St. Vincent de Paul loved the poor and he understood power. His methodology was to reconcile the needs of poor people by enlisting the help of poor themselves, others willing to be trained in their care (Confraternities, Ladies of Charity, the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity) and the rich and powerful. He was a forceful and creative advocate. He spoke about the needs of poor people to all, he conceptualized creative solutions, and he was zealous in his willingness to take a case or an issue to the highest level of government, Church or society, if it would benefit his beloved poor.
Vincent de Paul said “Charity embraces Justice.” In other words, we can not give in charity what a person is rightfully entitled to in justice. Pope Benedict in his first encyclical identified Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac, among others, as saints who exercised charity in an exemplary way. He called them “lasting models of social charity for all people of good will” and “true bearers of light within history”, two of the “men and women of faith, hope and love”. Deus Caritas Est (40) Advocacy is linking our faith with justice.
Advocacy Is Organization
In the regulations for the Charity of Women (Chatillon-les Dombes), it is noted “that the poor suffered more through a lack of organized assistance than from lack of charitable persons.” (CCD 13b, 8) The real key to understanding Vincent as an advocate is that Vincent saw the world from the perspective of vulnerable people, saw Christ in the people who are poor or sick, and believed that their care must be organized. He was concerned about the organization of the society of his time. He strongly believed that persons living in poverty should not receive in charity what was due them in justice. His faith was the core of his sense of justice.
Advocacy Is Empowerment
St. Vincent wrote to the Ladies of Charity, “The liberty and dignity of the person helped must be respected with the greatest sensitivity… the aid contributed should be organized in such a way that beneficiaries are gradually freed from their dependence on others and become self supporting….” (Meeting with the Ladies of Charity: Report of the state of their works. “ July 11, 1657). Some of the ways we can empower people we serve is by including them in conversations and relationship building with their legislators and in the planning of programs and projects. People are empowered helping them to develop skills and to take opportunities to speak for themselves and thus determine their future.