Greeting 10,000 Vincentians, including 500 priests and even more nuns and thousands of laity in St. Peter’s Square on the 400th anniversary of their founding, Pope Francis thanked God for “the impulse of charity that came from the heart of their founder, St. Vincent De Paul, which has lasted through the centuries.” He strongly encouraged them “to continue in movement on the roads of the world” as they have been doing, and to draw their strength from prayer and the adoration of the Lord, as they reach out to the world’s poor.
The Vincentians had come from 90 countries all over the world for this meeting with “the pope of the poor.” They had brought from France the relic of “the heart of St. Vincent De Paul” for this unique occasion—the first time in their history that they had come together as one international family.
Father Tomaž Mavrič, the superior general of the Vincentian family, welcomed the pope at midday on this beautiful sunny day, in a truly festival atmosphere, enlivened by music and signing. “We thank you for your person, your gift to the church and to the world, and to the poor,” he said, drawing a mighty wave of applause from the thousands in the square, many of whom wore yellow neck-scarves and waved the flags of their home countries.
Speaking in English, Father Mavrič spoke about this international family and told Francis that they are launching today from this place a “Global Alliance for the Homeless” of this world, and a Vincentian film festival that tells the story of their charitable work in many lands. These are the two key elements of their three-year, worldwide drive to “globalize charity.” He assured the pope that their mission would not end “until charity reaches the farthest corners of the earth.”
Pope Francis counseled them to root and anchor all their work “in prayer and adoration of the Lord.” He explained that this would give them the inner strength to overcome all obstacles as they reach out to help the poor, both spiritually and materially. He summed up his simple message in three verbs that he affirmed are important for the Vincentian spirit and for the Christian life in general: “to adore, to welcome, to go forward.”
Commenting on the need “to adore,” Francis recalled that St. Vincent De Paul, a priest from a peasant family in southwestern France, had encouraged his followers “to cultivate the interior life, and to dedicate themselves to prayer, which purifies and opens the heart.” Francis told them, “prayer is essential, it is the compass for everyday life, it is a guidebook for life.” To pray means “to stop before God, to be with Him, to dedicate oneself simply to him,” he said; it means to “give space to the Lord and to his praise, and nothing else,” and to do so “in silence.” This is “adoration.”
Francis, who spends several hours each day praying, assured them that this kind of prayer brings one into “an intimacy with the Lord, that gives peace and joy, and dissolves all the worries of live.” This is what St. Vincent counseled, he reminded them. By praying in this way, Francis said, “we begin to behave towards others as the Lord does; we become more merciful, more understanding, more available, and we overcome our rigidities and open ourselves to others.”
Emphasizing the need “to welcome” others, Francis said this means to be persons that are “welcoming, available, and accustomed to giving themselves to others.” It means “to reshape our ‘me,’ our way of thinking; to understand that life is not my private property, and that time does not belong to me.” He explained that all this involves “distancing oneself from all that is ‘me’: my time, my rest, my rights, my programs, my agenda.” Francis told them, “the one who welcomes, renounces the ‘me’ and enters into the life of the ‘you’ and the ‘we.’” Indeed, “the Christian that welcomes, is a true son and daughter of the church.” The pope prayed that Saint Vincent would help them have this spirit, or as he called it, “the church DNA of welcoming.”
Francis next focused on the need “to go forward” always. He explained that “love is dynamic, it goes out.” The one who loves “does not sit on the armchair, waiting for the coming of a better world, but gets up and goes out with enthusiasm and simplicity.” Saint Vincent put it well, the pope said, when in 1659 he told his followers: “Our vocation is to go, not to a parish, and not even to a diocese, but to the whole world. To do what? To set the hearts of people on fire, doing what the Son of God did, who came to bring fire to the world and set it ablaze with his love.”
Pope Francis concluding by telling the audience, and the more than two million of the Vincentian family in 156 countries on all continents, that this is their noble vocation, and “this vocation is always valid, for everyone.”