SVP BIRMINGHAM ANNUAL FESTIVAL MASS 24 SEPTEMBER 2022

Jesus made a tour through all the towns and villages…proclaiming the Good News.

I am delighted to join you today for the Annual Festival Mass for the Birmingham Central Council of the St Vincent de Paul Society – most familiar to all of us as the SVP. We offer this Mass in thanksgiving for the witness of holiness offered by St Vincent de Paul, whose feastday is next Tuesday, and for the work and legacy of Blessed Frederic Ozanam. I welcome all the national and diocesan officers and the members of the SVP from across our Archdiocese, together with those who support you in your work.

One central element of our discipleship is its capacity for outreach to others. In our own lives, and especially in these uncertain times, we value the things that guarantee our personal safety, health and well-being and we would feel lost if these were not in place. But Christ asks us to be self-forgetful and to be concerned for those individuals and families for whom this kind of support and security are missing, for many different reasons.

When he beatified Blessed Frederic, Pope John Paul 11 said: Frederic Ozanam believed in love, the love of God for every individual. He felt himself called to love, giving the example of a great love for God and others. He went to all those who needed to be loved more than others, those to whom the love of God could not be revealed effectively except through the love of another person. There Ozanam discovered his vocation, the path to which Christ called him. He found his road to sanctity.

As disciples we are called to find practical ways of helping and encouraging each other in the support we can give, especially as the Church, to the homeless or those experiencing housing problems, to those lacking shelter, clothing and food – but also to reflect on why these circumstances are even tolerated today. Blessed Frederic emphasised this when he said: It is too little to help the poor day by day; we must begin from the root of the evil and through wise reform reduce the causes of the people’s poverty.

In our discipleship, what is it that underpins our commitment to the poor and inspires the vision that draws us to come to their help? Disciples draw encouragement and fresh energy from the example and teaching of Jesus himself.

In his own ministry our Lord feels for those who are unsettled because they are experiencing some kind of poverty. When he saw the crowd he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. The experience of being homeless, uprooted from what is familiar, or lacking in lasting security can undermine a person’s inner peace. At the same time a lack of personal stability can lead to the loss of job, home and family ties, income, health and even personal identity.

Alongside his own experience, our Lord’s stories and teaching and many of his actions are inspirational for us – they give us a definitive steer. The parables flow from his own personality and experience and many of them, like the parable of the Good Samaritan, show his basic concern for those who are by the wayside.

Today’s Gospel underlines our Lord’s invitation for others to come and share his concern for those who are most in need: the harvest is rich…ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest. The Christian motive for standing beside people in their need is not only natural human compassion (although that often leads people to great selflessness and heroic virtue). Rather, we are moved by our belief that everyone is made in God’s image and likeness, restored in Christ.

As you walk with Christ through all the towns and villages – across the Archdiocese and beyond – feel the compassion of our Lord for those who are today like sheep without a shepherd and reveal his presence to them through your own dedication as members of the SVP and your wish to befriend them in the Lord. May he in turn bless and strengthen you as you now re-dedicate yourself to be a servant after the example of the Master.

WELCOME

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: together with Mgr Timothy Menezes, the Cathedral Dean, I welcome you to St Chad’s Cathedral as we come together to offer this Annual Festival Mass for the Saint Vincent de Paul Society.

I welcome the incoming National President of the SVP for England and Wales, Elaine Heyworth, as you prepare to take up your new responsibilities in November. Our patron St Chad, whose relics are above the altar, was the brother of St Cedd who established his see at Bradwell on the Essex coast – so we have a link with your home diocese of Brentwood.

I also welcome Andy Gudge, President of the SVP Birmingham Central Council, and I thank you for your faithful leadership throughout a difficult and demanding year. I am grateful to Deacon David Fairbotham, assisting at today’s Mass, to Mike Weaver, and to all the Honorary Officers and the Presidents of our diocesan SVP District Councils who are members of the Birmingham Central Council.

I welcome on their home territory the members of the St Chad’s SVP Conference which was recently established and I thank Alicia O’Brien with her team of helpers for all their preparations for today’s gathering.

Finally, I welcome all the SVP members together with your guests, and all those who have been unable to travel to St Chad’s today but who are joining us in prayer via the live-streaming of this Mass.

The recent funeral of Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth has reminded us of the lasting and widespread impact that loving and faithful service of God and of our neighbour can have. With the prayers of St Vincent de Paul and Blessed Frederic Ozanam to support us, we now turn to God our loving Father and ask for his gifts of forgiveness and peace.

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