Run almost entirely by volunteers, the St Vincent de Paul Society is a worldwide organisation of lay Catholics who want to express their faith through service to the poor.
The Society of St Vincent de Paul is an international Catholic charity network. It has been operating in South Africa since 1856 and is a registered non-profit and public benefit organisation (NPO 003/193).
Every day, our 2500 members and volunteers reach out to vulnerable and marginalized people in their local community. We aim to provide a hand up, not just a hand out.
At the core of our work are over 200 parish committees known as ‘conferences’. These are groups of members from all walks of life who join together to relieve suffering and promote human dignity amongst the poor.
People fed daily
Years of History
The Mission of the St Vincent de Paul Society in South Africa is to deepen the faith of its members – to go out into our nation to heighten the awareness of Jesus Christ.
We do this by sharing ourselves (who we are and what we have) with the poor on a person-to-person basis. We seek to co-operate in shaping a more just and compassionate South African community,
Our preferred option in this mission of service is to work with the poor in development, by respecting their dignity, sharing our hope, and encouraging them to take control of their destiny.
How we help
We visit people in their homes, meeting them face-to-face and getting to know them personally. Because of this, we see their circumstances and gain an understanding of their problems and how we can best help them. Our approach is neighbour to neighbour, with no attitude of superiority or judgement.
Everyone can do something to help
Apart from financial contributions, we also appreciate offers of ‘twinning’ or partnerships with conferences, businesses and individuals in more affluent parishes or countries, who reach out with material or financial assistance or technical experience in a specific field.
Message from the National President
Dear Brothers and Sisters
Warm Vincentian wishes and blessings to you.
As we are called to keep Jesus’ commandments, namely that we love GOD totally and our neighbour as Jesus has loved and continues to love us. It has been in this way of keeping the commandments that has been the pillar of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in all its activities. Traditionally, the Society has specialised in caring for the poor and needy, usually by making up and delivering food parcels that enable poor families to survive.
Hands on Engagement
Today, the need is for a much more hands-on engagement with the poor so that they are empowered and enabled to lift themselves out of their poverty by themselves engaging with the authorities whose responsibility it is to ensure that all citizens live a decent human life.
In other words, the needs of the poor are increasingly outstripping what agencies like the Society of St. Vincent de Paul can possibly provide, so it is incumbent on the SSVP to become advocates for Justice and the voice for the poor and needy. It has become evident that in-order for us to make an impact on addressing the needs of the poor we would need to ensure that our work and activity is stainable.
At my election I outlined four key objectives;
1. Poverty Alleviation
The need for a more collaborative approach is even great now in our efforts to alleviate poverty. We need to foster and find ways to work together with other organisations that share concerns and compassion with as Vincentians feel for our Brothers and Sisters in need.
2. Spirituality and Training
In our service to the poor we must embrace and understand the Spirituality and Love of the poor in the way St. Vincent de Paul did. It is through our own journey of training and this understanding that we are uplifted spiritually and mentally to better serve the poor. “We must administer to the poor in a way that would change their lives”
St. Vincent de Paul once said: “GOD asks first for your heart and only then for your work” I am happy to report that we have enhanced our training program so to ensure that we reach all Vincentians nationally, especially the youth.
As we are called to serve, we need to grow in our own spirituality and service within our own families, at work and community. At a National level, we should be able to motivate and support every member of the society to lead and understand the Vincentian way through our virtues. The increase of awareness of our works can only improve through our actions of person-to-person interaction.
3. Advocacy for Justice
There are poor people living at the margins everywhere, if we allow ourselves to see them. We can also hear St. Vincent de Paul ask the question: What must be done? He would say there is a missionary spirituality and that every missionary (Vincentian) should have five characteristics virtues:
Simplicity, Humility, Gentleness, Selflessness and Zeal.
We need to advocate for the human dignity of the poor who are the most vulnerable and marginalised. In our advocacy for justice for the poor and our interaction with various authorities and law-makers influencing policy, through the society we can ensure that we serve the poor in a way that would change their lives.
4. Communication / Innovation
We are continuously trying to strengthen our communication. We have established a National Council office. We have now appointed a Communications Officer and we are working on issuing a quarterly newsletter. We are busy with the new national website and we continue to find newer ways of communicating without losing our core values of “serving the poor”
International charity network
I would like to quote Renato Lima de Oliveira, 16th General President – SSVP:
“We need to emphasize that Vincentians form an “international charity network” and that they seek sanctification through committed service towards those who live in poverty. (We are represented in 153 Countries). Our spiritual life is the first thing we must think about. We should take into account our holiness before doing the charity work or taking on any administrative role in the structure. The compassionate and tolerant heart of the Vincentian leaders is the secret to avoid disputes and strife within our organization. Above all, a contentious posture is neither Christian, nor evangelical, nor Vincentian. We can always disagree, but with charity and respect. Opinion must yield to collective thought, as was the desire of our founders, who chose the “collegiate foundation” as a pillar for making decisions in the SSVP.
We will also be attentive to the constant renovation of the SSVP, seeking new ways and ideas to attract more youth, children, and teenagers to our Conferences, since they will guarantee the continuity of our work. We will broaden the partnerships and common projects with the International Vincentian Family.
Hierarchy of love
I would like to conclude by saying that National Council is never to be considered as a “power structure,” but rather a “hierarchy of love” that provides services to benefit the poor through our Conferences, beloved by God. We are here to serve and any member should feel free to communicate even with the National Council.”
I wish to express my sincere gratitude to all those who have supported the actions of the National Council. In the past year of our mandate, we have made much progress towards a more efficient, dynamic, accommodating and modern Society in order to offer a better service to those in need, without ever losing sight of our roots and our fundamental Vincentian characteristics.
Service of the poor
St. Vincent de Paul said; “There is no better way to ensure our eternal happiness than to live and die in the service of the poor, in the arms of providence, renouncing ourselves in order to put on Jesus Christ
I offer my heartfelt thanks for all your prayers, and messages of support and for trusting in me. It is this support and prayers that continues to bless our Vincentian journey. Most importantly, I thank you Brothers and Sisters for your continued work and efforts in this Vincentian journey that we all so dearly share in the building of the Kingdom of GOD, THE Almighty.
Divine Providence. We ask in prayer that the will of God be done, and that is what we believe: God made the choice, and “God is the one who guides and will guide this work,” as Frederic Ozanam said. We are mere instruments of His for the achievement of the Lord’s work.
I thank you and GOD Bless. Please continue to keep me in your Prayers.
Your Brother in St Vincent de Paul and BL Frederic Ozanam.
Peter Keshwar, National President, SSvP South Africa
If we don’t transform the world, who will?
“Founded by young people who aspired to make a change in their society, the spirit of youth is an original and permanent characteristic of the St Vincent de Paul Society. Youth brings to the Society dynamism, enthusiasm, acceptance of risks, creative imagination and – above all – adaptability.”
Many young people believe in, and strive for, social justice. They live out their faith by taking action to address and change social inequality and disadvantage. The society is a network of charity, friendship, humble servitude and an expression of love. Within this environment, we develop personally and spirituality in spite of the daily distractions of life. Bonds formed with other like-minded young people can last a lifetime. Young people also have the flexibility to adapt to changing needs and circumstances. And, by being open to their ideas and suggestions, we learn and grow in our own faith and skills.
Youthful spirit and energy
Just as the 7 young founders of 1883 sought the guidance and wisdom of an elder to help them to turn their desire to make a difference into reality, our younger members are included in decision making and discussions, as equals. This encourages opportunities to maintain the youthful spirit and energy that Blessed Frederic Ozanam believed in for all members of the Society.
Salt of the earth
To be a Vincentian youth is to answer the Christian call to be the “salt of the earth.” We work in our communities by venturing out and becoming the voices and change agents for the young, including children and teenagers. We want to be the protagonists of a world yet unimagined by Blessed Frederic Ozanam when he said: “The world has grown cold; it is for Catholics to rekindle the vital fire which has been extinguished.” We dream the impossible. And work together in faith to make those dreams of a better world real.