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The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP)

St Birinus's SVP conference exists to offer help and support in our parish

Our aim is to tackle poverty in all its forms with practical assistance to those in need. The concept of need is broader than financial hardship, so, visiting the sick, the lonely, those in prison, or suffering from addiction is also part of our work. Our members, motivated by the Catholic Faith and inspired by the Gospel, seek and find those in need and offer them sincere friendship by visiting them.

The group president is John Radice, with other members, Jim Levi, Jane Grenfell, Phil Clayden, Tracy Allan and Laura Newland. We are always happy to receive new members, so if you are interested, please speak to one of us or Fr John.
We all work full time except one who is retired, but aim to give time each week to make visits and contribute in other ways. We meet every two weeks to pray, discuss and plan our activity.
Parishioners who are aware of situations where we could offer help and support, or would would like some friedship or practical help, please get in touch.

St Birinus's SVP's twinnage with Romania

As by God's Grace we find oursleves in a wealthier part of the Universal Church, it is our responsibility to share what we have with poorer congregations. Thus we have been able to join the SVP twinnage scheme, by which we now make a regular subscription to support the work of another SVP conference in a poorer parish.

St Birinus SVP is twinnned with Our Lady of Tenderness, Turt, a town in North West Romania, a beautiful region in the Eastern foothills of the Carpathian montains, close to the border with Ukraine.

At this time, Turt SVP is active in arranging transport and hospitality for Ukranian refugees, and taking supplies over the border as well as supporting the poor of their parish. Our twin coordinators Philip and Adriana (who is Romanian) can be contacted for further information. Turt is also twinned with Huddersfield and Dewsbury SVP District Council.

Our Twinning Ambassador is Mary Able, who coordinates support for 17 SVP conferences across Romania. She explains:

"The commitment involves mutual prayer and correspondence and a payment of a fixed sum of money from the donor. Romanian twinned Conferences are asked to complete a simple annual report form, describing their use of the money to help with compliance with the requirements of the Charity Commissioners.

Each Romanian Conference can have up to two twins, which enables the Romanian Conference to receive double the financial support. At present (April 2022) 7 Romanian Conferences have 1 twin. 10 Romanian Conferences have 2, so in total there are 27 Conferences twinned with 17 Romanian Conferences. The Twinnage rate for Romania is £250 a year, so a Romanian Conference with 2 twins receives £500."

The parish of Turt (pronounced Toortz) is of the Greek Catholic tradition, and worships according ro the Byzantine rite (as used in Orthodox Churches). The priest, Fr Remus Ghiran is married, and his wife, Iulia, is President of Turt SVP conference.

Fr Remus came to London and visited the SVP National Office to find out about the SVP, and on returning to Turt he started to build a parish centre which now provides lunches for isolated older people and an after-school club. An SVP shop offers clothing and household goods at affordable prices. Last year, our Huddersfield and Dewsbury DC sponsored a project in the Twinning Project Scheme to pay for the installation of bathrooms and a laundry in the centre.

Mary's 2022 update on the work in Romania includes this description:

Family life

In certain areas large employers have pulled out and manufacturing closed down. For example the Aro car factory in Campulung Muscel has closed. The steelworks in Iasi which employed 20,000 has closed. In many families grandparents look after children, whose parents have moved away to the cities or abroad to find work. Alcohol and, to a lesser extent, drugs exacerbate family difficulties. Everyone makes their own wine and tuica (spirits), so alcohol is relatively easy to come by.

Typical work of Romanian Conferences

Most Conferences support families in need with food and firewood (many homes depend on wood-burning stoves for heating and cooking). Many are without electricity or running water. It is not unusual to find a well in the street for families to access water. In rural areas people live in small, often single-storey houses. They are sometimes subdivided into two or more homes, consisting of a kitchen and bedroom. I recently visited the home of an elderly couple whose “kitchen” measured about 2 metres square and the bedroom was not much bigger. Most of these will have wood-burning stoves for heating and cooking and may depend on candles for light.

In the towns many live in large apartment blocks, with two rooms and a bathroom. They usually have gas for heating and cooking, but supplies can be cut off for whole blocks if bills are unpaid. Most apartment blocks have 4 stories as anything higher would require a lift.

Typical SVP support for people in need includes:
  • Food, firewood, clothing, medicines, (health subsidies were cut a few years ago), especially for families with no income or low benefits.
  • School uniform and stationery. (Children are excluded from school if they don’t have uniform or stationery).
  • Transport costs for hospital appointments or treatment abroad.
  • After-school clubs, providing support for children whose homes do not have electricity. In many places primary children attend school in the morning only, secondary age children in the afternoon. SVP members provide a hot meal and help with homework – very helpful for children who do not have electric light at home.
  • Special gifts at Christmas, Easter, Mothers’ Day.
  • Help in parish “social centre” – lunch club, gatherings for isolated older people, “meals on wheels” to less mobile at home.
  • Children’s camp for children during the long summer vacation, providing sports and other outdoor activities and good food in a healthy environment by the Black Sea or in the mountains for children especially from inner-city apartment blocks.
  • House repairs after fire. (Many homes use candles) Repairs after flood damage. Flooding is common after severe winters when snow melts and rivers overflow.
  • Transport to Mass for the Sick and older people’s parties.
  • Befriending and support for Roma (gypsy) families.

The SVP is a lay organisation and while in England we welcome the support of the clergy, parish priests rarely have the time to be involved. In Romania the clergy are very much involved and it is usually the PP who will start up a Conference, inviting committed parishioners to join. Many PPs build a parish centre where SVP members help with lunch clubs, children’s clubs, SVP shops.

Other programmes completed with support of the SVP

Campulung Muscel parish – In the late 1990’s the PP, Fr Petru Paulet, started the Impreuna (Imprayoona) project to provide employment and accommodation for young women who have to leave the orphanage at 18. With finance from Caritas and support from a French supplier he set up a small factory to produce a single item – ladies trousers, which were then exported abroad. The factory now produces various items of clothing, including school uniform which is sold to local families in the boutique next door. Further along the street is the “Fast Food” restaurant which sells pizzas and pastries. The young women employed at Impreuna can rent rooms in 4 apartments owned by the project. SVP members are involved in the Impreuna management team. A few years ago they acquired some land on the edge of town where they have set up a farm, producing vegetables and fruit to be used in the Fast Food restaurant. Four cows produce milk which is made into cheese, used in the Fast Food restaurant and also donated to families or sold on the market. An Italian company provided the cheese-making equipment. Two single-parent families have homes on the farm and are employed to look after the cows and the milk, fruit and vegetable production.

Slatina parish – the parish priest discovered that a large number of people with severe hearing difficulties lived in the town. At the time disability benefits were very low, having been non-existent during the Ceaucescu time and the families had moved to Slatina for mutual support. The PP built a Social Centre, financed partly by SVP E & W. A social worker is employed to support the families, to provide advocacy, using sign language and to coordinate social activities. Her dance group has won several national competitions. In 2009 an EU Mobility Scheme funded a visit to the centre by members of Slatina’s twin Conference of St Aloysius in Oxford. The following year the EU Scheme enabled a group of four profoundly deaf from Slatina to come with their social worker / centre manager, a signer and translator to Newcastle, where the SVP runs the “Deaf Club”.

Vita parish – Conference members run two small children’s homes, the members actually living in and providing a warm family atmosphere as each home has no more than 10 children. The children attend local schools. They are from families who are not able to keep them, but the SVP members keep in touch with the families. In some cases the children return home during the school holidays.

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St Vincent de Paul

Born to a peasant family on 24th April 1581. A highly intelligent youth, Vincent spent four years with the Franciscan friars at Acq, France getting an education, was tutor to children of a gentlemen in Acq, and began divinity studies in 1596 at the University of Toulouse. He wss ordained at age 20.

Taken captive by Turkish pirates to Tunis, and sold into slavery. Freed in 1607 when he converted one of his owners to Christianity. Returning to France, he served as parish priest near Paris where he started organizations to help the poor, nursed the sick, found jobs for the unemployed, and helped those in need in countless other ways.
Chaplain at the court of Henry IV of France. With Louise de Marillac, he founded the Congregation of the Daughters of Charity. He also instituted the Congregation of Priests of the Mission (Lazarists).
He worked always for the poor, the enslaved, the abandoned, the ignored, the pariahs. Died on 27th September 1660. His body was found incorrupt in 1712.

Sayings of St Vincent de Paul

However great the work that God may achieve by an individual, he must not indulge in self-satisfaction. He ought rather to be all the more humbled, seeing himself merely as a tool which God has made use of.

The Church teaches us that mercy belongs to God. Let us implore Him to bestow on us the spirit of mercy and compassion, so that we are filled with it and may never lose it. Only consider how much we ourselves are in need of mercy.
Extend your mercy towards others, so that there can be no one in need whom you meet without helping. For what hope is there for us if God should withdraw His Mercy from us?
The most powerful weapon to conquer the devil is humility. For, as he does not know at all how to employ it, neither does he know how to defend himself from it.
Free your mind from all that troubles you; God will take care of things. You will be unable to make haste in this (choice) without, so to speak, grieving the heart of God, because he sees that you do not honor him sufficiently with holy trust. Trust in him, I beg you, and you will have the fulfillment of what your heart desires.
It is our duty to prefer the service of the poor to everything else and to offer such service as quickly as possible. If a needy person requires medicine or other help during prayer time, do whatever has to be done with peace of mind. Offer the deed to God as your prayer. Charity is certainly greater than any rule. Moreover, all rules must lead to charity.
Human nature grows tired of always doing the same thing, and it is God's will that this is so because of the opportunity of practicing two great virtues. The first is perseverance, which will bring us to our goal. The other is steadfastness, which overcomes the difficulties on the way.
We should strive to keep our hearts open to the sufferings and wretchedness of other people, and pray continually that God may grant us that spirit of compassion which is truly the spirit of God.
Humility and charity are the two master-chords: one, the lowest; the other, the highest; all the others are dependent on them. Therefore it is necessary, above all, to maintain ourselves in these two virtues; for observe well that the preservation of the whole edifice depends on the foundation and the roof.
As it is most certain that the teaching of Christ cannot deceive, if we would walk securely, we ought to attach ourselves to it with greatest confidence and to profess openly that we live according to it, and not to the maxims of the world, which are all deceitful. This is the fundamental maxim of all Christian perfection.
We have never so much cause for consolation, as when we find ourselves oppressed by sufferings and trials; for these make us like Christ our Lord, and this resemblance is the true mark of our predestination.
Perfection consists in one thing alone, which is doing the will of God. For, according to Our Lord's words, it suffices for perfection to deny self, to take up the cross and to follow Him. Now who denies himself and takes up his cross and follows Christ better than he who seeks not to do his own will, but always that of God? Behold, now, how little is needed to become as Saint? Nothing more than to acquire the habit of willing, on every occasion, what God wills.
He who allows himself to be ruled or guided by the lower and animal part of his nature, deserves to be called a beast rather than a man.
Whoever wishes to make progress in perfection should use particular diligence in not allowing himself to be led away by his passions, which destroy with one hand the spiritual edifice which is rising by the labours of the other. But to succeed well in this, resistance should be begun while the passions are yet weak; for after they are thoroughly rooted and grown up, there is scarcely any remedy.
The first step to be taken by one who wishes to follow Christ is, according to Our Lord's own words, that of renouncing himself - that is, his own senses, his own passions, his own will, his own judgement, and all the movements of nature, making to God a sacrifice of all these things, and of all their acts, which are surely sacrifices very acceptable to the Lord. And we must never grow weary of this; for if anyone having, so to speak, one foot already in Heaven, should abandon this exercise, when the time should come for him to put the other there, he would run much risk of being lost.
We ought to deal kindly with all, and to manifest those qualities which spring naturally from a heart tender and full of Christian charity; such as affability, love and humility. These virtues serve wonderfully to gain the hearts of men, and to encourage them to embrace things that are more repugnant to nature.
It ought to be considered a great misfortune, not only for individuals, but also for Houses and Congregations, to have everything in conformity with their wishes; to go on quietly, and to suffer nothing for the love of God. Yes, consider it certain that a person or a Congregation that does not suffer and is applauded by all the world is near a fall.
Even though the poor are often rough and unrefined, we must not judge them from external appearances nor from the mental gifts they seem to have received. On the contrary, if you consider the poor in the light of faith, then you will observe that they are taking the place of the Son of God who chose to be poor. Although in his passion he almost lost the appearance of a man and was considered a fool by the Gentiles and a stumbling block by the Jews, he showed them that his mission was to preach to the poor: "He sent me to preach the good news to the poor." We also ought to have this same spirit and imitate Christ's actions, that is, we must take care of the poor, console them, help them, support their cause. Since Christ willed to be born poor, he chose for himself disciples who were poor. He made himself the servant of the poor and shared their poverty. He went so far as to say that he would consider every deed which either helps or harms the poor as done for or against himself. Since God surely loves the poor, he also loves whose who love the poor. For when on person holds another dear, he also includes in his affection anyone who loves or serves the one he loves. That is why we hope that God will love us for the sake of the poor. So when we visit the poor and needy, we try to be understanding where they are concerned. We sympathize with them so fully that we can echo Paul's words: "I have become all things to all men." Therefore, we must try to be stirred by our neighbours' worries and distress. It is our duty to prefer the service of the poor to everything else and to offer such service as quickly as possible. Charity is certainly greater than any rule. Moreover, all rules must lead to charity. With renewed devotion, then, we must serve the poor, especially outcasts and beggars. They have been given to us as our masters and patrons.