By Robin Gomes
Pope Francis is inviting the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul to cherish the beauty of their vocation, saying God has entrusted His beloved poor to them.
“You are mothers and sisters to them - not mothers-in-law!” he exhorted the nuns, as they are about to conclude their 10th General Assembly in the French capital Paris, Oct. 29-Nov. 21.
The Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, officially called the Company of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, was co-founded in Paris in 1633 by the great saint and Saint Louise de Marillac, to serve the poor and the marginalized.
They are holding their General Assembly at their Mother House at 140 Rue du Bac, Paris, which is known the world over for Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, after the Virgin Mary appeared to the Daughter of Charity nun, St. Catherine Labouré, in 1830.
The theme of the General Assembly is Ephphata, the Aramaic word used by Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, to heal the deaf and dumb man.
“The theme you have chosen is a courageous one, Ephphata, and leads you to consider the need to 'cross the threshold of the door ...', not to tire of 'going towards ...', of 'meeting', the Pope said. Going out to bring the love of Christ to the poor, he said, has been their hallmark from the beginning.
“This has,” he noted, “led you all over the world not only to assist the poor in large institutes, hospitals, orphanages and schools, but also to visit them, to go out to meet them in the places where they live, to participate with them in journeys of human growth, of promotion of life, of spiritual care.”
Mothers and sisters
He encouraged the Daughters of Charity in their ministry saying, “You are mothers and sisters to them - not mothers-in-law!”
“Mothers because with your love, your attention to all their needs, you generate them to the Love of God and you reopen them to the beauty of life. Sisters, because you support them in their condition and accompany them to rediscover dignity in the many paths of life that you take with them.”
In this way, he said, they “become more and more Daughters of Charity”, which, according to St. Vincent de Paul, means “being Daughters of God, the authentic image of the greater Love that Christ God Himself has witnessed to us”.
Our troubled times
The Pope said that the Daughters of Charity have an historic role to play in the present time marked by many contradictions and many forms of marginalization.
“You have a historic role as women who live a particular form of consecration, that of accompanying so many of our brothers and sisters who are victims of violence and discrimination, of bringing up children who are the first victims of the abuse of adults, of guarding and defending life around you, with your smile, your care, your dedication to the service of the little ones.”
The Holy Father invited the nuns “to work so that everyone may be guaranteed the fundamental rights that ensure a dignified life, to help safeguard our common home, to pass on the faith and Christian values to the new generations, and to educate them to care for one another.”
Reminding them that they are “still a great spiritual force in the Church and in the world”, Pope Francis said that God was calling them to respond with generosity “to meet, to listen, to walk in history, to walk together to share the events of humanity”.
Charism and ministry
The first Daughters of Charity set up soup kitchens and took care of the sick poor in their homes. Later, they cared for the sick in hospitals, educated young girls in schools, cared for foundlings.
They took care of the galley convicts, wounded soldiers, the elderly and the insane, the marginalized; later, they organized community hospitals, established schools and homes for orphaned children, offered job training, taught the young to read and write, and improved prison conditions. In short, they went everywhere, and anyone in need was the object of their care.
Today, there are 13,519 Daughters of Charity in 95 countries of the world, divided into 1,619 communities.
Currently, they are involved in a variety of ministries, such as caring for elderly people, listening to and offering pastoral and spiritual support to people in difficulties in various situations, supporting migrants, the homeless and families of prisoners, visiting and supporting the housebound and the ministry of prayer.