Speech at the St John’s University
Speech during the “Spirit of service” award ceremony, at the St John’s University in New York on the 29th October 2015.
The spirit of service
“I am deeply moved by this award from the St John’s University, recognizing my spirit of service. I never thought I would one day come to New York and be given this reward, in this university, that has been created by the St Vincent de Paul brotherhood. I accept this reward with humility, and in the name of all the young people of Akamasoa.
Nowadays, the spirit of dedication and service is diminishing in some areas of the world. Profit and easy money are taking over and are seducing young people throughout the world, as they are an easy way to pride and glory.
But in the meantime the spirit of service is still alive. We need to work, give and share with humility and simplicity.
When you talk about serving people, you talk about people, the people in its wholeness, its human nature, its body and spirituality. People must be at the center of everything. People are the ones gathering us despite differences of ethnicity, nationality, race or culture. People are the strongest way of uniting us. But this has to be conveyed in a spirit of service and dedication, by most of the people in the world.
As a Christian you have been told that there’s no stronger love than giving its life for his friends. They are one of Jesus’s strongest words, to which every present and future generation can relate. Because in every person there is some idealism which will never die. Jesus told us: may your left hand not know what your right hand is doing. It means that service is a human duty to God. We do not want to be compensated for our service; we must be filled with joy knowing that our life has a purpose and is useful for the community.
Saint Vincent de Paul is another example when it comes to serving the poor. He always encouraged us to be at the service of the poorest.Respect them, love them, help them get their life back through work, and not through assistance. The world will not change in one day. We must serve the poor on the long term. Great changes to the people are the result of long and relentless efforts.Changing people’s mind, changing their very own nature, takes more than a lifetime.
Saint Vincent knew that to touch people’s heart you need humility, softness and perseverance.And that’s what we have been striving for, for the past 26 years at Akamasoa.
Today, I would like to call upon your university and its 20,000 students, to promote the Christian values, St Vincent de Paul’s values, the spirit of service and dedication. Because it’s only when we accept that we need to serve people that we will be able to change our lives and build a better future. And because we have been thinking about that for a long time, we now need to trigger this change, it is urgent and necessary, and not only for one country, but throughout the world.
The spirit of service can be applied everywhere, but it is most useful in the poorest countries. To have lived for 42 years in such a poor country as Madagascar, where nothing has changed, where poverty even trebled, that is terribly hard on your mind. But you need to keep believing. Because real progress will be achieved only once extreme poverty no longer exists. When no one is hungry anymore, when everyone has a home, access to healthcare, can send his children to school, and has water to drink.
Do not convey this spirit through speeches, but by changing your lives, your day-to-day habits. If we do not do that it will remain a wish, a desire.
It’s with great humility that I can tell you we are living this at Akamasoa. But we know that we must fight for this spirit which is based on Jesus and St Vincent de Paul. It cannot be acquired. We must fight for it every day, ourselves at Akamasoa, and you here at St John’s University.
Once again, I believe that a better and fairer world can exist, a world of sharing and caring. It can exist in every country. We simply need faith and determination. We need to fully commit ourselves, through small but persistent changes in our day-to-day lives.
I wish you, Mister President of St John’s University, you all teachers and students, a long life. And in the name of all the people of Akamasoa, I thank you once again, for encouraging us, helping us, and understanding us.
God bless you and your university!”
Fra Pedro Opeka