“I was hungry and you fed me A stranger and you welcomed me Naked and you clothed me Sick and you visited me Whenever you did this to one of my dear brethren, you did it to me”
(Matt. 25- 35 ,45)
These words of Jesus underpin the vocation of each member of the Society of Vincent de Paul. They call us to follow his way of life, “through Service to those in need and through Person-to-Person Contact” (R.1.2) These same words inspired St. Vincent de Paul to give “Priority to the Poorest of the Poor”(R 1.6) in his ministry to others. The turning point in his life was when he recognised his own poverty, weakness and sinfulness – when he saw how really poor he was himself. He states that we can no longer speak of the poor out there but to realise we too are his poor ones serving the poor. Their pain is our pain and so we approach them with reverence, gentleness and a listening ear above all.
In our Conference in St. Brigid’s Kilcock, no work of charity is foreign to us. We constantly adapt to the specific needs of those we visit hence our visitation has many strands.
One group in Kilcock are those who are emotionally, psychologically and spiritually poor. Some may be suffering from loss, isolation and ill-health. Hence they live private lives, are housebound and rarely socialise. They appreciate our visits as then they are enabled to tell their stories and express their hopes and fears. Though not materially poor, they are emotionally starving and in need of company.
Another Group in our ministry of visitation resides in a local Nursing Home. Our weekly visits bring us in touch with many vulnerable people who are away from their homes and their families. We are put in touch with the most needy and those who rarely have a visitor. Here again a Listening Compassionate approach is needed as well as “An understanding beyond words and appearances” (R. 1.11). These visits are appreciated by staff, families and indeed all those we visit.
A major part of our visitation is concentrated on those who are materially poor. We find that new needs arise frequently calling for new ways of approaching visitation. We experience from time to time that “Injustice, Poverty, Inequality, Exclusion…keep some families bowed down and oppressed” (R .7.6). We endeavour to help these families to help themselves, to face the reality of their situation and to strive to become free and independent. It is a joy to see the progress in families who struggle over a period of time being visited, listened to, helped to cope. A day dawns when they become independent and free and no longer need our financial or material help. We gradually terminate our visits and are happy that a new life has opened up before them.
We also visit a Senior Citizen Group in the Parish. Here again we meet the active retired men and women of the Parish who are outgoing and enjoy meeting others, having a game of bowls, bingo and a hot meal. Above all this group is a Resource Group for us. They inform us of persons who are ill, alone and in need of a visit. We appreciate their valuable contribution to our visitation.
In reflecting on our different aspects of visitation it is obvious that renewing our commitment to serve is an ongoing process. Prayer - individual and communal, is a fundamental need when the Conference and individual undertake any action (R.1.7). Even a moment of inner recollection is helpful before a visit - to ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of wisdom to understand a situation and for the grace of compassion and respect for all. St. Vincent said “give me a man (or woman) of prayer and he (or she ) will be capable of Everything” (R.2.3).
After a visit, when we have space - it is good to reflect on the visit - the quality of listening, the spoken and unspoken needs and above all are we meeting wants rather than the real needs. And so we renew our commitment to serve for:
“No one is a stranger to me I see my own face reflected in You What I wish for myself, is my wish for you, And I’ll find myself, When I walk in your shoes.”
(From Celebration song for 400th Anniversary of St. Vincent de Paul)
By Sr. Genevieve Kilbane