Tuesday, September 27, 2011

From slavery to compassion

When we think of St. Vincent de Paul, we think of care for the poor and needy. But where did this great compassion and humility of his come from.

Perhaps the years 1605-7, were among his most formative. Having been ordained in 1600, he was on his way back from a trip to Marseille in 1605, when he was kidnapped by a group of Turkish pirates. They took him, not to Turkey, but across the Mediterranean to the city of Tunis, and sold him as a slave. Being grabbed by foreign kidnappers in the 17th century would have been even more terrifying than today. Once thrown onto that ship he would have no idea where he was going or hope that anyone would be able to track him. The conditions he would have experienced in this time would have been incomprehensible to this young Frenchman. After two years he managed to escape, having converted his owner to Christianity.

While much of Vincent's ministry, after his return, would be among the aristocracy, he kept in his heart a profound concern for those who were most in need. One of his most famous acts was raising the money to free 1200 Christian slaves in North Africa.

The Daughters of Charity grew out of his passion for caring for the poor, as well as his own Congregation of the Mission. One wonders if he would have been the same man without those years of slavery. Once more we see the power of God to make something good grow from sin and evil, crucifixion to resurrection.