ADVOCATING FOR THOSE WHO CAN’T
By John Berry, CEO, St. Vincent de Paul Georgia
Most people don’t know that the Society of St. Vincent de Paul was founded in 1833 by five college students in Paris, France. The basis of the founding was social justice and help for people in need. Those five students had been challenged by their peers at the Sorbonne to justify how their actions in support of the poor and vulnerable in the tenements of post-revolutionary France aligned with their professed faith and beliefs. The students, upon reflection, began an effort to help the poor by bringing firewood and bread to the poor. Not having them come to some central location to be served, but rather respecting people’s human dignity by going to tem, in their homes. From that simple start, one of the largest human services organizations on the face of the earth was born. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is located in more than 140 countries and has over 1.5 million members and volunteers serving over 30 million poor across the globe.
The Society is governed by a guiding principle that “No work of charity is foreign to the Society. It includes any form of help that alleviates suffering or deprivation and promotes human dignity and personal integrity in all their dimensions.”
One of the areas where we live this our commitment to advocacy and being a voice for those who cannot be a voice for themselves. Our guiding documents require us to work for social justice; to be a “voice for the voiceless” and “Where injustice, inequality, poverty, or exclusion are due to unjust economic, political, or social structures, or to inadequate or unjust legislation, the Society should speak out clearly against the situation, always with charity, with the aim of contributing to and demanding improvements.”
That is why as a Society we have to call on Congress to make sure that the budgets they pass protect the poor and vulnerable. It is why we demand that health care legislation not unfairly target those who are most in need of the protection of society; the aged, the young, the poor and the already sick. It is why we call for fairness and equity in tax reform.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is more than people handing out food at a food pantry or helping someone pay their light bill. It is a “network of charity encircling the globe” as one of those five founding students envisioned so many years ago. And that network includes advocacy and being a voice for those who can’t be a voice for themselves.