By Kaelanne Jordan, firstname.lastname@example.org
In an effort to gain more membership across its member states, the youth coordinator of the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) has proposed that the Society’s work be introduced to non-Catholics as well as young primary school children— mini-Vinnies between the ages of seven to 11.
Kizzie Julien told Catholic News that the SVP membership has been “suffering” a decrease in its Conferences. Her proposal came during a trip to the 2nd SVP Youth International Meeting in Spain, June 14–21, 2018.
At the meeting, Renato Lima de Oliveira, SVP International President General reiterated the support of the International Council for the works, projects, and initiatives of the youth members of the Society. He told them to be creative, inspire many other young people to join the Conferences of the Society, be the leaders that the SVP is looking for, and be zealous about all they do.
It was also there that Julien, a parishioner of Our Lady of Mt Carmel, Carapichaima met Cathryn Moore, an Australian member of SVP. Julien described Moore as one who is passionate about empowering the Society’s members.
As part of her role, Moore works with the National Youth Team, a dynamic and inspiring group of young members from around the country. Moore, Julien confirmed was also crucial in recommending the concept of introducing the SVP to anyone and of all races.
“It’s not confined to Catholics alone. By doing the work of the SVP, they let their spirituality work for them in converting others. So that’s how they let people come to the Church,” she said.
Julien believed that the practice of “confining” the charitable organisation to Catholics needs to change. Cognisant that this would be no “simple task”, as it would require manpower and finances, she believed that one important area of this change is to get youths more involved in the Society. “Create a more youth-friendly and welcoming environment to attract youths. Make them feel welcome, let them know they are important to the Society,” she stressed.
Julien gave the example of introducing the mini-Vinnies to basic SVP principles and practices such as sharing with those that do not have, being our brother’s keeper and assisting in keeping the environment clean.
“They will be given a handy book with a simple prayer and other functions of the Society with a button and t-shirt. Meetings can be held on a lunch time or on evenings after school for those interested,” she proposed.
Youth, seniors working together
On the issue of combatting poverty—the Society’s main goal—Julien commented that poverty is something that affects us all either directly or indirectly. To this end, she suggested that SVP members work together with the youths to find effective ways to make the work easier and to reach as many people as they can.
“This cannot be done by the seniors alone, youths need to get involved. It will be an eye-opener for most of them. They will see just how fortunate they are and learn to appreciate the life they live,” she said.
Julien highlighted that there are advantages and disadvantages of working with youth. Some advantages she noted included youth are full of energy, well equipped with the use of technology, willing to learn new things and are willing to adapt to change. She however, observed there can be personality clashes, youth are easily distracted and have a weak spirituality.
When contacted for comment, SVP National President Rudolph Boneo told Catholic News that the reality is that one does not necessarily have to be a Catholic to become a member. He, however clarified that the President of the Conference must be Catholic. Boneo said that the Society is a Catholic organisation and all members should appreciate the Catholic ethos.
Commenting on the dwindling members, Boneo clarified that the SVP is not suffering a decrease in Conferences. Rather, the membership of the Conferences is decreasing. In fact, he highlighted there are 62 Conferences locally. “This means we are in almost every parish in T&T,” he said.
On the other hand, “There’s no glamour…We don’t publicise what we do. Those things affect our membership…. We want growth, we don’t have a monopoly on the poor. Part of our work is conversion, so we don’t have a problem with that,” he said of Julien’s proposal.
Last January, Boneo reiterated that the plan is to speak to new and older SVP members to get them on board. “And this is also a process,” he said. He noted that to roll out the programme in schools will require working with other Catholic ministries.
In this way, he said, the SVP can help in making the Church “strong”. Those who consent to have their children join will have an opportunity to see the work of the Church to the poor. “This is all good for everyone,” Boneo added.
ABOUT THE SOCIETY
The SSVP, one of the longest-running charities is an international network of Catholic lay persons serving poor, isolated or marginalised people.
Founded in 1833 and established in T&T in 1857, the Society is present on all five continents and present in 154 locations (each with its own Council).