onsdag 14 november 2007

St Vincent de Paul

Soup runs have come under criticism recently for encouraging dependency and ignoring people's real problems. I would not like to comment on this as the circumstances in which people accept what is given out by soup runs is so varied. One can envisage lonely people just going there for the company.

There has been one on the seafront at Brighton for many years, run under the auspices of the Society of St Vincent de Paul. People from our parish go out every evening in all weathers to hand out soup and sandwiches to people, mostly young men, who live in the city. One of the stalwarts was Ann Roberts, who died last year, and the picture shows the dedication of a bench that was placed on the spot in her memory.

Who was St Vincent de Paul? There is plenty of information on him: in short, he came from a peasant family and became a priest in the French court in the middle of the seventeenth century. At that time, the courtiers' wives lived pointless and extravagant lives, and he urged them to good works, in this case, to go out and help the poor of Paris.

The women of the court responded marvellously, which was all very well but what if he had encouraged the rich courtiers to investigate the causes of the poverty and see the connection between it and their own great wealth? In the following century, the French Physiocrats did precisely this, and when Louis XIV was king, and Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, Baron de Laune, had been appointed Comptroller-General, an attempt was made to put the proposed solutions into practice. There is every reason to suppose that their schemes would have worked, but vested interests prevailed and the ideas of the Enlightenment were gathering strength. It was too late, and the French Revolution was the result.

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