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23.08.2021 12:30:52 2085x read.
Focusing our Apostolic works on the most poor and needy. (Bro. Raphael Besigrinee, General Council)

Focussing our Apostolic works on the most poor and needy

Raphael Besigrinee, General Council

Our reflection this time is focussed on the General Chapter resolution 16B which requests all FIC brothers, communities and provinces to take concrete action towards the poor and needy. We are expected to do this through our apostolic work. By our calling as religious, we are assigned to carry out the mission of the Church in the world just like the apostles, and we do this in what we call 'apostolate'. Catherine Brown defined an apostle as "a sent one, an ambassador, a delegate, one who is sent forth or commissioned and authorized by God to represent Him in His church and carry out His will and purposes". So as FIC brothers we are no less than apostles wherever we are assigned to work. "We engage in apostolate with the awareness that it is an assignment of God and we are not eager for monetary rewards or secular results. It is enough to feel satisfied when the dignity of the underprivileged is raised and life and hope is restored in them"( O. Brian, SJ).

Who are the poor?

This reflection is focussed on the materially poor, and not the poor in spirit. I am talking about individuals (or groups) who are living without the basic and essential goods that promote human life. In other words, those who are economically and socially deprived of the necessities of life, and are therefore living in misery, destitution, and in great need. The poor also include the vulnerable, powerless and forgotten groups of people or individuals, the voiceless in society, etc.  These days we talk about people "who are made poor" by climate change, environmental destruction or our modern political, economic and social systems.  There are also victims of natural disasters, the homeless and all types of migrants.

Why should we be so concerned about the materially poor?

Why are all FIC brothers asked to focus our apostolic works on the poor and most needy? Again, the title of this magazine says "The Poor are our Masters". Why are the poor so important to us? Isn't it strange that "the poor" who are often not so attractive at sight, should be our masters? Well, the scriptures tell us that this category of people: the poor, the blind, the needy, sinners, the marginalized, the forgotten members of society are the friends of Jesus. Moreover Jesus condemns us for the lack of concern for those who need help (Matthew 25:42-45).  We are told that ignoring the poor and needy, the oppressed, exploited and despised is the same as ignoring Christ himself. So we have been warned already about our relationship with those who lack the basic necessities of life.

In the FIC Constitution, various articles point to the reason why we should focus on the poor, who are often needy as well. Our founder's first concern in 1840 was the poor and neglected youth in his native town of Maastricht (art. 7). He felt called to place his whole life and all his means in the service of the poor and needy children. Bro. Bernard also strongly urged the brothers never to lose sight of the poor (art. 12). It is in the spirit of our founders to show a special concern for the poor and needy (art. 10). In article 9, our Constitution makes reference to the charitable works of Vincent de Paul, who even described the poor as "our Lords and Masters". Mary, the patroness of our congregation, in her Magnificat, shows clearly her preference for the poor and needy (#12)

In Vincentian spirituality, S, Barquín, CM, described the theological perspective of the poor as follows: "Vincentians are able to encounter God in the person of the poor. Indeed not only are Vincentians able to come to know God in the person of the poor but they are also able to serve God. Vincentians serve God in the poor by acting with justice toward them. In other words, acting with righteousness and justice is the same as defending people who are oppressed. Christ is present in those who are in need and thus it is in these persons that we will encounter God and discover Christ. In reaching out to and providing for those who are poor we engage in the true worship that God desires. In serving persons who are poor, we serve Jesus Christ … You are serving Jesus Christ in the person of the poor … A Sister will go ten times a day to visit the sick, and ten times a day she will find God there …. Look after those little children, you will find God there … You go into poor homes, but you find God there. God accepts the services you do for those sick persons".

Jesus is mostly on the side of the weak and the poor and also acts in solidarity with them. He gave us a practical example of how to act in solidarity with those who are hungry and thirsty, naked, sick, those who are strangers, imprisoned, and those in all kinds of need. He warned of the consequences of not adhering to these guidelines. “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25: 34-40). The Good Samaritan is another concrete example of how we can be on the side of the poor and needy. 

Therefore Vincentian Spirituality believes that "those who are close to the poor are close to God; those who want nothing to do with the poor, want nothing to do with God. Thus our service on behalf of the poor or our lack of service is a judgment, a life and death judgment, for ourselves and for the poor".

How do we identify the poor?

To identify the poor and needy we must go out and meet them, or in the words of Pope Francis, work for “the culture of encounter”. This means reaching out, building friendships beyond our circle and meeting people on the peripheries. “The culture of encounter”, according to Pope Francis "is not just seeing, but looking; not just hearing, but listening; not just passing people by, but stopping with them; not just saying “what a shame, poor people!”, but allowing yourself to be moved with compassion; “and then to draw near, to touch and to say: ‘Do not weep’ (to the widow who lost her only son) and to give at least a drop of life”. This compassion, the Pope advised, is not the same as what we normally feel “when, for example, we go out into the street and see something sad: ‘What a shame!’”. After all, “Jesus did not say: ‘What a poor woman!’”. On the contrary, “he went further. He was seized with compassion. ‘And he drew near and spoke. He said to her: Do not weep’” (Luke 7:13). In this way, “Jesus, with his compassion, involves himself with that woman’s problem. ‘He drew near, he spoke and he touched’.

This culture of encounter could even begin with people who are close to us, our co-workers. Can we FIC Brothers confidently say we know our co-workers? Sometimes we presume we know them but that may not be true.  Getting to know others may reveal a lot about them. It may lead us to discover that they are the real poor. Our co-workers may feel vulnerable due to their subordinate position in their work relationship with us.  Often, they have the mindset that they are “working for the brothers” and not “working with the brothers". It is imperative that we find a way of establishing a closer relationship with them with the aim of knowing them better. Are we willing to listen to and learn from them, since they may have more life-experiences than we have as brothers? Perhaps they are among the poor and needy.  It is also important to be aware that knowing our co-workers better could be a starting point or a gateway to the real poor and needy.

Observing the signs of the times, one area to focus our apostolate on is the "care for our common home". Laudato Si makes it clear that there is a strong connection between (the lack of) care for the environment and poverty.  Part of the elucidation of resolution 28B (Care for our environment) says "taking care of our own environment and helping others to do the same is a real and structural contribution to the well being of the underprivileged. It is a ‘modern’ way of opting for the poor". Therefore an attempt at engaging students and co-workers of FIC institutions in caring for the environment will be a significant contribution towards improving the lives of the poor around us. This can be done by identifying a need in our immediate environment, and embarking on a sustained effort in solving the problem. Such a project could be tree planting, clean-up exercise, a campaign against cutting of trees, environmental education, the use of (drinking) water, etc. In targeting our students, we are ensuring that the spirit of "caring for our common home" inculcated in the young ones will certainly be extended to their families and beyond.




Material poverty is evil because it is neither just nor desired by God, and Religious are called to fight this evil with love as our weapon. The evil of poverty is a creation by human beings because God has provided enough for our needs, but there are people in need because there are some who have more than they need; it is believed that people lack some basic needs because there are others who have more than they need. The world needs a sense of solidarity with those who are poor, something which has been the focus of the church. To focus more on this, FIC brothers are invited to work for the culture of encounter as suggested by Pope Francis. We are invited to not just to be moved with compassion, but follow this up with looking, stopping, listening, and taking action. The Pope says  “If I do not look, — seeing is not enough, no: look — if I do not stop, if I do not look, if I do not touch, if I do not speak, I cannot create an encounter and I cannot help to create a culture of encounter”.

Above all, let us all be motivated by the spirit of the Vincentians: "those who are close to the poor are close to God; those who want nothing to do with the poor, want nothing to do with God". Thus service to the poor and needy should be the centre of our life and apostolate because it is the very spirit that inspired our founders and eventually gave birth to the FIC congregation.








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