At the National Council meeting in Melbourne late last year, Bertrand Ousset, former President of the Society in France, spoke poignantly of the Vincentian vocation as companionship with the people we assist, or, in his words, those who accompany us.
The word companion comes from the Latin meaning ‘with whom one eats bread.’
We generally eat with people we feel comfortable with. As well as providing nourishment, sharing a meal also nourishes friendship.
But being open to the people who accompany us on our journey means facing the challenge posed by NSW President Denis Walsh:
“We need to look at the whole structure of the Society… if we are really going to be companions, if we are really going to be friends with people, if we are really going to help them break the cycle of loneliness…” For this edition of The Record we ask several regional presidents, youth, and others attending the 2017 National Congress in Adelaide from 6-8 October, for their thoughts on living out the vocation and spirituality of companionship across Australia.
The Society’s Queensland and Tasmanian state presidents bring home the fact that even picture perfect towns in their areas contain an underbelly of poverty. South Australian president Cathy Beaton shares a personal account of companionship between herself, her husband and a person experiencing homelessness in Berri. And Vincentian Refugee Network advocate Tim McKenna, who visited Manus Island in April, shows how companionship extends not only to the people we assist at a local level but also those seeking asylum while being condemned to despair in our offshore detention centres.
One of the key reasons for holding the congress is to reflect on how we can attract and retain new members. For Clare Victory, deputy president of the Society’s National Council, that could be as simple as going about what we do joyfully, to be excited about it, and sharing our stories.
Optimism from others attending the congress, along with their expectations of what the national event might achieve, are sprinkled throughout this publication. It’s not long now until the weekend of 6-8 October. Let the brainstorming begin!
I am hopeful that the Congress will be held in an environment of co-operation, goodwill and sharing. If this is not achievable we will fall far short of our ideals and expectations. The Congress will not be the end of the journey, but the beginning and it will require us all to work hard with a united voice to achieve whatever the agreed outcome statement delivers.
John Forrest – State President St Vincent de Paul Society Qld