The Life of Vincent de Paul (Abelly): Book I, Chapter XL

Francisco Javier Fernández ChentoVincent de PaulLeave a Comment

Author: Louis Abelly · Translator: William Quinn. · Year of first publication: 1664.
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Monsieur Vincent Works for the Relief of the Poor of the Frontier Regions Devastated by the War, Especially Champagne and Picardy

Scripture truly says that it is hard to cure long and degenerating illnesses, and likewise that a physician is inclined to abandon those with untreatable illness. It is the same for the poor. Those who work to relieve them grow tried and listless in their works of charity. The misery and needs of the poor grow day by day especially during civil wars such as have been the lot of France in recent times. After his return to Paris Monsieur Vincent was informed of the deplorable state of affairs, especially in the frontier provinces of Champagne and Picardy, and the almost limitless number of poor of all ages, sexes and conditions who desperately needed help. It must be added that a heart less moved by charity than his own would have lost courage and succumbed under the weight of this new burden. It would have believed it impossible to find a way to bring help to so many in need.

Precisely at this trying time this saintly man showed his great virtue. Just as the palm tree grows more vigorously the more it is buffeted, so he, relying on God’s all-powerful bounty, resolved to undertake this charitable work just as he had done in so many other cases. After imploring the divine mercy whose treasures are inexhaustible he appealed to the Ladies of Charity who have committed themselves to just these kinds of works of mercy. They, like everyone else, had suffered greatly from the misery of the times and had lost some of their most promising members. Because of this they had been forced to give up some of the projects in which they had been involved. Nevertheless these good women closed their eyes to all human considerations and regarded Monsieur Vincent’s request as an expression of God’s holy will for them. They undertook to work for the relief of the poor of the devastated provinces and organized a collection of alms for their aid. Monsieur Vincent in turn sent several of his priests to aid in distributing these alms. God blessed this effort, which lasted for a full ten years until the signing of the treaty of peace.

Contrary to all hope and human judgment, the value of alms given to the poor exceeded six hundred thousand livres in money, food, clothing, medicine, tools, seed for sowing, and other necessities to sustain life. All this was done at the direction of Monsieur Vincent who sent the missionaries of his Company into the regions where they knew the poor were reduced to the last extremity, and there they stayed. These fathers served in all that part of the country, especially in the cities and surrounding areas of Reims, Fismes, Rethel, Rocroy, Mezieres, Charleville, Donchery, Sedan, Sainte-Menehould, Vervins, Laon, Guise, Chauny, La Fere, Peronne, Noyon, Saint Quentin, Ham, Marle, Riblemont, Amiens, Arras—in a word into every city, town, and hamlet where the ruined poor, so worthy of compassion, were to be found. By this charitable help many were saved from dying of cold and hunger. This was especially true of the most neglected, the sick, the elderly and orphans. These generally suffered frightfully, lying upon their bed of putrid straw or upon the bare earth, exposed to the rigors of the winter weather because the homes of many of them had been pillaged and burnt and they themselves were left with but a single garment to cover their nakedness. They lived in hovels daily awaiting their only deliverer, death itself.

During the early years when this desolation was so extreme, the help given by Monsieur Vincent was likewise exceptional. He sent between eight and ten of his priests of the Mission together with several Daughters of Charity to help out. While the sisters tended to the sick poor the priests helped distribute bread and other necessary things to those in need. The priests crisscrossed the countryside, visiting parishes where pastors had disappeared, bringing spiritual pasturage to poor lost sheep, instructing them, administering the sacraments, consoling them in their losses, and repairing their churches as best they could, for many of them had been pillaged and profaned by the soldiers.

We shall see in Book Two 1 how these charitable and fervent missionaries were guided by the orders of their esteemed father in the practice of their works of charity. We shall see how the churches, the priests, religious communities of men and women, the impoverished nobility, women in distress, children, and abandoned sick–in a word all sorts of needy persons received both help and consolation in their distress.

If previous centuries have certainly seen such distress and misery, nowhere do we read in history that anyone responded so nobly, so promptly, and so universally as Monsieur Vincent. All this was done through the goodness of God and the ministry of a poor priest, aided by a small group of devoted women inspired by his charity and guided by his counsels.

  1. Ch. 11, sects. 2, 3.

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