On 20th August 1617 in Châtillon-les-Dombes (France), at the request of the parish priest, Vincent de Paul, more than fifty women responded to the call and came to assist a destitute family. The priest realized that it was necessary to organize this exuberant generosity make it efficient and so he founded the first group of “Charities”.
On 8th December 1617, the Bishop of Lyon, His Eminence Denis Simon de Marquemont, gave M. Vincent the decree recognizing the new Confraternity of Charity, and its regulations.
M. Vincent’s choice: The evangelization of the poor and action to help the disadvantaged; this was the twofold project which dominated the life of M. Vincent. For him, the purpose of Charity was to serve the most humble, the abandoned and those affected by physical and spiritual poverty.
To love is to feel responsible. This is why he took every initiative that could rectify the poverty he encountered. In 1625, Vincent de Paul created the Congregation of the Mission, a key factor in the rapid development of the Charities, including in Poland and Italy.
In 1629, people around them were destitute spiritually and materially; the Charities were born; and for 399 years, all across the world, volunteers have joined the movement that we now call the AIC (International Association of Charities).
Vincent asked Louise de Marillac to coordinate and visit the Charities in France. Louise would become part of the Company of Ladies at the Hôtel-Dieu in Paris. Louise and Vincent were aware of the difficulties facing the Ladies of Charity regarding the demands of serving the poorest people. Their intuition and a meeting with Marguerite Naseau, a young countrywoman from Suresnes, led to the establishment in 1633 of a new company of women, who lived uncloistered and by new Rules, and offered daily and practical services to the poor: the Daughters of Charity, managed by Louise de Marillac.
In this way, “the Ladies and the Daughters” complement each other in their vocation and their service, while continuing the intuition of their common Founder.
It’s a blessing for the whole of AIC to celebrate 399 years of existence!
In our hands is a fabulous heritage, a treasure; let’s take the time to become more familiar with the association and the spirituality which keeps it moving forward.
Today, just as St Vincent used to say 399 years ago, “Charity pushes us onwards”. Our Pope Francis, like his predecessor Pope Benedict, is constantly inviting us to approach the poorest. The AIC has 399 years of expertise:
AIC – International Association of Charities – is an international NGO that fights against poverty. It is an international network made up of 53 national associations which brings together Christian volunteers, mostly women.
Through local actions adapted to the differing situations in each country, the volunteers work alongside the most disadvantaged people, especially women and their children. The objective is twofold:
– To get people living in poverty to be self-sufficient and in control of their future, by accompanying them in order to address their needs on a material and spiritual level.
– To involve society and public authorities in this fight against poverty.
2. What does the AIC do?
a) The AIC actions in each group
Attention to women in poverty: the target group of AIC projects is 80% women. Indeed it is women who are the most affected by poverty and injustice. It is now, consequently, essential to develop equality and to promote and spread women’s rights if we want to achieve social, political, evangelizing and Vincentian action.
Taking into account the person as a whole: the volunteers establish individualized relationships with the people they accompany and take into account the entirety of their needs: material, interpersonal, spiritual, etc… Following the method taught by Saint Vincent de Paul, their founder.
Education is a vital component in local AIC projects and essential in the prevention of and fight against poverty. Local action becomes an opportunity for a two-way exchange between the volunteers and the target populations, with a view to developing actions together to get out of poverty.
b) Educating the public opinion
AIC educates the public opinion on the problems of poverty and exclusion.
AIC engages with local, national, civil and Christian authorities by showing them the conditions of poverty encountered by volunteers. On an international level, the AIC representatives act as advocates so that the people living in poverty remain at the centre of international debates (UNESCO, ECOSOC, UN Women, Council of Europe, Cor Unum, etc.).
3. What motivates the AIC?
a– Called upon by the situations of injustice, exclusion and violence in which so many people very close to us are suffering – especially women;
b– Called upon by the Gospel: regarding the dignity of each individual;
c– Called upon by the Social Doctrine of the Church: regarding the responsibility of everybody in the construction of a fairer and more fraternal world; and regarding the right of every person to participate in his or her own destiny;
d- Called upon by the prophetic intuition of Saint Vincent de Paul:
Justice is one of the priorities of Charity. Everybody must be able to satisfy his or her material and spiritual aspirations. The necessity of organized action. The place of women in society and in the Church. They act to promote justice, facilitating access to independent and dignified living conditions.
4. Who are the AIC volunteers?
They are mostly committed, Christian women. They work together and are spurred on by situations of urgency to build a better world. They successfully carry out projects against various forms of injustice – projects which promote the individual, following the example of Saint Vincent and Saint Louise de Marillac.
Service to others is offered, without expecting remuneration, out of love, because it is their calling.
“God loves the one who gives gladly.” (2 Cor 9:7)
Text: Taken from Training Booklet -AIC n. 22 by Laurence de la Brosse