When I first learned of the Vincentian charism, I was a sophomore at DePaul University and I had recently become involved with the various service programs offered through University Ministry. I jumped into those programs with great enthusiasm because it was the first time I had a sense of direction in how I could promote human dignity and challenge unjust structures in society. At only 19 years old, I had already been witness to great injustices in my birthplace of Mexico City and the low-income neighborhood where I resided in Chicago. Growing up with these experiences left me overwhelmed with hopelessness, especially knowing that as a single person I couldn't do anything to promote change. When I was introduced to University Ministry and discovered a community of college students, like me, who were passionate about social justice, I was motivated by this Vincentian community and embraced my identity as a Vincentian in Action. After graduating from DePaul, I became involved with other parts of the Vincentian Family, which includes Vincentian Lay Missionaries and the Vincentian Mission Corps, and that is where I began to see a glimpse of the immensity of the Vincentian mission around the world.
It was through my year of service with the Vincentian Mission Corps in St. Louis, that I learned of the opportunity to participate in the Vincentian Youth Gathering/WYD through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. It was in Brazil where I became aware of how truly global the Vincentian charism is, a conversion point in my life much like those experienced by St Vincent and St Louise, where I could visualize charity and justice through the Vincentian charism all around the world. Unlike at the beginning of my journey as a Vincentian young adult, I definitely did not feel alone in Belo Horizonte, where the Vincentian Youth Gathering took place. I was astounded to meet Vincentian youth from all over the world, and to feel not like strangers, but a deep sense of familial warmth. I could feel a shared excitement when people would approach me to ask where I was from and what my ministry in the US looked like. Despite there being language and cultural differences, all of the youth were willing to struggle through it and because of such openness I was able to make some very good friends. I laughed, I sang, I danced, I learned how to say St. Vincent in various languages, and I felt such powerful joy in being somewhere I belonged.
It was also inspiring to know that there are youth all over the world asking themselves “What must be done?” in the midst of great poverty and social injustice. This wasn't a struggle that only mattered to me, but the mission of all these young people's lives. There was amazing support from Vincentian leaders who were present and their presence made me feel that youth involvement is important within the Vincentian family. To hear from Fr. Greg Gay, Michael Thio, and Yasmine Cajuste provided guidance in hearing their personal experience with the Vincentian charism, and seeing parallels within my own story. That week, surrounded by Vincentians and reflecting on my journey as a Vincentian, left my spirit rejuvenated but challenged me to continue to serve those who live in poverty and work to seek systemic change, not in my off-time, but as the mission of my life.
When I returned from Brazil, I was very blessed to be invited to the Vincentian Family Gathering to speak about my experiences as a Vincentian young adult. This would be the first time young adults were invited to the table, and as I looked across the room I realized there was a stark contrast between Indianapolis and Belo Horizonte. I also realized that out of the youth who were in the room, I knew almost all of them due to the limited number of Vincentian programs geared toward young adults. It is not that Vincentian young adults do not exist, I saw hundreds of them at DePaul University and thousands in Brazil, but there seems to be a disconnect of some sort. It may be that young adults do not know where they fit in, outside of a vocation in religious life, or that Vincentian formation for young adults is missing outside of Vincentian universities. What I do know, is that the invitation at the Vincentian Family Gathering gave me hope that this is just a beginning. It is just a seed, but hopefully we can help to make it flourish.