguments are convincing. Nevertheless, I believe it includes some psychological, social and cultural subtleness that is proper to the culture in which Christianity developed during the first centuries of its existence. It seems that subjectivity is given priority over objectivity, that is, salvation of the individual is presented as being more valuable, more important and preferable than the liberation of people, of the group, and of the majority of people who do not possess material goods or the means to obtain them. Material poverty is grounded on the virtue of humility and becomes spiritual richness. At the same time humility also transforms material wealth into spiritual poverty. In a few words, then, we are given the impression that the text projects human life into some eternal and happy future and ignores the crude, painful, discriminating and marginalizing realities. Using the words of José María Castillo, I find that in this sermon the objectivity of the kingdom, as lived and explained by Jesus, has been translated into the subjectivity of virtue as explained by the platonics and stoics. In fact, the sermon raises some questions. Is it sufficient to have simply a desire to create some equality between those who have an abundance and those who lack that which is indispensable and necessary for life? Is it not true that Christians give little importance to the material goods that people possess because it is presumed that there is equality with regard to spiritual wealth? Is it enough to renounce wealth and be poor materially or does such a renunciation of wealth demand sharing wealth with those who have less? Can a Christian have a clear conscience when he/she donates goods to the Church or some church institution while at the same time his/her employees and/or neighbors are hungry or suffer from some other affliction? Does Christianity seek to promote the well-being of the soul or the salvation of the person, that is, the salvation of the person which includes every dimension (the whole integral reality of the person)?

At the same time liberation theology raises similar questions and responds with realism and harshness to the subversion that has taken place with regard to Jesus’ gospel plan. Liberation theology proposes an image … a new (?) image of Jesus as liberator. Nevertheless that image is not new but is as old as Christianity: This image of Christ the liberator ought not to be new, since it is substantially the image of Jesus in the gospels, as is admitted in a sense even by the two Vatican instructions on liberation theology, “the gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of liberty and a force for liberation” (Instruction on some aspects of liberation theology, 1984, Introduction). The gospel … is by its very nature, a message of freedom and liberation (Christian liberty and liberation, 1986, Introduction, #1). But this has not been the case, and the consequences are well-known and objectively scandalous [38].

Jon Sobrino reminds us: this has not been the case, and the consequences are well-known and objectively scandalous. I believe that this is an evident truth and that nothing more has to be said about this situation. But it is good to mention the causes of this situation because if we know the causes we are then able to apply adequate solutions. Jon Sobrino, speaking about a theology focused on Christ as the “absolutely absolute” and on the consequences of such a theology then goes on to state: One consequence is to make possible a personalist reduction of the faith, which has led again to an abandoning of the historical world to its wretchedness. This is the image of Christ as the ultimate “thou,” in relation to whom Christian faith is decided and reaches it highest expression. The idea of being for Christ, loving Christ, is obviously a good thing, but if there is a move from this to loving Christ “alone,” and so regarding this as the only thing that really matters, it becomes something dangerous, as is shown by the life of perfection and the religious life, since in the name of the highest love for the “mediator” it is possible to undervalue love for one’s brothers and sisters and the oppressed --- paradoxically, the love Christ demanded on earth for building the “mediation,” the kingdom [39].

A personalist reduction of the faith, a purely personal ethical vision of Christianity and of the following of Jesus, priority given to saving oneself (less concern about others), neglect the problems of this world (they will be resolved in some eschatological future) … these have been constants as Christianity has evolved through the centuries. In fact we have not yet been freed from the aftermath of that theological approach which was initiated in the early days of the Christian era. Christ was concerned about the life of the poor and we became concerned about attaining perfection. Christ consumed his life on behalf of others and we have become most concerned about ourselves and we exert much effort for that which is least important. Since this attainment of perfection involves great effort and much time, we forget about others and use our time for our own concern thus erecting a wall between ourselves and others … we become insensitive to others. In other words, we flee from this world … and this is the reason why the poor continue to be damned to live a life that is really not life at all. Once again José María Castillo speaks about the consequences of this situation: The consequences, which result from not clarifying this decisive question, are more than some might imagine. First of all, the attempt to achieve the perfection of love terminates in the perfection of selfishness. This is quite logical … the degree to which one cultivates subjectivity, to that same degree one cultivates selfishness (without a doubt this is a very refined selfishness because it is disguised in love … love of God). Second, this approach reinforces (in an incredible manner) one’s own sense of self-assuredness. In other words if people are convinced about the search for the perfection of love (the perfection of the most-perfect love) then they are equally convinced that they have taken the best path and the most secure path to attain their objective. Third, the most devastating consequence of this approach is hypocrisy … here I am referring to the fact that people so connect spirituality and virtue that they begin to present themselves as something other than what they are … they become panicked if people should ever see them as they really are. Therefore they spend much time pretending rather than being [40].

The result, then, of so much effort is selfishness, pride and hypocrisy … a perfect combination that prevents the transformation of the world and of life in the world; a combination that creates an even worse situation or at the very least, leaves things as they are. Of course those who suffer the most from this situation are the poor, the marginalized and those who are beaten down by life. Yet did not Jesus expressly proclaim that the poor and the marginalized and those who are beaten down by life would have life, life in abundance … did not Jesus proclaim that the kingdom of God had come for those men and women who are poor and marginalized?

Return to the sources in order to make the gospel effective

If God is found in the poor and in the building up of God’s kingdom, then why do we attempt to maintain at all cost that which disfigures God and distorts God’s plan? This is difficult to explain but it is good to point out that we engage in such behavior, mistakenly, but nevertheless, we act in this way because we want to. In order to break with this tendency and dynamic we have to return to the theology of the synoptics because only then can we continue to make real the plan of God for humanity, a plan to give dignity to those who are treated so harshly by life. In fact, our commitment must be directed toward those who are weary and burdened because God is found in the midst of life … life with no modifying adjective, life with all its magnificence and beauty, with all its ugliness and scars; life that is common to all human beings. Here life must be understood not from the perspective that one is simply alive and not dead, but rather from the perspective of all that is implied when speaking about human life: life in its fullness, with its dignity and guarantees for a relatively secure life … a life that one is able to enjoy. This is what the kingdom of God is all about. When we do not provide these guarantees to life, when we do not desire and struggle for this kind of life for all people (and not only for those who are viewed as privileged members of society), then we give meaning to the adjectives that we use to qualify “life”. [41].

When all people are able to fully rejoice in life on this earth, then those who are damned, those who are the living-dead, those who are oppressed and exploited will disappear and the kingdom of God will encompass all humanity.

Presently, biblical exegesis and theology have taken up the theme of the kingdom of God as presented in the synoptic gospels. This has presented conflicts and even though these conflicts are unfortunate, nevertheless, they are a reality. The first is that, however strange this may now seem, the discovery of the Kingdom of God as Jesus’ central concern is relatively recent, dating from within the last hundred years. In my view, this discovery is the most important for the church and for theology in many hundreds of years, with consequences that have made themselves felt in all basic theological fields (theology itself, ecclesiology, morals, pastoral teaching), not only in christology. To demonstrate the importance of this discovery, let us ask this purely hypothetical question: Would the church’s mission, and even faith in Christ and God, be the same if Jesus, even having been raised by the Father and been proclaimed dogmatically as true God and true man, had not proclaimed the Kingdom of God'? The answer is obviously No. And the recent history of the church confirms this. There can be no doubt that faith in Christ and the church’s mission are different now --- at least in principle --- from what they were in previous centuries, and that this change, revolving round the church’s new relation to the world, is seen as an improvement, as a faith and mission more in accordance with Christianity. The theological presuppositions of this change and improvement are based on Vatican II and Medellin, on the Kingdom of God moving the church to turn to the world. [42]

Theology, or at least serious, profound theology, theology that is committed to the human person and the world, recognizes that the proclamation of the kingdom and the building up of the kingdom (as an imminent reality) was central to Jesus’ message. Thus we come to understand that Jesus did not preach about himself but rather he proclaimed the presence of God … the saving presence of God and Jesus proclaimed this through his words and works. We are grateful for the fact that today this perspective is accepted by all, or almost all, theologians: it is generally recognized today in Christology that Jesus did not preach himself, but the Kingdom of God, and this point brings together theologians who differ on others: K. Rahner, W. Pannenberg, J. Moltmann, W. Kasper, H. Küng, J.I. González Faus, etc. [43].

The immediate consequence of this new position is the constant and urgent concern among Christians to contribute to the consolidation and the extension of the kingdom of God that was inaugurated in Christ, with Christ, and by Christ. This is, indeed, a recent concern, but not a new concern. As Vincentians we know that Vincent de Paul was convinced about this reality in the very depths of his being and acted in accord with this line of reasoning in order to make the gospel effective. Why have his children not continued to be pioneers in this mission?

Vincent expressed this mission with the well-known phrase: to make the gospel of Jesus Christ effective (CCD:XII:75). Therefore, to make the gospel of Jesus Christ effective means that we make real (in the same way as Jesus did) the plan of God for humanity, a plan that is expressed very clearly in the good news, namely, the kingdom of God is among us. The kingdom of God consists of the transformation of history from the perspective of love, love that is translated into service; love that is translated into solidarity with those most in need. This solidarity with those in need is one of the challenges for humankind and one of the most challenging demands for every follower of Jesus of Nazareth. This is a truth that today is wholly accepted. Today it is generally accepted that the kingdom of God cannot be interpreted as the termination of history (an eschatological event) but rather it must be viewed as the transformation of history [44].

This transformation will be brought about not by providing some form of help but by a love that is incarnated and expressed by solidarity, a love that is liberating, a love that commits us to people. The real difference that exists between a love that saves and assistance that humiliates is explained by José María Castillo: Some time ago a person asked me: Do you want to help me or do you want to love me? I did not know how to respond. In everyday life many people are will “to help” but there are few people willing “to love”. We must remember that the helping relationship is asymmetrical, that is, the one who helps is on a superior level to the one who is being helped … and that is a problem. How difficult and humiliating for those persons who have to say that they depend on “the help” that is extended to them, on “the help” that they receive. To depend on the help of another is to live in a situation of constant humiliation. The majority of people (those who are not depraved or cruel), if they are sincere, will say that they do not need “help” but they do need affection. An affectionate relationship is one of equals. Furthermore, such a relationship is also reciprocal: when two people care for one another, they both give and they both receive. Thus we see that in the helping relationship the one who provides the help is dominant (I can help to the degree that I want to help), while in an affectionate relationship, we never know where we will be led. It was this affectionate relationship that led Jesus to his death. From the moment that Jesus established this profound relationship with people (a relationship that welled up from Jesus’ interior), there were many ways in which this relationship could have ended. We know, however, how all of this did end … and that is why so many people are afraid to love … afraid to allow themselves to be loved [45].

Love-affection will transform history and it is love-affection that will bring us to a situation of friendship in which we commit ourselves to others, to the disinherited and those who are treated unjustly by life.

It was this same love, Jesus’ profound love for people, that led him to proclaim the arrival of the kingdom of God and to reveal that reality through his activity. We can find proof of this fact on every page of the gospel. If we look at the gospel of Mark, for example, we see that at the beginning of the gospel we are presented with a series of events that clarify the intention of the writer, the intention of the evangelist and they also highlight the primary and the most important activity of Jesus. In the beginning of Mark’s gospel Jesus cures a demoniac in the synagogue (Mark 1:21-27; 6:12-13; 16:17-18); cures Simon’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:3-310 and many other people (Mark 1:34); Jesus cleanses a leper (Mark 1:40-45), heals a paralytic (Mark 2:1-12), calls the tax collector Levi and eats with publicans and sinners (Mark 2:13-17), enters into a discussion on fasting (Mark 2:18-22) and finally presents the problem of Sabbath observance (Mark 2:23-28; 3:1-6). All of these events have a common thread, namely, the defense of life and the dignity of life, which became a primary task that enabled Jesus to fulfill his mission. There is a common thread, a common denominator in the eight events that Mark narrates after introducing and summarizing Jesus’ task as the proclamation of the kingdom of God. The common thread and/or denominator is life … the defense of life and the enjoyment of life are truly decisive for Jesus. With the narration of these events Mark wants to express that which is also affirmed by Matthew and Luke: the kingdom becomes present and is realized when life is defended and life’s potential is actualized [46].

The defense of life, the actualization of life’s potential, restoring dignity to life … this was the activity that Jesus engaged in as he revealed the arrival of the kingdom of God. If this was Jesus’ task and primary mission, then this must be the same task and mission for his followers. Jesus’ followers must be the primary defenders of life as well as the defenders of the dignity of life because it is in this way that they will be able to restore life to those persons who have been robbed of life. To do this is to make the gospel effective. To learn from Jesus through the synoptic accounts is to return to the true sources where one can imbibe the newness of the message of the kingdom of God. An undignified life, as well as the slavery and oppression in which so many people find themselves are realities that cry out for a solution. In light of this, what are the synoptic accounts telling us about Jesus’ activity? The gospel writers are telling us that Jesus’ teaching and activity, which alleviated human suffering, responded to the felt needs of those who listened to him and of those who benefited from what he did on behalf of those less fortunate members of society. That is very clear [47].

Those people understood this … they understood this because Jesus “spoke” through his actions and those actions responded to the felt needs of people. Are our words and actions understood with the same precision and do they respond to the problems that people must confront?

Jesus not only went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil (Acts 10:38) but he also freed people from the chains that prevented them from living a dignified life (Mark 1:40-45). Jesus restored many people to health and also restored dignity to those people who had been robbed of this dignity by society and/or religion and/or unjust social situations [48]. Jesus, from the very beginning of his public ministry, spoke about the kingdom of God and making the kingdom effective. In other words, Jesus dedicated his life to giving life to others, to healing those who were infirm and afflicted with various ailments … Jesus restored dignity to peoples life and he also called together some other people to follow him and learn from him … these individuals were then sent forth to continue to build up the kingdom of God (Mark 3:13-15), to give life to other (from the perspective of love) and to hand over and sacrifice their own life. Therefore, the following of Jesus can only be understood when it is interpreted from the perspective of the kingdom of God and interpreted as a response to the demands and the meaning of the kingdom of God [49]. Since the kingdom of God involves giving life to people and healing people of their infirmities and afflictions and restoring dignity to people, we must dedicate ourselves whole-heartedly to this task because this will enable us to make the gospel effective.

Vincent de Paul builds up the Kingdom of God

We read the following in one of Saint Augustine’s sermons: Help the hungry, the naked and the needy; help strangers and those in bondage. They will be the porters to convey your riches to heaven … As our head, Christ is in heaven, but he has members on earth. Then, let the member of Christ give to a member of Christ. Let a member who has give to a member who needs. You are a member of Christ and you have the wherewithal to give; the other is a member of Christ and he/she needs your gift. Both of you are traveling on the same road; you are companions on the journey. Lightly laden are the shoulders of the poor, but you are burdened with heavy luggage. Give away some of your luggage to those in need and you will thus afford relief both to yourself and to your companion [50].

The building up of the kingdom of God implies the concept of walking together and sharing. That is only valid way to restore dignity to the life of those who have lost that dignity because of the effects of sin in the world, because of people’s selfishness and the injustice that is done by individuals as well as society. I believe that Vincent de Paul understood this and therefore he made the decision to walk with and to accompany the poor of his era. Vincent became a companion to the poor in order to share with them God’s words of hope and encouragement, in order to assist them and provide for them, in order to share with them and give them the justice that was their due.

A priority among Vincent’s concerns

Once Vincent de Paul discovered God in the poor and the poor in God his primary concern became that of evangelizing those poor individuals or, to express this in a better manner, his primary concern was to make the gospel of Jesus Christ effective in them. Therefore, he made every effort to identify himself with Jesus of Nazareth and to clothe himself in Jesus’ spirit. In this way Vincent became a clear sign of God’s preferential love for those who are poor and needy … a sign of God’s life-giving love, a sign of God’s love that responds in an adequate manner to the needs of those who are poor and oppressed. Thus Vincent de Paul endeavored to approach the gospel sources and to imbibe the good news of the kingdom of God. Because Vincent discovered that God’s plan was accomplished in Jesus Christ he committed himself to the poor thus continuing the mission of Jesus Christ and identifying himself with Jesus Christ and giving life to Jesus in the seventeenth century. Vincent learned from Jesus how to build up the kingdom and how to do this from the perspective of life, the life of the people, the life of those who are poor. Vincent also learned how to live in solidarity with those who are poor in order to respond appropriately to the problems, difficulties and sufferings that they encountered in their daily life. I believe that here we can apply to Vincent de Paul the words that José María Catillo wrote about Jesus Christ. The message of the kingdom of God, as presented by Jesus, was developed from the perspective of life … specifically, the life of the people. As I say this I am referring to the situations, the conditions and the circumstances in which the lowest members of society find themselves. Therefore, all of this implies that Jesus’ message about the kingdom was developed from the perspective of the culture of those people with whom Jesus had established bonds of solidarity. At the same time all of this implies that Jesus’ message about the kingdom was proclaimed in order to respond to the problems, difficulties and suffering that the people encountered in life. We know that Jesus spoke about God, about faith in God, about the salvation and the hope that God bestows upon all people. All of this could be explained as some theory or personal experience or coherent speculation and we might even say that all of this could be explained in a way that those who are most educated (the elite) would accept this teaching. But we know that this was not how Jesus acted. Therefore, the most profound aspect about Jesus’ message concerning the kingdom is not the content of the message, but rather the method, or if you will, the manner in which this message was communicated [51].

Vincent de Paul, from the perspective of the life of the poor and not from the perspective of some philosophical or theological theory, engaged in ministry and communicated his teachings. I believe a clear proof of what we have just affirmed is found in Vincent’s encounter with the heretic in Montmirail (CCD:XI:28-30). Vincent’s actions were more convincing than any philosophical or theological arguments that he might have presented. In fact, Vincent’s greatest concern was to act and confront the various situations in which people found themselves … but we must also remember that Vincent acted as one who was grounded and rooted in God and in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ incarnation had a profound impact on Vincent and as a result Vincent saw that event as one in which Jesus entered into solidarity with people, with men and women who are suffering.

Jesus’ solidarity with the people and Vincent’s solidarity with people was not some occasional event. Again we can apply to Vincent what was said with regard to Jesus: It is clear that Jesus’ solidarity was not some occasional event and it was not a secondary concern in his life or message … and it cannot be said that Jesus acted in this way “to give some example”. Events unfolded as they did because it is only from the perspective of the lowest members of society, from the reality of solidarity with those who are marginalized and oppressed, that we can speak correctly about the God of Jesus. No, Jesus did not “use people” in order to speak about God to them. Rather, we are dealing with something that is more fundamental and subtle. Here we are referring to the fact that it is from the perspective of that which is most precious to those who are the lowest members of society, namely, their kindness [they need much kindness] … only from that perspective can we begin to understand the one whom Jesus calls Abba, Father. Therefore, only those persons who do not place themselves “over” others (no matter who the others might be), only those persons can be a source of life, a source of dignity and happiness. [52]

Vincent de Paul was a man of action and never formulated some theory. Like Jesus, Vincent dedicated his life to doing and acting, to engaging in various activities to resolve the concrete, painful situations of the poor men and women of his era. Once again Vincent learned from Jesus and discovered in the gospel how he had to proceed, how he had to evangelize. Jesus did not develop some theory about the kingdom of God, now did he define it or describe it. Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God from the perspective of reality … concrete realities and situations. Those realities were: give life to the infirm, restore dignity to those possessed by evil spirits,, to those who are sinners and those who are marginalized and finally, promote the happiness of those who are poor and those who mourn and those who suffer. Thus, we discover that the parables about the kingdom are events taken from life that then enlighten the meaning of life. The kingdom of God is not a doctrine or a theory. The kingdom of God is a manner of living life that can only be understood and explained from the perspective of events and situations in which life is viewed and given a greater importance than everything else, including religion (especially when religion is not at the service of life) [53].

Can we not see similarities between Jesus and Vincent as they built up the kingdom of God and as they both attempted to resolve various problems and difficulties by using the best means to obtain those solutions? We can see this in the establishments and institutions that Vincent founded, in the on-going formation of the members of those institutions and in the material assistance that Vincent provided to so many people. All of this became the manner in which Vincent gave life to the poor, restored dignity to them and showed them where they could find happiness.

Evangelization of the poor in the countryside through catechesis, instruction and charity

After his conversion, Vincent de Paul dedicated his life to the evangelization of the poor country people. Why did he do this? Because he discovered that at that time they were the people who were most needy and therefore there was an urgent need to proclaim to them the good news of the kingdom of God. That reality is reflected in the writings that have been passed on to us as well as in the funeral oration of Henri de Paupas du Tour, Bishop of Puy, which was proclaimed in the parish church of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois on November 23, 1660: Vincent de Paul provided the poor with spiritual and material assistance. Vincent de Paul was chosen by God to bring the tablets of the law to the people. Vincent, with his admirable zeal … sanctified millions of souls through his missions; he provided spiritual assistance to the many provinces that were devastated by war, saved millions of people who were on the verge of death and freed unhappy souls from ultimate shipwreck [54].

Like Jesus, Vincent, through his activity, made the kingdom of God effective and did so in a manner that is placed before us a model to be followed today. He did this in a manner that was adapted to his culture and this fact becomes very clear when we begin to study in depth his life, his work and the institutions that he established.

Vincent was able to make good use of his organizational and creative talents as he engaged in activity to save the poor country people from misery. The missions, the formation of the clergy, the Congregation of the Mission, the Company of the Daughters of charity and the Ladies of Charity … all of these came about as a result of Vincent’s creativity [55]. At the same time all of this activity which was done on behalf of the poor country people was in service of the kingdom of God. Vincent opted for the poor because they were most in need of the good news of the gospel … most in need of spiritual as well as material assistance. Vincent’s evangelizing activity was always guided by what we could call the ministry of charity. In this sense José María Ibáñez, with the person and the ministry of Vincent de Paul as the background, speaks about the ministry of charity as the criterion that verifies every process of evangelization, including the new evangelization. We can affirm that the ministry of charity or, what is the same, the option for the poor, the struggle against poverty, against inequality, against injustice, verifies the evangelizing action and the liturgical action of the Christian community … it is also the criterion that verifies the New Evangelization [56].

The ministry of charity does not consist of doing acts of charity or dedicating all the time of the day to charitable activity but rather something more profound and radical is implied. The ministry of charity is founded upon a decision to serve the poor, to struggle against poverty and its causes, to struggle against all forms of injustice and inequality. This is what Vincent de Paul did … and he did it because he was encouraged by the word of God that urged him to engage in a liberating activity on behalf of the poor. Biblical texts such as Isaiah 58, Matthew 25:31-36, Luke 4:16-21 and many others filled his mind and made him deepen the meaning of his commitment to God and his service on behalf of the poor.

Vincent discovered the harsh reality that the Church was not a “gospel” church, that the church had abandoned the poor and also that the Church had ceased to evangelize, at least in its outreach and it those other aspects that were more visible to people. As Vincent himself changed he became more and more aware of the urgent need to proclaim the gospel, to live the gospel on a personal level and at the same time to make the gospel alive and tangible to those men and women who were poor. Vincent also realized that only a Church that lived in harmony with the gospel, only a Church that freed itself from all those things that were not born from charity and that did not express that same charity ... only such a church could give credible witness. Therefore, the social-charitable activity that originates in the church and that is developed by the church as a ministry or service on behalf of the Christian community … such activity gives witness to the gospel and the commandment of love (John 13:14) and makes real the good news of integral liberation that is proclaimed to the poor (Luke 4:18) [57].

Therefore Vincent began to act and to minister and to offer liberation to the “slaves” of his era, namely, the poor who lived in the countryside. Vincent committed his life to their integral liberation … was bold and creative and not afraid to take risks. He dedicated his life to this task and it can be said that his defense of the poor was both bold and creative. Many of the affirmations and statements that we have made during this presentation remind me of the risks and the dedication of Vincent de Paul … his bold and creative activity as he intervened on behalf of the poor men and women of his era. Vincent viewed this activity as a demand and as a verifying criterion of his missionary vocation that was centered on continuing the evangelizing and merciful mission of Christ, thus making the gospel effective [58].

The life of Vincent de Paul was focused on the mission of Christ, a mission that, at the time of Vincent, was expressed through evangelization and charity (proclaiming to people the good news concerning the compassion and the mercy of God that was revealed in the person of Christ]. The meaning of Vincentian evangelization is discovered when it is joined to the mission of Christ, evangelizer of the poor. Thus reference to Jesus’ mission is the criterion and the point of reference for Vincentian evangelizing activity [59].

With words more adapted to his era, this is exactly what Vincent told the Missionaries on December 6th, 1658 when he spoke to them about the purpose of the Congregation of the Mission (CCD:XII:66-82).

Vincent saw that the poor country people were in a bad situation because they had bad pastors, bad civil pastors as well as bad religious pastors. Those pastors were unjust and selfish, concerned only about themselves and not about others. Since bad pastors resulted in the terrible situation that the poor found themselves in, Vincent dedicated his life to those people and at the same time provided for the formation of good pastors. Vincent was always concerned about the havoc that was caused by incompetent priests in the church of Jesus Christ. Vincent, in an indirect manner, expressed this idea in a letter that he wrote on April 2nd, 1655 and addressed to Charles Ozenne, the superior in Warsaw: A Breton Pastor has just written a book in which he says that the worst enemies the Church could have are bad priests. He has no trouble demonstrating this, adding that God has given his Spirit to the priests of the Mission to remedy this evil and that they are working successfully at it, as well as in teaching matters of faith to the people, aiding and instructing them, and helping them to love the Christian virtues (CCD:V:350).

Vincent was convinced that in order to eliminate this situation that had such dramatic consequences on the lives of the country poor he had to begin by healing the Church from inside. Vincent had no doubt about this fact and therefore he sought effective solutions: the Congregation of the Mission, the activity of the Missionaries giving missions in countryside, the formation of the clergy and assistance to those who were in need.

It seems as though this problem of bad priests who were not concerned about building up the kingdom of God had been a problem even centuries before Vincent lived. This evil seems to have become an epidemic. Let us now listen to Gregory the Great as he speaks about this situation in one of his homilies: Let us listen to what the Lord says as he sends the preachers forth: The harvest is great but the laborers are few. Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest. We can speak only with a heavy heart of so few laborers for such a great harvest, for although there are many to hear the good news there are only a few to preach it. Look about you and see how full the world is of priests, yet in God's harvest a laborer is rarely to be found; for although we have accepted the priestly office, we do not fulfill its demands ... There is something else about the life of the shepherds, dearest brothers, which discourages me greatly. But lest what I claim should seem unjust to anyone, I accuse myself of the very same thing, although I fall into it unwillingly - compelled by the urgency of these barbarous times. I speak of our absorption in external affairs; we accept the duties of office, but by our actions we show that we are attentive to other things. We abandon the ministry of preaching and, in my opinion, are called bishops to our detriment, for we retain the honorable office but fail to practice the virtues proper to it. Those who have been entrusted to us abandon God, and we are silent. They fall into sin, and we do not extend a hand of rebuke. But how can we who neglect ourselves be able to correct someone else? We are wrapped up in worldly concerns, and the more we devote ourselves to external things, the more insensitive we become in spirit. For this reason the Church rightfully says about her own feeble members: They made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept. We are set to guard the vineyards but do not guard our own, for we get involved in irrelevant pursuits and neglect the performance of our ministry [60].

Saint Gregory put his finger on the problem. He stated that even though there were a large number of priests, many of those priests had abandoned the obligations of their ministry. As a result people were damned or, perhaps it is better to say that people were living in a damned state … in the joyless state of oppression and exploitation. Therefore those slothful priests will have to respond for their silence and their negligence since it is indisputable that the shepherd’s silence, while often injurious to himself, will always harm his flock … For this reason the Church rightfully says about her feeble members: they made me keeper of the vineyard, but my own vineyard I have not kept [61]. They do not murder the faithful but because they do not extend their hands in a gesture of help to those trapped in the depths of the abysm, they can rightly be accused of causing the suffering and anguish and death of those who had been entrusted to them … they are responsible for the spread of the anti-kingdom of God.

It was very clear to Vincent that the incompetence and irresponsibility of the clergy had led the Christian faithful to their death. Therefore, in his ministry we find that Vincent was frequently and particularly concerned about the clergy because their disastrous spiritual, cultural and moral decadence had an immediate consequence, namely, the decadence of the people … in other words, the decadence of the church [62]. It was this reality that led Vincent to offer the clergy and the people living in the countryside (one of the most abandoned and exploited groups of that era) an authentic and fruitful evangelization. Vincent’s ministry with regard to the evangelization of the clergy and the people living in the countryside was intended to renew the Church and proclaim the word of God. It is clear that the vocabulary we use today is not the same as Vincent’s but nevertheless we are dealing with the same identical structures. Vincent was speaking about the same things that we are concerned about today (our words are different but the ideas are the same). True charity, as a virtue and as the divine ability to love and to communicate salvific love, is a reality that, above all else, allows us to become identified with God … is a reality that is nourished by God, a reality in which we communicate with God because our relationship with God is further nourished by contemplation [63].

Saint Vincent was aware of the need to change structures, both secular structures as well as religious structures. Vincent also realized that this change had to be done from the perspective of God, with God and in conformity with the will of God. In order for this to occur, Vincent also understood that he had to have a profound, intimate relationship with God. Even though Vincent is a man of action, of charitable action, yet it is precisely because of this that he is also a man of profound and sincere prayer. Vincent’s concern for the poor led him to establish seminaries, to initiate retreats for priests and to organize the Tuesday conferences, etc. Through these various activities Vincent confronted one of the causes of the poverty in which the people in the countryside found themselves. Thus these activities (seminaries, retreats, etc.) made it clear that Vincent was concerned about the poor … concerned about their spiritual and material well-being [64].

Holy priests, well-formed priests rooted in God, zealous priests committed to serve the faithful … for Vincent such priests were the best anecdote for many of the evils that afflicted the poor people in the countryside. Vincent himself had experienced these realities. We could say that he was a convert with regard to priestly ministry. God initiated an encounter with Vincent and showed “the way” in Folleville and Châtillon. The poor gave Vincent an understanding of reality that led to his conversion and that enabled him to give an authentic meaning to his priestly ministry. In Folleville he discovered the educational dimension of the good news and in Châtillon he found the service dimension of the gospel. Both dimensions are complimentary and are two parts of the one unique, profound reality. As a result of these two experiences Vincent realized that the poor could be restored to life (a life which previously they were unable to enjoy) and that this was the path where, according to Lucan theology, the spirit of Christ breathed forth the newness of life [65].

The experience of Folleville-Gannes enabled Vincent de Paul to discover the importance of the mission and the great need that the people in the countryside and, for that matter, the need that all people had for these missions. For Vincent the missions became the center around which all his other works and institutions revolved, around which his creative genius came to light. The missions became the center around which all of Vincent’s other works multiplied and developed. The missions gave a unity to all his other works: the Ladies of Charity, the Daughters of Charity, seminaries, retreats for the clergy, others works to benefit the poor. In fact, for Vincent, preaching missions was the fundamental and preferred manner of assisting the poor. In words more adapted to our era we could say that according to Vincent the manner of service par excellence is the communication of faith, the communication of the gospel, of the word of God. In the practical order, Vincent’s ministry was focused on the proclamation of the word of God, on instructing/catechizing people on every level, on struggling against atheism and indifference and on instructing the people of God in matters pertaining to their faith [66].

For the Missionaries the work of preaching missions became the best way to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, evangelizer of the poor … the best way to prolong the life of Jesus Christ on earth (CCD:IV:15-16; VII:355-358; XI:1-2). In order to carry out this manner of making the kingdom of God more present in the midst of the world, Vincent did not hesitate to refuse to engage in other forms of ministry (even forms of ministry that were seemingly necessary). He feared that such works would divert the Missionaries from their primary purpose, namely, the evangelization of the poor country people … a process of evangelization that was to be done through preaching missions (CCD:I:323; II:268-273; III:71, 86-87; IV:287-289, 579; V:85-88, 536-437; VIII:524).

For Vincent the missions were the best means to make the gospel effective for the poor. Therefore, we can say: Vincent de Paul understood that the Missionary continued the mission of Jesus Christ on earth and continued the mission that Jesus had received from the Father. To be engaged in this great mystery is to make the gospel effective and to fulfill that which was spoken by the prophets, that which is written in the Scriptures. To make the gospel effective means that Missionaries avoid every form of ideology, every automatic repetition of the word, everything that prevents the mystery of the Son of God from becoming incarnated in history. We should not attempt to repeat by rote some concept that we have learned. Our effort to make the gospel effective does not depend on the eloquence of our discourse or our theological precision or the relevance of our themes … it is not a matter of technique but rather we are dealing with a true problem of faith that demands an authentic witness of faith … a witness of faith that begins with faith and ends with faith. Vincent, as a man of great experience in the matters of God and the matters of the people, reminds us that evangelization means that we live the gospel and believe the gospel … in other words, that we believe in Jesus Christ and live in Jesus Christ and follow Jesus Christ [67].

The Missionary, rooted in Christ, lives the gospel and makes the gospel effective. In other words, through the preached mission the Missionary breaks the chains that enslave the poor country people. For Vincent de Paul the missions offer the spiritual and material remedies that the poor need in order to live with dignity as human beings and as children of God.

Vincent can give us the impression that the missions provide for only one dimension of the life of the people, one dimension of the life of the poor. If this is what we think then we are mistaken. With great frequency Vincent stated that the missions instruct the poor and provide for their material needs. The missions, as understood by Vincent, were not only focused on religious instructions (even though at first glance this might appear to be the reality). Vincent stated very clearly that the missions that were being given in France and Italy were intended to instruct the country people but were also intended to relieve the suffering of the infirm. Such expressions, in fact, are quite infrequent in Vincent’s writings, but it is clear that Vincent envisioned a total and complete service on behalf of the poor. The poor were Christians who needed instruction and conversion and the poor were also human beings who had material needs [68].

As the Vincentian missions were being preached, the poor men and women were given the material things they needed and the spiritual things that they had been deprived of. That was and, hopefully still is, the task of all Missionaries. That reality was stated in the rules that Vincent gave the Missionaries. Indeed, they were told to establish the confraternity of charity in every place where they preached a mission [69]. Material relief of those in need was something that the Missionaries always did (during the time of the mission as well as when no mission was being preached). Vincent spoke about this when he wrote: Look at what has been done for the past two years in the border areas of Champagne and Picardy by many of our priests and Brothers --- as many as sixteen or eighteen of them. Look also at what is being done in the environs of Paris by six or seven of our men, who are looking after both the spiritual and corporal needs of the poor abandoned people. Why do we give missions in France and Italy? Is it not to instruct the country people and to assist the sick who are needy?[70].

Some other documents confirm all of this. Those documents make it clear that material assistance when accompanied with sound teaching and the good example of those dispensing such material assistance [71] can bring back to the faith many who have strayed away and can also sustain the faith of the weak and those who are vacillating … and can also produce many fruits. The Missionaries at Montmirail (as a result of the contract that established this mission) had to receive the transient poor and offer them lodging and, if they were ill, had to provide them with food and medicine. At the same time these individuals had to be attended to spiritually … the sacraments had to be administered to them and in the case of death they were to be buried at the expense of the Missionaries [72]. In the document that describes the taking possession of the house in Montmirail it is stated very clearly that the community was to provide for and assist the transient poor [73]. These documents led I. Zedde to affirm: These [documents] demonstrate that at times a certain community house of the Congregation would have as its primary ministry preaching and the material care of the poor [74].

Vincent confirmed this idea in a letter that he wrote on December 7, 1652 and addressed to Charles Bayart, a priest of the Congregation who had been assigned to Montmirail: The Montmirail foundation obliges us to maintain the hospital, to take in travelers --- even the sick --- and, lastly, to do whatever good we can on the founders’ estates by visiting the sick, instructing and consoling those we meet who are in need of this, and by other good works which priests can and should do. You did well to take the three wounded soldiers into the hospital. A refusal would have scandalized the people and angered M. de Leuze. It is better to go beyond the limits of charity than to fail in it. These occasions do not arise very often, and there is no consequence to be feared [CCD:IV:513] [75].

The Missionaries, however, were not the only members of the Vincentian Family who had obligations during the mission. During the missions the members of the confraternity and the Daughters of Charity played complementary roles. All the institutions established by Vincent de Paul have as their purpose the evangelization of the poor and complement one another. In fact, the three primary institutions are united in their ministry of evangelizing the poor. At the same time, each of these institutions was entrusted with the task of providing for the spiritual and the material well-being of the poor. Thus, if some members of the Vincentian Family dedicate themselves primarily to preaching, they cannot neglect or put aside charitable assistance, cannot fail to confront the material needs of the poor and thus make real God’s justice for all people. The opposite is also true. The members of the Confraternity understood that, as stated in their rule, they had to provide for the material needs of the poor, but according to Saint Vincent, their ministry was not limited to this [76]. In one of the rules of the Confraternity we read: The Association of the Charity shall be established to honor Our Lord Jesus its patron and His Holy Mother, to provide for the needs of able-bodied and disabled poor persons, to have them taught the catechism and to receive the sacraments, to feed and give medicines to the sick poor, to help those who are nearing death to die well and those who will recover to resolve never more to offend God … (CCD:XIIIb:54] [77].

Given the importance of the Confraternities of Charity in the process of Vincentian evangelization, the Missionaries were instructed to establish these associations during the mission (as previously pointed out). The members of these confraternities prolonged the spirit that was lived and renewed during the time of the mission … they did not allow this spirit to die.

With regard to the Daughters of Charity we can further state that they were originally established to assist the Ladies of Charity in serving the poor. Very soon Vincent realized that these generous, young women could engage in a more assiduous, on-going work on behalf of the poor. The primary purpose of this new Company was to serve the sick poor [78].

Service on behalf of the sick poor had to take into consideration both the material and spiritual needs of those individuals. The rule of some of the houses/establishments expresses this idea very clearly. Let us look at one of these, the house in Angers: The rule obliges the Daughters of Charity to put everything else aside when the needs and the service of the poor require this … and this is their primary purpose [79].

In the rule that was drawn up for this community we read: The Daughters of Charity of the Sick Poor are going to Angers to honor Our Lord. Father of the Poor, and His Holy Mother, in order to assist, corporally and spiritually, the sick poor of the Hotel-Dieu of the town: corporally, by serving them and giving them food and medicine: spiritually, by instructing the patients in things necessary for salvation and seeing that they make a general confession of their entire past life so that, by this means, those who will die may leave this world in a good state, and those who will recover may take the resolution never more to offend God [CCD:XIIIb:106] [80].

The vocation and the mission of the Daughters of Charity consist of total dedication to the poor, serving the poor in their material and spiritual needs. Therefore, they have the mission of healing the infirm, eliminating the hunger that the poor confront and teaching the catechism to these same poor men and women. In other words, they have as their primary mission the task of restoring or recreating the poor as human persons and as Christians [81]. In order to carry out this task in a satisfactory manner the Daughters of Charity ought to nourish themselves with the love of Jesus Christ and with the desire to communicate this same love to those who are poor. The love of Jesus Christ should be their strength and their foundation. In all of this we must recognize that Vincent strongly urged the Daughters of Charity to also provide for the religious/spiritual well-being of the poor. Why did Vincent do this? It seems that Vincent was profoundly moved by the religious ignorance that he discovered in the villages, towns and cities. This concern of the Founder for the spiritual welfare of the poor is explained by the fact that he was moved by the religious ignorance of the people, a situation which had to be confronted even before attending to their material needs. Therefore, he sent the Daughters to a new mission in Ussel and urged them to fulfill their mission: they had to make it possible for people to come to know and to love God [82].

Vincent de Paul saw the Daughters of Charity as one of his privileged institutions in making the gospel of Jesus Christ effective as they brought the good news of Jesus Christ to the poor, the infirm, the disinherited and those who were enslaved … the good news that God loved them and saved them and at the same time God freed them from all that afflicted them and enslaved them.

Action when confronted by situations of misery: the infirm, abandoned children, the galley slaves, providing assistance to Lorraine, Champagne, Picardy and Paris and surrounding areas

I am convinced that what has become known as relief action to confront situations of misery is one of the sides of the coin that Vincent de Paul called making the gospel of Jesus Christ effective. The other side of the coin is composed of instruction, catechesis, and evangelization of the poor country people. Once again there appear in the background of this matter the two decisive events in Vincent’s life: Folleville and Châtillon. With regard to this José María Ibáñez states: Beginning with the year 1617, after the experiences in Gannes-Folleville and Châtillon, whether Vincent was aware of this or not, he evolved and was transformed. At the same time he continued to question himself in light of the various events that occurred in his life and this led to a total change with regard to his perspective on life [83].

Experiences and events became more numerous and all of these made Vincent reflect. Through the inspiration of God, Vincent was able to organize the charitable activity and the assistance that was provided to the regions that were devastated by war and the other sins of humankind. Vincent was able to restore life to those regions that were crushed by death and injustice and destruction and exploitation. As Vincent clothed himself in the spirit of Jesus Christ, he committed himself to the poor and his primary concern was that of making the gospel of Jesus Christ effective in and for those men and women who were poor. He became aware of the urgent needs that had to be confronted as well as the many groups of people who had to be comforted. Step by step, without trying to anticipate divine Providence, Vincent engaged in activities and established institutions that clearly revealed him as a man of faith, a lively faith, a faith that was able to transform the society in which he lived. On one occasion this gospel faith led Vincent to establish a hospice, Nom-de-Jésus, to care for elderly beggars while on another occasion Vincent’s faith led him to oppose the forced enclosure of countless poor persons and beggars in a general hospital that was established by a royal decree [84]. Yes, this was the work of Vincent de Paul, a man who was transformed by the gospels and who became the servant of the poor in order to evangelize them and humanize them.

Vincent de Paul confronted the realities of poverty and illness and looked for the best solutions that were available to him. But hunger, war, epidemics, the plague, the lack of sanitary conditions and good nutrition … all of these situations filled the streets and the alleys of France with weak and dead bodies of countless men and women. Furthermore, those infirm poor men and women were inadequately cared for because of a lack of specialized personnel and because of the incompetence of many who attempted to care for them … many of these sick poor men and women were abandoned to fend for themselves because of their geographic isolation. It was obvious that some solution had to be found and Vincent took steps in this regard.

In Châtillon, Vincent organized assistance and help and as a result the sick poor were cared for in their homes (CCD:IX:192-193). The generosity of the people was overwhelming and spontaneous … but, Vincent thought, such generosity had to be organized. The people engaged in acts of great charity but there was no organization to this charity. The family that was ill was provided for and assisted by their neighbors and suddenly, there was an abundance of food. But all of this would be useless unless some order was given to this matter. The experience of an organized charitable activity would give rise to a charitable movement of mercy and kindness and feminine love. Immediately Vincent went about organizing this activity. He gathered together some good people to decide on some practical ways to organize the assistance that would be given to the sick poor in the parish. It was decided to form an association, a confraternity called “the charity”. This confraternity would be composed of twenty women, who committed themselves to take turns in caring for the body and the soul of those who were found to be in need of such care (the member of this confraternity would decide on who needed to be cared for). They would tend to the material needs of the infirm by providing them with food and medicine and they would tend to the spiritual needs of those individuals by helping them prepare for a good death or, if they were healed, by helping them to live holy lives. On August 23, 1617, Vincent gave the first rule to the members of the Confraternity [85].

Kindness, gentleness, self-sacrifice, and concern to provide for the well-being of the persons who were under the care of the members of the confraternity … these confraternities or “charities” were inspired by the group that was formed in Châtillon and soon these confraternities would begin to flourish in those areas where the Missionaries preached missions. The majority of these groups were composed of women, though there were some that were composed of both men and women. These were virtuous, charitable and courageous persons who were called to give themselves to God and to their neighbor in a supernatural expansion of the maternal instinct [86]. Vincent pointed out that they [the members of the Confraternities] are working wonders (CCD:I:246) [87]. Throughout his life Vincent was mindful of the experience at Châtillon … it was this experience that allowed Vincent to participate in the development of work on behalf of the sick poor of the seventeenth century [88].

Throughout France, but especially in Paris, there were hundreds of abandoned babies [89]. Generally, these babies were illegitimate children and viewed as children of sin [90]. Therefore, they were rejected and forgotten by their parents, despised by society and thus, sentenced to a premature death [91]. Vincent himself has left us a description of the harsh realities that these children had to confront: You were informed that those poor little creatures were receiving very little assistance --- one wet nurse for four or five babies. They were being sold for eight sous apiece to beggars who would break their arms and legs to arouse pity so the people would give them alms, and they let them die of hunger … (CCD:XIIIb:421) [92].

Furthermore, these children would die without baptism [93]. Moved by all of this Vincent looked for ways to resolve this situation [94] and slowly relief in the life of the foundlings became a reality. At first, the Ladies of Charity took responsibility for these children and then they were cared for by the Daughters of Charity. Through this ministry Vincent de Paul both cared for these children and also offered them a good education [95]. He wanted to make these children honorable men and women and good Christians. This was not easy because he had to confront many obstacles … the social and pseudo-religious obstacles were far greater than the financial obstacles. We can affirm: Vincent de Paul’s involvement in this situation that required an urgent solution was a sign of social progress. His intelligence and merciful heart were able to break the power of the prejudice that was so prevalent with regard to the foundlings during that era. Thus he was able to teach others what had to be done in order for this work to be effective [96].

As happened with so many of Vincent’s initiatives, so too during the time of the development of this work on behalf of the foundlings, the Vincentian Family worked together. In fact, this collaboration was characteristic of the religious, human and social activity that Vincent became involved in and was a characteristic of the institutions that he established. A special feature of Vincent’s works of charity is particularly striking in the case of the foundlings. Vincent’s three great institutions all collaborated in their own way, in this work. The Ladies were patrons of the work and they provided the funds, the Daughters of Charity were directly involved in the work while the priests of the Mission supervised and directed it. Charity is all one and it is to be served by all available helpers [97].

Another charitable activity that Vincent undertook in order to make the gospel effective was that of caring for the galley salves. Let us allow the historians to speak to us about this. If the foundlings were a blot on society then the galley salves were a reproach both to society and to the state. The latter was responsible for the appalling situation whereby thousands of men were condemned to waste away their lives on the benches of the galley ships. This spectre was to haunt every navy in the world until the development, first of sailing boats, and later of steamships, meant that vessels could be powered by other means than men’s arms. In the second third of the seventeenth century this solution was still a long way off and the fact that the country was at war only added to the evil. Richelieu’s policy of naval expansion in his bid for European supremacy meant that the number of galley salves was increased and that the prisoners had to serve longer sentences [98].

Vincent saw with his own eyes the situation that these individuals had to confront and he exclaimed: I have seen those poor men treated like animals (CCD:X:103). Ah! Sisters, what a happiness to serve those poor convicts abandoned into the hands of persons who have no pity for them. I have seen those poor men treated like animals; that caused God to be moved with compassion. They inspired pity in him; as a result, his goodness did two things on their behalf; first, he had a house bought for them; second, he willed to arrange matters in such a way as to have them served by his own daughters, because to say a Daughter of Charity is to say a Daughter of God [99].

Since the galley slaves were viewed as criminals they were deprived of a dignified life. Yet these men were the glory of a navy that sailed on an ocean of misery, pain and blood --- the labors of the galley slaves. It was these men, the scum of society, whose arms toiled at rowing and whose backs were lacerated by the overseer’s implacable whips, who sailed the ships that proudly flew the fleur de lys ensign … [these were the men who] languished in infectious and nauseous prisons, chained together in pairs, famished with hunger and worn out by fever or by worms … what awaited them were endless days of painful rowing during which they were scorched by the fierce Mediterranean sun or lashed by rain and storms … [100].

These men were human beings who were mistreated by life, by their environment and by other persons. Is not this the worst situation for any person? Perhaps what was worse, however, was their inability to have recourse to legal authorities. If they were condemned to two or three years in the galleys they might find their sentence arbitrarily extended for an indefinite period. This might be due to bureaucratic chaos or to the navy’s demand for manpower [101].

In light of this situation what could Vincent do? What did he do? In 1618 he visited the galley slaves and shuddered at the sight of this untold misery [102]. The misery that he discovered among the galley slaves was horrible and more devastating than that which he experienced among the men and women, the peasants, living in the countryside [103]. Therefore, Vincent began by advocating for better housing and wanted greater attention to be given to the basic needs of these men [104]. As soon as he was appointed Chaplain General of the galley slaves Vincent guaranteed them the necessary help with regard to their material, moral and religious situation … thus their situation was bettered. He listened and looked for ways to make his activity ever more effect. He became an intermediary and this facilitated the sharing of ideas and the implementation of certain reforms [105].

Once again the three institutions became involved in this ministry. The Missionaries took responsibility for their spiritual needs and the Ladies of Charity and the Daughters of Charity provided for their material needs. We know, however, that for Vincent de Paul these two activities (providing for material needs and providing for spiritual needs) cannot be separated from one another and therefore, the Missionaries, the Ladies of Charity and the Daughters of Charity had to be involved in activity that provided for both the spiritual and the material needs of the poor [106]. Vincent was able to bring relief to the bodies of the galley slaves and, through his kindness and attentiveness, was able to remove the bitterness from the hearts of those men [107]. Through this charitable activity Vincent and his followers left profound footprints … human and Christian footprints.

During Vincent’s lifetime there were many vagrants. José María Román, in his biography on Vincent de Paul, refer to his reality as a scourge: French society was plagued by a third scourge which took the form of vagrancy. Beggars were to be found all over France, both in the country areas and in the cities, but they were most in evidence in Paris which was the nation’s sponge and its sewer. These beggars formed a floating population that hung around the public square or the streets of a town, crowded outside convents, surrounded the coaches bringing travelers to the towns and pestered better-off people in the streets. Roguery flourished alongside begging [108].

Begging has never been seen as something that was good and during the seventeenth century begging was viewed with contempt. Yet even though everyone was opposed to begging, no one was able to find a viable solution. The state regarded vagrancy as a political problem and dealt, or rather tried to deal with it, by political, or maybe we should say, police methods … Beggars were a public enemy for society in general. They were regarded as enemies and feared as such [109].

As we have stated no one offered a viable solution and as long as the causes of the misery remained, there was no hope of curing its effects [110]. Ecclesial institutions, for example, following their tradition, offered relief through alms and the distribution of food. But, was this a solution? The majority of time that approach proved to be counter-productive because this easy access to sustenance was, itself, an open invitation to lead of life of idleness [111].

Vincent cared for beggars by providing them with alms and immediate relief. But this was not enough. In the first place we must keep in mind the fact that Vincent’s generosity seemed to be boundless: All sources of contemporary evidence are in emphatic agreement about Vincent’s exorbitant almsgiving. He gave everything he had. He turned saint Lazare into the greatest welfare centre in Paris. Every year the house contributed 200 livres to the charity confraternity in the parish of Saint Laurent and every day they distributed bread, soup and meat to poor families in the neighborhood. And every day, two poor men were invited to eat in the community refectory where they were given the places of honor, on either side of the superior. Poor beggars who rang at the door were given a portion of bread and a few sous. Three times a week soup would be distributed to every beggar that came and there would usually be about six hundred. When times were worse, as during the siege of Paris by the Fronde, this distribution was made every day. Three great cauldrons of soup were needed to provide for nearly two thousand people. The brother who was in charge of making bread reckoned that in the space of three months they had gone through 1,200 kilos of wheat … One day, when Vincent was passing by in his carriage, he saw a boy crying in the street. He stopped the carriage, got out, and went up to the boy to ask him why he was crying. When he saw the boy’s injured hand he took him to a surgeon who attended to the wound, then he paid the doctor and gave the lad a few coins. On another occasion he gave 100 livres to a carter who had lost his horses. It’s impossible to count the number of times he used his carriage to take sick people that he found in the streets to the Hotel-Dieu. A soldier, nicknamed “the Sieve” because he had so many scars, came to Saint Lazare and with all the effrontery of the miles gloriosus asked Vincent for lodgings. Vincent took him in. Next day the veteran beggar fell sick. Vincent had him moved to a room with a fireplace, and he lived there for two months as their guest, with a brother to wait on him hand and foot. At other times Vincent would waive the rent due from tenants, he took in orphans at St Lazare, sent a hundred needles to a tailor, and he personally gave some women the money they asked for…[112].

This lengthy, yet magnificent description of Vincent’s generosity enables us to see that his generosity endangered the financial situation of the community residing at Saint-Lazare. Yet when confronted with complaints and murmuring, Vincent was able to put forth good reasons for his acting in the way he did. He said: I worry about our Company, but to tell you the truth, not so much as I do about the poor. If we need to, we could ask for help from our other houses or appeal to the vicars in the parishes. But where can the poor turn? Where can they go? This is my worry and my sorrow [113].

Vincent was not satisfied with short-term, immediate relief. His organizing nature led him to look for long-term solutions. While it was not Vincent’s responsibility to eliminate the causes of poverty and begging, yet what Vincent did was important and serves as an encouragement for us. We previously stated that Vincent established the Hospice du Nom-de-Jésus where the elderly and disabled workers were received and cared for by the Daughters of Charity. There those who were able to work had to do something so as not to find themselves in a state of perpetual idleness. The individuals who resided there received vocational training as well as religious instruction and instruction regard different pious practices. Once again the various Vincentian institutions confronted this situation together. Vincent had created a novel type of institution and was able to smile at its success: The residents could enjoy a peaceful and leisurely old age and they were happy with the way they were being looked after. The only drawback was that the institution could only take in a limited number of residents. Places only became vacant when residents died, and there was always a long waiting list as people applied years in advance. The institution may have been just an experiment for Vincent, a first step in a new direction, but politicians took up the idea and decided to implement it on a big scale [114].

When speaking about Vincent’s activity to make the gospel effective, we have described, in a brief manner, the social upheaval that occurred in France during the seventeenth century. Politics and the struggle for supremacy in Europe sank whole religions of France into misery. From 1635 to 1660 the French countryside became the scene for foreign and civil war … at different times the countryside served as a battlefield, as an area of encampment and also as an area for on-going troop movement [115].

With a charitable and enterprising spirit Vincent looked for solutions in order to respond to all these disasters: During the time of the French-Spanish War and the four years of the Fronde Vincent organized and put in place a new army to build-up and to plant in those areas where other troops were determined to uproot and destroy [116].

In order to do this Vincent used everything that was available to him at that time and collaborated with others in order to provide relief to those devastated areas.

The Province of Lorraine was plundered and set afire in 1635 and again in 1645. For one reason or another, peace never became a reality and the war was never terminated. So what were the consequences of this situation? … we briefly describe what occurred: the thefts and robberies and fires that were set by the troops left the province in ruin and created misery. Poverty, hunger and disease devastated the country and depopulated it. Some people were so hungry that they ate the flesh of other family members who had died. Misery was extended everywhere and became commonplace: peasants, city workers, rich people who resided in castles, priests and men and women religious … all of these people lived in poverty and privation [117].

At once Vincent began to work. He asked Cardinal Richelieu to give peace to Lorraine and looked for the means and the necessary provisions that would bring relief to the province … he even mounted a publicity campaign to attract further support [118]. The Ladies of Charity became responsible for the collection of funds for the relief effort and the Missionaries were responsible for the distribution of these provisions. Vincent sent twelve of his best priests and clerics to help the missioners at Toul and he also sent brothers who had some knowledge of surgery or medicine [119].

Vincent was continually informed about the situation in Lorraine and this enabled him to provide and distribute provisions in that area. In order to deliver large sums of money to that area and avoid the dangers of assault and plunder Vincent chose Brother Mathieu Regnard, an astute and cool-headed individual [120]. According to Vincent, Brother, was working wonders in this regard by a very special grace our Lord has given him [121]. A rule was drawn up to deal with this specific situation and this rule outlined norms that were to be followed. Being informed about real needs, distribution of basic food supplies, distribution of clothing and medicine … those were primary tasks. Large sums of money were also given to help the men and women who were cloistered behind monastery walls. Together with this material assistance the Missionaries also provided spiritual help: preaching, catechizing, administration of the sacraments, missions. It can be said that the Lorraine campaign was one of the best examples we have of the priests of the Mission working hand in hand with the charities [122]

The war did not cease and in fact, war appeared to become an epidemic since the people in the area of Champagne and Picardy were also affected: few regions suffered so much as a result of the war as the area of Champagne and Picardy. For twenty-five years, from 1635-1660, the French, Spanish and German soldiers, as well as soldiers from Lorraine, moved throughout the country sowing death and destruction [123]

Many soldiers acted in a savage manner. Everywhere they left behind destruction and death and always the peasants, the poor people, paid the consequences. Hunger and misery had become part of people’s daily existence. The subjects of King Louis are rich in war, in misery and in a variety of diseases. Hunger has created situation of cannibalism: two children were found to be eating the flesh of their parents. In fact, hunger became so extreme that the Missionaries have seen people eating dirt and grass and have also seen people striping the bark from the trees and tearing the rags that cover their bodies into pieces in order to have something to eat [124]

Vincent de Paul, after being involved in the events as they unfolded in Lorraine again initiated a campaign of information and organization in order to assist the people in this region of Champagne and Picardy [125]. He had limited resources but this did not mean that he stood still with his arms folded. He felt that it was urgent to satisfy people’s basic needs. He mobilized the members of the Vincentian Family and thus initiated an effective action. There was a need to be economical and yet those who were truly needy could not be neglected. Those who could work ought to work … the alms were meant for those who could not provide for themselves: the infirm, the elderly, children and those who were unable to find work [126]. Therefore, alms and immediate help was given to the infirm and disabled while those who were able to work were provided with the tools that were needed. In order to be effective charity demands that we know the exact needs of each place and each person. Therefore, since funds are limited it is necessary to establish criteria to guide the distribution of these provisions. Vincent urged and encouraged the Missionaries to become aware of the needs of the people and also reminded them about the principles that should guide their activity. They should not distribute alms to those who could work but should distribute those funds to the infirm, the elderly, children and those who had found it impossible to obtain work. On the other hand, when an individual is able to work it is then necessary to provide those people with the tools they need. When it is seen that the land can be cultivated and when there are people who are able to engage in this work then those individuals should be given plows and seeds. At the same time the women and young girls should be provided with flax and burlap or wool to sew [127]

When speaking about Vincent’s organized and concrete charitable activity we must be mindful of the fact that Vincent had at his disposal very little money to provide for so many demands and therefore the help that he was able to provide was reduced. Yet Vincent’s ministry and the organized charitable endeavor that was carried out in those regions produced fruit and the two provinces were saved. This work produced fruit: the residents in Champagne and Picardy were saved from starvation and were provided with reasons to continue to live … Vincent created an environment of solidarity which enveloped the daily life of the poor men and women of that area. Those people were reintegrated into life and, at the same time, were reintegrated into the work force. This new method of providing help to others reveals the origin of an inventive and effective charity [128].

Does this not reveal the spirit of the gospel? Does not making the gospel effective today consist of this very thing or something similar to it? There is no doubt about our affirmative answer. In fact, in all of this we find a good program for the present era when we have to confront drug abuse, unemployment, new waves of immigration …

The internal politics of the French kingdom brought about a new disaster. When King Louis XIII died, his successor was a minor and some of the nobles disputed the regency of the kingdom. All of these disputes were called the Fronde Wars [129] … a time of intrigue and constant war. The city of Paris took up arms against the Queen Regent, Anne of Austria and her Prime Minister, Cardinal Mazarin who at the beginning of this dispute understood that is was best to flee the city. Then, when returning to Paris, the royal troops surrounded the city and began a cruel and harsh seizure of the city. As a result hunger and misery and the black market became every more prevalent realities. As if that was not enough a series of natural disasters occurred which made the ordinary life of people even more difficult. After the royal court left Paris the Seine River overflowed its banks destroying bridges and homes and flooding the streets of Paris … the poorest inhabitants of the city were drowned. Misery increased and Parliament was obliged to suppress the payment of taxes that usually took place during the Easter season [130].

Misery increased and everyone and everything was affected. When an agreement was reached between the court and Parliament the people obtained nothing even though they had engaged in a fierce struggle and endured hunger. In fact, it was precisely these same people who “paid” the highest costs of this failed rebellion [131].

Despite this first peace agreement, the civil war continued. People fled Paris and the surrounding areas and the troops who took control of this area sowed misery, illness, death, plunder, robbery and desecrations [132]. Once again Vincent de Paul knew how to act in accord with the demands of the drama that was unfolding and looked for the best solutions that would offer relief to the people who were being assaulted on a daily basis by one disaster after another … by misery.

In the beginning Vincent looked for a political solution. He met with the Queen and with Mazarin and spoke to them with a certain firmness. Then, from afar, from exile (for political reasons), he made use of every means to relieve the hunger and the poverty of the people. He detached himself from everything that he possessed … he sacrificed himself and placed himself at the service of the poor in order to provide for their needs. The poor spoke and Vincent obeyed; the poor made known their situation of hunger and destitution and Vincent confronted those situations and gifted people with new life. All of this occurred despite his advanced age. In 1652 Vincent was seventy-two years old and became the advocate and the organizer of a charitable movement in Paris and the surrounding area. For this advocate of charity what was in play was a response to the demands of God which were revealed in the midst of the drama in which the French society was involved [133]

Vincent, motivated by a love that had to be expressed in gestures of solidarity with the poor and the marginalized, committed all his followers to the ministry of assistance and liberation: Vincent de Paul attempted to sensitize the Missionaries, the Daughters of Charity and the Ladies of Charity to the humiliating misery and poverty that so many people experienced. During 1652 he spoke about this misery and also spoke about the theme of peace in his conferences. Also, each day, for the intention of peace, six Missionaries fasted and received communion. During the height of this crisis Vincent met with the Ladies of Charity on a daily basis and reviewed with them the needs and the ways to alleviate the extreme needs of the diocese [134].

Learning from his previous experiences, Vincent shared the information that was communicated to him with many other people; he collaborated with everyone and methodically organized a relief campaign. Everyone in Paris contributed and as a result it became possible to provide food and clothing and medicine to the infirm and to make available work tools to the poor [135]. It became necessary to set up some storehouses for the food and tools that were to be distributed. The Daughters of Charity and the Missionaries collaborated in this ministry. The Daughters became responsible for assisting, feeding and caring for the sick and the refugees [136]. The Missionaries organized missions for the refugees and established and/or animated the members of the confraternities to continue this work. The Ladies of Charity became responsible for the publicity campaign and the collection of funds and other material goods. All the Vincentian institutions had an active role in this charitable campaign, in building up the kingdom of God in Paris and the surrounding areas that had been devastated by the civil war. The words that animated all of that activity were spoken by Vincent when he wrote: We hear that you have spared nothing to save the lives of all the sick poor in those places [137]. Vincent remained faithful to this principle until the end of his life.

It would be useless to try and calculate the exact, or even the approximate amount of money and provisions provided by Vincent de Paul over more than twenty years of continual aid to the devastated regions. Other things are more important. Vincent, who had been so assiduous in consolidating the finances of the houses he founded, now squandered their assets in the service of his neighbor. His conduct and his teaching showed he believed it to be literally true that the money of the Company was the money of poor [138].

It can be said with a certain pride that Vincent never allowed himself to be restrained in his efforts to provide for the poor … neither in the area of resources nor effort nor personnel. Many missionaries and Daughters of Charity gave their life in this difficult endeavor and became martyrs for charity [139].

We conclude this section in which we have reviewed Vincent’s ministry and the ministry of his followers and in which we have seen how this ministry made the gospel of Jesus Christ effective during the seventeenth century. We conclude with the words of José María Román: the mighty wave of active and compassionate charity towards the poor which Vincent unleashed, rescued France from the charge of inhumanity. This France was notorious for its ambitious cardinals, its scheming bishops, its merciless generals and a soldiery that was crazed with cruelty and envy. Thanks to Vincent and his magnificent band of helpers, another, underground France, started to flourish beneath mountains of self-interest and hypocrisy, the France which, ever since the days of Saint Ireneus, had taken to itself the gospel message of compassionate charity [140].

In other words, through their direct charitable activity on behalf of those persons most in need, Vincent de Paul and the institutions that he established evangelized the people of France and brought about a resurgence of hope among the poor. Indeed, the poor, in the very depth of their being, felt that the God of Jesus Christ had not abandoned them or forgotten them.

The Vincentian Rule: to make the gospel of Jesus Christ effective today

If Jesus Christ has commanded us to evangelize: Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15; cf., Matthew 28:19-20), if Vincent de Paul asks us to evangelize the poor through word and action, if we want to be faithful disciples of Jesus and Vincent, then there is no other path than that of spending our life as heralds of the good news of Jesus Christ … Jesus Christ who saves and liberates all people, but especially the poor and the oppressed and those who are enslaved. This is the command that we have received; this is the norm, the rule of our life. As beneficiaries of Vincent’s heritage, evangelization is the reason for our existence.

But we cannot engage in just any process of evangelization. We cannot be satisfied be becoming the echo of a word that was spoken so many years ago. First, we must live the word and incarnate the word in our life. Then, we must lose ourselves and become involved in the life of humankind, primarily the life of those who are poor. To incarnate ourselves in the life of the poor means that we establish bonds of solidarity with them, that we become one with them, that we liberate them and rescue them from all that prevents them from living a full life, from all that prevents them from living as human beings, from all that prevents them from living with dignity. To be evangelizers of the poor involves a commitment to be a witness of Jesus Christ and a witness of Jesus’ love for humankind, a commitment to be agents of human and social transformation, living agents of material, social and spiritual liberation of those persons who are poor and oppressed. Only in this way will be be heralds of good news … only in this way will we be the gospel. In other words, only in this way will we make the gospel of Jesus Christ effective in the world of the poor and the disinherited, in the world of those who are exploited and viewed with contempt, in the world of those who are enslaved and left half-dead on the side of the road.

What the poor and others are saying to us today

In the previous paragraphs I have hinted at what people expect from us. The poor expect nothing less than that we make the gospel of Jesus Christ effective for them and do this in front of their eyes … they expect us to be faithful witnesses and representatives of Jesus Christ and Vincent de Paul. How? They expect us to make the gospel the ferment of life, to work tirelessly to change the structures of the present world, that is, to eliminate the structures of sin and death that are so prevalent in society and replace those structures with structures of love that are translated into solidarity, commitment and service on behalf of others.

Today everyone expects us to reveal true gospel signs. These signs bring to life our credibility and our honesty. These signs will be effective if they make real that which we proclaim, that which they really signify. Pope Paul VI reminds us about this when he states: But Christ also carries out this proclamation by innumerable signs, which amaze the crowds and at the same time draw them to Him in order to see Him, listen to Him and allow themselves to be transformed by Him: the sick are cured, water is changed into wine, bread is multiplied, the dead come back to life. And among all these signs there is the one to which He attaches great importance: the humble and the poor are evangelized, become His disciples and gather together "in His name" in the great community of those who believe in Him (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #12).

We can say that in some way Vincent de Paul revealed those signs that are described in the previous paragraph, signs that constitute the messianic presence of Jesus. We can also do the same thing and give life to those signs. We can minister in such a way that illness loses its grip on people and as a result those who are infirm willingly embrace their condition and their suffering. This will occur when we invest more money in research, when we relate more intimately with those who are infirm and treat them with kindness and tenderness, when we accompany them, when we serve them with such love that they discover in us God’s personal love for them. When we transform life and offer people the possibility of living their life with greater dignity then we are like Jesus when he changed the water into wine. We multiply the loaves and fishes when we provide food to all people, when we become less concerned about margins of profit and more concerned about distributing food more equitably, when we put aside our speculation in this area and when we also no longer destroy crops in order to obtain a higher price. Then, and only then, will a new life flourish in the midst of the world and only then will we live in a distinct manner. That which was dead will be restored to a new and better existence … yes, this will be a wonderful surprise, a good way to attract others; yes, this will be good news … this will be evangelization.

What then is our mission? Our ministry consists of acting in such a way that new men and women appear in our midst, men and women clothed in the spirit of Jesus Christ, transformed by Jesus Christ and one with Jesus Christ … men and women who have overcome selfishness and pride and are able to relate to others in a loving manner; men and women who, like the good Samaritan (cf., Luke 10:25-37), are not afraid to approach those in need and offer them an effective solution, offer them a commitment of total love. Pope Paul VI said: there is no new humanity if there are not first of all new persons renewed by Baptism and by lives lived according to the Gospel (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #18). To say this another way, evangelization ought to result in new men and women who enter into a process of changing their own conscience and changing the conscience of the larger community, who change their manner of acting, their commitment and who impact the situation in which they live (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi, #18). In other words, our ministry consists of capacitating people so that they can change the present social structures and thus put in place the plan of Jesus Christ as revealed in the gospels. Indeed, every Christian has the obligation to affect and as it were upset, through the power of the Gospel, humankind's criteria of judgment, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration and models of life, which are in contrast with the Word of God and the plan of salvation (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #19). In a few words then, our ministry consists of capacitating people to transform the present culture with all its selfishness and violence and sexism and inequality and injustice. Indeed, today the split between culture and the gospel constitutes the drama of our time, just as it was of other times (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #20).

This change, this revolution that I have described, will come about more as a result of our example than the words that we speak. When people are understanding, open, communicative and live in solidarity with others … when people live simply and with hope … when people are spontaneous and when their faith is an expression of gospel values then, these people have become living examples of how one ought to live. The manner in which these people live their life leads other people to question themselves and to reexamine their own life. Thus, these individuals have become living witnesses of the gospel values and are clear signs that the lifestyle of Jesus Christ is alive and has meaning in the present era. Today, therefore, we are invited to be silent witnesses of a life lived in harmony with the gospels. We are also invited to act in such a way (to act with simplicity and humility) that people begin to understand why we are people of hope. Indeed, such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #21).

Transmitters of good news

When we want to speak about something or study something in depth and/or analyze it carefully, we necessarily have to separate it into workable parts. The same occurs when we want to speak about evangelization, which is our primary mission. The good news, proclaimed and lived out by Christ, constitutes a whole, a unique unity but one, that nevertheless, has two aspects. One aspect is the word and the other aspect is action. One is focused on the proclamation and the other on service. Yet the proclamation cannot be divorced from service and action will never be effective if it is not supported by the word. Vincent de Paul, aware of human nature and the limitations of people, engaged in a process of evangelization during which he established various institutions that complimented one another, (each one responsible for some specific task). Nevertheless, each institution has the mission of making the gospel effective both spiritually and materially. We are mindful of all of this because today we are expected to be transmitters of the good news, that is, transmitters of the gospel (and it seems that at this time only one aspect of evangelization receives the focus). To transmit good news is to pronounce words and to produce corresponding acts that result in life, well-being and salvation. Vincent, when he spoke with and formed his followers, sought to instill this twofold concept of the process of evangelization in them. At different times, during the repetition of prayer and conferences, Vincent spoke about the attitudes that should guide the Missionaries when giving missions. He also instructed them on how they should speak and act, what they should emphasize when catechizing, etc. Vincent’s intention was that the Missionaries and the Daughters of Charity and the Ladies of Charity would communicate the good news to people and share with people words of comfort and encouragement and hope. Using today’s language we might say that Vincent wanted the members of his family to be constructive. The little method for preaching, friendliness and kindness when dealing with people, tender words and a smile … all of these are means to communicate the good news, to be good news, to be architects of good news for all who find themselves immersed in poverty and misery. The followers of Vincent de Paul ought to be understood by the poor country people and these poor men and women should be excited and enthused by the words of forgiveness and life that are spoken to them … transformed by the flow of life that is a natural result of the ministry of the Vincentian Family.

The gospels tell us that people were surprised and amazed by the message that Jesus proclaimed to them. They were amazed because they understood the message and were filled with hope. When speaking about the kingdom of God that was proclaimed by Jesus, José María Castillo reminds us: The first thing that we must be mindful of as we attempt to understand the significance of the kingdom of God is that Jesus’ proclamation about this reality produced great enthusiasm in the poor and simple people who listened to him. This means that the poor and ignorant are able to understand immediately the significance of the kingdom of God. Second, without a doubt the kingdom responds to the expectations and needs of those people who are seen as the lowest members of society. In other words, the kingdom is good news for the poor, the weak and those who are marginalized in any way (even when this marginalization is their own fault). In light of this we have to begin to understand what the gospels are telling us when they refer to the kingdom of God [186].

To make oneself understood and to respond to the needs of those who are listening are signs that one is engaged in an effective process of evangelization, signs of being the gospel and communicating good news. Making ourself understood by those who are poor or weak or marginalized or exploited … satisfying their expectations and hopes (hopes related to fundamental aspects of life) … do we always act in this manner? Have our conversations with the poor and with all people taken this form? Has our preaching and our formation and conferences been adapted to this style? What themes have we focused on and what themes have we avoided addressing?

I believe that we have frequently been voices of judgment rather than transmitters of the gospel. We have spoken more words of condemnation rather than words of encouragement and hope. We have cast shadows over life rather than light … the light of the gospel. We have been more fire and brimstone than compassionate and merciful. Therefore at the present time, people, the poor, … they hope that we will renounce our former pessimism and darkness and hell and that we will be converted and become heralds of life and light and hope and happiness and joy in the Lord of life. They hope that we will make a radical option on behalf of the poor … that we will opt for life, for joy in life, for happiness and for love that is expressed by solidarity. In a word they hope that we will opt for God because the God of Jesus Christ, the Christian God is not a God of the dead but of the living (Matthew 22:32; Mark 12:27; Luke 20:38).

Effective witness of God’s love

The gospel of Christ has to be proclaimed in order for those who hear it and listen to it and accept it … in order that these people might also conform themselves to Christ and find life. There is no proclamation without someone who speaks. But the word can become misleading and false if the heart is not in harmony with the mind. Therefore in addition to proclaiming the word one must also live according to the word, that is, love must be translated into action. Therefore, the building up of the kingdom of God is impossible unless the words of life and hope that we proclaim with our lips are united to the true witness of our works. Thus, if we are not believed because of what we proclaim then at least we should be believed because of what we do (Cf., John 10:28-38). But works can also be misleading (though this was not true with regard to Jesus).

If those who listen to the word have twisted minds, we should not give that any importance. Later we will have to help those individuals change. What we must now be concerned about is that we truly proclaim the kingdom of God and that our minds and words and works and life are all in harmony with one another. If this is not the reality then we must change and seek harmony in our life. Jesus proclaimed and built up the kingdom of God with simplicity and truthfulness … and yet with all of this people still not believe him: Jesus answered them, “I told you and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me (John 10:25). Then Jesus added: If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me; but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may realize [and understand] that the Father is in me and I am in the Father (John 10:37-38).

As human being we have made the word into a reality that is deceptive and false and yet it is words that provide the best vehicle for communication and exchange of ideas between people. It is not easy to falsify works but we are also able to do this. So what remains? … nothing but conversion. We must renew our interior life because the things that come out from within are what defile (Mark 7:16). Indeed, from within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile (Mark 7:21-23).

Words, actions and attitudes arise from a person’s interior. When people’s interior life is not in order, when they do not live in love and from the perspective of love and for love, when they are selfish and hateful and arrogant, then their words and actions and attitudes harm themselves and also harm others. At the same time, the gospel of Jesus should be embraced with enthusiasm and joy because it is good news that should change one’s interior. This change results from an experience of God’s compassionate and merciful love and thus people open themselves to the kingdom of God, to God’s justice, to God’s plan. God wants all people, but especially those who are poor, to rejoice in a full and prosperous life … a life lived in all its fullness. That fullness will become a reality as a result of love, solidarity, work and common effort.

People today (and especially the poor and the marginalized) need to hear sincere words, life-giving words. But they also need something more than words … they need witness and coherent actions that reveal integrity. Here we remember once again the words of Pope Paul VI who speaks to us about evangelizations and states: for the Church, the first means of evangelization is the witness of an authentically Christian life, given over to God in a communion that nothing should destroy and at the same time given to one's neighbor with limitless zeal. As we said recently to a group of lay people, "Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses." St. Peter expressed this well when he held up the example of a reverent and chaste life that wins over even without a word those who refuse to obey the word. It is therefore primarily by her conduct and by her life that the Church will evangelize the world, in other words, by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus --- the witness of poverty and detachment, of freedom in the face of the powers of this world, in short, the witness of sanctity (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #41).

All of this suggests a fundamental demand: to live the gospel honestly and authentically and to do this in everything that we do. Living in this manner will attract others to live with the same intensity and to give the same meaning to their life … people will be fascinated and amazed at our life.

We could say that the gospel of Jesus is the gospel of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Throughout his life Jesus was the Good Samaritan of the parable. Jesus knew how to look at his surroundings and was able to discover the misery of the poor. As he contemplated their situation he was moved to the depths of his being and was compassionate toward those who were abandoned and left half-dead on the roads of life. Therefore, Jesus became one with humankind, became one with those who were most poor, healed their wounds, carried them, cared for them and shared his life with them. Jesus was new life for the poor … he became a neighbor to those who fell into the hands of robbers and assassins. It was for this reason that he encouraged his followers: Go and do likewise (Luke 10:37). This then is also our task and our mission: to bind up the wounds of injustice, to return to the poor that which has been taken from them, to eliminate the causes that have created the present situation of injustice and oppression, to work for the well-being of everyone (with no exceptions) … that is the best manner to become neighbor to those who are beaten up by life, to those who are marginalized. Today we become the gospel if we proclaim a message that affects all of life and if, at the same time, we ourselves live that message. But evangelization would not be complete if it did not take account of the unceasing interplay of the Gospel and of man's concrete life, both personal and social. This is why evangelization involves an explicit message, adapted to the different situations constantly being realized, about the rights and duties of every human being, about family life without which personal growth and development is hardly possible, about life in society, about international life, peace, justice and development --- a message especially energetic today about liberation (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 29).

All these dimensions that we have referred to must be transformed in Christ and all of these realities must be transformed by Christ through our ministry and service. In this way people will become truly free and will be able to live their life with dignity.

There is not authentic evangelization without the liberation of people from every form of slavery that prevents them from living with dignity. Therefore everyone has the obligation to struggle boldly in order to make total liberation a reality for all people. It is well known in what terms numerous bishops from all the continents spoke of this at the last Synod, especially the bishops from the Third World, with a pastoral accent resonant with the voice of the millions of sons and daughters of the Church who make up those peoples. Peoples, as we know, engaged with all their energy in the effort and struggle to overcome everything which condemns them to remain on the margin of life: famine, chronic disease, illiteracy, poverty, injustices in international relations and especially in commercial exchanges, situations of economic and cultural neo-colonialism sometimes as cruel as the old political colonialism. The Church, as the bishops repeated, has the duty to proclaim the liberation of millions of human beings, many of whom are her own children --- the duty of assisting the birth of this liberation, of giving witness to it, of ensuring that it is complete. This is not foreign to evangelization (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #30)

To make the gospel effective today we have to eliminate those situations of death and oppression: illiteracy, poverty, injustice, neo-colonialism, neo-liberalism, etc. Thus, we not only have to proclaim liberation for all people but we have to make it possible for this liberation to become a reality … make it possible for this liberation to grow and to develop fully in our world … fully in all people.

Evangelization implies the promotion of the human person. In other words, evangelization implies offering people a better, more just life, a life with greater dignity that enables people to enjoy life … a life in which people are able to find the merciful hand of God in the midst of their work and their leisure. Evangelization not only promotes the economic, social, political and cultural dimension of the human person but also promotes the spiritual dimension which every person possesses. Indeed it is this spiritual dimension that opens people to the love of God and the love of neighbor.

To live our mission from these perspectives is to make the gospel of Jesus Christ effective and also presents the gospel to the poor in such a way that they are liberated and saved. To live in this manner is to reveal ourselves as faithful witnesses of God’s love and also means that we have accepted God’s challenge to free his people … to free his people today. It was precisely for this reason that God has called us … and just as God spoke to Moses so now God speaks to us and tells us: I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry against their taskmasters, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them up from that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey, the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites. Now indeed the outcry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen how the Egyptians are oppressing them. Now, go! I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt (Exodus 3:7-10).

We now have the responsibility to free people from the slavery in which they find themselves. There are many structures in this world that have become “the Egypt” of the book of Exodus. There are numberless situations of exploitation and oppression that today enslave millions and millions of men and women … and we are called to change those situations and also change the world. We do not have to leave our place of residence in order to go to another place to do this. Where we are right now we can engage in this work … we cannot be satisfied with the way things are at the present time. Jesus’ command to evangelize is extended to us, not as a threat but as a sign of friendship. Set out on the journey; use your head and your arms; free people from the slavery in which they find themselves … yes, this is what God is telling us, our God who is friend, who is near to us, who is savior. Will we turn a deaf ear to this anguished request, to this urgent need of a friend? Are we going to step back from this task because it appears to be impossible to accomplish. This is our time! And at this present moment we have to be inventive and fearless. Take courage, we ought to and we have to be true witnesses of God’s love to the people of this present generation. We need to be true Christians and true Vincentians who are not afraid to lose their life in order to make the gospel of Jesus Christ effective today.


It is time to conclude. We have spoken about the urgent need to free the poor from slavery and marginalization. We have stated thus such liberation is only possible if we return to the process of evangelization that is presented to us in the synoptic gospels, that is, the proclamation and the building up of the kingdom of God … thus making real God’s plan for humankind but in a special way making that plan real for those marginalized and excluded from the neo-liberal society in which we live. That which was proclaimed and initiated by Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, namely, the fact that the kingdom of God is among us … this is and will continue to be the proclamation and the task of the sons and daughters of Vincent de Paul at the beginning of this new millennium.

We have reflected on the ministry of Vincent de Paul in this regard. In the past, as well as in the present era, a new evangelization is both necessary and urgent … this new evangelization should reveal God’s compassionate and merciful love to people and should establish “a new heaven and a new earth”, that is, a place where people can live happily and achieve their full human dignity as persons. Vincent de Paul has shown us the way. Deeply concerned about the material and spiritual liberation of the poor Vincent was inventive and creative. We ought to learn from him how to be inventive and creative. There are many poor people in our midst … and it is urgent for us to confront both the old and the new forms of poverty. If we are rooted in God through prayer and reflection on the Scriptures we will be able to return to the poor the dignity that has been taken from them and the bread that they need. In order to carry out this task we need to clothe ourselves in joy and availability … these must be the distinctive characteristics of our service on behalf of our sisters and brothers, a service that is carried out in Christ and with Christ and for Christ.

The first part of our reflection was focused on a theoretical presentation of the process of evangelization that we must undertake. Yet that presentation was not exclusively theoretical … between the lines we hinted at some concrete and specific actions. We then focused our attention on Jesus Christ and Vincent de Paul … that in fact constituted the nucleus of our presentation. There we were able to see how both Jesus and Vincent engaged in an analysis of their reality which then led to a series of actions to confront those aspects of the reality that were opposed to the kingdom of God. Today, that same process of analysis and reflection can help us confront those aspects of our culture that are opposed to the kingdom of God … can enable us to restore dignity and happiness to people … the dignity and happiness that has been denied to them and made impossible by society.

Finally, the last section of our presentation has offered some sugges6tions and possible solutions in this matter. We stated that the poor and the marginalized expect us to be true and effective witnesses of God’s compassionate love … they want us to be Good Samaritans and not apocalyptic and catastrophic trumpets or judges of condemnation and death. In other words, they want us to be authors of life and happiness, a living presence of God’s tenderness and compassion, advocates of dignity and happiness … they want us to be persons who are sent by God to deliver them from their situation of bondage. This is both God’s time and our time.


[1] Vincent de Paul, Correspondence, Conferences, Documents, New City Press, Brooklyn, New York, 1985-2010. Future references to this work will be cited in the text with the letters, CCD, followed by the volume number and then the page number [for example, CCD:XII:75].

[2] Ángel Gil, Exégesis primera lectura, reflexiones (Reflections on the First Reading), DABAR, año XXVII, #43, Ciclo C, August 12, 2001, Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time.

[3] J. Schmid, Evangelio, in J. Bauer (dir.), Diccionario de teología bíblica, Herder, Barcelona, 1967, p. 378; D. Mollat, “Evangelio”, in X. León-Daufour, Vocabulario de teología bíblica, Herder, Barcelonia, 1967, p. 274.

[4] J. Schmid, op.cit., p. 378; cf., D. Mollat, op.cit., p. 274-276; W. Grossouw, Evangelio, in H. Haag – A.v.d. Born – S. Ausejo, Diccionario de la Biblia, Herder, Barcelona, 1964, pp. 644-645.

[5] Cf., J.M. Castillo, El Reino de Dios. Por la vida y la dignidad de los seres humanos, Desclée de Brouwer, Bilbai, 1999. This aspect is examined in parts two and three of the above mentioned work.

[6] J. Schmid, op.cit., p. 379; cf., W. Grossouw, op.cit., p. 645.

[7] D. Mollat, op.cit., p. 275.

[8] Real Academia Española, Diccionario de la Lengua española, “evangelizar”, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1992. Hereafter this work will be designated with the letters DLE.

[9] Manuel Alvar (dir.), Diccionario General Ilustrado de la Lengua española, “evangelizar”, VOX, Bobliograf, Barcelona, 1987. Hereafter this work will be designated with the letters DGILE.

[10] This is a definition that has been formulated from the use of both dictionaries; DLE, “instruir”; DGILE, “instruit”.

[11] This is also definition that has been formulated from the use of both dictionaries; DLE, “predicar”; DGILE, “predicar”.

[12] Cf., DLE., “salvar” and “salvación”; DGLIE., “salvar” and “salvación.

[13] R. Ortega, Evangelizar a los pobres. Aporte bíblico a una mística vicenciana in Vicente de Paúl y la evangelización rural, 1976 , CEME, Salamanca, 1977, p. 181.

[14] Ibid., p.181-182, conclusion #2.

[15] DLE, “salvación”; DGILE, “salvación”.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid., “salvar” … this represents a summary of the definitions from both dictionaries.

[18] DLE, “liberación”. DGILE, “liberación” here there are other definitions that we have not set forth here because they do not help to clarify the context or the meaning of word in our cultural environment.

[19] ltalo Zedde, Evangelización, in Diccionario de Espiritualidad Vicenciana, CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes (Salamanca), 1995, pp. 238.

[20] Julio Lois, Liberación, in X. Pikaza and N. Silanes (dir.) Diccionario teológico. El Dios cristiano, Secretariado Trinitario, Salamanca, 1992, pp. 788-795.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Jon Sobrino, The Historical-Theological Reading of Jesus of Nazareth, p. 12;

[23] Jon Sobrino, The Historical-Theological Reading of Jesus of Nazareth, p. 12.

[24] José María Castillo, op.cit., p. 63-64. In order to corroborate his affirmations the author makes reference to G. Vermes and his work La religion de Jesús el judío, Madrid, 1995, pp. 171 and 178.

[25] Ibid., p. 65.

[26] Ibid., pp. 70-71

[27] Ibid., p. 67-68

[28] Ibid., p. 67.

[29] Ibid., p. 472.

[30] CCD:I:112; cf., CCD:XI:164; XII:71-82. Vincent expressed this idea about people being damned in the context of Christianity as it was being lived at that time. We read: You must make it understood that the poor are being damned for want of knowing the things necessary for salvation, and for lack of confession. With those words Vincent began a letter addressed to Francois du Coudray, a priest of the Mission who was ministering in Rome. According to Vincent, this negative situation in which the poor, living in the countryside, found themselves … this situation was caused by priests who did not provide these people with either spiritual or material assistance. As a result one of Vincent’s great concerns (and a concern of many of his contemporaries) was the reform of the clergy and providing future priests with an adequate formation. In the present day context could we not understand this phrase, the poor are being damned, to mean that the poor have not been freed from their situation of enslavement and as a result are not able to live with dignity? I am inclined to think that yes, we ought to understand Vincent’s words in that manner.

[31] Ibid., p. 324

[32] Ibid., p. 325.

[33] Ibid., p. 329.

[34] Ibid., p. 337-338.

[35] Ibid., p. 366-367.

[36] Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings, Friday, Twenty-Second Week in Ordinary Time, Catholic Book Publishing Co., New York, 1975, Volume IV, p. 210-212.

[37] J.M. Castillo, op.cit., p. 337-338

[38] J. Sobrino, op.cit., p.14.

[39] Ibid., p. 16-17.

[40] J.M. Castillo, op.cit., 367-368.

[41] Ibid., p. 469-470

[42] Sobrino, op.cit., p. 105.

[43] Ibid, note #10, p. 280.

[44] J.M. Castillo, op.cit., p. 148

[45] Ibid., p. 242-243.

[46] Ibid., p. 81-87

[47] Ibid., p. 196-197.

[48] Ibid., p. 90.

[49] Ibid. P. 218.

[50] The Fathers of the Church: Saint Augustine: Commentary on the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount with Seventeen Related Sermons, The Catholic University of America Press, 1951, p. 363-364.

[51] J.M. Castillo, op.cit., p. 331-332

[52] Ibid., p. 333.

[53] Ibid., p. 471.

[54] I. Zedde, op.cit., p. 242. Cf., H. de Maupas du Tour, Oraison fun?vre á la mémorie de feu Messire Vincent de Paul, instituteur, fondateur et supérieur général des Prêtres de la Misión, Paris (G. Méturas) 1661, p. 63.

[55] Vincent de Paul always insisted that his works and the institutions that he established were not the result of his initiative but were due to God. There is no doubt that, like a good Christian, Vincent attributes his action to God, thus God is the source of inspiration while Vincent then viewed himself as the one who was God’s interpreter and the one who made God’s inspiration a reality.

[56] J.M. Ibáñez, “La opción por los pobres, exigencia y criterio verificador de la nueva evangelización”, in Vicencianismo y nueva evangelización, XIX Semana de Estudios Vicencianos, CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes (Salmanca), 1993, p. 175.

[57] Ibid., p. 176.

[58] Ibid., p. 182-183

[59] Ibid., p. 183

[60] The Liturgy of the Hours, Catholic Book Publishing Co., New York, 1975, volume IV, Saturday of the Twenty-Seventh Week in Ordinary Time, p. 367-369.

[61] Ibid., p. 368, 369.

[62] I. Zedde, op.cit, p. 234.

[63] Ibid., p. 234.

[64] Ibid., p. 235.

[65] Ibid., p. 235-236

[66] Ibid., p. 236.

[67] Ibid., p. 238

[68] Ibid., p. 239.

[69] The best reference in this regard is found in the Common Rules of the Congregation of the Mission: There are both clerical and lay members in the Congregation. The work of the former is to travel around through towns and villages, as Christ himself and his disciples did, breaking the bread of the divine word for the neglected, by preaching and catechizing. They also should urge people to make general confessions of their entire life and hear these confessions. Their ministry also includes settling quarrels and disputes, establishing the Confraternity of Charity, staffing seminaries which have been set up in our houses for diocesan clergy, giving retreats, and organizing meetings of priests in our houses. Their work also includes any other ministry which is supportive of those mentioned (Common Rules, Chapter I, #2.

[70] I. Zedde., op.cit., p. 239.

[71] Archives of Sanint-Lazare, Memoire pour les missionnaires qui sont envoys faire des aumônes aux pauvres de la champagne, Ms. 632; cf. I. Zedde, op.cit., p. 239.

[72] Cf., Coutumier de Montmirail, cited by M.R. Mathieu, Monsieur Vincent chez les de Gondy, Paris, 1966, p. 179; I. Zedde, op.cit., p. 239.

[73] National Archives, S. 6708, Montmirail, October 1, 1644; cf. I. Zedde. Op.cit., p. 239. “Lieu de retraite des pauvres passants” --- the place of refuge for the transient poor men and women.

[74] I. Zedde, op.cit., p. 239.

[75] Ibid., p. 240.

[76] Ibid., p. 240.

[77] Ibid., p. 240.

[78] Ibid., p. 241.

[79] National Archives, S. 6160, 16; Angers, February 1, 1640 cited by I. Zedde, op.cit., p. 241.

[80] I. Zedde, op.cit., p. 241.

[81] Ibid., p. 241.

[82] Ibid., p. 241-242.

[83] José María Ibáñez, Vicente de Paúl y los probres de su tiempo, Sígueme, Salamanca, 1977, p. 115.

[84] Ibid., p. 118-131.

[85] Ibid., p. 134. The author, as he developed this paragraph, refers to documents such as L. Abelly I:72 --- Vincent said: this undoubtedly shows that these people have great charity, but is it well organized? See also CCD:XIIIb:5-8 --- General Regulations for Charities of Women – II.

[86] Ibid., p. 135.

[87] This letter was written to Francois du Coudray on July 25th, 1634 and Vincent touched upon various themes. As he is concluding the letter he expressed his satisfaction with the work of the various Confraternities that had been established in the parishes throughout Paris. Some of these groups were caring for 800 or 900 sick poor; cf. J.M. Ibáñez, op.cit., p. 136.

[88] Ibáñez. op.cit., p. 141.

[89] José María Román, Saint Vincent de Paul: A Biography, translated by Sister Joyce Howard, DC, Melisende, London, 1999. p. 485. At the bottom of the page the author provides the reader with a bibliography on the subject of foundlings.

[90] Ibid., p. 487; cf., CCD:XIIIb:406-407.

[91] Cf., CCD:XIIIb:397ff; J.M. Ibáñez, op.cit., p. 142; Roman, op.cit., p.486.

[92] J.M. Ibáñez, op.cit., p. 142-143; CCD:XIIIb:397-401; 402-407; 424-426. All of these text relative to the works of Vincent de Paul refer outlines of talks that were given to the Ladies of Charity on the topic of the foundlings.

[93] J.M. Ibáñez, op.cit., p. 143; CCD:XIIIb:420-421; IX:

[94] Cf., J.M. Ibáñez, op.cit., p. 143-149; J.M. Román, op.cit, 487-490.

[95] Cf., CCD:IX:104-115; J.M. Ibáñez, op.cit., p.145 and the appendices, p. 347-356.

[96] J.M. Ibáñez, op.cit., p. 149

[97] J.M. Román, op.cit., p. 489

[98] Ibid., p. 494-495.

[99] CCD:X:103. Cf., J.M. Román, op.cit., p. 140-143, 494-501; J.M. Ibáñez, op.cit., p. 149-156.

[100] J.M. Román, op.cit., p. 1414

[101] Ibid., p. 141.

[102] Ibid., p. 141.

[103] J.M. Ibáñez, op.cit., p. 151.

[104] Ibid, p. 150-151, cf., Román, op.cit., 140-143, 494-501.

[105] Ibid., p. 151; cf., Román, op.cit., p. 140-143, 494-501.

[106] Ibid., 151-156, cf., Román, op.cit, p. 140-143, 494-501.

[107] Ibid., p. 153.

[108] Román, op.cit., p. 502-503.

[109] Ibid., p. 503.

[110] Ibid., p. 503.

[111] Ibid., p. 503.

[112] Ibid., p. 503-505.

[113] Abelly, op.cit., volume III, p. 117.

[114] J.M. Román, op.cit., 505-506; cf., Abelly, op.cit., volumen I, p.224-229.

[115] J.M. Ibáñez, op.cit., p. 157.

[116] Ibid., p. 157.

[117] Ibid., p. 158. At the bottom of the page the author lists some interesting documents related to this matter.

[118] Ibid., p. 159; J.M. Román, op.cit., p. 517-518.

[119] J.M. Román, op.cit., p. 514; cf., P. Collet, Le vie de Saint Vincent de Paul …, Nancy, 1748, volume I, p. 289-290

[120] Ibid., p. 520.

[121] CCD:I:582; cf., Román, op.cit., p. 520.

[122] J.M. Román, op.cit., p. 517.

[123] J.M. Ibáñez, op.cit., p. 162; cf. J.M. Román, op.cit., 569-590.

[124] Ibid., p. 163-164; cf. CCD:IV:301. The letters that some of the Missionaries sent to Vincent are very informative with regard to their ministry in those devastated regions of France. The following letters in Volume IV of Vincent de Paul’s Correspondence, Conferences, Documents provide us with further details of the relief efforts in that area. Note: All these letters are found in Volume IV and refer to the number of the letter and not the page number as is the usual procedure. Letter number: 1274, 1280, 1281, 1281, 1305, 1306, 1309, 1316, 1317, 1346, 1371, 1408, 1441. We also find in the same volume some letters that were sent to Vincent by the town magistrates in Rethel. In those letters they request assistance and describe the situation of the people living in that area. The following letters refers to this matter and once again all these letters are found in volume IV and refer to the letter number: 1359, 1360, 1363, 1381, 1387.

[125] Ibid., p.167-174; J.M. Román, op.cit., p. 569-590.

[126] Ibid., p. 179.

[127] Ibid., p. 179; Vincent addressed this situation in the following letters. Note: here the numbers refer to the page number and not the letter number. CCD:IV:188-189; V:79, 98-100, 100-102, 119-120, 123-124, 146-150; VI:388-389, 422-423, 502-504, 561-562; VIII:82-84, 107, 409-410.

[128] Ibid., p. 181.

[129] Cf., J.M. Román, op.cit., 584-591; J.M. Ibnez, op.cit., p. 183-205.

[130] J.M. Ibáñez, op.cit., p. 185.

[131] Ibid., p. 186.

[132] Ibid., p. 191. Vincent described this situation in a letter addressed to Pope Innocent X and dated August 16, 1652 (CCD:IV:445-447).

[133] Ibid, p. 197.

[134] Ibid., p. 199; see also, CCD:IV:385-387, 521-523.

[135] Ibid., p. 200.

[136] Ibid., p. 200.

[137] CCD:IV:510-511. This letter is referenced by J.M. Román, op.cit., 589-590.

[138] J.M. Román, op.cit., p. 589-590.

[139] CCD:X: ; J.M. Román, op.cit., p. 590.

[140] J.M. Román, op.cit., p.590.

[141] J.M. Castillo, op.cit., p. 52-53.


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Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM