Should our assistance be on-going, and only for Catholics?

Published on: 19 August 2019

Recently, some members of the Society from my area posed two questions that deserve further consideration and reflection by all the members of the Society. The first question: should the Conferences provide assistance only to those individuals who have stated that they are Catholic? The second question revolves around the time frame or the duration of such help that is provided by the Conference, should that help go on and on and on, in an uninterrupted manner? Let us speak about those two themes.

With regard to the question of assisting only those persons who are Catholic: the objective of the work of the Society is to serve persons who are in need regardless of their creed, social or ethnic origin, their state of health, sex, cultural/political differences. Nevertheless, the work of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul is carried out in accord with the teaching and the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church[1].

In other words, we cannot make distinctions with regard to selecting those persons whom we will assist. Our assistance, however, is eminently Catholic and, as a result, the beneficiaries of our assistance should accept our modus operandi and our charism. The home visit is a form of evangelization and should not be restricted to providing some form of material assistance[2]. Therefore, an evangelical or a member of another religion, who is assisted by a particular Conference, should be made aware of the practice of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, a Society that is aligned with the Catholic Church.

Nevertheless, we reserve the title of “member” and “prospective member” only to Catholics: only people who profess the Catholic Church can be considered as Vincentian. Thus, Vincentians must be practicing Catholics … that does not apply, however, to those who are aided by the Society. In fact, to serve families of another religion is a cause for joy since that allows the members to exercise their ministry in the same manner as Saint Vincent de Paul, with a renewed missionary zeal that has no hint of proselytizing. 

With regard to the length of time that assistance should be provided (six months, one year, two years, forever), our Rule does not state any specific length of time. The various National Rules speak about the home visit and state that home visits should be done on a weekly basis, should be preceded by prayer and should be mindful of the material needs as well as the spiritual needs of those being assisted[3].

Best Vincentian practices recommend that the Conferences (on a yearly basis and whenever possible) review the list of persons that are being assisted and seek to identify new people who find themselves in situations of exclusion and/or suffering. One year seems to be a reasonable time that enables the Conference to work in an efficient manner so that those who are being helped can begin to walk on their own two feet. One year will also prevent both parties (those being assisted and those who are assisting) from falling into a routine of assistance. 

It is true, though, that a family that has been helped by a specific Conference will gravitate toward that group and will often be invited to participate in certain events (a Christmas celebration, Day of the Child celebrations, various talk and/or community presentation). In other words, the cessation of one form of assistance to a family does not remove that family from participation in the life of the Conference. It does, however, provide the opportunity for other families, perhaps in greater need, to be visited and embraced by members of the Society.

[1]     Some National Rules explicitly state this universal feature about assistance; e.g. the Brazilian Rule (2007 edition).

[2]     As stated, e.g. in article 78 of the Brazilian Rule.

[3]     Cf. Brazilian Rule, article 79.


Renato Lima de Oliveira

16th General President 

Society of St. Vincent de Paul


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