“In this letter, I wish to speak not only to consecrated persons, but also to the laity, who share with them the same ideals, spirit and mission. Some Religious Institutes have a long tradition in this regard, while the experience of others is more recent. Indeed, around each religious family, every Society of Apostolic Life and every Secular Institute, there is a larger family, a “charismatic family”, which includes a number of Institutes which identify with the same charism, and especially lay faithful who feel called, precisely as lay persons, to share in the same charismatic reality. ” (A.L. III, # 1).
In our Vincentian Family throughout the world there exists, according to a study carried out by Sister Betty Ann McNeil, D.C., several hundred groups of women and men, lay and religious, Catholic and non-Catholic, associations or congregations founded by Saint Vincent or inspired by his spirit.
The major branches of this Family are the AIC (International Association of Charity). the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity, founded by Saint Vincent, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, been founded by Blessed Frederic Ozanam and closely related with Sister Rosalie Rendu, D.C., the Sisters of Charity, founded by Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, first American saint, community united afterwards to the Company of the Daughters of Charity, the Association of the Miraculous Medal, the medal that Mary wanted to give to the world for the poor. the Vincentian Marian Youth, association requested by Our Lady to Saint Catherine Labouré whose end is to form young people in a solid faith following Jesus Christ evangelizer of the poor, and the youngest in the associations the Vincentian Lay Missionaries that arose in the heart of the Family whose end is to facilitate, to support and to coordinate the missionary presence of lay people of the Vincentian Family.
Every year the leaders of the main branches of the Vincentian Family meet together for their spiritual and apostolic animation. From these meetings have come common prayer and projects of service, some of great importance. To name only some dealing with Systemic Change there are Fr. Pedro Opeka’s project in Madagascar, the Vincentian Family Haiti Initiative, Vincentians in Partnership in Great Britain; or the project of Jesus León Santos in Mexico. In the entire world there are many others, big or small, united by the same spirituality, working to demonstrate the love of Christ to our needy brothers and sisters, according to Saint Vincent, “with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows.”
“I urge you, as laity, to live this Year for Consecrated Life as a grace which can make you more aware of the gift you yourselves have received. Celebrate it with your entire “family”, so that you can grow and respond together to the promptings of the Spirit in society today. On some occasions when consecrated men and women from different Institutes come together, arrange to be present yourselves so as to give expression to the one gift of God. In this way you will come to know the experiences of other charismatic families and other lay groups, and thus have an opportunity for mutual enrichment and support. (A.L. III, # 1, par. 2).
Every year the Vincentian Family meets on the Feast of Saint Louise de Marillac and of Saint Vincent de Paul to celebrate them together; this year it will have a special character.
“So I invite every Christian community to experience this Year above all as a moment of thanksgiving to the Lord and grateful remembrance for all the gifts we continue to receive, thanks to the sanctity of founders and foundresses, and from the fidelity to their charism shown by so many consecrated men and women. I ask all of you to draw close to these men and women, to rejoice with them, to share their difficulties and to assist them, to whatever degree possible, in their ministries and works, for the latter are, in the end, those of the entire Church. Let them know the affection and the warmth which the entire Christian people feels for them”. (A.L. III; # 2, 2 par).
“In this letter I do not hesitate to address a word to the consecrated men and women and to the members of fraternities and communities who belong to Churches of traditions other than the Catholic tradition”. (A.L. III, # 3).
The ecumenical appeal of Vincentian service has inspired others like Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) and Theodore Fliedner (1800-1864). Nightingale learned the technique of caring for soldiers in time of war from the Daughters of Charity in Paris before establishing her lay corps of nurses called the Anglican Association of Charity. Fliedner, an Evangelical Protestant pastor, inspired by the works of charity and the organization of the Daughters of Charity during his trips to Europe (mainly Holland and England), founded the lay deaconesses in Germany in 1836. The Society of the Holy Cross (England, 1855) was established for Anglican clergy. After his conversion to the Christianity through the Miraculous Medal, Alphonse Ratisbonne founded two communities to promote understanding between Christians and Jews: the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion (1843, Paris) and the Fathers of Sion (1852, Paris).
The Oxford Movement in Great Britain was a seed bed that nurtured religious institutes in the Anglican Communion. One of its leaders, Reverend Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800- 1882), said, “Newman and I have separately come to think it necessary to have some Soeurs de [la] charité in the Anglo-Catholic [Church].” Pusey did obtain a copy of the Common Rules of the Daughters of Charity which he used when developing a rule for the Anglican Sisterhood of the Holy Cross.
“The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life has planned a number of initiatives to facilitate encounters between members of different expressions of consecrated and fraternal life in the various Churches. I warmly encourage such meetings as a means of increasing mutual understanding, respect and reciprocal cooperation, so that the ecumenism of the consecrated life can prove helpful for the greater journey towards the unity of all the Churches.” (A.L. III, # 3, par. 2).
“I trust that the Year of Consecrated Life will be an opportunity to review the progress made, to make consecrated persons aware of this dialogue, and to consider what further steps can be taken towards greater mutual understanding and greater cooperation in the many common areas of service to human life”. (A.L. III, # 4. 2º par.)
“Journeying together always brings enrichment, and can open new paths to relationships between peoples and cultures, which nowadays appear so difficult.” (A.L. III, # 4. 3er. párr.)
“I entrust this Year of Consecrated Life to Mary, the Virgin of listening and contemplation, the first disciple of her beloved Son. Let us look to her, the highly beloved daughter of the Father, endowed with every gift of grace, as the unsurpassed model for all those who follow Christ in love of God and service to their neighbour.” (A. L. III, # 5, 3 par.).
(Taken from the Apostolic Letter of Pope Francis and a study on the Vincentian Family by Sister Betty Ann McNeil, D.C.).