Systemic change

Francisco Javier Fernández ChentoSystemic changeLeave a Comment

Author: José Gilmar Moreira s.v · Year of first publication: 2013 · Source: famvin. Preparatory Catechesis for the International Meeting of the Vincentian Family Belo Horizonte, July, 2013.
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“No one patches an old cloak with a piece of unshrunken cloth…
People do not put new wine into old wineskins…” (Mt  9:16-17)

I. The reality that challenges us

On February 2-4, 2007 during the International Meeting of the Leader- ship of several branches of the Vincen- tian Family, a report was presented of the work done by the Commission for Promoting Systemic Change. The commission talked on the nature of the systemic change, the spirituality that underlies it and the strategies to take it forward. The members described pro- jects in Madagascar, Philippines, Eng- land, Dominican Republic and other places where our Family is not only serving the poor in their immediate needs, but also developing strategies that will allow them to get out of pov- erty.

Knowing that there are other projects like those in the Vincentian Family, the commission asked those in charge to report them. There followed a lively dis- cussion. At the end, the leadership of the branches of the Vincentian Family gath- ered there chose Systemic Change as the core point for the next years.

On September 27, 2012 we celebrated 5 years of the campaign for Systemic Change. What has changed in the life and in the practice of your group or in the branches of the Vincentian Family? What were the progress and growth forces? What were the regressions and resistance forces? Why? What are the signs of the times and the signs of the Kingdom of God? What can we ex- pect in the present and for the future as the Systemic Change for the Vincen- tian Family? What are the reasons for having hope?

II. Illuminating the reality

systemic01Why are we talking about Systemic Change or rather what structures do we want to change? And why? Do we really want that any structure be changed?

In  the  first  place,  let’s see some important elements: structure is a set of essential elements of certain reality; it is that which gives support.

For example, many living beings have the skeleton, houses have the foun- dation and columns. Would it be possible to move in the structural elements with- out harming the entire thing? Intervening in some elements without putting at risk the structures is called Conjunctural Change. This happens often. It is a varnish that goes into a wood mobile; it is the renovation of a house, etc.

Systemic Change is something radical. It does what it says:

  • The prophet Jeremiah: This day I set you over nations and over kingdoms, to root up and to tear down, to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant” (Jr 1: 10).
  • Saint Paul in the letter to the Romans: Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Rm 12:2).
  • Saint Paul in the letter to the Ephesians: For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens” (Ep 6:12).


Systemic Change is something radical. It is what it says:

  • Saint Vincent de Paul: If there are any among us who think they are in the Mission to evangelize poor people but not to alleviate their sufferings, to take care of their spiritual needs but not their temporal ones, I reply that we have to help them and have them assisted in every way, by us and by others” (SV XII, 77-78).
  • Frederic Ozanam: The problem which divides people today is not a political problem; it is a social one. It is a matter of knowing which will get the upper hand, the spirit of selfish-ness or the spirit of sacrifice; whether society will go for ever-increasing enjoyment and profit, or for everyone devoting themselves to the common good … Many people have too much and still want more. Others do not have enough, or do not have anything at all, and they want to take by force what is not being given to them. A war is threatening between these two groups. On one side, the power of wealth, on the other the force of desperation. We must get in between these two groups, at least to reduce the impact if we cannot stop it.”

III. Sending on mission

systemic03The work developed by followers of Jesus Christ, in the footsteps of Saint Vincent de Paul, cannot be just a practice, but it has to be praxis. What does it mean? It means that our ac- tion is a fruit of our faith; the fruit of our meeting with Je- sus Christ Liberator and with the poor that are social sub- jects. Our practice is a result of a reflection about the poverty causes that destroy the human dignity and the searching of consistent structures able to support new relationships between people which are grounded in love, justice, equality and fraternity.

  1. How often do we use expressions that reinforce the structures that we wish to destroy and don’t help to build the new man, the new woman and the new so- ciety we desire so much?
  2. What personal and/or common praxis can we take to strengthen the Systemic Change that the Vincentian Family has proposed since 2007?
  3. Do you and your group know any of the Vincentian Family Projects which have promoted the Systemic Change? What can you and your group do to strengthen and expand this project?

IV. Celebrate: Prayer for Discernment1

Lord, I kneel not only on the Bible.
I bow to the daily newspaper
to be sure to look at what we have done
with your world, to your Church.
Confused in the face of such possibilities,
all looking good, pleasing and perfect,
I want to be guided only by your will, but how?

Help me to remain attentive.
Help me to always contemplate you
while I go into the field of action.

Help me to expose the error, especially that I might shelter.
Help me to realize the manipulation
especially of those who control the powers.

Understanding the world is too difficult for me,
but I have already chosen to stay away from the circle of resignation.
So that Your Holy Spirit enlighten me so I can see what you want,
judge how you teach and act as you need.


  1. Israel Belo de Azabedo:

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