Vincentians: Doing good work here and in India
Author: SVdP Staff
Date: Wednesday, June 27 2012
As Fr. Michael Jeeva Antony was preparing to take his Oregon driver’s exam all hail broke loose, pummeling the car with pea-sized ice.
The 43-year-old native of Southern India turned wide-eyed to his sidekick and demanded, “What is this?”
For Deacon Darrell Meter of St. Mark Church, the self-described sidekick, it was another revelation in a relationship that has generated many. Another came when Fr. Michael halted in his tracks and exclaimed “Whoa!” upon entering Winco for the first time.
But from the get-go, Fr. Michael and about 50 St. Vincent de Paul volunteers and guests were on the same page at the 2012 District Council retreat held this month at St. Mary, Our Lady of the Dunes in Florence. Twelve of the 19 volunteer groups affiliated with the District Council of Lane County (called conferences) were represented.
On behalf of the Lane County District Council, THANK YOU:
Fr. Michael Jeeva Antony
Fr. Roger Marcus Fernando
Deacon Darrell Meter
Staff & parishioners of St. Mary, Our Lady of the Dunes Church, Florence
Josee & Bill Tom, & helpers
Fogwash Soap Co., Yachats
Keynote speaker, Fr. Michael recalled the genesis of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, founded in Paris in 1833 by Frederic Ozanam after fellow college students challenged him to show any good being done by Catholics. In response, Frederic formed a group dedicated to visiting the poor in their homes and doing what they could to alleviate suffering and deprivation.
That work continues throughout the world, in Fr. Michael’s home parish in Southern India, and in Lane County where SVdP volunteers, called Vincentians, raise funds, gather resources within their own congregations, and share the cost of vouchers written to St. Vinnie’s stores for emergency clothing, beds, appliances and other necessities. When someone asks for help at St. Vinnie’s Social Service Office, they receive a home visit from members of the nearest SVdP conference.
Fr. Michael reminded attendees of important aspects of Vincentian work: Putting intent into action, praying before and after home visits, having reverence for those in need, being empathetic and non-judgmental, encouraging self-sufficiency, serving in hope, and being grateful to those served.
The principles are easier to describe than to enact, he acknowledged. He accompanied local Vincentians on home visits, one to a place that reeked of too many cats, and another where the visitors were restricted to the porch in bitterly cold weather.
It was all the more uncomfortable for someone accustomed to warmer climes, but as Fr. Michael said, “You just do it.”
Vincentian work takes different forms in Fr. Michael’s home parish in Southern India, St. James Catholic Church, and parishes in the surrounding area. For one, emphasis leans more toward bringing people into the Church.
Impoverished families can’t afford a dowry or the clothing and medallion necessary for a daughter to marry. Last year St. James’ Vincentians gathered enough support to pay for three brides’ wedding dresses and medallions, and an all-parish meal and celebration attended by the bishop.
They also identified seven unmarried couples with children, guided them through the legal process and Catholic teachings, and had their marriages blessed and rectified and the children baptized. Wedding dresses and a few other needs were provided.
In India widows are particularly vulnerable. The Conference administers a revolving fund that makes interest-free loans of about $100 so widows can start businesses, support their children, and repay the funds. Every bit that’s returned, often earned in home bakeries and at sewing machines, is loaned to another widow.
The Conference helps orphans and abandoned children by paying for books, uniforms and tuition at an annual cost of about $1,000 per child. Last year eight children attended school, and this year more will thanks to a “twinning” partnership with St. Peter Conference of Eugene.
Finally, while their counterparts in Lane County are in the throes of Turkey Drive, St. James’ Conference gathers clothing, which is given to 300 people of different religions and from all walks of life.
In its works, Conference covers the rights of the poor: To work; to health, dignity and hope; to shelter; to care in old age; and for the imprisioned, respect.
Fr. Michael said he has been amazed by the work of Vincentians in Lane County, especially after the shock of arriving in the U.S. and seeing people standing on corners holding signs.
“I came to an understanding,” he said. “In India, that’s not the way we think about America.”
As with the hailstorm and abundance at Winco, the sidekick has come to understandings of his own.
“I have begun to realize in my own life what I take for granted,” said Deacon Darrell Meter. “When I go on calls (home visits), I think how blessed I am to be able to help.
|Attendees at the 2012 Lane County District Council Retreat, representing the Conferences of St. Alice; St. Catherine of Siena; Justice & Peace/Voice of the Poor; Ozanam; St. Mark; St. Mary, Albany; St. Mary, Eugene; St. Mary, Our Lady of the Dunes, Florence; St. Michael; St. Peter; and St. Thomas More/Newman Center.|