By Carol DeAngelo, SC
Director of Office of Peace, Justice and Integrity of Creation
August 24–25, 2012 was a historic occasion and eight Sisters of Charity of New York and eight colleagues were privileged to be present! The workshop at Loyola House of Retreats in Morristown, NJ, was part of the ongoing Vincentian Family Systemic Change Project begun in 2006 and a pilot program for an overnight training to be held in other parts of the USA.
Sister Regina Murphy, co-chair of the Global Poverty Threshold Group, expressed an important part of the experience: "The presence of nearly 60 people from different sections of the 'Family of Vincent'—all motivated by the Charism of Charity and united in concern for people who are living in conditions of poverty—was an impressive experience of unity and collaboration." As one speaker said: "Imagine what we could effect if we all worked on a particular issue! The worldwide Family of Vincent numbers two million people in 155 countries."
Sister Mary Donagher, also a co-chair of the Global Poverty Threshold Group, "was impressed by the statement of purpose: All over the world, the Vincentian Family is being called not only to assist the poor in their immediate needs by providing food, clothing and shelter, but also to help them change the social system within which they live, so that they might emerge from poverty."
As a concrete illustration of how this is happening, James Addison gave a moving presentation on the Life Experience and Faith Sharing Association (LEFSA) in NYC public shelters, a program sponsored by the Sisters of Charity of New York, founded by Dorothy Gallant, SC and Teresa Skehan, RSM (deceased). James (with his wife, Karen, and LEFSA team members Deborah Canty, Timothy Dunnington, Georgia James, and Diane Mack, also present at the conference) spoke from personal experience of living in a city shelter. He was one of the first LEFSA participants, and has been a team member for 20 years. He still visits and companions people in city shelters. LEFSA emphasizes the importance of teamwork, mutuality, inclusiveness, presence, personal relationships, and changing structures and policies that create poverty. It is truly a program that has brought together charity and justice, addressing systemic poverty since its beginning.
The LEFSA team offered their impression of the workshop: "The experience of being invited to the Vincentian Family was really informing. We had an opportunity to realize how global the plight of poverty is, touching [OK?]so many throughout the world. We were also able to reinforce our understanding of justice and charity. We learned that people are not poor; the situation they are in is poor. The workshop and prayers were so nourishing and inspiring. We are so grateful to have been part of the Vincentian Family gathering."
The LEFSA team echoed the feelings of all who were present: members from the Ladies of Charity, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Trinitarian Family, the Congregation of the Mission, the Daughters of Charity, Sisters of Charity from Cincinnati, New Jersey, and New York, and their colleagues. All of those participating live and act out of a common history, charism of charity, and values—sisters, priests, brothers, associates, and other lay colleagues. This was a highlight at the workshop—to be with so many lay colleagues (they were the majority) and listen to the great work they are doing.
Natalia Smirnova, PhD, Associate Professor of Economics at the College of Mount Saint Vincent, Riverdale, NY, and Jean Flannelly, SC, M.T.S., PhD, Executive Director for Mission at the College, offered a joint comment: "The Workshop on Vincentian Systematic Change clarified, affirmed, and gave some further direction for our work at the college. With many of our students being first generation college students, we are equipping and empowering them to move up the socioeconomic ladder and also contribute to the welfare of the community. In the liberal arts tradition our students acquire skills for analysis and critical thinking which will enable them to examine the oppressive structure and move toward change in the system rather than just meet individual needs."
Late Saturday afternoon each of the groups of the Vincentian Family spent some time together. The SCNY group found this so enriching! In the SCNY group, in addition to those already named, were: Maria Jimena Concha (Board member of Los Somos La Llave del Futuro and a colleague who works with Eileen Judge, SC, in Northeast Dutchess County); Mary Ellen O'Boyle, SC, chair of the Human Trafficking Threshold Group; Eileen Judge, SC, chair of the Immigration Threshold Group; Maria Iglesias, SC, member of the New Forms of Religious Life Threshold Group; Margaret Ellen Burke, SC, member of the Collaboration Threshold Group; and Carol De Angelo, SC, co-chair of the Creation's Transformative Energy Threshold Group and Director of the Office of Peace, Justice, and Integrity of Creation.
As we met as an SCNY group, we became aware of the richness in our diversity and unity and power to "love unto infinity" as we share and collaborate together. One of the first action steps we will take is to have members of threshold groups, especially Human Trafficking, Immigration, and Global Poverty, visit a LEFSA monthly gathering to [OK?]see how we might work together in systemic change. We left the workshop with the question Jim Claffey raised in his workshop on the work of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul on Long Island. Jim challenged us to keep asking "are we really doing systemic change?"
A thank you to the planning committee: Jim Claffey, Society of SVDP; Sr. Barbara Connell, SCNJ; Sr. Julie Cutter, DC; Mary Ann Dantuono, LCUSA; Fr. Joe Foley, Congregation of the Mission; Sr. Kati Hamm, SC-Halifax; Br. John Skrodinsky, Trinitarian; and Sr. CJ Willie, SC-Cinncinati. A similar workshop was held on Friday and Saturday, October 26–27. [change following since the event is over?]You are invited as the "Vincentian Family Explores Systemic Change" together! Come, explore, participate as we bring together charity and justice by addressing systemic change in today's world.
October 2, 1979, New York, Pope John Paul II encouraged his listeners to analyze the situation and to identify the structural roots of poverty and to formulate concrete solutions:
"Social thinking and social practice inspired by the Gospel must always be marked by a special sensitivity toward those who are most in distress, those who are extremely poor, those suffering … from hunger, neglect, unemployment, and despair. You will also want to seek out the structural reasons which foster or cause the different forms of poverty in the world and in your own country, so that you can apply the appropriate remedies."