The international meeting of SSVP leaders, took place in Paris in June
On 13 June 2017, the Annual Assembly of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul kicked off with the meeting of the International Territorial Vice-Presidents (ITVPs). It was the first time that the new team had met for an international meeting since the start of the term of office of Renato Lima de Oliveira, 16th President General, which also became an opportunity for the ITVPs to present their progress reports on the first 10 months of their work. All the meetings were covered by Ozanam TV, a Brazilian web TV channel (www.ozanam.tv), of which some were broadcasted live on the Ozanam TV facebook page. Ozanam TV is now part of the Communications Commission’s structure assigned for video coverage of important events as well as creation of video documentaries and materials.
It was this tough and experienced team who welcomed the Annual Assembly participants at the first day of the meeting: the 12 International Territorial Vice-Presidents, of whom 9 are new to their roles. Joseph Pandian, former ITVP for Asia and the current Vice-President General, welcomed them in his opening address to the meeting. Joseph Makwinja, 2nd Deputy Vice-President handling the International Structure and, himself, a former ITVP for Africa 2, stated: “These international meetings have always given me much inspiration for continuing my mission with greater strength and renewed energy”. Basile Ondigui Fouda, Vice-President for the International Structure who is also a former ITVP for Africa 3, added: “We wish you the very best! Being an ITVP is not a promotion but a call for service...”
Over subsequent days, the international meeting proceeded productively with the works of the Permanent Section, the International Executive Committee, the International Council General Board and the Concordat. Rev. Fr. Robert Maloney C.M, Spiritual Adviser to the CGI, led the daily celebration of the Holy Eucharist.
Winds of change
The election of Renato Lima de Oliveira to the position of President General in June 2016 heralded a change of direction and this trend has been confirmed in the first 10 months of his term. Since he took up his post last September, the 16th President General has initiated a number of innovations starting with the reorganisation of the International Structure. The new organisational chart includes among other things: 3 posts of Deputy Vice-Presidents who coordinate the work of Commission Chairmen and Vice Presidents, new Commissions, the post of mediator (Marie-Françoise Salésiani Payet - Ombudswoman General), and a new territorial zone: Oceania, now led by Frank Brassil (Australia).
This reorganisation allows the President General, who has a professional job as well, to delegate some of his workload and be represented at various levels of the international structure.
Work in progress
Renato Lima de Oliveira’s 20-point programme, aimed at improving the work of the International Council General, is already being implemented commencing with the following initiatives:
- Restoring direct contact with the Vincentians at the grassroots by resuming the annual circular messages, continuing and improving the newsletters, and broadcasting video messages on special occasions like Christmas.
- Deepening of our spiritual life with the publication of the weekly spiritual readings and reflections available on the international website, and the proposed community prayer on the 10th, 20th and 30th of every month, for all those who share the Vincentian charism.
- Support for the work of the Commission for the Canonisation of Frédéric Ozanam with the examination of new cases which may be considered as miracles.
- Development of Global Vincentian training and formation, adding new modules and having them translated into other languages.
- Creation of a Commission for the examination and discussion on the canonical status, which has already been debated in Rome in June 2016.
CIAD (International Commission for Aid and Development), which is one of the principal tools of the International Council General in the field of international aid, has been redeployed in 3 main areas of work: emergency aid, development aid, and support for SSVP development. Bertrand Ousset, President of the Commission, has also emphasised the need to change the system for allocating donations: “Every year, a large number of natural and humanitarian disasters which devastate regions or entire countries go completely unnoticed by the general public, with no media attention, leaving their people in utter distress. Council General has, therefore, decided to create an International Solidarity Fund, specifically to collect donations without a particular allocation, which would enable CIAD to respond to the many requests for help it receives during the year”.
New areas of action
The start of this term of office has been marked not just by the reorganisations, but also by the implementation of several initiatives affecting all levels of the Society. This is done so we can respond to the main challenge facing the SSVP, through its 184 years of existence: to remain faithful to the past while shaping the future. According to Renato Lima de Oliveira, the Society's historic legacy must be rediscovered and enhanced. This was demonstrated by the commencement of the thematic years, 2017 being the year of Emmanuel Bailly, a tribute to the first President General. Subsequent years will be devoted to the other founders, who are less known to the Vincentians as compared to Blessed Frédéric Ozanam. In addition to this, an International Commission for historic investigation has been formed to support the research work.
Alongside these initiatives, the International Council General has entered this new 5-year term with some basic questions: what are its strategies, vision, and mission going to be? In order to start the discussions on this, Eduardo Almeida Marques, Vice President for Strategic Plan, turned to the Vincentians by launching a survey for all the members of the Society covering the essential values of the SSVP in the eyes of the members themselves. The final results of the survey were shared already but the final form of the Strategic Plan will be completed by July.
“New media for an old kingdom”
With its rich historical legacy, its values and its faithfulness to the Vincentian charism, the SSVP also has to look to the future and be relevant to the signs of the times. Karl Michael Hila, Chairman of the Communication Commission explained: “The Vincentian story needs to be told with fresh vigor, new beauty and modern technology”. It needs to adapt how it communicates and modernise its tools, including the website which will be redesigned, along with a new international logo intended to harmonise all the SSVP logos around the world.
Conference life will also be an area to work on. It is now vital for the International Council General to have a better view of the precise state of the presence of the SSVP in the world. For this, the President General has launched a re-aggregation plan, addressed at the moment to the countries with the fewest conferences, which will help update our membership database. This plan will provide more reliable figures on existing conferences, those in abeyance or those which have simply disappeared. It will also be a working base for the SSVP+ project, which involves encouraging the development of the Society in countries where it has no presence.
Given the observation that an international NGO such as the SSVP cannot work alone, connections have been made this year with other organisations such as the Order of Malta in France, Vincentian Marian Youth, and the International Red Cross. These networks will lead to partnership agreements. The SSVP is also strengthening its presence at the United Nations by regular participation in ECOSOC meetings, as well as on the Human Rights Council.
These meetings and presentations provided an outline statement of this first year and revealed the progress made by the SSVP, as well as the many work that are still to be done. The participants regretted the lack of time given to crucial topics such as aggregations or canonical status, and asked for these subjects to be discussed at Annual Assemblies, in order to have deeper discussions without being restricted by time constraints.
The final day was spent retracing the steps of St. Vincent de Paul and Bl. Frederic Ozanam, visiting Vincentian places in Paris such as the building where the very first meeting was held in April 1833 close to the Church of Saint Sulpice, the Chapel of Saint Vincent de Paul, the Church of Saint Joseph-des-Carmes where the crypt holds the tomb of Frédéric Ozanam, the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal… symbolic places, which many of the participants were seeing for the first time.
The next day, everyone left to return home after 5 days filled with a wealth of meetings, discussions and inspirations.