The St. Vincent de Paul Society of Phoenix was blessed to have the society’s international president Renato Lima visit in January. Lima saw the SVdP Family Dining Room in action plus other ministries at the main campus and accompanied Vincentians making a home visit.
Lima comes from Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, where he is married and has an 18-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter.
He also dropped by the Diocesan Pastoral Center where he spoke with Jennifer Ellis, producer of “The Bishop’s Hour” radio program. Below is a portion of that conversation which aired Jan. 26, as well as a short off-the-air discussion with The Catholic Sun. The radio transcript has been edited for clarity.
The Bishop’s Hour: When did your relationship with St. Vincent de Paul begin?
Lima: When I was in my high school in 1986, I was 15 years old. After my Confirmation, I asked Fr. Joachim, who was the priest of our chapel, to join one movement in the Church to practice my faith. He suggested me to join the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. I said, ‘What is this Society of St. Vincent de Paul?’ He told me, ‘Look, they do charity. They do home visits. They talk to the people, especially to the poor and evangelization and charity. It’s up to you. Go there. Visit the group. It will be your eternal movement in the Catholic Church.’
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Jump to 35:17 for Lima’s interview
TBH: How many countries have you visited?
Lima: Every year I try to visit around 15 countries. It’s not easy for me because I have a job. I have a boss. I work eight hours a day, 40 hours a week. So it’s not easy to deal with this situation — to be a president general of this institution. But this is my life; this is our life. We are laypeople. We are working simultaneously. We can do this simultaneously because God gave us the skills, the talents to do this.
I’m totally a volunteer in SVdP. I have my salary that comes from my job.
TBH: How is it that you balance all your roles?
Lima: This question, it’s impossible to answer, because at the beginning, I tried to, ‘How will it be because it’s impossible for me?’ But when I put on our Lord’s hands — for me, now it’s OK, because I know that He’s giving me the guidelines. He is in charge of this work; it’s not me. We’re here to serve. We are only people to serve. But who does the miracles, the activities? We know that it’s God.
TBH: What have been your impressions about Phoenix so far?
Lima: I will be here for two or three days. Yesterday I said to my friends here that the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Phoenix is like a machine of charity. A machine of good service. Not only the home visits, but we have the special works. We have the social programs. We have here in Phoenix one complex, they call it the Vincentian campus, and lots of good service to the homeless, to the people who are seeking for health]care], dentist. Lots of excellent activities. So it’s a remarkable job the Vincentians of Phoenix are doing here.
This campus, this complex, is an excellent idea because at the same place we have lots of services being offered to the community. Different ministries, different perspectives, approach. In other countries you have the special works separated, in separate buildings. So here it is very interesting because we have everything together at the same place. Very nice idea that I will talk about when I visit other countries.
TBH: What are some programs that you have seen, maybe in other places that Phoenix could adopt?
Lima: If we work with the youth at the schools, at the university, at groups of Confirmation classes, for example, I think we can join more youth people to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The age of our groups, are a little higher. So we have to invite adults, young adults, youth people to join the society because we are a movement of faith, service and charity.
It’s up to the young because our seven founders in Paris in 1833 were all young people, around 20 years old: Frédéric Ozanam, 20; [Francois] Lallier, 21; [Auguste] Le Taillandier, 22; [Emmanuel] Bailly, was the most 38 years old, but the other founders around 20 years old, so it fits. This movement is especially suitable for the young people.
When I do home visits in Brazil with my kids, they realize that their reality is different. And to be more grateful, to have more gratitude to what we have instead of complain, complain and complain. So it’s very nice to invite the children, the teenagers, the youth people to see the reality, to see the poor, that they have needs, they are suffering. If you want to build a better society in this earth, we have to share what we have to the people.
TBH: When you interact with the people that St. Vincent de Paul serves, what did they say to you? What are your impressions of those people?
Lima: They are fantastic people. The Vincentians, they have the same faces in all the countries I visit. Could be different language, could be different cultures, the atmosphere, the government, even the Church, but the Vincentian is the same wherever I go. They love to serve. They have passion. First, we are friends, and then we do the charity. First we are Catholics. First we go to the Mass. First we receive the sacraments, and then we go to serve the Church, to serve Christ. So here in Phoenix, it’s not different. They are the same. They have the same face. They have the same synergy — the good relationship we have to the Church is in all the countries that I visit.
TBH: How does your Catholic faith inform your work?
Lima: I have Vincentian spirit and a Franciscan spirit also; I have both. My parish in Brazil is St. Francis of Asis. St. Francis used to be a very charitable man. In St. Vincent de Paul, it’s 100 percent charity. So my grassroots came from St. Vincent de Paul and St. Francis of Asis.
TBH: So I’m guessing that you have a particular devotion to those saints. Are there any others?
Lima: Our Lady of Fatima is very strong in Portugal and, of course, in Brazil. Because in the past Brazil used to belong to Portugal. Brazil was a colony of Portugal, equal to Mozambique. Today we have eight countries that are Portuguese-speaking countries. In the past, all of these eight countries belonged to Portugal. So we have a great influence of Portugal until now. So Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal is a huge devotion.
And I have this huge devotion. My SVdP group name is Our Lady of Fatima in Brasilia. So I have a great connection with Our lady of Fatima.
The Catholic Sun: What do you remember of your first home visit that kept you coming back?
Lima: It was love at first sight. ‘Oh, we do this?’ This is what I want for the rest of my life. I visit five to seven families weekly. We try to give a hand to solve their problems, not only materially, but spiritually. We read the upcoming [Sunday] Gospel with the family. We encourage sacraments. We help the Church. We try to reconciliate. We are the Church in movement [like Pope Francis says].
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Sun: How many hours per week or month do you dedicate to St. Vincent de Paul?
Lima: A one-hour weekly meeting and a three-hour weekly home visit. I don’t do email on the weekends. It’s God, family, church, St. Vincent de Paul. If you have a good relationship with God, then you will be a good Vincentian.
Sun: You said you try to visit 15 countries each year. What other countries will you visit this year?
Lima: Panama (and meet with the pope and three days for a pre-[World Youth Day] journey with 300 Vincentians. Then Portugal, Canada, Hong Kong, Milan, Italy and France. In 2020, I’m going to Lebanon.
I do it on my vacation, license and holidays. [Note: “license” means if you work five years in one place, you can get three months off]
I once visited seven countries in Africa in 30 days: Burkina Faso, the [Democratic] Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Mozambique [which is Portuguese -speaking], Botswana, South Africa and Zambia.