The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, an international organization, helps the poorest of the poor distributing food, clothes and other goods. Though the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is an international organization, there were no conferences working in the Diocese of Ciudad Guayana in eastern Venezuela. That was until Lou Wiggin from St. James Parish in St Paul suggested to some visiting Venezuelans that they begin their own SVDP conference at their parish of Jesucristo Resucitado.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has been very active in the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis for over 154 years, known primarily for their used clothing stores on West 7th St. in St Paul (opened in 1895) and Lake St. in Minneapolis. Today there are 14 parishes in the Archdiocese with SVDP conferences. Some conferences support the used clothing stores, others stock the local food shelves and others freely distribute goods in the neediest neighborhoods.
Lou Wiggin brought the visiting Venezuelans to the used clothing store he volunteered at on West 7th St. The Venezuelans were greeted by the friendliness of the volunteers at the store and they experienced the volunteers’ generosity and kindness as they helped many people – several of whom like themselves didn´t speak English.
When the Venezuelans returned home, they shared what they experienced at the SVDP store on West 7th. They connected with a group from the Venezuelan parish who brought food to those most in need in the different barrios of Jesucristo Resucitado. Together these groups gathered used clothes from their families and friends and with the help of students in the Confirmation program, distributed the clothes to different families in need through the parish.
This collection and distribution of used clothes touched the hearts of many and inspired a small group to form their own SVDP conference in the parish of Jesucristo Resucitado. To help them begin, the SVDP conferences in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis donated $200.00 a month to the SVDP conference at Jesucristo Resucitado to buy food. Parishioners who were in the most desperate of situations where being helped by having food brought to their homes.
Dr. Luz Rodriguez, a General Practitioner and specialist in epidemiology, joined the SVDP conference in Venezuela which turned out to be a blessing. Based on her experiences, she explained that the majority of people being served were elderly people, many with special diets or unable to move well. Dr. Luz helped us purchase food that would be beneficial for those with special diets dealing with diabetes and high cholesterol. When Dr. Luz and other Vincentians delivered food to homes, they also began preparing meals. Additionally, she trained many of the Vincentians to properly move a person from a bed to a wheelchair and taught how to change dressings on wounds when appropriate
As these SVDP visits evolved, more and more youth joined the conference. It has now developed into two conferences – one of adults and the other of youth. A nearby parish also joined the youth conference. They meet every Tuesday evening to divide the responsibilities in preparation of what they are going to do on Saturday – purchasing food to be delivered or prepared; buying medicine to be delivered; buying paint or trash bags to be used to clean up the area. On Saturday morning, the group of adults and the group of youth go to see the people chosen for visiting that day.
When funds do not arrive from the SVDP conferences in Minnesota, the Vincentians at Jesucristo Resucitado sell homemade fruit juice and empanadas (Venezuelan breakfast snacks) after the Sunday morning Masses to raise the money to buy the basic goods that so many people desperately need in our parish.
The SVDP visits spawned friendships and a more profound ministry of love. Today, the Saturday morning SVDP visits vary in activities from bringing food and medicine to preparing the food, painting a room, cleaning a bedroom or picking up the accumulated trash around the yard. Whatever needs to be done the Vincentians at Jesucristo Resucitado are willing to lend a helping hand.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has reached out to help the poor for over 150 years. This wonderful example of a lay organization practicing the social teachings of the Church has inspired and helped other Catholics in another part of the world live out their Catholic faith through helping the poor.
Fr Greg Schaffer
Pastor of Jesucristo Resucitado Parish
San Felix, Venezuela