“You must not be content with tiding the poor over the poverty crisis. You must study their condition and the injustices which brought about such poverty, with the aim of a long-term improvement.” Blessed Frederic Ozanam
Working for Social Justice is a cornerstone of the work of the Society of St Vincent de Paul. It is embedded in the mission statement of the Society and is a defining element of what we do, in conjunction with home visitation and supporting self sufficiency by helping the people we assist to access education, training and employment. Home visitation and working for social justice are two sides of the same coin. SVP members witness at first hand the impact of the housing and homelessness crisis, child poverty, educational disadvantage, low income and loneliness and isolation on individuals and families across Ireland. We are called to challenge these issues through our social justice work, to engage with Government and policy makers to propose solutions and advocate for social change so that the common good is prioritised and the needs of people who are struggling due to poverty and social exclusion can be met.
The need to work for social justice is as pressing now as it was almost 200 years ago for Frederic Ozanam in Paris. The words of Pope Francis in 2015 remind us of this:
“Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labour is not mere philanthropy. It is a moral obligation. For Christians, the responsibility is even greater: it is a commandment”.
As an organisation with a Christian ethos, we can look to Catholic Social Teaching to help us to understand and respond to the social injustices which SVP members are seeing on the ground and to work for a fairer and more just society. Catholic Social Teaching analyses social issues in the light of scripture and provides guidance as to how we must respond. It addresses issues like poverty, hunger, workers’ rights, war, migration and protection of the environment, as well as trade and tax justice. It is radical, challenging prevailing economic assumptions, taking on vested interests and calling for an end to inequality which benefits the few at the top at the expense of the rest of society.
Catholic Social Teaching tells us that a basic moral test for society is how our most vulnerable members are faring. We are asked to recognise the dignity inherent in every person, to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first and to work together in solidarity for the common good.
Challenging poverty and inequality can bring us into contested spaces and into conflict with ideologies that benefit those at the top rather than fostering the common good. At these difficult times, we can return to the words of Frederic Ozanam and the principles of Catholic Social Teaching, to bring us back to the ethos which drives the work we do, the policy positions that we take and the public statements that we make:
“I am asking that you look after people who have too many needs and not enough rights – people who demand with reason a greater say in public affairs, freedom from poverty, access to education and security in employment.” Blessed Frederic Ozanam
Read more about SVP Social Justice in our latest SVP Bulletin Spring 2017.