I wish to extend an invitation of solidarity to everyone . . . this means caring for the dignity of the person, but above all I would say do not lose hope. – Pope Francis
The enduring message of Christmas is one of hope and renewal. Crossing the threshold of each New Year is also a time when many of us reflect on the year that has passed and look with anticipation and hope toward the year ahead.
Yet maintaining hope can sometimes seem difficult when poverty and exclusion persist in our midst, and when so many people are unable to share the prosperity and abundance that others take for granted during Christmas and New Year celebrations.
Frédéric Ozanam was passionate and steadfast in his commitment to social reform, but he too experienced moments of despondency, when the sheer depth of injustice seemed insurmountable. Writing in 1835 to his lifelong friend Léonce Curnier, he expressed despair at his own feelings of exhaustion and powerlessness in the face of the grinding poverty and unjust economic conditions that surrounded him. Yet he also wrote of the inspiration and hope he drew from others who stood in solidarity with the poor and who, through their numerous everyday actions, demonstrated the unconquerable power of ‘that luminous faith, that overflowing charity, that courageous hope which beats in souls’.
As we reach the end of 2018, that ‘courageous hope’ that Ozanam wrote of continues to animate the work of our members. As the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council has observed:
To act is to hope. Despite the presence of much personal and communal suffering in the world, and despite frequent feelings of doubt and powerlessness, most people continue to act in loving, courageous and compassionate ways.
Such loving, courageous and compassionate acts are apparent in the everyday work of the Society—through the material assistance our Conference members provide to people in their homes with Home Visitation, and the support our volunteers offer to our companions living on the streets through our night patrol and food vans. Every day we are privileged to meet people who are deeply loving, courageous against the odds, determined and often ingenious in working out how to make ends meet in their daily battle to survive below the poverty line.
The St Vincent de Paul Society is a global network of love joined in the effort to prevent the conditions that cause poverty and homelessness on a massive scale across the world. The movement to eliminate modern slavery, which is featured in this edition, highlights the importance of looking both at home and beyond our shores to transform the structures leading to exploitation and injustice.
As many of us take a moment to reflect during Christmas and the New Year, may I take this opportunity to thank all our members, volunteers, staff and supporters across Australia for putting love and hope at the heart of your work as Vincentians.
Graham West is National President of the St Vincent de Paul Society National Council of Australia.