Walking with Ozanam in Social Justice
Social Justice Forum 1 October 2005
Social Justice Forum 2005 MISSION STATEMENT
The mission of the St Vincent de Paul Society in Australia is to deepen the Catholic faith of its members and to go out into our nation to heighten awareness of Jesus Christ. We do this by sharing ourselves â€“ who we are, and what we have â€“ with people in need on a person-toperson basis. We seek to co-operate in shaping a more just and compassionate Australian community, and to share our resources with our twinned countries. Our preferred option in this mission of service is to work with people in development by respecting their dignity, sharing our hope and encouraging them to take control of their own destiny. Meaning of St Vincent de Paul Society logo This logo is the symbol of the St Vincent de Paul Society in many countries. It represents the hand of Christ that blesses the cup, the hand of love that offers the cup, and the hand of suffering that receives the cup.
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Social Justice Forum 2005 CONTENTS
Opening Spiritual Reflections on Poverty, Riches and Good Works
Dennis Griffin Vice President St Vincent de Paul Society
Utilities â€“ The Facts
Gavin Dufty Research & Policy Officer St Vincent de Paul Society
Case Study Feedback
Appendix 1 Creating a Passion for Social Justice
Dr John Falzon Research & Policy Officer â€“ National Council St Vincent de Paul Society
Appendix 2 Frederic Ozanam & Social Justice
Gordon Carter Facilitator Membership Retreats St Vincent de Paul Society
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Social Justice Forum 2005 SPIRITUAL REFLECTIONS ON POVERTY, RICHES AND GOOD WORKS Contributions from two men separated by approximately 1,500 years. Letter from James The Good News describes this missive as "a collection of practical instructions written to all God's people scattered over the whole world”. The writer uses many vivid figures of speech to present instructions regarding practical wisdom and guidance for Christian attitudes and conduct etc." The two quotations are verses 2.14-17 and 5.1-6. "My brothers, what good is it for someone to say that he has faith if his actions do not prove it? Can that faith save him? Suppose there are brothers or sisters who need clothes and don't have enough to eat. What good is there in your saying to them "God bless you! Keep warm and eat well!" – if you don't give them the necessities of life? So it is with faith: if it is alone and includes no actions, then it is dead" "And now, you rich people, listen to me! Weep and wail over the miseries that are coming your way! Your riches have rotted away and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are covered with rust and this rust will be a witness against you and will eat up your flesh like fire. You have piled up riches in these last days. You have not paid any wages to the men who work in your fields. Listen to their complaints! The cries of those who gather your crops have reached the ears of God, the Lord Almighty. Your life here on earth has been full of luxury & pleasure. You have made yourselves fat for the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent people, and they do not resist you." St Vincent de Paul Vincent had the following to say about the realities of practising charity…of exercising good works. 'The street will be long and unfriendly, the stairs steep…and the poor ungrateful. You will soon find charity a heavy burden, heavier than the jug of soup or the full basket…but you will still smile…distributing soup and bread is not everything…the rich can do that". 4 | St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria Inc.
Social Justice Forum 2005 SPIRITUAL REFLECTIONS ON POVERTY, RICHES AND GOOD WORKS (continued) "You are a little servant of the poor, always smiling and good tempered…they are your masters and you will find them terribly exacting masters. The more unattractive and needy they are the more you must lavish your love on them…it is only by feeling your love that the poor will forgive you for your gifts of bread" Questions Although "social justice" and "social injustice" are relatively modern terms, do you detect signs of James' being aware of them in his own time? How applicable to today's world are his comments? Vincent says "distributing soup and bread is not everything…the rich can do that". What does he mean? Again…"it is only by feeling your love that the poor will forgive you for your bread". Is Vincent alluding to social injustice too? What other meanings come to mind? Summary Prayer Almighty God, in the spirit of the Good News of your Son, Jesus, please help me to understand that rich and poor are relative terms, and that someone who has little or nothing may rightly consider that I am rich…humble though my status and possessions may well be. Please grant me the grace, O Lord, to be rich in love & compassion for those less fortunate than myself.
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Social Justice Forum 2005 INTRODUCTION Dennis Griffin, Vice President, St Vincent de Paul Society Greetings to all. It is wonderful to see so many people here today, at the third annual Social Justice Forum. May the Spirit move with us in our work today. Thanks to Tony Dalton, National President Social Justice. I give you Syd Tutton, our State President's warm wishes as I stand in for him today. Syd regrets he was unable to attend today's meeting, for social justice is also close to his heart, as it should be to us all. He is in fact involved today with our Aged Care Community and obviously can't be everywhere, though he does his best to make himself available to get to as many meeting and forums as possible. We are indeed fortunate to have the calibre of Vincentians that, on a daily basis, use every means at their disposal to advocate on behalf of the poor, those with mental illness, and all other marginalised people on the fringe of society. I first became aware of the St Vincent de Paul Society as a small child when, with dignity and compassion, new shoes and school uniforms were given to a family, owing to the long-term illness and unemployment of their father. It would be many years before I appreciated who and what the Society were, but the seed was sown and years later resulted in my becoming a member of the Society. The first Vincentian I ever met was Mr Frank Gwyne, a man of fine stature, a man who had a great sense of compassion, aided and abetted with an equally fine sense of humour. As a young man I marvelled at his saintliness as, every evening round 4.30, he would walk through the department and announce to all that he was going to church. Now of course I knew he attended Sunday mass, but I didn't know anyone then who attended mass every day. I laboured under this wonderful illusion until one day I found him coming out of the Cathedral Hotel. After a good laugh, I retained a great respect for him. He was, after all, like you and me, being the arms and legs of Christ as he went about his Vincentian life with little fuss and great faith. In the latter part of last century (don't you feel old!) one politician told us, "By 1990 no Australian child will live in poverty". Truly a grand idea but sadly it never came to be. ABS figures tell us that some 800,000 children live in homes where neither parent works; that Australia "the lucky country" has some 6 | St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria Inc.
Social Justice Forum 2005 INTRODUCTION (continued) 3,000,000 people who live below the poverty line; yet, in the 21st century, we as a nation appear to be accepting of this appalling situation. I therefore exhort you to leave your comfort zones and put out into the deep and become involved at the coal face of poverty, and attack all that it stands for and, as individuals and conferences and regions, work with a passion and compassion to address social justice issues and all great injustices that confront us all every day so we may assist those who so need our love, our prayers and the material assistance we may afford them. It is a fact that income inequality is widening significantly. Later today there will be case studies and examples of how we may better use our talents and resources to further our goals as Vincentians as we try to alleviate the crime of poverty. Your National and State Councils are committed with you in the fight to obtain justice for all. The St Vincent de Paul Society is apolitical though, when it suits the purpose of some, we are attacked and accused of being out of touch and not living up to our Christian beliefs-diversionary tactics at best. The facts are that the Societyâ€™s 45,000 members visited 1,800,000 people last year and provided assistance of some $30,800,000. In our visitations we observed that many people were slipping away from society and that, whilst others were employed, they were on the lower end of the market. We are asked to walk with Ozanam who, when challenged as a young man, prayed and thought how he could best help the destitute of Paris and then, in a very practical way, went to minister to the needs of his fellow man. And of course St Vincent de Paul himself, who also gave of his life, spending it for the most part with those most in need, creating other religious orders and hospitals and advocating on behalf of those who were so vulnerable and bringing spiritual life back to so many, including some religious who appeared to have become lost. We have so many examples of saintly people who go about their daily lives in the giving of themselves for others. Not that they would admit to it of course. Perhaps however there is a saint beside you. Compeer is another program initiated in Australia by the St Vincent de Paul Society that continues to grow and assist those people with mental illness in our community. Another sign of our love and care. Many organisations and people come to the fore in the darkest hour of great crisis and, whilst doing magnificent work, may fade away after the initial
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Social Justice Forum 2005 INTRODUCTION (continued) engagement and after the TV cameras are turned off. Life Aid is one that has focussed the world's attention on the plight of Africa. The Melbourne Football Club has gone to Thailand to build a school following the tsunami. The world acts as one family when great devastation strikes. The St Vincent de Paul Society however is there every day, quietly, methodically working for the poorest of the poor, throughout the world. We know of the great love that Jesus had for the poor, so we must do likewise. Many examples are given also by the saints and great people of our age who have reminded us of our obligation to give to the poor what is really theirs. St Ambrose said "You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have appropriated things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich." History is full of great and saintly people who have spent their lives, and in some cases given their lives for the betterment of mankind. Today we are challenged to do likewise, for the need is great and the time is now.
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Social Justice Forum 2005 UTILITIES â€“ THE FACTS The following facts identify the recent changes in utilities supply which impact on the people we serve. z
Mid 1990s, gas and electricity industry privatised.
Licenses issued with various terms and conditions attached.
Number of concessions that assist affordability and access to energy services provided by the State.
State has reserve pricing powers.
Major retail protections that are part of the licenses are contained in the Retail Code. This includes protections such as: bill frequency, reminder notices and minimum time prior to disconnection, provision of optional payment plans â€œeasy wayâ€? arrears budget and option plans, information on bills (energy consumption, how bills calculated, information in other languages, availability of concession and dispute resolution.
These protections apply to all types of domestic gas and electricity accounts (both contestable and safety net contracts).
The State also delivers a number of energy concessions they include: Winter energy (17.5% May - November), Non-mains energy concession ($79 LPG and not metered), Life support (concession for life support machines), MS concession (17.5% summer months November-February), Group Homes (17.5% gas and electric for these facilities), Transfer waiver fee (waiver connection fee); Service to property charge (consumption less make it=), Off peak concession (13% off peak), URGS (once payment), Non-mains URG (as above for LPDG), Firewood license (50% off license fee), Capital grants scheme (repair or replacement)
The government also has reserve pricing powers. This sets: Maximum uniform tariff (valid till end of 2007), Illegal disconnection powers this imposes a $250 fine per day, Late payment fee ban and Nature of the terms and conditions of contracts.
Other protections include: EWOV (Ombudsman), Consumer affairs (fair trading issues, informed consent, misleading advertising, etc), Hardship policies and specialist teams in each company, Energy auditing and retro-fit programs (very targeted and not widely available.
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Social Justice Forum 2005 CASE STUDY FEEDBACK SIMULATION CASE A During the initial visit to a new contact, the conference members learned the following: A solo parent with a young daughter lost the accommodation they had, and were moved by an agency into a transitional house, where they had a maximum three months stay. The agency for the house moved them in at 5.30pm in the evening, when they discovered that the power was not connected, and there was no the phone. The parent had to find a public phone to call the power company and arrange to have the power connected immediately. This was done. The parent received a bill for $130, for an after-hours connection. What, if any, advice will you give to the contact regarding this bill? Suggestions made: z z z z
Client should contact community financial counsellor. Client should refer the cost to the agency who had put them into the house. Client should contact the power company to see if cost could be waived, or if other concessions would apply. Conference should check out the validity of the charge, and share findings with the region.
Actual outcome: Conference, after considerable effort, located agent to be told that utility accounts, including connection fees, in emergency accommodation are the responsibility of the client. The sole parent subsequently indicated that the bill had been paid, and the need for further assistance was not anticipated. No mention was made of concessions obtained.
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Social Justice Forum 2005 CASE STUDY FEEDBACK SIMULATION CASE B A regular conference contact who lives alone and suffers from diagnosed bipolar problems, seeks help with food, and comments that she has an outstanding electricity bill for $389.20, and has just received a disconnection notice. How will the conference proceed? Suggestions made: z z z z z z z z
Encourage person to take charge of situation and approach utility company herself. Assist if necessary, and requested to do so. Remind person to discuss with their case manager, and bipolar support group. Check on whether utilities grant has been accessed previously. If not, recommend person apply. Assist if needed. Check information on bill for other concession possibilities, history etc. Check if easy pay system being used, eg - CentrePay (where utilities accounts can be paid directly by Centrelink), or pre-pay card system. Help person to set up if not in place. Offer to pay half the bill to prevent disconnection. Check whether there are other needs not currently being met. Follow up
Actual Outcome: Conference paid $100 off bill, to avoid immediate disconnection. Conference then worked with contact to establish easy-pay plans for electricity and gas supply. Contact has since left area.
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Social Justice Forum 2005 CASE STUDY FEEDBACK SIMULATION CASE C During a visit to a long-standing conference contact, who lives alone on a disability pension arising from a mental health issue, the members learn that the contact has not paid a water bill for years, and for years has had the water supply to the house reduced to the minimum permitted by law (just sufficient flow for toilet use). The contact has survived by using the reduced flow more or less constantly to fill the bath, the laundry tub and the hot water service, and drawing off from these storage points as needed. What advice will the conference offer to the contact? Suggestions made: z z z z z z z z
Enquire why water bill had not been paid. Check whether person wants the situation discussed with the water company. If contact is agreeable, approach water supplier to find out how much is owed and how normal connection could be re-established. Determine if any concessions available, eg waiver of arrears. Determine if supplier had acted properly, and that reduced water connection is legal. Help arrange payment plan for the future. Recommend contact discuss situation with case worker. Consider impact of mental health on situation, consider Compeer program
Actual outcome: Contact found partner (also suffering mental illness) who moved into the house, bringing additional pension income, relieving the ongoing financial stress. Contact also appears to have set up new utilities accounts in partner's name, simply "writing off" all old outstanding debts, including water service. Normal water service is now connected. Conference is today providing little material assistance to this household, but makes occasional visits, mostly to provide company to the contact when partner is experiencing episodic illness.
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Social Justice Forum 2005 CASE STUDY FEEDBACK SIMULATION CASE D A large family occupying a house leased from a state authority find that the electric stove has developed a fault which results in sparks coming from the stove when it is used. Requests to the leasing agent to have the stove repaired are denied on the grounds that the house is soon to be demolished. This leaves the family to cook for seven people, including three children, on a gas ring-burner and an electric frypan. The family has no income other than from pensions. Suggestions made: z z z z z z z
z z z z
Clarify which state authority is involved. Safety issue - advise appropriate authority. Recommend contact with Tenants Union to find out what owner's obligations are regarding essential appliances and their maintenance. Clarify client's right as tenant to effect repairs at owner's expense (under $1000 can be done without prior approval?). Recommend contact with Consumer Advocate, provide details. Client to discuss obligations with agent again (conference also if invited). Conference offer to have electrician assess whether this is just a simple job to fix, determine how dangerous appliance is, and disconnect dangerous stove, if necessary. Establish whether family has plans for next accommodation when this house is demolished. Suggest bond money may be provided by Ministry when family forced to relocate. Conference could pay repair bill as last resort, but others should meet their obligations. Look at other ways family needs support.
Actual outcome: After identifying state authority, conference used private networks ( personal contact) to influence authority to fix stove.
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Social Justice Forum 2005 APPENDIX 1: CREATING A PASSION FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE Dr John Falzon, Research & Policy Officer â€“ National Council There is nothing intrinsic to the history of charitable organisations (faith-based or otherwise) to suggest that they are always on the side of advocating for social justice. Charities have played an important role in supporting the status quo, assuaging the consciences of those who are responsible for perpetuating structures which cause or exacerbate poverty and inequality. Charities have also been on the front line of the struggle for social justice, challenging the structural causes of poverty and inequality. This comes at a cost, as Helder Camara put it: "When I give bread to the poor I am called a saint, but when I ask why they have no bread I am called a communist." For the St Vincent de Paul Society the tradition of advocating for social change is strong in our history. Frederic Ozanam articulated this often. Among his many directions to not only give bread to the poor but to ask why they have no bread, we find the following: "You must not be content with tiding the poor over the poverty crisis. You must study the injustices which brought about such poverty, with the aim of a long term improvement." The scriptural imperative to do social justice is unequivocal. Many today may fear the consequences of speaking out against unjust legislation but the scriptures pull no punches when it comes to demanding justice for the downtrodden: "Woe betide those who enact unjust laws and draft oppressive legislation, depriving the poor of justice, robbing the weakest of my people of their rights, plundering the widow and despoiling the fatherless!" (Isaiah 10:1-3) "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Protect the rights of those who are helpless. Speak out and pronounce a sentence of justice, defend the cause of the wretched and the poor." (Proverbs 31:8-9)
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Social Justice Forum 2005 APPENDIX 1: CREATING A PASSION FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE (continued) The primal call for justice in the scriptures is the call of the blood of those who have suffered injustice: "Listen to the sound of your brother's blood, crying out to me from the earth." (Genisis 4:10) As John Paul II put it: "The needs of the poor take priority over the desires of the rich."' As the Brazilian educational theorist, Paulo Friere wrote, we need to engage in a prophetic denunciation of the bad news in order to prophetically announce the good news. The bad news is that injustice is caused by structures that promote inequality and poverty. A recent UNICEF report, for example, shows that one in seven children in Australia are living in poverty. This is a scandal in a country as prosperous as our own. The good news, however, is that this need not be so. There is clear correlation between the level of social expenditure and the level of child poverty amongst industrialised nations. This is borne out by the Luxembourg Income Study research by Timothy Smeeding. The nations that strongly invest in social expenditure have the lowest levels of child poverty. A nation such as the United States, with the lowest level of social expenditure, has the highest level of child poverty (one in five children)." The worst thing we can do is to fall prey to the lie that there is no alternative to the in-built social injustices that we have grown accustomed to. There are alternatives. Vinnies has actively promoted solutions that involve all levels of government working together. The challenge is to constantly remind ourselves that inequality and poverty are not the fault of the individual. Rather they are the responsibility of the society that has created and fostered these injustices. Some ideologies seek to place all responsibility on the shoulders of the people who are most vulnerable to economic change, claiming that wealth will always 15 | Walking with Ozanam in Social Justice
Social Justice Forum 2005 APPENDIX 1: CREATING A PASSION FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE (continued) eventually trickle down to the bottom if it is generated at the top. The trickle-down theory has been something of a false idol that the poor and marginalised have been sacrificed to. We must not be disheartened if we fail to see the kind of social change that is demanded by the needs of the marginalised. Even if we carry only one grain of sand to the building site of a just society, then we have done something of immeasurable value. The key is that we work together with all those who hunger for justice. As Helder Camara reminded us: "When we dream alone, it is only a dream. When we dream together it is the beginning of reality!"' There is no such thing as abstract truth. Truth is always concrete. This is the reality proclaimed in the mystery of the Incarnation. It is the reality that Vincentians know well because each day you touch and are touched by real people who are poor, rather than poverty as an abstraction. â€œThis is the truth that sets us free.â€? (John 8:32) Nothing is more frightening or threatening to the defenders of unjust structures than the truth. One of our greatest achievements in recent times has been our input into the Senate Poverty Inquiry. Our greatest power lay in the fact that ordinary Vincentians from all over the nation stood before this Inquiry and simply spoke the truth about the people they assisted, the people who have been left out or pushed out to the margins. Another organisation that did this very well was the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union, which had many witnesses from amongst the working poor in low-paid, casual sectors of the labour market. Again and again the truth was spoken simply, with that dignity that belongs to those who hunger for justice, despite the merciless treatment of these witnesses by one of the Senators on the Committee. The recent Royal Australian College of Physicians Report tells us that if the entire nation was as healthy as the healthiest 20%, 19,000 adults and 1,500 children who died between 1998 and 2000 could still be alive. 16 | St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria Inc.
Social Justice Forum 2005 APPENDIX 1: CREATING A PASSION FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE (continued) When there is something that could have been done and was not done to save these lives, you have to acknowledge that these unnecessary deaths have been caused by a social crime. So too is it a social crime that we choose not to do anything about addressing causes of poverty and inequality. Professor Peter Saunders of the Social Policy Research Centre at UNSW reports that it would only take an expenditure of 2-3% of GDP to lift all people out of poverty in Australia. In his words: "We can thus pay to remove all Australians from poverty if we want to: the fact that we don't do so is a matter of choice, not affordability." At a time in our social history when even blame is privatised and the poor are punished for their poverty we are impelled to share both the bread of survival as well as the wine of hope. Those who are about to be punished for their poverty through the combined punitive effects of Welfare and IR reforms this hope for a life with dignity is more urgent than ever before. â€œThis is our way of "proclaiming liberty and setting the captives free" (Isaiah 61:1) There are those who say that "There Is No Alternative" (TINA) but to accept poverty and inequality as the consequences of change and growth in a global economy. We recognise this view for what it truly is: a product of Neo-liberal myth-making. There are alternatives: alternatives that are fiscally responsible, practical and achievable over time. We continue to give voice to the claim that another Australia is possible. As Martin Luther King said: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
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Social Justice Forum 2005 APPENDIX 2: FREDERIC OZANAM AND SOCIAL JUSTICE Gordon Carter, Regional Council Retreats My question is : "From where did he get his social justice charter?' z
First Society Conference meeting 1833 probably on his 20th birthday
20 years of actively putting together social principles – a very brief 20 years to do so.
Part of my work is to offer retreat days in the regions across Victoria. I mostly use Ozanam's own writings and his example to nourish and challenge our members. Recently one of them pulled me up short at the end of a retreat by saying, "I wonder how Ozanam would really feel about us focussing on him in this way?" I think she's right! He could be embarrassed. For we do have to put Frederic in the context of where he came from – and I'd like to suggest he came from several places. Firstly, he is firmly grounded in the Scriptures and what they say about our responsibilities to each other. Secondly, he had "put on the mind of Christ" – he knew from his Lord's words and deeds how Christians were to live. Thirdly, he knew his Tradition: St Vincent de Paul in particular and the early Franciscans: the mix of practical assistance, the movements of change and great idealism. Fourthly, he was able to translate all that into the world in which he lived in a striking way, learnt through his experience and the experience of his fellow early Vincentians.
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Social Justice Forum 2005 APPENDIX 2: FREDERIC OZANAM AND SOCIAL JUSTICE (continued) I actually think that it is fine for us to seek our insight on Social Justice from Frederic, but let's not loose contact with where or from whom his insights came. I was struck last Tuesday at the feast day Mass for his great patron and model, St Vincent de Paul – the psalm proclaimed: "The good man takes pity and lends, He conducts his affairs with honour. The just man will never waver: He will be remembered for ever. Open handed he gives to the poor, His justice stands firm for ever His head will be raised in glory." The 'just man' ... a description which abounds in the Old Testament. The opening words of the first reading last Sunday has God saying to the people through Ezechiel: 'You object, "What the Lord does is unjust." Listen, you House of Israel: is what I do unjust? Is it not what you do that is unjust?' (Ezechiel. 18:25) Justice, fairness, sharing of goods, right living with others – the Old Testament is full of this. When we move to the New – Ozanam knew that "Christ spoke 12 times more about Social Justice than he did about heaven and hell. (A quote last week from Bishop Hilton Deakin, as provocative as ever.) Frederic knew, because he chewed over the Scriptures every day, that Christ came "to set the down-trodden free", as He announced in his first sermon. Ozanam involved himself with those who were down-trodden and voiceless, who were being excluded in the France of his day. He would invite us to wonder about who is included and excluded in our land today. We are used to the term 'Kingdom of God' – I wonder how it would effect our thinking if we changed it to the 'Economy of God' … for Frederic's God was inclusive, where as in some ways our land today is …. 19 | Walking with Ozanam in Social Justice
Social Justice Forum 2005 APPENDIX 2: FREDERIC OZANAM AND SOCIAL JUSTICE (continued) 'We stand on the shoulders of giants' those early Vincentians. But so did Frederic. He knew what brought him to his place; he knew his Tradition â€“ we need to know ours! So let's visit his story again now. As we do so, let his words and the message of the founders of the first Conference, for they are all our founders in their own way, let them speak to us again.* What was Ozanam's contribution to the work? The work of shaping the ethos of Social Justice in both the St Vincent de Paul Society and in the Church at large? He started early. By the age of 23, after three years of conference visitation work in Paris, Ozanam wrote: "The issue which divides the people of our times is no longer one of political forms, but a social issue; that of knowing whether the Spirit of Egoism or the Spirit of Sacrifice will gain the upper hand, whether society is merely to be a great exploitation to the advantage of those who are strongest, or a society in which everybody devotes their energies to the common good and above all to the protection of the weak. There are many people who possess too much and want to possess more; there are far many more others who do not possess enough, who possess nothing and who are ready to take it if they are given nothing." (November 1826: Letter to his childhood friend Louis Jamot, who painted the portrait of the young Fredrick with which we are familiar.) Ozanam was a man of great intellect. He knew the issues were bigger than political forms of government â€Ś republic vs monarchy. It was about how the system would be! He used to say: "We are not blessed with two separate lives, one for seeking the truth and the other for putting it in to practice!" It all went together for him. His well thought out and reasoned principles were lived out in action and he believed that his social principles were embedded in the very Gospels themselves.
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Social Justice Forum 2005 APPENDIX 2: FREDERIC OZANAM AND SOCIAL JUSTICE (continued) His Social Principles The clearest enunciation of Ozanam's social principles was included in his lectures on Commercial Law at the University of Lyon in 1839 when he was aged 26. He taught that: 1. Economic Liberalism is a materialistic system which degrades the dignity of the human person. Man becomes a means, even a machine, rater than an end. 2. The system of production is basically unjust for it leaves wages to the law of supply and demand instead of adjusting them to decent conditions for human life. Workers must not be treated as commodities whose price rises and falls with the market. 3. Charity may bind the wounds, but it is not an adequate remedy. Only justice can establish a true human relationship between employer and labourer. 4. The labour market must be regulated by the free organisation of working men and by some state control. More than another 50 years were to pass before the Church picked up the tenor of these principles in Pope Leo XIII's 'Rerum Novarum', often called "the Working Man's Charter.' Ozanam's Principles are still as relevant today in the current changing scene in our own country. Nine years later he was still at it. Just three months before the great revolution of June 1848, he noted that: "behind political revolution there is a social revolution; behind the Republic [the Second had just been proclaimed] which only really occupies the lettered people, there are issues which concern the people and for which they have battled. These are the issues of work, rest and wages. It must not be imagined that one can avoid these problems. If it is thought that the people can be satisfied by giving them primary assemblies, legislative councils, new magistrates, consuls, a President, a big mistake is being made. Before 10 years have passed, we will be back to square one." And they were! 21 | Walking with Ozanam in Social Justice
Social Justice Forum 2005 APPENDIX 2: FREDERIC OZANAM AND SOCIAL JUSTICE (continued) But … "the just man will never waver" … Ozanam kept on. In another letter that same day, March 6th he wrote to his priest brother Alphouse: The Active Layman "Whether we want to or not, we have gone over to the common working people … Behind the political revolution there is a social revolution … Behind the Republic which scarcely looks after learned people, there are issues which interest the people and for which the fought: issues of work, leisure and salary. “One must not think that we can escape these problems … We are resolved to be involved in everything that is going on around us and we will use all honest weapons." "We are resolved to be involved in everything that is going on around us." A former Victorian General Secretary, Betti Knott, kept a framed statement on her office wall which said "NO work of charity is foreign to the Society." We need to align with this the fact that according to Thomas Aquinas: "The highest form of charity is justice." In 1986, Pope John Paul II said: "There is no gap between love and justice, and to contrast the two is to distort both." The same Pope said at Frederic's beatification in Paris in 1997: "Ozaman understood that charity should lead us to work for the elimination of injustices. Charity and justice go together." You cannot have one without the other and be an authentic Christian – or Vincentian Ozaman knew this - and lived it!
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Social Justice Forum 2005 APPENDIX 2: FREDERIC OZANAM AND SOCIAL JUSTICE (continued) Back to the letter to his brother; "… we are resolved to be involved in everything that is going on around us and we will use all honest weapons" What were they to be? As always: "Yours must be a work of love, of kindness, you must give your time, your talents, yourselves. The poor person is a unique person of God's fashioning with an inalienable right to respect. You must not be content with tiding the poor over the poverty crisis: You must study their condition and the injustices which brought about such poverty, with the aim of a long term improvement." He reminds us of this time and time again. Attend to people who have legitimate needs – yes, … distribute food to people who are hungry, or whatever the need is – yes – but address the injustice which brought the person to such a place … "with the aim of a long term improvement." We have to do both – there is a unity here – otherwise we end up being St Voucher de Paul Society or the pizza delivery service. For as the President General said in 1847, the very year before the next big revolution swept France – and indeed all of Europe: "Any member of the Society of St Vincent de Paul who considers himself only as a bearer of bread to a poor family understands neither charity, nor the Society, nor the poor. The Society has never been, and never will be, an association of porters." Jules Gossim, President General, 1847 Frederic understood this … but so did the other early members … they had a team approach to assisting people. They were concerned with addressing the causes of need – that was one of the reasons Ozanam finally gave in to his friends' exhortation to stand for the French National Assembly in 1848. In that watershed year Frederic worked with his Archbishop, clergy and fellow Vincentians to further his social principles.
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Social Justice Forum 2005 APPENDIX 2: FREDERIC OZANAM AND SOCIAL JUSTICE (continued) Through his newspaper "The new Era" he argued for z z z z z z z
Legislation to protect children; State provision for workers who were sick or old; He advocated a reduction in working hours; Demanded a more just distribution of wealth; Suggested adopting a graduated income tax instead of indirect taxation; Recommended partnership and profit sharing between owners and workers; Supported compulsory arbitration in industrial disputes.
Incredibly radical stuff for 1848 – it still is! That's one reason I smiled when reading the article in 'The Australian' a few months ago, criticizing our policy research and involvement in social justice. I smiled even more when reading the members' letter to the editor in response saying, "If you think we're radical – you should read our Founder!" He was referring to Jesus, how true it is of Ozanam as well. Quite a few members were killed in the 1848 revolution – the 22 year old President of the Montmatre Conference among them. Even the President General fractured his leg at one barricade – and at the Quarterly General Meeting held just two months after it, Ozanam said: "Do we not owe something to Providence, my dear brothers, who has preserved us when so many others have perished? Is it enough to continue to do the little which we have been accustomed to do? When the hardships of the times are inventing new forms of suffering, can we rest satisfied with old remedies?" He also said "the revolution may have been put down but the old enemy – poverty – remains". And so his question … "Can we rest satisfied with old remedies?" Even after the horrendous crushing of the revolution as we heard in the video, the lack of energy for reform amongst the French legislators, the closing in on itself of the French Church, Ozanam kept on – unwaveringly. 24 | St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria Inc.
Social Justice Forum 2005 APPENDIX 2: FREDERIC OZANAM AND SOCIAL JUSTICE (continued) In the following year, 1849 he wrote: "Certainly we must go to the root of the evil and by wise social reforms try to reduce the widespread distress. But we are convinced that a knowledge of the reforms, which it is necessary to introduce, is to be learned not so much by pondering over books or by discussions among politicians, as by going to visit the garrets in which the poor live; by sitting at the bedside of the dying, by feeling the cold that they feel, and by learning from their own lips the causes of their woes. When we have done this, not simply for a few months, but for many years, when we have studied the poor in their homes, in the schools and in the hospitals, not only in one but in many cities, then we really begin to understand a little of this formidable problem of poverty. Then we have the right to suggest reforms which, instead of putting the fear of God into their hearts, would bring peace and hope to all." We have the right to suggest reforms … "which bring peace and hope to all." Pope Paul VI used to often say: "If you want peace - work for justice." So in conclusion, should we be disconcerted in our work for social justice? Not at all! Ozanam was attacked, personally and in the newspapers far more viciously by his fellow Catholics than we will ever be! He noted that the Society: "Sustained rude assaults, not from ecclesiastical authority which is on the contrary favourable, but from the imprudent zeal of the pious laity" or, as he once called them, "the important people (big wigs) of orthodoxy", who see their political opinions as the 13th article of the Creed." They were the ones who prayed for a good Catholic King to again restore the glory of the French Church of old – and when they got him one of the first things he did was to ban the St Vincent de Paul Society as a revolutionary organisation. The Emperor Louis Napoleon III is long gone … we are still here. THIS IS OUR time – "there is no time like now" … and "the passion for justice continues". *The video, No Time Like Now – The Life and Times of Frederic Ozanam, featured during this presentation is available to members by contacting the Membership & Development Team. 25 | Walking with Ozanam in Social Justice
Social Justice Forum 2005 NOTES
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“Yours must be a work of love, of kindness, you must give your time, your talents, yourselves. “The poor person is a unique person of God’s fashioning with an inalienable right to respect. “You must not be content with tiding the poor over the poverty crisis: You must study their condition and the injustices which brought about such poverty, with the aim of a long term improvement.” Blessed Frederic Ozanam 1813-1853
St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria Inc. ABN: 28 911 702 061 43 Prospect Street, Box Hill Vic 3128 Locked Bag 4800, Box Hill Vic 3128 Phone: 03 9895 5800 Fax: 03 9895 5850 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.svdp-vic.org.au December 2005