WHY THE ‘VINCENTAIN WAY’ IS DIFFERENT
John A. Berry, Chief Executive Officer, Society of St. Vincent de Paul Georgia
I want to share with you a reflection from a man named Henry Nouwen. Henry Nouwen is a Catholic Priest, but I think that this reflection is a powerful statement that has meaning no matter what religion, if any, that you practice.
Care is something other than cure. Cure means “change.” A doctor, a lawyer, a minister, a social worker-they all want to use their professional skills to bring about changes in people’s lives. But cure, desirable as it may be, can easily become violent, manipulative, and even destructive if it does not grow out of care. Care is being with, crying out with, suffering with, and feeling with. Care is compassion. It is claiming the truth that the other person is my brother or sister, human, mortal, vulnerable, like I am. When care is our first concern, cure can be received as a gift. Often we are not able to cure, but we are always able to care. To care is to be human.
That reflection is one of the best explanations for how the Society of St. Vincent de Paul approaches the work that we do serving our neighbors in need here in Georgia, and across the world. It captures what we do in our day-to-day interactions with people in our Home Visits, and why the respect for the dignity of each of those persons is so critical to our work.
While providing financial assistance, food, and other material support is a large and important part of the service we provide, the essence, the core, the spiritual driver of our mission is to offer people our ‘care’. The acknowledgement of our respect for their humanity and dignity.
There are many ways that we do that without just writing a check; because we have limitations on our resources just like every other nonprofit and there are times, too frequently I’m afraid, that we run out of money. So sometimes all we can do is provide those who call us with compassion and concern, and care. We visit them and work with them to find others who have resources to address their need. We visit with them and help them to understand how they might change their situation and break a cycle of dependence and need. Sometimes we have no answers, and we are just there to show them that someone cares. Of course there will be those who are angry that we can’t meet their immediate financial need and who may lash out at us in that anger and reject our outreach. That’s OK, we don’t know what those persons are going through and we cannot judge their emotions.
But we can help some people. We can care. Whether we have money in the bank to help people or not, we can always – every day – hang out an “Open for Caring” sign.