There is pride and there is pride. One kind of pride is said to “go before the fall”. Another kind of pride is the joy of being associated with something meaningful. Eastern Province priest, Father Pat Griffin, recently wrote about the pride he experienced in being a member of a Vincentian Family. He celebrated his experiences with many lay people and people in vows as they shared the common vocation of following Christ the Evangelizer of the Poor.
The following reflection first appeared on FamVin the newsletter of the Vincentian Family.
Sometimes it is hard not to take pride in being a member of the Vincentian Family.
In my role as Director of the Vincentian Center for Church and Society at St. John’s University, I have been in Kenya for the past week. I came here with a team of professors from the Tobin College of Business to offer a program on Pastoral Planning and Church Management. We lived with the confreres at the DePaul Centre in Nairobi.
We are collaborating with the Center for Leadership and Management (CLM) at Tangaza University College. Founded with the help of DePaul University (Chicago) some dozen years ago, the CLM promotes the training of women and men to take up the mantle of leadership in society and in the Church. The College itself is the collaborative product of more than 20 religious communities with the Congregation of the Mission among them. Our confrere, Gary Mueller, CM, is the Chancellor. Walking around the campus, the number of young sisters and priests is wonderfully evident. Clearly, this College is poised to make a difference in the future of the African Church and the Vincentian Family is there.
To prepare to offer the presentations to the more than 120 people who had registered for our Program, the SJU professors and I were taken to one of our Vincentian parishes in Thigio. There, we met with the confreres who had arranged a meeting with the extended Parish Council. The structure of the parish involved numerous mission churches and small Christian communities within those missions. The leaders of the parish/es helped us visitors to come to a better understanding of the Church in Kenya and the emphases of faith promotion. The confreres do wonderful work and they are greatly appreciated by their people.
Touring the compound of the central parish, we were introduced to the marvelous cooperation between the Congregation and the Daughters of Charity—that blessed connection which has characterized our Family from the very beginning. Beginning with the Church, we moved from one building to another and saw the work led by the Daughters around hospice care, the elderly, and the education of children. There was a program for children with severe physical and some mental challenges, and a unit for physical therapy. One of the larger buildings was a bright library in which the children could study and read. The work of the Vincentian Family in this one parish environment could not help to make any of us grateful and proud of the blessings with which the Lord has endowed us in the service of our brothers and sisters.
On a second trip, Fr. Gary took us into the slum which lies on the outskirts of Nairobi. It is called Kibera. It is the largest urban slum in Africa. We went to a school in the midst of this poor area. Arriving at nap time, we simply looked in at classrooms full of beautiful small children lying tightly together on a blanket and sound asleep. They were dressed in the “uniform” provided by the school—a red shirt, red shorts, and red socks. (The SJU connection came to my mind immediately.) This school, sponsored by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and supported by the Vincentians, serves the children of the poor. The whole unit was packed into a very tight space, but the people working there seemed most joyful with their ministry and made the best use of their resources. They had Vincentian hearts.
I could speak of other experiences, such as the brief visit to the busy Dream Center which attends to those with AIDS and HIV, the time spent with those in formation, and the conversations around collaboration with the other religious communities. I was not looking for ways to exalt our charism, but everywhere I looked, it was evident and flourishing.
This visit to Kenya has lifted my heart and made me grateful for my vocation and its place in the Vincentian Family. I am ready to return to SJU and promote our charism locally.