INTRODUCTION TO POLITICAL CHARITY AND VINCENTIAN FORMATION: The First Joint Meeting in Prigen, Indonesia July 1-15, 2007

By Armada Riyanto, CM & Danny Pilario, CM
Chair & co-Chair of the CCC

In his first encyclical, Benedict XVI mentioned Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac among “the men and women of faith, hope and love” (Deus Caritas Est, 40) who has exemplified for us authentic Christian charity. Love, which proceeds from God, can only be real when it shows itself in concrete ‘charity’ for the neighbor; when it expresses itself in viable structures which alleviates hunger, loneliness and pain in society. All throughout this great letter, the Pope outlines how the Church has made the practice of charity its main responsibility. The ministry of charity is part of the Church’s nature, “an indispensable part of her very being” (DCE, 25). In fact, Benedict XVI asserts that it is only when we see charity effective in the structures of society that “we see the Trinity,” he quotes St. Augustine (DCE, 19).

St. Vincent already made the same assertion almost 400 years earlier when he told the sisters “to leave God for God”. He also once reminded the missionaries who wanted to abandon the ministry of charity in favor of preaching: “Are not the poor the suffering members of our Lord? Are they not our brothers? And if priests abandon them, who will be there to help them?” (SV XII, 87). Organized charity – that is – charity effectively working in the structures of the church and society is not only a work of the Company. It belongs to the deepest part of its identity.

It is within this tradition that our Superior General, Fr. Gregory Gay, during his visit to Indonesia, talks about ‘political charity’. He thinks that our candidates should not remain indifferent towards what is happening in contemporary society. They should be grounded in their own socio-political situations, be formed to analyze it critically so that they can respond to its challenges more effectively. The term ‘political charity’ does not appear in the sociological and political science dictionaries. But, in the Vincentian tradition, charity can only exist ‘politically’, that is, in concrete works and social structures. As St. Vincent says: “our work [for the poor] is the only proof of our love”. In the same conference, he continued: “Let us love God, my brethren, but let us love him with all our strength and in the sweat of our brow” (Abelly, Bk. I, Ch. XIX, 81).

In the gathering of Vincentian formators and other members of the Vincentian family in July 2007 at Prigen, we have chosen the theme: “Political Charity and Vincentian Formation”. We invite all speakers and participants to reflect on the implications ‘political charity’ has to our Vincentian life and charism, in general, and to Vincentian formation, in particular. Our aim is to think of concrete ways with which to equip our candidates and members with critical sensibility to the movements of contemporary society – its joys and hopes, its ups and downs, its lights and shadows. It is through this sensitivity that we can be more perceptive to the pain and sufferings of the victims of our global society, be in solidarity with them and respond to them more effectively.

Framework: to see, to judge, and to act

In order to achieve our aim, we divide the topics into three parts (during the first week): analysis of contemporary Asia-Pacific socio-political context [to see]; learnings from St. Vincent’s own response to the socio-political issues of his times [to judge]; (3) practical applications this has to contemporary Vincentian life [to act] in the field of spirituality, political involvement, inter-religious dialogue and inculturated formation. The speakers of the first week – most of them members of the Commission on Charism and Culture – will have these as the focus of their talks. For the second week, we invite the formators to reflect on the concrete implications political charity has to the different dimensions of Vincentian formation: human, spiritual, academic and pastoral.

In the end, we hope to come up with (1) some concrete lines of action for the formation programs of each Province with regard the theme; and (2) a letter of recommendation to the APVC (Asia-Pacific Visitors Conference).

1st week: participants

The participants of the first week include (1) the members of the Commission for Charism and Culture; (2) Formator-delegates from different Provinces; and (3) the invited representatives of the Vincentian families in Indonesia. We are expecting 40-50 persons.

1st week: topics and speakers

To see: Socio-political Analysis of Contemporary Situation

  1. A Socio-Political Analysis of the Asia-Pacific Context (Daniel Sparinga, Ph.D)
  2. Poverty, Culture, Religiosity and Contemporary Responses in the Asia-Pacific (Armada Riyanto, C.M.)

To Judge: Learning from St. Vincent

  1. The Socio-Political Forces of XVII Century (Marcelo Manimtim, C.M.)
  2. Vincent de Paul and the Court: His Response to Elite Political Power (Daniel Franklin Pilario, C.M.)
  3. Vincent de Paul and the Masses: His Response to the Social Issues of his Times (Guy Hartcher, C.M.)

To Act: Implications to Contemporary Vincentian Life and Charism

  1. Political Charity and Vincentian Spirituality Today (Charles Pan, C.M.)
  2. Political Charity in the Context of Inter-religious Dialogue (Paul Bharati, C.M.)
  3. Political Charity and Inculturated Formation (Kusno Bintoro, C.M.)

1st week: process

As seen above, we will follow the process popularized by the Social Teachings of the Church: the see-judge-act method. But we can also say that our framework indicates this developing progression of thought: first, we are provided with ‘tools’ to understand contemporary society (topics 1-2); second, we revisit and re-appropriate some ‘values’ from the historical experience of our Founder (topics 3-5); third, we proceed to reflect on the ‘practical implications’ St. Vincent’s response has to contemporary Vincentian life. Each day, there will be only two presentations (two topics). Each topic will be dealt with in approximately four (4) hours. In concrete, this serves as the common process we will follow for each topic.

1. Conference (1 hour)

2. Open Forum/ Question and Answer (30 minutes)

3. Break (30 minutes)

4. Small Group Sharing (1 hour)

5. Plenary Session (1 hour)

a. Short Reports from the Small Groups

b. Plenary Discussion

c. Synthesis/Last Comments by the Speaker

2nd week: Participants

The second week will be spent more on reflecting what implications our theme has on the CM formation. Thus, only the CM formator-delegates from the different Provinces will remain. More or less, we are expecting 25 participants for these sessions.

2nd week: Topics and speakers

Each participant/formator is expected to write a paper of 2-3 pages on the topics indicated below. The basic question for these papers is as follows: “What are the concrete implications political charity has to the formation of our candidates?” Each formator will only reflect on one dimension of Vincentian formation (human, spiritual, academic, pastoral). We hope papers will talk about concrete issues, processes and structures as response to the question. The delegate-in-charge of each Province will coordinate about this: who deals with what.

  1. Political Charity: Implications to Human Formation
  2. Political Charity: Implications to Spiritual Formation
  3. Political Charity: Implications to Academic Formation
  4. Political Charity: Implications to Pastoral Formation

2nd week: Process

1. The process of the second week mostly resembles that of the first week.

2. Instead of invited speakers, the formator-delegates of different Provinces will share their reflections (2-3 pages)

3. We will also make a one-day visit (exposure) to ALMA and Fr. Paul Jansen’s charity and “Al-Hikam Pesantren,” an “Islamic Seminary” (both in Malang) in order to see for ourselves how Islamic formation is done and what we can learn from concrete charity to the disable. Short visit to both will be beneficial to further practical reflections on formation.

4. We will end up with some concrete lines of actions for the formation program of our own Provinces (Political Charity: Concrete Implications to Provinces’ Program of Formation)

5. The whole process will be crowned with a letter of recommendation to the APVC (Asia-Pacific Visitors’ Conference).

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