Robert Leach: Vice President, St Vincent de Paul Society Queensland
How did you first become involved with the Society?
I joined the Society with my wife Trish way back in the 1990s because we both felt an obligation, expressed wonderfully well in Matthew’s Gospel (chapter 25), to assist the less fortunate. We understood that love of God is expressed in love of neighbour.
Do you think members from small towns and centres will have something different to contribute to the National Congress 2017 compared to their city counterparts? If so, why?
Vincentians from small towns often know personally the people who call on them for help. Thus it is probably easier for them to build rapport than it would be for Vincentians working in the cities. Also, I would imagine that Vincentians in small towns do not have to deal with large numbers of requests, which is inevitably the case in the bustling cities. This raises the question of the time we spend with the poor. Time and attention are vital but Vincentians working in city areas, faced with large numbers, are often under extreme pressure to give sufficient time to people seeking assistance. This also raises the question of how best to avoid giving mere hand-outs which can create dependency—unintentionally of course, but the risk is clearly there.
How do we ensure that membership of the St Vincent de Paul Society is a joyful experience that brings people together?
Making sure that membership of the Society is a joyful experience is a challenge. Given that virtually everyone who joins does so out of concern for the poor, every member knows that he or she is in good company. That’s a great start. On the other hand, we all have faults and some of us can be difficult to get along with. It means that the establishment of mutual respect and friendliness are regarded as essential aspects of the Society’s ethos. The occasional social get together can help as well. The intermingling of conference and council members at Festival Masses and meetings should also be encouraged. The bottom line, for me anyway, is that we must be friendly to one another and very welcoming of new members. Rule 3.4 comes to mind: ‘Meetings are held in a spirit of fraternity, simplicity and Christian joy.’
Marie O’Brien: North Western Central Council President, St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria
Can you describe your role at the St Vincent de Paul Society in Victoria?
I serve the Society as a substitute Regional President of the Wimmera Region and I am the President of the North West Central Council in Victoria.
Will this be your first trip to Adelaide or first time attending a Society event held interstate?
I have not been to Adelaide for over 15 years. I have attended several interstate Society events.
What do you feel are the greatest challenges currently facing the Society when it comes to helping people experiencing poverty and inequality in your community?
In rural areas an ageing and diminishing conference membership is dealing with increasing poverty in towns with diminishing accessible support services.
While respecting people’s privacy, could you please describe your most rewarding or challenging experience of being a conference member?
Sharing a meal of ice-cream and topping with a terminally ill teenager.
Describe how you would like to see spirituality and religion included in the discussions at the congress?
Spirituality within the Catholic religion must permeate the whole congress, as it is one of our great points of difference with other charities. We must show that we can walk the walk as well as talk the talk.