The Contributions of the Vincentian Charism to the Mission of the Church

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

By: Corpus Juan Delgado, CM

[This article first appeared in Vincencianismo y Vida Consagrada, (XXXIX Vincentian Studies Week), Editorial CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salmanca, 2015, p. 405-450].


As we reflect on the contribution of the Vincentian charism to the mission of the Church, it seems necessary to begin with some precisions on this matter.

  • When we speak about the Vincentian charism, we are referring to the gift of the Spirit, a gift that God bestowed on the Church through the person of Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac, a gift of the Spirit which has been passed on to the followers of these two individuals (that is, persons who are members of the various institutions and associations that were inspired by them, men and women who make every effort to live, preserve, deepen and develop that gift in an on-going manner and in harmony with Body of Christ [1]. Even though the word “Vincentian” is derived etymologically from the proper name “Vincent” (Vincentius), the uniqueness of the charism cannot be understood apart from the contribution of Louise de Marillac. Furthermore, the Vincentian charism cannot be reduced in some exclusive manner to the era of the Founders. The charism is a dynamic reality, one that is recreated in every era, one that is deepened and enriched by the responses of each person, each community and each association, especially as their members live in fidelity to the Spirit.
  • When speaking about the contribution of the Vincentian charism to the mission of the Church, we do not mean that our charism has filled out that which was lacking in the Church. Rather the charism highlights some simple elements that are part of the Church’s mission, elements that the Vincentian charism has been privileged to live with greater intensity.
  • Our reflections take place within the context of the Year of Consecrated Life and, more specifically, within the context of the Pope’s call to discover the particular form of life in which the charism translates the gospel and responds to the needs of the Church: At their origins we see the hand of God who, in his Spirit, calls certain individuals to follow Christ more closely, to translate the Gospel into a particular way of life, to read the signs of the times with the eyes of faith and to respond creatively to the needs of the Church. This initial experience then matured and developed, engaging new members in new geographic and cultural contexts, and giving rise to new ways of exercising the charism, new initiatives and expressions of apostolic charity. Like the seed which becomes a tree, each Institute grew and stretched out its branches (Francis, Apostolic Letter to All Consecrated People on the Occasion of the Year of Consecrated Life, November 21,2014, #1).

Mindful of these precisions, allow me, in the following ten reflections, to concretize the contributions of the Vincentian charism to the mission of the Church.

The canonical opening that was provided by the various Vincentian establishments

Those who study the history of consecrated life do not hesitate to affirm the fact that the various Vincentian establishments opened a path that has become wider with the passing of time [2].

In order to understand the canonical opening that the Vincentian establishments have provided, we simply have to recall that which has been referred to as the Magna Carta of the Daughters of Charity and compare that document to the prescriptions of Pope Pius V that were in force at that time [3]. We are all familiar with the text of the Magna Carta: They shall bear in mind that they do not belong to a religious Order because that state is incompatible with the duties of their vocation … having for monastery only the houses of the sick and the place where the Superioress resides; for cell, a hired room; for chapel, the parish church; for cloister, the streets of the city; for enclosure, obedience, with an obligation to go nowhere but to the houses of the sick or to places necessary for their service; for grille, the fear of God; for veil holy modesty; making no other profession to ensure their vocation and that, by their constant trust in Divine Providence and the offering they make to God of all that they are and of their service in the person of the poor [4] . With great patience Louise de Marillac explained the meaning of this new form of life to the first Sisters: Do you love your way of life? Do you esteem it as more excellent for you than all the hermitages and religious convents because God has called you to it? Do you believe that you have been assembled together for your sanctification by a secret action of Divine Providence? Does the stronger support the weaker lovingly and cordially as the need arises? Do you often recall the counsel our Most Honored Father gave us in a conference when he said that we, as well as religious, have a cloister, and that it is as difficult for faithful souls to leave it as it is for religious to leave theirs, although it is not a cloister made of stones but rather one constituted by holy obedience which must govern all our actions and desires? I beg Our Lord, whose example has enclosed us in this holy cloister, to grant us the grace never to violate it [5].

With regard to the young women who desired to enter the Company of the Daughters of Charity, Louise stated: The girls from Saint-Fargeau, who are asking to enter the Company of the Daughters of Charity, must be informed that it is not a religious house; nor is it a hospital from which they will never be moved. Rather they must continuously go to seek out the sick poor, in various places, in any kind of weather and at predetermined times. They will be very poorly clothed and nourished and will never wear anything on their heads except a linen cornette in cases of great necessity (SWLM:583 [L.561]).

Even though the Daughters are not religious, Louise formed the first Sisters so that they would seek perfection, even greater perfection than religious: The Daughters of Charity are obliged, therefore, to strive to become more holy than religious (SWLM:645 [L.627]).

Vincent had no hesitation in referring to the service that the Daughters of Charity provided as apostolic ministry, the same form of ministry as the Missionaries: … these Sister are devoted, like us, to the salvation and comfort of their neighbor. If I say “with us”, I will be saying nothing contrary to the Gospel but something very much in conformity with the practice of the primitive Church, for Our Lord took care of some women who followed him, and we see the Canon of the Apostles that they administered provisions to the faithful and were involved in apostolic duties (CCD:VIII:278-279).

With regard to the Congregation of the Mission, Vincent made it clear that the Missionaries were members of the secular clergy (CCD:XIIIb:420) and that because of the fact that they take vows the members of the Congregation should not therefore be considered of the number of religious Orders, but that it is of the body of the secular clergy (CCD:XIIIa:418)

The canonical opening initiated by the various Vincentian establishments made it possible for many other forms of “non-religious” to flourish in the Church. Even though ecclesiastical law and legislation have frequently understood these forms of life as similar to that of religious, nevertheless the theology of mission has viewed this as a new starting point, multi-faceted in its creativity, especially with regard to that which today is known as Societies of Apostolic Life [6] and with regard to other religious congregations that have reformulated their original apostolic dimension in light of the intuitions of said Societies [7]. The Congregation of the Mission and the Company of the Daughters of Charity have been pioneers in as much as they have contributed a canonical opening that today is viewed as very natural [8].

Christian life as viewed from the perspective of a theology of mission: men and women who continue the mission of the Son of God

I have just mentioned the fact that the theology of mission is a starting point for the new forms of life in the Church, forms of life in which the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity have been pioneers.

The Constitutions of the Daughters of Charity formulate the identity of the Company from the perspective of the mission of Jesus Christ:

  • The Daughters of Charity form a Company recognized by the Church under the name of Company of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, Servants of the Poor. The Company participates in the Church’s universal mission of salvation, according to the charism of its Founders, Saint Vincent de Paul and Saint Louise de Marillac (Constitutions, #1a).
  • Christ is the Rule of the Daughters of Charity. They endeavor to follow Him as Scripture reveals Him to them and as their Founders perceived Him: Adorer of the Father, Servant of His Loving Plan, Evangelizer of those who are poor. To follow Him and carry on His mission, the Daughters of Charity choose to live totally and radically the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience, making them available for the purpose of their Company (Constitutions #8a, 8b).

The Constitutions of the Congregation view the life and the apostolic activity of the Missionaries as a continuation of the mission of Jesus Christ:

  • The purpose of the Congregation of the Mission is to follow Christ evangelizing the poor (Constitutions #1).
  • The Congregation of the Mission from the time of its Founder, and under his inspiration, sees itself called by God to carry out the work of evangelizing the poor. In its own way, it can, with the whole Church, state of itself that evangelizing is to be considered its own grace and vocation, and expresses its deepest identity (cf. EN, 14). Furthermore, the members, individually and collectively, can rightly make use of the words of Jesus: "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God for which I have been sent"(Lk 4:43) (Constituitions #10).
  • The love of Christ, who had pity on the crowd (Mk 8:2), is the source of all our apostolic activity, and urges us, in the words of St. Vincent, "to make the Gospel really effective"(SV, XII, 84) (Constitutions #11).
  • Wishing to follow the mission of Christ, we commit ourselves as members of the Congregation to evangelize the poor for the whole of our lives. To fulfill this vocation we embrace chastity, poverty, and obedience according to the Constitutions and Statutes. And so, "the little Congregation of the Mission... to work for the salvation of people, especially the rural poor... has judged that no weapons would be more powerful or more suitable than those which eternal Wisdom so tellingly and effectively used" (CR, II, 18) (Constitutions #12).

Viewing life as a prolongation of the life and the mission of Jesus Christ, the Missionary of the Father, the Evangelizer of the poor, constitutes an important contribution of the Vincentian charism to the mission of the church.

The monastic ideal prevailed in the Church for many centuries. Consecration to God, as expressed in a life of chastity, poverty and obedience, introduced faithful Christians to a state of perfection. This ideal impelled some ordained ministers to create Orders that united priestly ministry with monastic life, for example, various groups of Canons Regular and later, Orders and Congregations of Canons Regular.

This same monastic ideal encouraged the development of Third Orders which enabled the laity to participate in the spirituality and the practices of the monks and friars and nuns. When Francis de Sales wrote, Introduction to the Devout Life, he intended to make the ideal of perfection accessible to those who were unable to live a cloistered life.

Vincent de Paul adopted the missionary program of Jesus as his own, that is, he has sent me to proclaim good news to the poor (Luke 4:18). Vincent never tired of saying that the Son of God, the Missionary of the Father, came into the world in order to evangelize the poor. He would, then, go on to state that the Missionaries prolong the mission of Jesus Christ on earth: In this vocation, we're very much in conformity with Our Lord Jesus Christ, who seems to have made His principal aim, in coming into the world, to assist poor people and to take care of them. Misitme evangelizare pauperibus. And if we ask Our Lord, “What did you come to do on earth?” ‘To assist the poor.’ “Anything else?” ‘To assist the poor,' etc. Now, He had only poor persons in His company and He devoted himself very little to cities, almost always conversing with and instructing village people. So, are we not very fortunate to belong to the Mission for the same purpose that caused God to become man? And if someone were to question a Missioner, wouldn’t it be a great honor for him to be able to say with Our Lord, Misit me evangelizare pauperibus? I’m here to catechize, instruct, hear confessions, and assist persons who are poor (CCD:XI:98-99).

The Congregation of the Mission is situated in the Church as a group of workers who follow Jesus Christ and continue his mission on earth (CCD:XI:190-191)

Vincent de Paul, who played a decisive role in the reform of the clergy, urged all priests (not only the Missionaries), to strive for the apostolic ideal, assuring them that the Church needed apostolic men [9]. According to Vincent de Paul, true renewal must involve conversion.

Louise had no hesitation in stating that if people wanted to be authentic Christians then they had to live as Jesus lived, they had to do what Jesus did:

  • I have resolved to meditate profoundly on His life and to try to imitate it. I spent a great deal of time reflecting on the title of Christian which we bear, and I came to the conclusion that we must, indeed, truly conform our lives to the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ (SWLM:777 [A.36]).
  • Let us lift up our spirits … so that in all our actions we may honor Our Lord by the witness He wishes us to bear to Him by performing the actions which He accomplished on earth (SWLM:821 [A.26]).
  • It is only reasonable that we should follow Him and imitate His holy, human life. This thought absorbed my mind and moved me to resolve to follow Him wholeheartedly, without any reservation. Filled with consolation and happiness at the thought of being accepted by Him to live my entire life as His follower (SWLM:715 [A.5]).

This experience, shared by Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac, would take form and would be perpetuated in the Church in the formation of Vincentian priests and brothers as well as in the Company of the Daughters of Charity and in the Confraternities of Charity.

We read the following words in the conferences and recommendations that were addressed to the Daughters of Charity:

  • Like the Apostles, you go from place to place as Our Lord sends you by order of your Superiors. You've undertaken to do what Our Lord did on earth (CCD:X:117-118).
  • They will perform all their actions, corporal as well as spiritual, in a spirit of humility and charity and in union with those Our Lord Jesus Christ performed on earth (CCD:X:105).
  • Ask Our Lord to give you the dispositions you must have, and, by His goodness, to do in you, through you, and with you everything He wants you to do (CCD:X:449).
  • Your way of life also prescribes that you make a short annual retreat … You'll learn there to be true Daughters of Charity; you'll also learn there how to serve the sick well. You'll go over in your mind the actions of Our Lord when He was on earth, you'll see that He spent a good part of His time serving His neighbor, and you'll take the resolution to imitate Him. What do you think Our Lord did? He wasn't satisfied with restoring the sick to health; He also taught them how to act when they were well. Imitate Him (CCD:IX:176).

The laity, who are members of the Confraternities of Charity, view their life from the perspective of Jesus’ mission. That idea was expressed in the various rules that were redacted by Vincent and Louise: The Confraternity of Charity will be erected in the parish church of Argenteuil to honor Our Lord Jesus its patron and His Holy Mother, and to assist the sick poor of Argenteuil spiritually and corporally: spiritually, by obtaining that those who seem to be close to death leave this world in a good state and that those who will recover make the resolution never to offend God in the future; corporally, by giving them the food they need; and, lastly, to fulfill Our Lord's ardent desire that we love one another (CCD:XIIIb:103).

The mission of Jesus Christ is also a point of reference for the Christian life of the women who collaborated in the various Vincentian ministries: Jesus’ main concern was the care of poor persons in order to heal them, console them, help them, and respect them; that was His aim. And He Himself willed to be born poor, to welcome poor persons into His company, to serve those who were poor, to put Himself in their place, even going so far as to say that the good and the harm we do to those who are poor He will consider as done to His Divine Person. What more tender love could He show for persons who were poor! And, I ask you, what love can we have for Him if we don't1ove what He loved! That being the case, Ladies, loving those who are poor is to love Him in that way; serving poor persons well is to serve Him well; and imitating Him is to honor Him as we should. Since that is so, oh! what good reason we have to be spurred on to continue those good works and to say right now in the depths of our hearts, “Yes,” I give myself to God to take care of those who are poor and to maintain the works of charity on their behalf. I will help, love, and respect them, and, after the example of Our Lord, I will love those who console them and show respect to those who visit them and bring them relief. Now, if this kind Savior is honored by this imitation, how much more should we consider it a great honor to make ourselves like Him in that! Don't you think, Ladies, that this is a very powerful motive for renewing in you your first fervor? For my part, I think we should offer ourselves today to His Divine Majesty, that He may be pleased to animate us with His charity so that it can henceforth be said of all of you that it is the charity of Jesus Christ that urges you on (CCD:X:433-434).

The Vincentian charism, expressed and actualized by the communities and associations of the Vincentian Family, has revealed that to be Christian is to live as Christ and is to continue the mission which, as the Missionary of the Father, Jesus initiated while he was on earth. Furthermore, Jesus called the apostles and the women who were associated with the apostles to participate in his mission.

Participation of the laity, especially women, in the mission of the Apostles

The biographers of Vincent de Paul [10] and Louise de Marillac [11] highlight their important contribution to the promotion of the laity, especially women. They also point out the various ways in which Vincent and Louise promoted the laity to take responsibility for their proper apostolate in the Church. The many impressive Vincentian accomplishments cannot be understood apart from the participation of so many lay persons, so many laymen and laywomen, in the mission [12].

As a result of Vincent’s lived experience in Châtillon and the establishment of the Confraternity in that place, as a result of the essential collaboration of Louise de Marillac and other women who animated the members of the Confraternities in the rural areas, who brought together the Daughters of Charity and supported the Ladies … all of these experiences led to the development of multiple creative forms that enhanced and affirmed the participation of the laity in the mission of the Church.

In a lengthy document which Abelly (II:304-314) attributes to Vincent de Paul and which Nicolás Gobillon (II:18-22) places among the writings of Louise de Marillac we find a summary of the contributions of the laity to Vincentian charism as they participate in the mission of the Church.

The text affirms that among Jesus’ followers there were both men and women, all of whom engaged in an apostolic ministry: Among those who were steadfast in following Our Lord, there were women as well as men, who followed him even to the cross. The women were not Apostles, but they formed a middle state … they went from one place to another to meet the needs, not only of the Church workers, but of the faithful who were in distress (CCD:XIIIb:436).

During the first centuries of Christianity, women were involved in many important apostolic activities: For eight hundred years or so, women have had no public role in the Church; in the past there were some who were called Deaconesses, who were responsible for seating the women in the churches and teaching them the rubrics then in use. About the time of Charlemagne, however, by a discreet working of Divine Providence, this practice came to an end; persons of your sex were deprived of any role and have not had any since then (CCD:XIIIb:432).

The time, however, has come for women to take up anew the ministry which corresponds to them as they continue the mission of the Church: Now that same Providence is turning today to some of you to supply what was lacking to the sick poor of the Hôtel-Dieu. They corresponded to God's plan, and soon after, when others joined the first ones, God established them as the mothers of abandoned children, made them the heads of their hospital and the distributors of alms from Paris ... Those good souls have responded to all that with zeal and firmness, by the grace of God (CCD:XIIIb:432). It is very evident, in this century, that Divine Providence willed to make use of women to show that it was His goodness alone which desired to aid afflicted peoples and to bring them powerful helps for their salvation … Therefore, it seems to be essential for the Company of the Ladies of Charity of the Hôtel-Dieu to continue its functions, since, from the origin of this noble group, their visits to the sick of this holy hospital have brought such apparent good to the place itself and to the souls who have found the way to salvation there. Through their ministry, some of the sick poor died a happy death as a result of their good dispositions following a general confession. Others recovered but their confessions led to admirable conversions. The Ladies themselves entered on the pathway to sanctification which is perfect charity, such as that which they have practiced in this place where they have frequently put their lives in danger by their service to the sick. All this has been accomplished by Ladies of noble birth such as princesses and duchesses whom we have seen spending entire hours at the bedside of the sick instructing them in the things necessary for their salvation and helping them to free themselves from the dangers surrounding them (SWLM:789-790 [A.56]).

According to that text, which is also supported by Abelly, Vincent de Paul confronted possible resistances to the active participation of women in the mission of the Church by referring to the writings of Saint Paul. At that time women who served and continued the mission of the Church were dispensed from every prohibition that Saint Paul had placed upon them: You practice what widows of the primitive Church did, namely, to meet the material needs of the poor as they did, and even the spiritual needs of persons of their own sex, as they did. In this you will be released, as it were, from the prohibition placed upon you by Saint Paul in I Corinthians 14, “Women should keep silent in the churches; nor are they permitted to speak”. Then he adds, “For it is a disgrace for women to speak in church.” And in I Timothy 2, “I do not permit a woman to act as a teacher,” adding as the reason that, “Adam was created first; Eve afterward,” and “It was not Adam who was deceived but the woman. It was she who was led astray" (CCD:XIIIb:381).

The participation of women in ministry on behalf of the poor must be viewed as an apostolic activity, as a missionary activity of the Church, as an authentic building up of the Church (notice in the following text the use of specific apostolic words in order to describe the participation of the laity in the mission of the Church): In caring for the poor, you care for God Himself in them; and the service you render them is rendered to God Himself … you cause the goodness of God to be seen and felt through you goodness to those poor persons, and have God glorified … you cooperate with Jesus Christ in the salvation of those poor souls … you edify the whole Church … you edify one another and become more closely united with God (CCD:XIIIb:404).

This text that has been preserved for us is not the only argument that reveals the contribution of the Vincentian charism to the laity’s participation in the mission of the Church. Much more decisive are the Vincentian ministries and the spirit that animates them.

The life of Louise de Marillac is the best description of the apostolic mission of women in the Church: her understanding of Church, her dedication to the service of the poor and to every form of poverty [13], the encouragement that she gave to the members of the Confraternities of Charity [14], her dedication to the formation of the Daughters of Charity, her accompaniment of other women during their time of retreat… [15]

There can be no doubt that the contribution of the Vincentian charism to the participation of the laity in the various apostolates of the Church has been most significant … and that contribution has continued to the present day.

The salvation of the poor at the center of the Church’s mission

Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac shared the same experience: the poor are members of Christ and as such, are members of the Church. In the Church, the Body of Christ, the poor occupy the most prominent places … they are our Masters. Thus, the salvation of the poor is constituted as the center of the Church’s mission.

In discovering the fact that the poor are members of Jesus Christ, Louise de Marillac, a daughter of the Church, had no hesitation in exerting all of her energy in service on their behalf. At the same time, Louise taught the Sisters, daughters of the Church, how to serve the poor, which is the very reason for their being and their vocation.

Furthermore, Saint Louise understood that the mission of the Church on this earth was to minister on behalf of the poor. It seems to me that such is the meaning of the letter that she wrote on July 18, 1656 to Sister Carcireux. Louise distinguished the mission of the Church militant (serve the poor) from the mission of the triumphant Church (intimate union with God). She concluded the Church militant ought to diligently apply itself to the corporal and spiritual service of the sick poor for the love of Jesus Crucified: If God. in His goodness. shows us His mercy and admits us into the Church Triumphant, we shall then enjoy that intimate union with Him which we can never completely attain here on earth. Let us then, my dear Sisters, apply ourselves diligently to the corporal and spiritual service of the sick poor for the love of Jesus Crucified in whom I am, your very humble and devoted servant (SWLM:515 [L.531b]).

Vincent de Paul, distancing himself from the dominant ecclesiologies of his time [16], contemplated and experienced the Church as the continuation of the mission of Jesus Christ. Vincent maintained the position of the ecclesiology that was taught in the manuals (CCD:VI:292-293) and he did not want to depart in any way from the Church’s teaching (CCD:XI:30-31). Nevertheless, Vincent’s originality with regard to his vision of the Church is rooted in the fact that he viewed the church as an historical reality, as a missionary church, as a church at the service of the poor, as a church that continues the mission of Christ [17].

Thus, Vincent did not place an emphasis on the hierarchy nor on some exterior adornment. For Vincent “the Church is above all else composed of those poor men and women who request assistance, all those individuals with whom he was able to identify himself when he was pastor in Clichy (a church near Paris). As Vincent served those poor people he offered up himself and his people. When speaking about those poor and humble men and women, he stated: ‘they are our lords and masters … they represent Jesus Christ’. In this way Vincent gave a new perspective to the theology of the mystical body” [18]. The Church is neither in the silk nor the gold of the princes-bishops or abbots but rather is in the body and blood of those who suffer, in the tears of the people. The People of God participate in the mystery of Christ’s life, in the mystery of the sufferings and the death of the Son of God. Called to participate in the Council of Conscience, Vincent was mindful of this Church as he attempted to appoint bishops who would serve the people of God and who would especially serve the poor [19].

According to Vincent de Paul, the Church continues the work of Christ and does what Jesus did when he was on earth and therefore, the Church cooperates with Jesus in regard to the salvation of humankind. This close relationship between Christ and the Church is most evident in the expressions that refer to the Church: spouse of the Savior, spouse of Jesus Christ (CCD:I:561; III:188, 204; XII:132-133), the Lord’s vineyard (CCD:V:113, 180, 465; VII:304, 559; VIII:64-65, 147), the harvest that requires workers (CCD:VIII:145; X:100), the mystical body: All of us make up a mystical body, but we’re all members of one another. It has never been heard that a member, not even among animals, was insensitive to the suffering of another member, or that one part of a person’s body may be bruised, wounded, or injured and the other parts don’t feel it. That’s impossible. Every part of us is in such sympathy with one another and so interconnected that the pain of one is the pain of the other. Since Christians are members of the same body and members of one another, with even greater reason should they sympathize with one another. Quoi! To be a Christian and to see our brother suffering without weeping with him, without being sick with him! That’s to be lacking in charity; it’s being a caricature of a Christian; it’s inhuman; it’s to be worse than animals (CCD:XII:221-222; cf. CCD:XI:296-297)

Scholars do not hesitate to affirm that it was Bossuet who best understood the Vincentian focus with regard to the centrality of the poor in the mission of the Church: Like Jesus Christ its Founder, the Church has come into the world in order to govern in a way that directly contradicts and reverses the order that the proud rulers of the present age have established there … In the world the rich enjoy all the advantages of their wealth and power, while in the kingdom of Jesus Christ the preeminence belongs to the poor who are the first-born of the Church and her children. In the world the poor are submissive to the rich, and it seems that the only reason that they are born is to be their servants. On the contrary, in the holy Church, the rich find that they can be admitted only on the condition that they themselves serve the poor. The advantages and privileges of this world benefit only the powerful and the rich, while the poor have no claim on any part of those for their living. However, in the Church of Jesus Christ the advantages and blessings of the kingdom of have are reserved for the poor, and the rich have no right to share in these advantages and privileges, except through the poor [20].

The members of the Vincentian Family are pleased to listen to the words of Pope Francis:

  • God’s heart has a special place for the poor, so much so that he himself became poor (Evangelii Gaudium, #197).
  • Our faith in Christ, who became poor, and was always close to the poor and the outcast, is the basis of our concern for the integral development of society’s most neglected members (Evangelii Gaudium, #186).
  • Each individual and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully part of society. This demands that we be docile and attentive to the cry of the poor and to come to their aid (Evangelii Gaudium, #187).
  • Jesus, the evangelizer par excellence and the Gospel in person, identifies especially with the little ones (cf. Matthew 25:40). This reminds us Christians that we are called to care for the vulnerable of the earth (Evangelii Gaudium, #209).

The world, as seen and desired by God, is the environment in which the mission of the Church is accomplished

In order to describe the Vincentian vision of the world and history, Father Morin has utilized the comparison of a person who beholds some aspect of reality. Thus, he describes the spiritual journey of Vincent de Paul as a history of beholding the poor: beholding the poor in a manner that expanded as he encountered the poor, beholding the poor in a manner that took in all those who were poor, beholding the poor in such a manner that from the little parish in Châtillon his vision became universal (eventually extending to Madagascar), beholding the poor in a manner that was deepened with the passing of time (from beholding the poor to beholding Jesus Christ, from beholding Jesus Christ to beholding the poor) [21].

Wanting to see the world as Jesus saw it and as Jesus desired it, Vincent came to understand that his works and establishments were not of his doing but rather, were founded and established by God: The good which God desires is accomplished almost by itself, without our even thinking of it. That is how our Congregation came into being, that missions and retreats for the ordinands began, that the Company of the Daughters of Charity was formed, that the Ladies of Charity for the assistance of the poor at the Hotel Dieu of Paris and the sick in the parishes were established. That is also how the care of the foundlings began and, in a word, how all the works for which we are now responsible came into existence. None of the above was deliberately undertaken by us, but God Himself, who wanted to be served in such circumstances, brought them imperceptibly into being. If He made use of us, we had no idea, however, where that was leading (CCD:IV:128-129).

In the prophetic writings we frequently find the expression: what do you see? (Amos 8:1; Jeremiah 1:11), following by the words: then the Lord showed me or then the Lord said to me (thus, the clay in the hands of the potter, the vineyard with sour grapes, the fig tree). Reality is transformed by the glance of the prophet, that is, God allows the prophet to see the world and history not in the manner that their contemporaries viewed those realities, but as God saw them, as God desired them. Father Renouard states that in the eyes of Vincent de Paul events are a sign from God and, in the case of the poor, such signs are privileged. Vincent viewed events as revealing God, as revealing the will of God [22].

The ability to see the world as God sees it and desires it led Vincent de Paul to state: the poor, who do not know where to go and what to do, who are suffering already and who increase daily, are my burden and my sorrow (CCD:III:492). At the same time Vincent denounced the reality that the great ones of this world think only of honors and wealth (CCD:XI:20). He made every effort to advance the liberation and the salvation of the poor because the Son of God became man like us in order that we might not only be saved, but, like him, saviors, which means cooperating with him in the salvation of souls (CCD:XII:97). Vincent was so convinced of this fact that he was able to say: It is not enough for me to love God, if my neighbor does not love him (CCD:XII:215).

Again we find Vincent encouraging people to see things as God sees them: I ask Our Lord to grant us the grace of considering those matters as they are in God and not as they appear apart from him; otherwise we might deceive ourselves and act other than he wishes (CCD:VII:403).

  • …Conforming ourselves to God’s judgment of things … so then, like Our Lord, let us bring our judgment into harmony with God’s judgment, made known to us through Holy Scripture … So then in nomine Domini, we can form our reasoning on what is most conformable to the spirit of the gospel (CCD:XII:175, 176).

During the April 27th, 1657 conference Vincent stated: I must not judge a poor peasant man or woman by their appearance or their apparent intelligence, especially since very often they scarcely have the expression or the mind of rational persons, so crude and vulgar they are. But turn the medal, and you will see by the light of faith that the Son of God, who willed to be poor, is represented to us by these poor people … How beautiful it is to see poor people if we consider them in God and with the esteem in which Jesus Christ held them! If, however, we look on them according to the sentiments of the flesh and a worldly spirit, they will seem contemptible (CCD:XI:26).

Viewing the world as God sees it and desires it explains the Vincentian commitment to the cause of the poor because seeing things with God’s eyes allows the members of the Vincentian Family to see the poor as representatives of Jesus Christ (the poor are the suffering members of Christ’s body).

In the writings of Louise de Marillac we find many different expressions that describe the poor as viewed and desired by God: members of Jesus (SWLM:6 [L.1]), our masters (SWLM:12 [L.43]), poor creatures that [God] in his goodness wills to look upon as his members (SWLM:18 [L.9]), our dear masters (SWLM:36 [L.426]), souls redeemed by the blood of the Son of God (SWLM:50 [L.41]), our masters, the dear members of Christ (SWLM:81 [L.547]), members of Jesus Christ (SWLM:113 [L.104b]), 409 [L.389]), creatures redeemed by the blood of the Son of God (SWLM:421 [L.367]), members of Jesus Christ and our masters (SWLM:468 [L.424]).

The world, as God sees it and desires it, is the place where the mission of the Church is carried out, and this is done in such a way that when service on behalf of the poor requires it, one is willing to put aside prayer and even the Eucharist … ministering in such a way one does not neglect the duties of religion but rather one is leaving God for God. Vincent stated: if the good pleasure of God were that you should go on a Sunday to nurse a sick person instead of going to Mass, even though that is a matter of obligation, you should do it. That is called leaving God for God (CCD:X:76).

In this same regard, Louise de Marillac states: Do not scruple to omit one or other of your exercises either to assist your Sisters or for the service of the poor. You do this for the love of God and this is what he asks of you (SWLM:526 [L.547b).

To go out in order to serve the poor is to go out to encounter God: Go to visit a chain gang, you will find God there. Look after those little children, you will find God there, How delightful Sisters! You go into poor homes, but you find God there (CCD:IX:199).

The Vincentian charism has contributed to the Church’s mission in the sense that the followers of Jesus Christ are attentive to the world that surrounds them, especially the world of the poor … they see the world as God sees it and as God desires it and thus, they commit themselves to the transformation of the world.

The mission of the Church and those who evangelize

When Pope Francis referred to the urgency of the evangelizing mission of the church in the midst of today’s world, he exclaimed: How I long to find the right words to stir up enthusiasm for a new chapter of evangelization full of fervor, joy, generosity, courage, boundless love and attraction (Evangelii Gaudium, #261).

The Pope called upon the Holy Spirit to inspire that new evangelizing process: I implore the Spirit to come and renew the Church, to stir and impel her to go forth boldly to evangelize all people (Evangelii Gaudium, #261). He then describes evangelizers as spirit-filled evangelizers who are fearlessly open to the working of the Holy Spirit (Evangelii Gaudium, #259), evangelizers who work and pray (Evangelii Gaudium, #262), evangelizers who proclaim the good news not only with words, but above all by a life transfigured by God’s presence (Evangelii Gaudium, #259).

As Vincent contemplated the situation of the Church in Europe as well as when he received news about the Missionaries and the Daughters of Charity who had departed for foreign lands, he insisted on the church’s need for “workers”, for persons who would continue the mission of Jesus Christ, for true Apostles:

  • Alas! the Church has enough solitaries … and too many useless ones, and even more who tear her apart. Her great need is evangelical men who work to purge, enlighten, and unite her to her Divine Spouse ... to go and proclaim Jesus Christ to the poor people, and work at training priests. I beg you, Monsieur, let us labor at that with all our might, confident that Our Lord, who has called us to His manner of life, will give us a greater share in His Spirit and, in the end, in His glory (CCD:III:204-205).
  • We have just sent three priests and three Daughters of Charity to Narbonne, two hundred leagues from here; we need even more of them for a few new establishments that are still to be made. Some men are preparing for the voyage to Madagascar, which will take place at the end of this month. We are being asked for workers on all sides. The harvest is abundant; we must pray that God will raise up apostolic men to gather it in (CCD:VIII:145).

With great emotion Vincent recalled the apostolic ministry of the Missionaries in Madagascar and Barbary: What have our Missioners in Barbary and Madagascar undertaken? What have they carried out? What have they accomplished? What have they suffered? ... In Madagascar the Missioners preach, hear confessions, and teach catechism constantly from four in the morning until ten, and from two in the afternoon until nightfall; the rest of the time is spent praying the Office and visiting the sick. Those men are workers, they’re true Missioners! May God in His goodness be pleased to give us the spirit that animates them, a big heart, vast and ample! (CCD:XI:191-192, 192-193).

“Workers”, “apostolic men”, are the words that Vincent used when referring to those who were privileged to be called in order to cooperate in extending the Church elsewhere (CCD:III:41), in order to go, not just to one parish, not just to one diocese, but all over the world (CCD:XII:215).

When speaking to his confreres, Vincent referred to the authority of M. Duval in order to highlight the importance of priests as tireless workers: M. Duval, a great theologian of the Church, used to say that a priest must have more work than he can do; for, as soon as idleness and sloth get hold of a priest, every vice rushes in from all sides … O Savior! O my good Savior, may it please Your Divine Goodness to keep the Mission free of that spirit of laziness and of seeking its own comforts, and give it an ardent zeal for Your glory, which will make it accept everything joyfully and never refuse an opportunity to serve You (CCD:XI:191)

The greatest blessing of the Vincentian Family is to be able to minister as Jesus ministered: Oh! what a happiness for you to work at doing what He did! He came to bring the good news to the poor, and that is your lot and your occupation, too. If our perfection lies in charity, as is certain, there is none greater than to give oneself to save souls and to sacrifice oneself for them as Jesus Christ did. This is what you are called to do (CCD:VII:356).

Since the evangelization of the poor does not simply consist of proclaiming the truths of faith but rather consists of acting in the way that Jesus acted, the process of evangelization must also involve making visible the signs foretold by the prophets: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them (Luke 4:18). 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)

Louise de Marillac addressed the first Sisters and pointed out that it would be impossible to accept into the Company anyone who was unwilling to work (SWLM:241 [L.241], 508-509 [L.479], 586-587 [L.565]). Indeed, service on behalf of the poor requires good workers (SWLM:569 [L.545], 667-669 [L.647b]). The Daughters of Charity ought to earn their bread through their work (SWLM:239-239 [L.169]); they ought to seek out the sick poor in the neighboring villages and should not be satisfied with serving the infirm who come to their place of residence (SWLM:227-228 [L.126], 239-240 [L.208]).

Vincent and Louise referred to the relationship between masters and servants when describing the life of the Daughters of Charity as that of being servants of the poor, their lords and masters.

Mother Rogue summarized this contribution of the Vincentian charism to the church’s mission when she stated: When one reads the instructions that Vincent and Louise gave to the first Daughters, we can see that they wanted the Sisters to take on the role of servants on behalf of the poor, our lords and masters. It has often been said that the Daughters of Charity, Servants of the Poor, in their coming and going, were viewed as revolutionary with regard to the manner in which they lived out their consecrated life in the Church. The Daughters, however, were also seen as revolutionary when viewed from the perspective of their ministry among the people [23].

At the beginning of his Pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI presented himself as a simple and humble labourer in the vineyard of the Lord [24]. “Workers” “apostolic workers” “servants” … all of these are significant contributions of the Vincentian charism to the church’s mission, contributions to their self-understanding as evangelizers.

The poor are protagonists and not simply the beneficiaries of the Church’s mission

We have recalled the fact that the salvation of the poor is constituted as the center of the Church’s mission. We now want to highlight another important contribution of the Vincentian charism, namely, the poor are protagonists and not simply the beneficiaries of the Church’s mission.

Jean Anouilh has given a literary form to this contribution of the Vincentian charism as he places on the lips of Monsieur Vincent the often repeated words, only the poor can save the poor [25].

The majority of the Daughters of Charity have been chosen from among the poor in order to serve God in the person of the poor: The spirit of the Company consists in giving yourselves to God to love Our Lord and to serve Him corporally and spiritually in the person of the poor in their homes or elsewhere; to instruct poor young women, children, and generally all those whom Divine Providence may send you. You see, dear Sisters, this Company of Daughters of Charity is composed, for the most part, of poor young women. How excellent is this characteristic of poor young women --- poor in their clothing and poor in their food! (CCD:IX:465).

In turn, the young women became exemplary ministers as evangelizers of the poor: Do you know, Sisters, that I've heard that those poor men are so grateful for the grace God is giving them that, when they see how we come to help them and consider that those Sisters have no other interest in doing this than the love of God, they say that it' s quite clear to them that God is the protector of the poor. See what a blessing it is to help poor people recognize the Goodness of God! For they see plainly that He's the one who's having this service rendered to them. Thus, they experience deep feelings of piety and say, “O my God, now we acknowledge that what we formerly heard preached is true, that You are mindful of all those who need help and never abandon us when we're in danger, since You take care of poor wretches who have so greatly offended Your Goodness”. I've heard from the very persons who were nursed by our Sisters and from many others that they were edified at seeing the trouble those Sisters took to go to visit them, that they recognized the Goodness of God in it and saw that they were obliged to praise and thank Him. (CCD:X:411)

The poor should not be viewed as passive beneficiaries of the evangelization process, rather, in accord with their abilities, they should be actively involved in the process: I can tell you that their original intention was to assist only those who cannot work nor earn their living and would be in danger of dying of starvation if someone did not assist them. In fact, as soon as anyone is strong enough to work, tools of his trade are bought for him and nothing more is given to him. Accordingly, the alms are not for those able to work, but for seriously sill sick persons, orphans, or the elderly (CCD:IV:188)

A concrete expression of that reality is found in the organization of the Hospice du Nom-de-Jésus. An individual, with a high ranking position, made a donation to Vincent that he was free to utilize for any good work of his choosing. Thus with that money Vincent bought a house in the neighborhood of Saint-Laurent, a house that became known as Nom-de-Jésus. In accord with the conditions of the contract, the donation was used to house, feed and clothe forty persons of both sexes and to teach them the things necessary for salvation, to make them live in the fear of God and His love, and also to occupy them in some work, thus causing them to avoid begging and idleness which are the mother of all vices.[26]

In 1653 Louise began to prepare for the opening of the Hospice du Nom-de Jésus and then, with the help of the other Sisters, put her plan into action: Another end is that persons sheltered there will be helped to become participants in the merits of the life and death of Jesus Christ and thereby to gain eternal salvation … as much by the instruction they receive as by the good use they make of their time … Since one of the greatest assets of this project is the work which it provides, it is necessary to assign tasks which are useful and productive. An acceptable one would be that of cloth-maker. Apart from being productive --- the cloth could be used in the house and in other places --- it employs many persons and requires little equipment. Bootmakers and shoemakers would also be most useful. Any button-makers and muslin workers who are skilled in their trade can put the finishing touches on the products before they are put into use. Other useful workers are: lace-makers, glove-makers who know how to trim, seamstresses who can take in work from the dressmakers of the city and of other places, and pin-makers. Having quite enough workers to get the project underway and to keep it going, there is no need to consider the expense that will be incurred for tools and building supplies, nor is there need to be concerned about the difficulty of the skills involved or the problem of securing a location cheaply and easily. Divine Providence provides for all, and skills will be discovered through experience. Rest assured that there will be very little progress during the first year (SWLM:794 [A.99]).

The Hospice functioned so well that many other places requested Louise and Vincent to establish similar institutions for single people, for homeless persons, as well as for people with few or no resources [27].

When speaking about the poor being protagonists with regard to the Church’s mission, we should not forget the following Vincentian affirmation: It’s among the poor that true religion and a living faith are preserved (CCD:XI:190). Jaime Corera has stated: in the eyes of Vincent the poor are the sacrament of faith and only in the poor will one encounter Jesus Christ … and in encountering Jesus Christ, one encounters the living God [28].

Near the end of his life Vincent told his followers: Some day the poor people will vie with us for paradise and will carry it off because there is a great difference between their manner of loving God and ours. Their love, like that of Our Lord, is practiced in suffering, humiliations, work, and conformity to God’s good pleasure. And how is our shown --- if we have any? (CCD:XII:88).

Vincent de Paul (and the members of the Vincentian Family) have had the experience of being evangelized by the poor … through the instrumentality of the poor they have learned the true gospel and the true faith. They have no greater security in their life than to dedicate themselves to service on behalf of the poor and through the poor they await their own definitive salvation (cf. CCD:IX:199-200): we cannot better assure our eternal happiness than by living and dying in the service of the poor (CCD:III:384).

Pope Francis refers to Paul VI and reminds us that popular piety manifests a thirst for God which only the simple and the poor can know and it makes people capable of generosity and sacrifice even to the point of heroism, when it is a question of bearing witness to belief (Evangelii Gaudium, #123). He goes on to say: This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the sufferings of Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them. The new evangelization is an invitation to acknowledge the saving power at work in their lives and to put them at the centre of the Church’s pilgrim way. We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them (Evangelii Gaudium, #198).

The mission becomes truly universal when the poor become protagonists and sharers in the blessings of the Kingdom [29].

Charity animates the mission and the mission creates charity

Jesus, in the synagogue at Nazareth [30] and as he proclaimed the text from the prophet Isaiah (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) … in this manner Jesus defined his mission and gave the prophet’s words a programmatic value as he initiated his public ministry. In that scene from which Vincent derived the motto of the Congregation, we should note that Jesus personalized the words of the prophet: “upon me”, “anointed me”, “sent me”. The same could be said today about the words which Jesus spoke as he concluded his reading.

The Vincentian charism has made it explicit that the Christian life prolongs the life and the mission of Christ when he was on earth. The Vincentian charism has also actualized the meaning of evangelizing the poor: to act and to teach, like Jesus, (to reveal the words and deeds foretold by the prophets) (CCD:XII:75).

In this service on behalf of the poor and every work that is undertaken for their promotion and their liberation, the prophetic and messianic signs are revelations of the merciful presence of the Father who, in the person of Jesus, walks beside the poor and saves them [31]. Thus, Vincent extends the following invitation: Come, then, my dear confreres, let us devote ourselves with renewed love to serve persons who are poor, and even to seek out those who are the poorest and most abandoned (CCD:XI:349).

Love and charity are at the very origin of the Mission: Christ’s love is infinite (cf. CCD:XII:94). If we discover the love of Jesus Christ and clothe ourselves in his love, then like him, we will be able to dedicate ourselves to the salvation of our brothers and sisters: Let’s look at the Son of God; what a heart of charity He had; what a fire of love! Please tell us, Jesus, who pulled You away from heaven to come to endure the curse of earth and the many persecutions and torments You suffered? O Savior! Source of love humbled even to our level and to a vile agony, who showed, in that, greater love for the neighbor than You yourself did? You came to lay yourself open to all our misfortunes, to take the form of a sinner, to lead a life of suffering and to undergo a shameful death for us; is there any love like that? But who else could love in such an outstanding way? Only Our Lord, who was so enamored with the love of creatures as to leave the throne of His Father to come to take a body subject to weaknesses. And why? To establish among us, by His word and example, love of the neighbor. This is the love that crucified Him and brought about that admirable work of our redemption. O Messieurs, if we had only a little of that love, would we stand around with our arms folded? Would we let those we could assist perish? Oh, no! Charity can’t remain idle; it impels us to work for the salvation and consolation of others (CCD:XII:216).

Entering into this love of Jesus Christ we can serve the most wretched, the most abandoned, and the most weighed down by corporal and spiritual suffering (CCD:XI:69).

The mission becomes charity because, in following Jesus Christ, true evangelization is proclamation and service (transformative action): If priests devote themselves to the care of the poor, wasn’t that what Our Lord and many great saints did, and they not only recommended poor persons to others, but they themselves consoled, comforted, and healed them? Aren’t those who are poor the afflicted members of Our Lord? Aren’t they our brothers and sisters? And if priests abandon them, who do you think is going to help them? So then, if there are any among us who think they’re in the Mission to evangelize poor people but not to alleviate their sufferings, to take care of their spiritual needs but not their temporal ones, I reply that we have to help them and have them assisted in every way, by us and by others, if we want to hear those pleasing words of the Sovereign Judge of the living and the dead, “Come, beloved of my Father; possess the kingdom that has been prepared for you, because I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was naked and you clothed me; sick and you assisted me.” To do that is to preach the Gospel by words and by works, and that’s the most perfect way; it’s also what Our Lord did, and what those should do who represent Him on earth, officially and by nature (CCD:XII:77-78).

Charity-mission, mission charity … mission flows from love and charity sets the mission in motion and constantly animates the mission. The mission becomes charity and is expressed in the signs proclaimed by the prophets, signs of love [32].

It is this experience of Charity-Mission that makes spiritual and corporal service not two separate purposes of the Vincentian charism but rather two aspects of the same purpose, of the same evangelizing mission.

The Constitutions of the Congregation of the Mission concretize this contribution of the Vincentian charism to the Church’s mission:

  • The members of the Congregation of the Mission, as they follow Jesus Christ, work at evangelizing the poor, especially the more abandoned (Constitutions 1.2); their evangelization is the sign that the kingdom of God is present on earth (cf. Matthew 11:5) (Constitutions, 12.1); the Congregation of the Mission from the time of its Founder, and under his inspiration, sees itself called by God to carry out the work of evangelizing the poor. In its own way, it can, with the whole Church, state of itself that evangelizing is to be considered its own grace and vocation, and expresses its deepest identity (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi, #14). Furthermore, the members, individually and collectively, can rightly make use of the words of Jesus: "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God for which I have been sent"(Luke 4:43) (Constitutions, #10).
  • Charity is the source of the mission: The love of Christ, who had pity on the crowd (Mark 8:2), is the source of all our apostolic activity, and urges us, in the words of St. Vincent, "to make the Gospel really effective"(SV, XII, 84). According to the varying circumstances of time and place, our work of evangelization in word and action should strive for this, that all, through a process of conversion and celebration of the sacraments, should be faithful to "the kingdom, that is to say, the new world, the new order, the new manner of being, of living, of living in community, which the gospel inaugurates" (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 23) (Constitutions, #11).
  • The mission creates charity: Following St. Vincent, who, like the Good Samaritan of the gospel parable (Luke 10:30-37), gave effective help to the abandoned, provinces and members should earnestly strive to serve those rejected by society and those who are victims of disasters and injustices of every kind. We should also assist those who suffer from forms of moral poverty which are peculiar to our own times… (Constitutions, #18).

At the same time the Constitutions of the Daughters of Charity also concretize this contribution of the Vincentian charism to the Church’s mission:

  • The Company participates in the church’s universal mission of salvation, according to the charism of its Founders, Saint Vincent de Paul and Saint Louise de Marillac (Constitutions, #1a).
  • The Sisters find Christ and contemplate Him in the heart and life of those who are poor, where His grace is ever at work to sanctify and save them. Their primary concern is to make God known to them, to proclaim the Gospel, and to make the Kingdom present (Constitutions, 10a).
  • Charity is the source of the mission: At the school of the Son of God, the Daughters of Charity learn that no type of distress should be foreign to them. Christ appeals constantly to their Company through their suffering brothers and sisters, through the signs of the times, and through the Church. Multiple are the forms of poverty and multiple the forms of service, but one is the love bestowed on those whom God has “called and assembled” (Constitutions, #11a).
  • Mission creates charity: Faithful to this spirit, the Company makes every effort to be available and ready to respond creatively and courageously to the calls of the Church and the urgent needs of the poor, while respecting cultural differences (Constitutions, 12b).
  • Mission and Charity are inseparable: With constant concern for the promotion of the whole person, the Company does not separate corporal service from spiritual service, nor the work of humanization from that of evangelization. It joins service and presence as Christ did when he revealed the love of the Father and gave as signs of His mission: “the blind regain their sight, the lame walk … and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (Constitutions, #14).


Previously, we recalled the fact that Vincent viewed events as a sign from God and, in the case of the poor, such signs are privileged. Vincent viewed events as revealing God, as revealing the will of God [33].

Creativity, as a contribution of the Vincentian charism to the church’s mission, is an ability to provide new answers in light of the new needs that are discovered in events, in the place where the will of God is revealed [34]. In January 1651 Vincent wrote to Charles de Montchal, the Archbishop of Toulouse, and stated: we pledged ourselves to God never to ask for any foundation. We had observed God’s special Providence in our regard in establishing us himself, without any intervention on our part, in all the places where we are situated. The result is that we can say we have nothing but what Our Lord has offered and given us (CCD:IV:144).

Referring to the creativity of Louise de Marillac in responding to the needs of the poor, her first biographer writes: It is inconceivable how this pious foundress could meet so many demands of charity. She took on all kinds of needs, making no reservations, neither as regards the type of evil, nor the condition and number of people, nor the diversity of places. She helped the poor in every sickness of mind and body, in childhood, adulthood and old age. She had them served in their homes, in hospitals, prisons and galleys, in towns and in the countryside, in the armies, in peace and in foreign and civil wars. She spared no kind of help for their needs, whether for eternal salvation or temporal life. She had them given instructions, consolation, remedies, food, and with her community offered her care, her work and her life in their service [35].

The instruction, Mutuae Relationes, reminds us that the charism of the founders, as an experience of the spirit, is developed by the followers of those founders and is constantly recreated and updated. Fidelity to the charism, vivacious and ingenious in its inventiveness (Mutuae Relationes, #11,12, 23), explains the fruitfulness of the Vincentian mission in the church.

The Constitutions of the Daughters of Charity and of the Congregation of the Mission, as well as the lines of action of recent General Assemblies, exhort the members to propose anew the enterprising initiative, creativity and holiness of their founders and foundresses in response to the signs of the times emerging in today’s world (John Paul II, Vita Consecrata, #37 and 71). The dynamism of the prophetic imagination makes possible the creation of new and original forms of presence and service in the church and also makes possible creativity in organizing resources (human, economic and structural resources). Vincent de Paul, near the end of his life, with fire in his words, pointed the way: Come, then, my dear confreres, let us devote ourselves with renewed love to serve persons who are poor, and even to seek out those who are the poorest and most abandoned (CCD:XI:349).

As Pope Francis has reminded us, love is always new because the center of all newness is the very desire of God who makes all things new (cf. Revelation 21:5): The heart of its message will always be the same: the God who revealed his immense love in the crucified and risen Christ. God constantly renews his faithful ones, whatever their age: “They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31). Christ is the “eternal Gospel” (Revelation 14:6); he “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), yet his riches and beauty are inexhaustible. He is for ever young and a constant source of newness. The Church never fails to be amazed at “the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God” (Romans 11:33) (Evangelii Gaudium, #11).

The Vincentian circular movement: from Christ to the poor and from the poor to Christ

In concluding this reflection about the contributions of the Vincentian charism to the mission of the Church, it seems appropriate to refer to the circular movement of the Vincentian charism, that is, from Christ to the poor; from the poor to Christ [36] .

As Louise contemplated Christ hanging on the cross, she wrote, let us love Love. Thus she viewed service on behalf of the poor as response of love to Love (cf. SWLM:827-829 [A.27]): Let us apply ourselves diligently to the corporal and spiritual service of the sick poor for the love of Jesus Crucified (SWLM:515 [L.531b]).

All acts of service should be filled with that love: …to serve your sick poor in a spirit of gentleness and great compassion, in imitation of Our Lord who acted this way with the most unfortunate (SWLM:434 [L.383]).

I have always been impressed with the close relationship that Louise established between union with God, service on behalf of the poor, between union and cordiality in living together in community. In Louise’s view those realities are not distinct: prayer, service on behalf of the poor, concern for the salvation of the poor, fraternity … all of these flow from the same experience and are concretized in the following of Jesus Christ, the crucified Lord. In October 1646 Louise wrote to the Sisters in Nantes and stated: Do you read your Rule and the obligations of your duties? Do you say your evening and morning prayers for the sick as well as the Benedicite and Grace at meals? Do you provide towels at the beds of the sick? Do you maintain their cleanliness? Especially, my dear Sisters, do you have a great love for their salvation. It is this in particular that our good God expects of you (SWLM:182 [L.160)

On numerous occasions Vincent formulated the circular movement of the Vincentian charism. Let us recall some of his words. First, on March 16th, 1642, Vincent spoke with the Daughters of Charity and stated: poor persons have the honor of representing the members of Jesus Christ, who considers the services rendered to them as done to himself (CCD:IX:51). Then, on February 13, 1646, Vincent stated: in serving persons who are poor, we serve Jesus Christ. How true, Sisters! You are serving Jesus Christ in the person of the poor. And that is as true as that we are here. A Sister will go ten times a day to visit the sick, and ten times a day she'll fmd God there ... if God confers a blessed eternity on those who have given them only a cup ofwater, what will He not give to a Danghter of Charity who has left everything and makes the gift of herself to serve them all the days of her life? ... She has reason to hope that she'll be among those to whom He'll say, “Come, blessed of my Father, possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you.” ... the poor persons assisted by her will be her intercessors before God; they'll come in a crowd ahead of her and say to God, “My God, this is the Sister who helped us for love of you; my God, this is the Sister who taught us to know you (CCD:IX:199-200).

This naturalness in moving from Christ to the poor and from the poor to Christ has been and continues to be a significant contribution of the Vincentian charism to the Church’s mission.


In pointing out the contributions of the Vincentian charism to the church’s mission, we do not want the members of the Vincentian Family to feel self-satisfied. Pope Francis has suggested the true meaning of the grateful looking back on the past: So I trust that, rather than living in some utopia, you will find ways to create “alternate spaces”, where the Gospel approach of self-giving, fraternity, embracing differences, and love of one another can thrive (Apostolic letter to all Consecrated People, November 21, 2014, II:2).

It seems to me that we are at a time when there are large structures at the service of the Church’s mission. Therefore, the contribution of the Vincentian charism does not consist of encouraging people to live in some utopia [37] but rather to create alternate spaces, spaces in which the poor can experience the joy of the gospel, spaces in which their wounds can be healed and spaces in which all people can live in accord with the Good News.

We are those alternate spaces where the Vincentian charism continues to contribute to the church’s mission


[1] Cf. C. Delgado, “Validez de la experiencia spiritual de Santa Luisa de Marillac para la espiritualidad vicenciana” [Validity of the spiritual experience of Saint Louise de Marillac for Vincentian Spirituality] in Santa Luisa de Marillac, ayer y hoy [Saint Louise de Marillac, Yesterday and Today], CEME, Salamanca, 2010, p. 375-414. Cf. Congregación para Los Obipos, Congregación Para los Institutos de Vida Religiosa y Sociedades de Vida Apostólica, Instrucción Mutuae Relationes, Rome 1978, #11; Paul VI, Evangelica Testificatio, #11; cf. J. Elizondo, “Carisma y Espíritu Vicentianos”, Viincentiana, (1998), p. 323-340.

[2] A. López Amat, El seguimiento radical de Cristo. Esbozo histórico de la Vida Consagrada [The Radical Following of Christ: an historical outline of consecrated life}, Ediciones Encuentro, Madrid, 1987 (two volumes), the author does not hesitate to refer to the Vincentian institutions as the great achievement of Vincent de Paul, II:494-512; cf. Álvarez Gómez, Historia de la Vida Religiosa [History of Religious Life], Publicaciones Claretianas, Madrid, 1990, three volumes; M. Pérez-Flores, “La Congregación de la Misión, ejemplo de Sociedad de Vida Apostolica” [The Congregation of the Mission, an example of a Society of Apostolic Life], Vincentiana (1994), p. 234-245; M. Pérez Flores, Historia del Derecho de la Congregación de la Mission, [History of the Law of the Congregation of the Mission], CEME, Salamanca, 2005, p. 321-338; M. Pérez-Flores, “Datos históricos y cuestiones communes al Nuevo Código y a las Constituciones de las Hijas de la Caridad [Historical data and common questions with regard to the new Code and to the Constitutions of the Daughters of Charity], Anales (1984), p. 331-338; cf. Vincentiana (1983), p. 456-480.

[3] Religious women should submit themselves to the cloister even if they are not obliged to do so and even if they have ceased to observe that practice. Third Order Sisters, who have taken perpetual vows are obliged to the cloister; those who have taken simple vows ought to submit themselves to the cloister, and should take solemn vows. Religious women who do not take solemn vows and are not cloistered, cannot receive new candidates. R. Meyer – L. Huerga, Una institución singular: el superior general de la Congregación de la Misión y de las Hijas de la Caridad [A unique institution: the superior general of the Congregation of the Mission and of the Daughters of Charity], CEME, Salamanca, 1974, p. 111-112.

[4] Vincent de Paul, Correspondence, Conferences, Documents, translators: Helen Marie Law, DC (Vol. 1), Marie Poole, DC (Vol. 1-14), James King, CM (Vol. 1-2), Francis Germovnik, CM (Vol. 1-8, 13a-13b [Latin]), Esther Cavanagh, DC (Vol. 2), Ann Mary Dougherty, DC (Vol. 12); Evelyne Franc, DC (Vol. 13a-13b), Thomas Davitt, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), Glennon E. Figge, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), John G. Nugent, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), Andrew Spellman, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]); edited: Jacqueline Kilar, DC (Vol. 1-2), Marie Poole, DC (Vol. 2-14), Julia Denton, DC [editor-in-chief] (Vol. 3-10, 13a-13b), Paule Freeburg, DC (Vol. 3), Mirian Hamway, DC (Vol. 3), Elinor Hartman, DC (Vol. 4-10, 13a-13b), Ellen Van Zandt, DC (Vol. 9-13b), Ann Mary Dougherty (Vol. 11, 12 and 14); annotated: John W. Carven, CM (Vol. 1-14); New City Press, Brooklyn and Hyde Park, 1985-2014; volume X, p. 530; future references to this work will be inserted into the text using the initials [CCD] followed by the volume number, followed by the page number, for example, CCD:X:530.

[5] Louise de Marillac, Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac, Edited and Translated from the French by Sister Louise Sullivan, DC, New City Press, Brooklyn, New York, 1991, p. 406-407 (L.377). Future references to this work will be inserted into the text using the initials [SWLM] followed by the page number, followed by the number of the letter or the number of the writing and/or manuscript, for example (SWLM:406-407 [L.377]).

[6] Originally called Societies of Associates in the first draft of the new Code (1977), the superior generals of those groups, which came to be known as Societies of Apostolic Life, formed a reflection group that contributed decisively to the understanding that was later formulated in the Code of Canon Law (1983). Father James Richardson, superior general of the Congregation of the Mission and the Company of the Daughters of Charity, presided over this group in 1978 and later, Father Cecilio Parres, CM participated as a permanent member of the group that provided assistance to the commission that redacted that section of the Code of Canon Law. Cf. M. Pérez-Flores, “La Congregacion de la Misión, ejemplo de Sociedad de Vida Apostólica” [The Congregation of the Mission, an example of a Society of Apostolic Life], Vincentiana, (1994), p. 237.

[7] Institutes of Consecrated Life that moved into the group of religious as a result of the Constitution, Conditae a Christo (Leo XIII) and as a result of the 1917 Code of Canon Law are somewhat displeased with their present status in the present Code, but are more pleased with the way that they are described in the section that deals with the Societies of Apostolic Life.

[8] Cf. M. Pérez-Flores, op.cit., p. 236

[9] Corpus Delgado, “Hombres Apostólicos:Ser sacerdote a partir de la experiencia de Vicente de Paúl” [Apostolic Men: A Priest from the Perspective of Vincent de Paul’s Experience], Vincentiana, (2010), 39-61, this article is available in English at:

[10] L. ABELLY, The Life of the Venerable Servant of God Vincent de Paul: Founder and First Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission, 3 vol., edited by John E. Rybolt, CM, translated by William Quinn, FSC, notes by Edward R. Udovic, CM and John E. Rybolt, CM, introduction by Stafford Poole, CM, New City Press, New Rochelle, New York, 1993; P. COSTE, The Life and Work of Saint Vincent de Paul, 3 volumes, translated from the French by Joseph Leonard, CM, The Newman Press, Westminster, Maryland, 1952; P. COLLET, The Life of Saint Vincent de Paul, Founder of the Congregation of the Mission and the Sisters of Charity, translated from the French by a Catholic clergyman, John Murphy and Co., Baltimore, 1845; J. M. ROMÁN, St. Vincent de Paul: A Biography, translated by Sr. Joyce Howard, DC, Melisende, London, 1999; J. CORRERA, Vida del señor Vicente de Paúl [Life of Vincent de Paul], CEME, Salamanca, 1989; L. MEZZADRI, San Vicente de Paúl, el santo de la Caridad [Vincent de Paul, the saint of charity], CEME, Salamanca, 2012; P. COLLET, La vie de Saint Vincent de Paul, instituteur de la Congrégation de la Mission et des Filles de la Charité, two volumes, Paris, 1860; U. MAYNARD, Saint Vincent de Paul, Sa vie, son temps, ses oeuvres, son influence, four volumes, Paris 1860; A. REDIER, Vicente de Paúl, todo un carácter, CEME, Salamanca, 1977; P. RENAUDIN, Saint Vincent de Paul, Marsella, 1927; André DODIN, CM, Vincent de Paul and Charity, translated: Jean Marie Samith and Dennis Saunders, edited: Hugh O’Donnell, CM and Marjorie Gale Hornstein, New City Press, New Hyde Park, N.Y., 1993.

[11] N. GOBILLON, Vida de la señorita Le Gras, fundadora y primera superior de la Compañia de las Hijas de la Caridad, siervas de los pobres enfermos, CEME, Salamanca, 1991; B. MARTÍNEZ, Empeñada en un paraíso para los pobres, CEME, Salamanca, 1995; L. BAUNARD, Vida de la Venerable Luisa de Marillac, Fundadora de las Hijas de la Caridad, Madrid, 1904; JOSEPH I. DIRVIN, Louise de Marillac, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York, 1970; E. CHARPY, Contra viento y marea, Louisa de Marillac, Madrid, 1989.

[12] Cf. A. DODIN, “Saint Vincent de Paul y la mujer en la vida de la Iglesia” in Lecciones sobre Vicencianismo, CEME, Salamanca, 1978, p. 161ff.; cf. J.M. ROMAN, “El año 1617 in la biografia de san Vicente de Paúl” in Vincentiana (1984) 443-456; M. SAGASTAGOITIA, Vicente de Paúl y la Mision, Salamanca, 2006.

[13] A servant of the Le Gras household attested that Louise had a great piety and devotion for serving the poor. She brought them confections and sweetmeats, biscuits and other good things. She combed their hair, she cleansed their sores and vermin; she sewed them in their shroud. She would leave her company to climb a hill [the Montagne Ste. Genviève?], despite rain or hail, to help some poor man who shivered with the cold. At night, when her husband was asleep, Louise would get up and enclose herself in a closet where she administered herself with the discipline. Gobillion adds: it was not enough for her personally to serve the suffering members of Jesus Christ … she wishes that other noble-born ladies share this honor with her and she persuaded them by her urgings and example (Dirvin, op.cit., p. 29).

[14] Louise’s visits to the Confraternities and her encouragement of the members of those Confraternities that Vincent entrusted to her clearly reveal how her activity promoted the participation of women in the mission of the Church in that era. Louise’s reports on those visits, documents that were sent to Vincent de Paul, enable us to follow this important contribution to the mission of the Church. See for example, SWLM:704-705 [A.50], 705-706 [A.51], 720-722 [A,53], 722=725 [A.55], 729-730 [A.47].

[15] In order to encourage the participation of women in the life and the mission of the Church, Louise took on the role of retreat director:[Louise] began to prepare for them places of retreat while she lived at La Chapelle, and this has been continued ever since in her community. The grace which inspired her with this purpose, gave her the greatest success she could wish for. Several ladies, including some of high society, were attracted by her zeal, and left Paris depriving themselves of the conversation of the world to spend some days in a village, to converse there with God. They left the comforts and delicacies of life, to think of their salvation in a place of mortification and penance. Without considering their rank and position, which raised them above others, they came into a house of servants of the poor and submitted themselves to the same discipline of a superior, to learn to despise riches and grandeurs by her instruction and example (N. Gobillon, op.cit., p.28).

[16] A. DODIN does not hesitate to affirm: What characterized Vincent’s presentation of the Church? Vincent’s presentation is totally different from the ecclesiology of “roman” inspiration. That Roman vision flowed from the theories of Carinal Bellarmine and Peter Canisius: a hierarchical church, a stable and vertical institution. The Pope occupied the highest position in the pyramid, then the bishops and priests and on the lowest level were the laity. Vincent de Paul did not share in that vision and he was not the only one. A. DODIN, Lecciones sobre vicencianismo, CEME, Salamanca, 1978, p. 66-67.

[17] A. DODIN, ibid., p. 67

[18] A. SYLVESTRE, “Saint Vincent el L’Eglise” in Monsieur Vincent, témoin de l’Evangile, Animation Vincentienne, Toulouse, 1990, 126.

[19] San Vicente de Paúl y la Iglesia, ANALES (1974), P. 75.

[20] E. UDOVIC, CM, “On the Eminent Dignity of the Poor in the Church: A Sermon by Jacques Bénigne Bossuet” in Vincentian Heritage, Volume 13, #1 (1992), p. 45-46.

[21] J. MORIN, “Historía de una Mirada sobre el pobre” in En teimpos de San Vicente de Paúl y hoy, CEME, Salamanca, 1997, volumen I, p. 377-401.

[22] Ibid,, volume II, p.395.

[23] Mother L. Rogue, “Attitudes of the Daughters of Charity with regard to service: total gift of self for service”, Conference given during the Meeting of the Provincial Councils in Avila (1981), Editorial CEME, Salamanca, 1982, 231-241.

[24] Benedict XVI, "URBI ET ORBI" APOSTOLIC BLESSING, FIRST GREETING OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI Central loggia of St. Peter's Basilica Tuesday, 19 April 2005,

[25] Jean Anouilh, Monsieur Vincent, [Translator’s Note: the English translation of the script of this film was given to me sometime ago but I have never been able to find that script online]. The film was directed by Maurice Cloche and Pierre Fr3esnay played the role of Vincent de Paul. According to the script, Vincent said: the poor will help me save the poor. According to the script, Vincent stated: the poor will help me save the poor.

[26] Margaret Flinton, DC, Louise de Marillac: Social Aspect of Her Work, translated from the original French edition by the author, New City Press, New Rochelle, NY, 1992, p. 122.

[27] Louise created a family environment in the Hospice and we know that Vincent himself went there to instruct the residents in the catechism.

[28] Jaime Corera, Diez Estudios Vicencianos, Editorial CEME, Salamanca, 1983, p. 39.

[29] One of the central purposes of mission is to bring people together in hearing the Gospel, in fraternal communion, in prayer and in the Eucharist. To live in "fraternal communion" (koinonia) means to be "of one heart and soul" (Acts 4:32), establishing fellowship from every point of view: human, spiritual and material. Indeed, a true Christian community is also committed to distributing earthly goods, so that no one is in want, and all can receive such goods "as they need" (cf. Acts 2:45; 4:35) (John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, #26).

[30] Luke 4:16-21: during my research for this presentation I have utilized Dimensión Social del Jubileo, Cáritas, Pamplona, 2000. Cf. also A. Vanhoye, L’anno giubilare nel vangelo di Luca, Tertium Millennium, (1997), p. 22-25. Cf. also C.M. Martini, El evangelizador en San Lucas, Ediciones Paulinas, Bogotá, 19854; A. George, El evangelio según san Lucas, Verbo Divino, Estella, 1976.

[31] P. Jaramillo Rivas, “El Año del Padre y la Pastoral de la Caridad” in Corintios XIII, (1999), p. 261.

[32] Paul VI linked between the proclamation of the gospel with the process of inculturation and included in that process human and social promotion as integral components of evangelization. Cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi, #17-22 and #29-35. Pope Francis cites Paul VI (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #17) and affirms: To evangelize is to make the kingdom of God present in our world. Yet “any partial or fragmentary definition which attempts to render the reality of evangelization in all its richness, complexity and dynamism does so only at the risk of impoverishing it and even of distorting it (Evangelii Gaudium, #176).

[33] J. P. Renouard, “La atención a los acontecimientos” in En teimpos de San Vicente de Paúl y hoy, CEME, Salamanca, 1997, volume II, p.395.

[34] Cf. J.M. Román, “Las Fundaciones de San Vicente” in Vincentiana, (1984), p. 457-486

[35] N. Gobillon, op.cit., p. 47.

[36] CPAG-80, “Lineas de fuerza de la experiencia espiritual del señor Vicente: La experiencia spiritual del señor Vicente y la nuestra” in Anales (1977), p. 278-283; C. Fernández, “El pobre en el corazón de San Vicente de Paúl” in La experiencia espiritual de San Vicente de Paúl, Editorial CEME, Salamanca, 2011, p. 507-529; J. M. Ibáñez, “Opción Vicenciana por los pobres” in Respuesta vicenciana a las nuevas formas de pobreza, Editorial CEME, Salamanca, 1988, p. 115-157; S. Barquín, “El pobre, lugar teológico en el carisma vicenciano” in Carisma, vicenciano, memoría y profecía, Editorial CEME, Salamanca, 2001, p. 127-204; J. Corera, “El pobre según san Vicente” in Vincentiana, (1984), p. 578-586.

[37] Etymologically the word “utopia” refers to no-place.

Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM