Celebrating and Supporting “Hearts on Fire”

Popular Philadelphia TV personality Bob Kelly, Master of Ceremonies, asked a question of the 350 plus people gathered in the ballroom of the Loews Hotel in Philadelphia. Realizing how many such gatherings he has hosted, his rhetorical question seemed to offer a wider perspective than I initially had. With that question, he captured something special about this first Gala celebrating “Hearts on Fire”. This was no ordinary Gala or “public entertainment marking a special occasion.”

Clearly knew his audience. As he called out local parishes and schools they promptly acknowledged his call. But the reality behind this gathering clearly went beyond neighborhood name recognition. The deeper common element among the more than 350 present was identification with the ministries of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission and the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal. I would dare to say that there was a sense of community around a common vision.

The theme “Hearts on Fire” celebrated the still-burning fires among the followers of St. Vincent 400 years later. Our hearts were set on fire as we watched the all too brief videos demonstrating the hearts on fire of the three honorees – Brother Alfred Smith CM, the Daughters of Charity and the many generations of the family behind the Raskob Foundation. Their stories illustrated a common bond – quiet, humble service to the poor and the marginalized. Seeing their example raised the hope for support for these ministries in the coming years.

In his letter of congratulations, Fr. Tomaz Mavric, Superior General of the Vincentians, highlighted the needs of “the hungry, the homeless, young people needing good education, released prisoners seeking jobs, and new immigrants to this country. Each recipient offered living proof of their title to the award. Brother Alfred Smith embodied “The Heart of Vincentian Faith and Practice”. There have been more than 1,000 Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul who have ministered in Philadelphia over the years, all  “Witnesses of Hope”. The generations of the Raskob Family exemplified the generosity of being “United in Purpose” in supporting those who serve those in need.

Fr. Grozio, CM Provincial of the Eastern Province offered his congratulations and more. He introduced the 13 HOUSES CAMPAIGN of the worldwide Vincentians Family. He noted the Province is in the preliminary stages of exploring a meaning response to this call.

It is exploring whether, with other branches of the Vincentian Family, 13 houses in the region can be completely renovated and rehabilitated as low-rent properties for working families who are one paycheck away from being removed from their own homes.

Some background on this significant initiative

When Vincent was assigned the equivalent of one million dollars by Louis XIII as an endowment for his Congregation’s mission in 1643. Vincent chose to use the money to build 13 small houses close to Saint- Lazare, the motherhouse of the Congregation of the Mission, to care for abandoned children. The ongoing costs of these houses were supported by the Ladies of Charity while the Daughters of Charity cared for the children. By working together the Vincentian Family helped thousands of children who would have otherwise died on the streets.

Today, we are confronted with the same problems that Vincent faced, but on a global scale. Of the 7 billion people on this planet, almost 1.2 billion are homeless – they have been displaced, live in slums or on the streets of our cities. Many of them are turned away in their greatest time of need – a stark reminder of those words that dampen the joy of Luke’s infancy narrative: “There was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)

We are inspired by Vincent’s 13 houses. He saw a need and responded with concrete action. Today, we see the need of over one billion men, women, and children. We want the 13 Houses Campaign to improve and transform the lives of 10,000 homeless people around the world over the next 3-5 years. More than that, we want to see 13 Houses projects in each of the 156 countries where the Vincentian Family works. Yes, the FamVin Homeless Alliance is ambitious for the poorest – because St Vincent taught us to be. No wonder the tag line “Global Collaboration – Local Solutions”

“I am now completely convinced that when one does a deed of charity one need not worry about where the money will come from: it will always come.” Blessed Frederic Ozanam

Fr. Skelly, the founder of the Central Association would have been proud of its role in visioning and planning the event. The Loews Philadelphia hotel provided a fitting place for this first of its kind fundraising event for Vincentians in the Eastern United States.

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