Vinnies is not just a business

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Giving up their time for others … volunteers at the Baulkham Hills Vinnies store Katherine Baker (left) her sister Anna and Madeleine Menasse. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
A Society shop and staff stand ready to assist customers. PHOTOS: GIOVANNI PORTELLI Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Society of St Vincent de Paul is primarily a mission

“We are not part of a mission; we are the mission.” At Mass last week I heard this quote from Pope Francis and thought how beautiful it was. I also thought it summed up, very simply, the dedication I and many members have to our St Vincent de Paul mission.

In part, our mission statement reads: “The mission of the society of St Vincent de Paul in Australia is to deepen the Catholic faith of its members to go out into our nation to heighten awareness of Jesus Christ. We do this by sharing ourselves, who we are and what we have with the poor on a person to person basis.”

I joined the Society more than 36 years ago and the mission itself is perfect. It’s us, as humans, with all our faults and failings, personalities, egos and self-importance. The usual list.

please keep our wonderful organisation and all involved in your prayers…so that the vision and ethos of our founders will be respected…

For those who don’t know our symbol, it’s three hands: the hand of love offering hope and charity, the hand of the poor receiving, and the hand of Christ’s blessing. It can’t and doesn’t work without all three.

Our mission is meant to give members the opportunity to deepen their spirituality, to offer their time and effort to the Lord, to seek out the face of Christ in those who call upon us in their hour of need and to be a conduit of God’s love.

Our presence in a person’s home, hospital room, jail cell, or on the street gives them the opportunity to bear witness to Christ himself – through us. When a person in need receives charity, this might be the only opportunity for Christ to be welcomed into their home.

So our work, this mission, is vital for many reasons. We aim to give a share of our time and possessions and if we truly offer every action, every deed, every thought, every minute to the Lord, success has already been achieved.

While the bargains are great, Vinnies is so much more than a retail shop. It’s a lifeline for many.
Vinnies is so much more than a retail shop. It bears witness to Christ’s love of mankind.

The reality is we seek much more. We are told there are three things in life that last: faith, hope and love, with the greatest of these being love. By putting our faith into action we attempt to restore hope to those that feel all is lost. And by loving the poor unconditionally we bear witness to Christ’s love of mankind. We remind the marginalised, the poor and the lonely that they are neither lost or alone.

In today’s world, terms such as corporation, centralisation, globalisation, restructure and strategic plan roll off the tongue pretty easily. We usually expect to hear this language in relation to some big business or company.

Yet more frequently we, the members of St Vincent de Paul, are involved in discussions involving these words. We open and close our meetings with prayer, we have a spiritual reading followed by discussions, so you can see why this might be confusing for us.

Are we a business or charity? I have been asked this many many times over the years and the answer is always the same. We are both – but truly we are God’s business. If we are not careful, money, buildings and business can replace faith, hope and love.

It can be very challenging for a society such as ours in this fast-moving world where litigation, work health and safety requirements, working with children checks, police checks, corporate tax and charities legislation are just some of the demands with which organisations must comply.

If we are not careful, money, buildings and business can replace faith, hope and love.

More challenging is getting the balance right between a corporate identity and a spiritually-based membership charity, whose the primary focus is to love and serve the Lord. The Society does its best work when faced with adversities such as fires or floods, supported wonderfully by the clergy and parishioners throughout the Catholic community as well as the general population.

The vast majority of the work we do involves relationships with each other, members, staff and the dear companions we seek to serve. This also includes our relationship with our dear Lord but also the clergy and religious who not only support our charitable work financially but more importantly guide and nourish our spiritual needs.

I represent approximately a quarter of the State’s membership just in Sydney alone. But in recent times an ever-growing number of members have expressed their concerns over the wellbeing and direction of the Society.

I continue to advocate on behalf of these members and share many of their concerns, but have been disappointed by the lack of results.

Tony Cranney and Phil Lesmond packing hampers at St Joseph’s Parish, Como, in 2019.

We are concerned about the over-corporatisation of our organisation. We are concerned about the treatment of our democratically-elected NSW president, who was stood down indefinitely under a shroud of secrecy after what is believed to be an undisclosed, significant amount of money was spent investigating him while not allowing him any money to seek legal advice to defend himself.

This Saturday, 19 February 2022 an election for a new State President was due to be held as The Catholic Weekly went to press even though our elected president has not yet exhausted his right of appeal in regards to his suspension.

It feels like we are being encouraged to hide our cross, our crucifixion, under the pillow and to be embarrassed at our Christian faith in order to avoid giving offence.

The National President’s position on the religious discrimination bill, which was submitted on behalf of the Society but did not represent the views of many members, has damaged relationships among the membership, the clergy and Church with whom we dearly align ourselves.

Please keep our wonderful organisation and all involved in your prayers that peace, harmony and unity will soon return so that the vision and ethos of our founders and the thousands of members gone before us will be respected and that the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross will have not been in vain, but more a symbol of who we are and what we stand for.

“They will know we are Christians by our love”.

Tony Cranney is the Sydney Central President of the Society of St Vincent De Paul