CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 17 August 2019

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Sesquicentennial of Society of 
St. Vincent de Paul

 The Society of St Vincent de Paul celebrated the sesquicentennial of its foundation in Hong Kong at its annual meeting and Mass on September 17.

In 1863, when the society launched its service, it was strongly supported by the missionary priests and sisters in the colony.

One hundred and fifty years ago, the society began by providing relief to eight poor families, a number which quickly grew to 17 in its first year. It later organised bazaars and fairs to raise more funds to help not only poor families, but also support religious congregations in their provision of social services.

Its charitable work has been increasingly recognised by society. Even the then-governor of Hong Kong, George William Des Voeux, made a donation to show his support.

Between the period of community re-development following the Second World War and the late 1940s, when a huge number of refugees from the mainland flocked into Hong Kong, the society shouldered a large share of the Church outreach to those on or below the poverty line.

As Hong Kong society continues to develop, more and more social welfare organisations have joined the fray and the government is now offering some basic services in housing and education. But the need for societies like St. Vincent de Paul is ever present.

The society’s Central Council Hong Kong commented, “On surface, our major work, such as poverty relief, seems unimportant now. However, as a purely lay, charitable organisation, the society has to show concern, comfort and spiritual support to children and the poor, lonely elderly people, in addition to material and monetary assistance to people in need. Above all, the benevolent love and salvation of the Lord and the prayer and caring love of our members are irreplaceable.”

The society has been bearing witness to the benevolent love of Jesus Christ inside and outside the Church over the past 150 years. This is inevitably related to the spirit of its founder, Blessed Frédéric Ozanam (1813 to 1853). This year is also the celebration of the 200th anniversary of his birth.

Ozanam entered university just before the French Revolution. He was concerned about the dedication to the faith of people in the wider society. At the age of 20, he founded the Society of St. Vincent de Paul with some friends, as they believed that love within Christian faith should not become empty words and that people should help the poor through action.

During the time when Catholicism was being challenged and questioned, Ozanam and his friends were loyal to their faith through their action.

In 1997, when the World Youth Day took place in Paris, Pope John Paul II, who joined the Society of St. Vincent de Paul when he was young, conducted the beatification ceremony of Ozanam.

He said, “Ozanam understood that charity must lead to efforts to remedy injustice. Charity and justice go together.” And Ozanam himself was a precursor of the social doctrine of the 1891 encyclical on social justice, Of things new (Rerum Novarum).

The charisma and spirit of Ozanam have been sustained throughout the society and flowed into a total of 140 countries and districts in the world. Such charity is particularly important to Hong Kong at this very moment. SE