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St Vincent de Paul

  • International
  • September 27, 2012
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Today we take works of charity for granted. In times of public disaster, it is commonplace to see shelters set up for the displaced, food lines for the hungry and first aid tents for those hurt or injured. One of the pioneers in humanitarian assistance to the poor and the afflicted is the saint whose feast we keep today: Vincent de Paul.

He was born in 16th century France of peasant stock. Even before twenty, he was ordained priest. But then disaster struck: he was kidnapped by Turkish pirates and condemned to the galleys, where he slaved for two years. He finally made good his escape and survived, but the experience convinced him to spend the rest of his life in the service of the poor and those deprived of liberty.

He founded a group of ‘Priests for the Missions’. They improved the pitiful lot of prisoners in the jails and captives in the royal galleys, so successfully that the king appointed Vincent royal almsgiver to those in need. During his lifetime they ransomed hundreds of galley captives through the funds raised from influential associates. Apart from the ransoms, Vincent and his priest missionaries cared for the spiritual welfare of these slaves and their families.

With Louise de Marillac, an influential woman of the time, and her band of aristocratic ladies, he started the ‘Daughters of Charity’. Together they founded a general hospital in Paris, an orphanage, an old people’s home, an insane asylum, and a home for lepers. These ‘ladies of charity’, as they were first called, devoted themselves to the protection of young women in the cities, believing that “our convent is the sick room, our chapel is the parish church, and our cloister the streets of the city.”

No wonder Vincent de Paul and the organizations he founded have remained a byword for the Church’s practical love for the poor. “Those who have loved the poor will meet death without fear,” he’d always say.
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