Last week, a delegation of the
Vincentian Family participated in the 58th Session of the United
Nations Commission for Social Development (New York). There was much
satisfaction with this event that began in 2017 at the time of the 400th
anniversary of the birth of the Vincentian charism. It was during that
celebration that a decision was made to join together in the worldwide struggle
Following in the footsteps their
founder, Saint Vincent de Paul, the Vincentian Family has identified
homelessness as a very serious social “scourge”. Thus, there
is am urgent pressing need to provide people not only with a roof and a floor,
but to provide people with a home, a place where they can raise a family in a
safe and secure environment, a place of peace and a place of belonging.
With this objective, the
Vincentian Family has committed itself to become part of a working group on
homeless and joined together with forty-one other organizations to bring this
matter to the attention of the United Nations.
Throughout its long history of 75 years, rarely has there been any mention of “Homelessness”. The lack of a clear definition of the problem has led the member states and international organizations to ignore one the fundamental rights of humanity, the right to housing. Therefore, the working group to end homelessness has advocated in a tireless manner to include this theme on the agenda of the UN. The result of this process is seen in the fact that the 58th Session of this Commission has now placed homelessness on the agenda of the UN.
This is a revolutionary achievement that, without a doubt, should be viewed as a milestone in this journey that still needs much work and commitment. The fundamental aspect is that each country must analyze this problem, define it and quantify it so that an appropriate policy can be created to address the issue of homelessness within a country. In the last two years, the Working Group has developed a draft resolution for the Member States and has also established partnerships with the missions of the Member States at the United Nations. These two combined efforts resulted in a resolution of the United Nations that gave the following theme to this current year:
“accessible housing systems and social protection systems for all, to
The publication of a document shared by all and signed by all is certainly not the immediate solution to the problem of homelessness, but it is at least one way to start addressing this issue in a global manner.
It should be noted that during
this session of the Commission more than sixty parallel events were organized,
closely followed by NGOs from around the world. All of this allowed the
participants to dialogue, deepen their understanding of the issues, get to know
each other and, above all, understand that the path that has been initiated, is
now a path shared by many and that this Commission for Social Development has
initiated a worldwide movement.
The first international meeting of the leadership of the various associations and institutions that today compose the Worldwide Vincentian Family (representing some two million men and women) has been initiated. The meeting, which will continue until Sunday, is being held in the Patristic Institute Augustinianum (Via Paolo VI, 25) and is intended to enable the participants to come to a more profound mutual understanding of the distinct branches of the Family and to lay a foundation for greater collaboration. Father Mavrič highlighted the fact that collaboration is not a new concept within the Family, rather it was the model that Vincent de Paul proposed at the very beginning. Throughout his life, the close collaboration between the members of the Confraternities of Charity, the Congregation of the Mission, the Daughters of Charity and the Ladies of Charity had a tremendous impact on the lives of the poor whom these groups served on a local, national and international level. The Vincentian Family (in terms of number of people involved in service and the amount of shared financial resources) is one of the largest non-governmental organizations in the world. We are composed of various charitable organizations, associations, religious congregations of women and men and we all share the same charism that has been bestowed on us by Vincent de Paul. Our branches provide assistance and charity in many different forms. Everything is done with humility and much care (as demanded by the Vincentian charism which is the basis for our activity). These great works of charity are present in the developed world as well as in developing countries but often these works are not known outside the Vincentian Family. Father Marvič then proposed five areas of work for the near future: formation and spirituality, education, health care, global initiatives of the Vincentian Family that respond to specific needs (for example, the call of Pope Francis in Laudato si and humanitarian activities that respond to some catastrophe).
Father Robert Maloney (the predecessor of Father Tomaž in the role of superior general of the Congregation of the Mission) stated that Pope Francis reminds us that we are heirs of those who have gone before us and who had the courage to dream. So I ask you who are gathered here today to have that courage to dream! Work in a collaborative manner with bold prudence, work in the manner of Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, Frederic Ozanam and many other founders. These individuals made their dreams a reality.
There are many projects in progress and here we will mention a few: the 13 houses campaign. During its first year of activity, more than 3,200 have been chosen for this initiative in 28 countries and in the next few months, 24 more countries will be involved in this activity. More than 500 houses have been built by different branches of the family who work on behalf of those who are poor. The 13 houses campaign is an initiative of the FamVin Homeless Alliance. They began their work in November 2018 at the time of an international conference about homelessness in Rome. The objective of this initiative is to change the lives of 10,000 homeless people in the course of 3-5 years. This initiative takes its name from a 17th century initiative of Vincent de Paul who built 13 houses for children who had been abandoned in Paris. The campaign began with a single house in Little Rock, Arkansas [USA] and expanded into large projects on different continents. Some of these projects are focused on providing houses for the victims of natural disasters [as is the case in
Mexico]; other projects are designed for immigrants [New Zealand] or for people who are living in marginalized neighborhoods [India]. Not all the 13 houses projects involve the construction of houses … in Spain and Colombia, the Vincentians have organized sensitivity services in order to provide better care to those persons who are homeless. In Peru, support is being provided to the refugees who have traveled to this country from Venezuela. Some projects have received funding from the Solidarity Fund of the FamVin Alliance, but the majority of the projects have found their own proper funding and/or are supported by individual and institutional donors.
The Vincentian Family came into existence as the result of a twofold experience of Vincent de Paul (1617). In the village of Folleville, France, Vincent came to recognize the spiritual poverty of the country people and then in Châtillon Vincent confronted the material poverty of these people. Those two events marked the beginning of Vincent’s personal conversion which enabled him to respond to the urgent needs that he had discovered. Vincent’s focus was on the whole person and thus on every form of poverty: spiritual, emotional, physical, material. From this small mustard seed that was planted in 1617, the Vincentian Family has become a large tree composed of more than 160 branches (lay associations and congregations of religious life) with more than two million members in one hundred fifty countries. At the same time there are countless men and women who, even though they do not formally belong to some particular branch, are inspired by the example of Vincent de Paul and his service on behalf of those who are poor.
At the beginning of the fifth century of life, the Vincentian Family looks toward the future with the awareness of the necessary urgency of an ever closer synergy with all that came into existence from the “seed” that was planted by the founder.
On Saturday the participants will address the question: how do we move forward together … this session will include a panel discussion and there will be time to reflect on the potential of the internet and the challenge that this presents for the future. Sunday morning will be dedicated to gathering together suggestions and proposals as well as assigning specific tasks and responsibilities. Father Joseph Agostino will take care of thanking people and other commentaries. This historic event will conclude with the celebration of the Eucharist, presided by Father Tomaž Mavrič, CM and animated by the music group, Gen Verde.
Interviews with participants
Interviews will be allowed during the work breaks. For further information, please contact Elena Grazini of the Vincentian Family Press Office, email: firstname.lastname@example.org – Cell. +39 338 190 24 36
L’Alleanza per i Senzatetto della Famiglia Vicenziana – FHA (Famvin Homless Alliance) nasce nel 2017 su impulso dei Leader delle differenti realtà religiose e laiche che compongono la grande Famiglia Vincenziana per celebrare i 400 anni dalla nascita del Carisma Vincenziano.
Obiettivo specifico è quello di concentrare gli sforzi della Famiglia Vincenziana di tutto il mondo a lavorare in modo concreto, ma al tempo stesso creativo, per favorire un cambiamento sistemico a favore degli oltre 1.2 miliardi di abitanti di questo mondo che sono privi di un posto da chiamare casa. La definizione di Senzatetto comprende i senza fissa dimora delle strade, i rifugiati, gli sfollati e anche coloro che vivono nelle baraccopoli e in alloggi inadeguati.
Con l’aiuto dell’intera Famiglia Vincenziana, la FHA sta lavorando per un cambiamento effettivo e sostenibile nella vita di migliaia di Senzatetto in tutto il mondo: incoraggiando lo sviluppo di nuovi servizi; costruendo una rete tra i gruppi Vincenziani che già lavorano in tale contesto dalle mille sfaccettature; sostenendo e favorendo leaders emergenti o già operativi; promuovendo la condivisione delle migliori strategie fra le differenti parti della Famiglia Vincenziana; esercitando pressione a livello istituzionale per cambiamenti strutturali su scala nazionale, territoriale e mondiale a favore dei Senzatetto; realizzando e mettendo a disposizione materiali formativi a sostegno di questa iniziativa per ciò che riguarda la nostra Spiritualità Vincenziana.
La Famiglia Vincenziana ha una tradizione di 400 anni di servizio ai poveri, in molti ambiti differenti tra cui quello dei Senzatetto. In questo senso, la missione della FHA si sviluppa quindi su un terreno già davvero familiare ai Vincenziani di tutto il mondo. La FHA è ora in grado di fornire una struttura tale da riunire tutti i membri della Famiglia, consentendo a ciascuno di raccontare la propria storia, di condividere le conoscenze e collaborare localmente per raggiungere obiettivi mondiali comuni a beneficio dei Senzatetto.
Questi obiettivi includono la creazione di una prima mappa mondiale del sostegno Vincenziano ai Senzatetto; la creazione di una rete di comunicazione per condividere le esperienze e conoscenze di ciascuno; lo sviluppo di una autentica Voce Vincenziana per i Senzatetto davanti alle Nazioni Unite e alle altre Istituzioni Mondiali. Ci proponiamo infine di ispirare una serie di progetti basati su collaborazioni e interventi che possano avere un effetto reale nella vita dei Senzatetto di tutto il mondo. Un esempio di come può cambiare la vita è la Campagna 13 Case.
Il nome della Campagna prende spunto da un episodio legato proprio alla figura di San Vincenzo de’ Paoli. Tutto ebbe inizio quando nel 1643 Re Luigi XIII assegnò a San Vincenzo l’equivalente di un milione di dollari come donazione per la missione della sua Congregazione. San Vincenzo scelse di usare quei soldi per costruire 13 Piccole Case vicino a Saint-Lazare a Parigi, la casa madre della Congregazione della Missione, per prendersi cura dei bambini abbandonati. I costi correnti di queste case furono sostenuti dalle Dame della Carità e la cura degli stessi bimbi divenne parte del lavoro delle Figlie della Carità. Lavorando insieme la Famiglia Vincenziana ha aiutato migliaia di bambini che altrimenti sarebbero morti nelle strade.
Ma molto di più ha fatto questa stessa collaborazione Vincenziana per i Senzatetto. Ha distribuito aiuti agli sfollati nella zona di guerra dell’Alsazia Lorena e ha sostenuto e ospitato rifugiati in fuga dai luoghi di battaglia. Ha offerto la Casa di Cura “Il Nome di Gesù” nel 1652 per ospitare, vestire, nutrire e formare le persone anziane che vivevano per le strade o nelle baraccopoli di Parigi. Ha avuto il merito di lanciare Les Petites Ecoles (Le Piccole Scuole) per donare ai poveri l’alfabetizzazione, la matematica e l’educazione – consentendo loro di sfuggire alla povertà intergenerazionale che spesso li costringeva alla stessa condizione di Senzatetto dei loro padri.
Oggi ci troviamo di fronte agli stessi problemi che San Vincenzo ha affrontato, ma su scala globale. Dei 7 miliardi di persone presenti su questo pianeta circa 1,2 miliardi sono Senzatetto – sono sfollati, vivono nelle baraccopoli o nelle strade delle nostre città. Molti di loro sono stati allontanati nel momento in cui più necessitavano aiuto – balzano alla mente le parole che smorzano la gioia nella narrazione della natività secondo Luca: “non c’era posto per loro nell’albergo.” (Luca 2:7)
“Noi ci siamo ispirati alle 13 Case di San Vincenzo. Egli vide un bisogno e rispose con un’azione concreta. Oggi vediamo la necessità di oltre un miliardo di uomini, donne e bambini. La Campagna 13 Case è stata creata in risposta alle loro esigenze; imparando e lasciandosi ispirare dallo spirito dello stesso San Vincenzo. – fanno sapere dalla FHA -. Per noi, le 13 Case di San Vincenzo sono un’ispirazione, non una formula. I Progetti 13 Case di oggi saranno inevitabilmente diversi in ciascun paese, a seconda delle esigenze della comunità locale. In alcuni luoghi potranno consistere nello sviluppo di alloggi o rifugi per i Senzatetto. Potranno consistere nella ristrutturazione di appartamenti abbandonati, o nello sviluppo di una mensa di cui c’è urgente bisogno per riunire i più poveri intorno a un tavolo. Potrà trattarsi di un progetto di visite volto ad accogliere i rifugiati in un paese o sostenerli nei vari accampamenti in tutto il mondo. Potrà essere un piano già messo su carta, o qualcosa che deve ancora essere concepito. A prescindere dalla forma che assumerà, si tratta di una risposta pratica e locale, con una visione a lungo termine in grado di affrontare questo problema globale.”
Di seguito alcuni esempi concerti di questa prima fase-pilota della Campagna che è partita a settembre dello scorso anno e conta di svilupparsi nell’arco di 3-5 anni
The Famvin Homeless Alliance conference brings together over 100 Vincentians working in homelessness from six continents, to hear and learn from each other and experts in the field. The conference will offer skills and knowledge to those practitioners so they can improve their service, as well as offering opportunities to directly engage in Famvin Homeless Alliance initiatives.The main topics of the conference centre around the three forms of homelessness tackled by the FHA (street homelessness; refugees/IDPs; and slum dwellings). Keynote lectures are delivered by a range of senior leaders. Speakers come from organisations including the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Caritas, the Daughters of Charity and Congregation of the Mission, the SSVP, Depaul International and the Institute of Global Homelessness.
Father Pedro what does it mean today to live in Akamasoa? How many people and families live in Akamasoa?
To live at Akamasoa means to embark on a journey to recover dignity. It means to stand up and become a responsible and respected person. It also means to start a new life based on works, education and discipline. In addition, to live at Akamasoa means to accept to live in the Truth and to embrace the daily fight for justice. Living at Akamasoa is firstly action, not words. Here we never disguise the truth, we try to be straightforward when dealing with problems and not go around the issues; and this is sincerity. Presently, there are 25 000 people who are benefitting from our social project. Moreover, every year, 30 000 poor people come to Akamasoa for specific helps: food, medicines, and clothing.
What are the difficulties and challenges that you encounter in your everyday service to the Poor?
The daily challenges are mostly related to truth itself because a poor person from the streets tends to fabricate lies to seduce you since he feels he needs to lie to get you interested in helping him. Another difficulty is that a poor person tends not to keep his word; he says “yes” without committing himself in the long term. Another difficulty is theft. A poor person, because he has nothing, believes he has the right to steal. Another difficulty we have is that, since the poor people we are helping live such a fragile life, they often fail to understand the responsibility they have towards their families. At Akamasoa, throughout these 29 years, we have witnessed changes in people, but only over the long term; and after 29 years of efforts, many people still need to change. Another difficulty is to find enough food and school supplies for the 14 000 poor children so that they can attend school. One more difficulty we face is to create jobs for each family to help them to survive. These difficulties are challenges that we have been embracing in these 29 years and we are still standing with and among the poor people.
In your life as a missionary, you have met millions of people … I know it may be very difficult to choose, from among so many people, a single person; but is there a memory or an image from any encounter with a person that you will never forget and it will always remain with you?
I have a lot of memories of people I have encountered. Once we accepted at Akamasoa more than 80 families and each family had five or six children. We welcomed these families with the utmost serenity and spontaneity. I thought to myself, “These families are here; we have to make room for them.” We did this without panicking, with no pressure. And this experience has later become a source of strength for me. I also have in mind images of children at the garbage dump who were like angels searching for things in the garbage dump. This image of children in the garbage dump, beautiful like angels, will never leave my mind. In addition, another fond memory I cherish is when we celebrated the 25th year anniversary of Akamasoa: the limitless joy of 30 000 people, proud of their works, proud to have their heads up in front of government representatives and diplomats; proudly displaying their joy of life. The communion that we had on that day with the parents and children; this is yet another memory that will stay with me forever. We also have memories of sad moments related to the death of children and young mothers who died because of a lack of proper medicines.
What words or phrases would you use to describe Akamasoa for those persons who have never seen or hear about Akamasoa?
Joy, brotherhood, work, fight, and, most importantly, the happiness of our children because at Akamasoa we have children who used to live an inhuman life at the landfill and they are now real children. Of course, I will not fail to mention the Sunday Mass, which is a true celebration for all the people because everyone participates: we all pray, we dance, we sing in communion – it is an expression of gratitude to God for all the people of good will who have helped us.
Father Pedro, how do you see the best way to help the poor, the persons in need in the different areas: spiritual, emotional, physical, material?
The best way to help the poor is to respect them, to stand before them as an equal, without any masks, privilege, without any authority other than love and respect. And love will help you persevere in spite of the disappointments and the failures and the lack of honesty that we have to deal with almost every day. I can say that there is no magic formula to help the poor. In each country, culture and civilization, there will always be different gestures, different approaches – but these must all be dictated by love. Moreover, when we are moved by love, we can know that we chose the right path. And the most important thing is to choose the right path; each life is built one step at a time and one day at a time. Any effort to help and any movement of solidarity must exist only in order to give people courage and to give them the will to continue in spite of difficulty. This is not learned in some humanitarian guidebook. This is something we learn from our hearts, where there is love and the strength of the spirit. A person has a physical, emotional, spiritual identity; you cannot divide that identity between these different parts, the identity has to be considered as a whole: a person. While helping a person out of extreme poverty, we also have to help that person to be responsible and to be happy with their brothers and sisters and to understand that the spirit is what makes a person – the spirit also needs the strength and the grace of God.