St.. Vincent de Paul – In the palace and in the galleys
France at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, as a result of wars, it was horribly damaged. The arable land lay fallow. The soldiers committed many atrocities and thefts. There were many beggars waiting for help on the streets of the cities. With time, hospitals began to be organized for them, the so-called. work houses. However, there were many more people in need than hospitals. That is why the poor often stole, they committed various kinds of crimes, for which they were sentenced to prison.
P. Górska in the book ,,Servants of God ”thus portrays the plight of the prisoners :
,,Black prison dungeons were overcrowded with inmates - some sat limp on bundles of rotten straw, others lay side by side on the ground, or they were sluggish in their stride, thin and emaciated, with the sullen gleam of sunken eyes. These people were crushed at that moment by the thought : - They'll put us in chains tomorrow, they will take you through the streets of Marseille, they load into the galleys and make us row for days without rest, until you drop ! Death would be better ! Suddenly in the corridor there was a sound of approaching footsteps… Father Wincenty ! - It ran from mouth to mouth - Our father ! Our guardian !… this merciful priest, which all prisoners in France talked about, for the first one wept over their fate, the first to take care of them, he thought not about that, to punish them, but to correct ".
It was a year 1619. Ks. Vincent, through the intercession of Gondi, was appointed by King Louis XIII the chaplain of the galleys - prisoners in Paris, and later in Marseille. The galleys were armed ships, designed to defend the coasts against sea robbers. In France, criminals were sentenced to hard work for several years or for life as rowers. Ks. Vincent took a closer look at this work, and he also observed the way the authorities dealt with galleymen. He has seen, that they were treated like animals. When they stopped tired at work, they were beaten terribly. It all deeply shocked Fr.. Vincent.
Thanks to that, that he had an influence with the authorities, has obtained for them some improvement in living conditions. They got a slightly better apartment, they began to be treated in a more human way, were allowed to visit, the innocent were released. Ks. Vincent showed much sympathy for the galley sisters, love, therefore they turned to him with all their needs. An event was an example of his active love, which all biographers tell about. During one of the numerous visits to prisoners, Fr.. Vincent saw the young one, a desperate man, who left his wife and children at home without a livelihood. In the conversation, the convict confessed, that while serving with a rich man, he committed theft because of poverty at home. Ks. Vincent, moved by the position of the galley, changed into his clothes, replaced him at work in the galleys, he returned to his family. After some time, Fr.. Wincenty was recognized and released.
Ks. Vincent could climb the ranks of power in his life and be completely uninterested in the needs of poor people. After all, from the beginning of his priestly life, he had a close relationship with people, who had great political influence in what was then France. He was the palace chaplain of Queen Margaret of the Gondi family. He also had contacts with these, who directly ruled France, with King Louis XIII, Regent Anna of Austria. She even appointed him to the office of secretary general in the Congregation for Church Affairs. However, all the proceeds, which he had in the governing factors, used for the good of the needy.
Ks. Vincent was able not only to perceive human misery in various forms. Above all, he wanted to eliminate human harm and injustice. He appointed to carry out these tasks : Brotherhood of Mercy, The Society of the Ladies of Mercy and the religious congregation of "Missionary Priests for the work of the rural people". With the collaboration of St.. Louise de Marillac founded the SS congregation. Mercy, popularly known as the shacks. By the rule, which he gave them, far ahead of his time. The sisters were not to stay in strictly closed houses - cloistered. These houses were to be open to all those in need.
Ks. Vincent built hospitals, dormitories, shelters for old people, in which all the institutes he founded worked. For him, every person - even the poorest - was Christ waiting for help. Therefore, he accepted everyone in his establishments, so children dying of hunger, tossed babies, people in dirty rags, sick, etc.. Therefore, he was rightly called ,,father of the poor ". There were especially many of them during the Thirty Years' War. He then demanded that the Queen and Cardinal Mazarini change their policy. He also wrote to Pope Innocent X with a request, to intervene for peace. He showed the whole world a new way of doing apostleship, which the era needed.
The Sisters of Charity came to Poland as early as in 1853 r. They have worked in many hospitals in our country. And today they can be found in some hospitals. They also work in many facilities for handicapped children or in facilities for adults.
Ks. Vincent died in 1660 r., and after several decades he was declared a saint and patron of all charity associations, existing in the Catholic Church.