DePaul alumnus speaks on the Vincentian mission in relation to poverty


Xavier Ortega / The DePaulia

Fr. Guillermo Campuzano, the Vincentians’ representative at the UN, speaks at Cortelyou Commons on Thursday about charity, political advocacy and systemic change.

Most DePaul students are more than familiar with St. Vincent de Paul’s central question: What must be done? But Father Guillermo Campuzano dedicates his life to expanding the reach of this question by taking it up to the UN.

Campuzano spoke Thursday at Cortelyou Commons at the inaugural lecture in a series of discussions about applying Vincentian values worldwide, titled “Poverty: Vincentian Responses Around the World.” Campuzano is a DePaul alumnus and former DePaul professor of eight years and a minister. Now, he serves as the representative of the Congregation of the Mission, what students know as the Vincentians, at the UN, and the chair of the NGO Working Group to End Homelessness, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that advocates for the world’s poor at the UN. Since leaving DePaul, his involvement in political advocacy has made significant strides for Vincentian causes and left many politicians reflecting St. Vincent’s most poignant question: What must be done to help the world’s poor?

As of 2016, an estimated 830 million people are living in extreme poverty around the world. Most of them are earning less than $1.90 a day with no shelter, no food, and barely any clothes. They lack access to education and health care. More often than not, they’re susceptible to natural disasters and climate change.

In attempting to reach a global audience, Vincentians began internally, reaching back to the essential values that established the Congregation of the Mission.

“We went back to our foundation, found our spirit and we began talking about we being a family,” Fr. Campuzano said. “We feel, we sense, that all of you are apart of this mission.”

Through discussions at the UN, he helped create 17 sustainable development goals that encompass the idea that the audience are responsible to provide essential elements of life to all humans. During his lecture, Campuzano requested that we read each of these goals aloud with him, emphasizing his message that these duties to the dignity of humanity are our problem.

“The crisis of humanity is the crisis of the house where we live,” Campuzano said, and many attendees agreed. Wesley Janicki, a DePaul student involved in Model UN, echoed Campuzano’s message with a question.

“How should we treat the world’s poor? It’s not an issue for just one person,” he said. “I’m in Model UN. to learn about parts of the world I honestly wouldn’t know about.”

Campuzano’s conversation focused less on how Vincentians reach a global context, and more so on why, saturating his lecture with striking statistics about global violence, starvation and poverty and raising intrusive questions about our own, personal comforts.

“I’m excited to be back at DePaul,” said Campuzano. “It’s important to talk to students about what political advocacy and service looks like in our changing world.” As the Vincentian representative for the UN, Campuzano works extensively to discuss the connection between charity, political advocacy and systemic change — what he calls the “Vincentian triad of justice”. He takes the question of “What must be done?” to a global level. “It’s important to bridge the connection between those with opportunities and those in need,” he said. “But the problem is we’re not treating the issue of poverty as an urgent one. When is it going to be unacceptable for a human being to starve?”

“When is it going to be unacceptable that a human being starves?” Campuzano asked. “There are people who wonder every day whether they are going to eat, yet we have time to wonder of the meaning of life.”

Campuzano drew a large crowd of students, professors, families and ministers from other churches, many of whom traveled across the city hear him speak. Among them was Jacob Lang, a political science student from Loyola who spent the evening at the event because it represents a vital step in social progress: awareness.

“In general, the first step in addressing something like global poverty is realization,” he said. “I’m interested because I need to know how processes work, but you don’t need to understand the processes to speak up about something.”

Lang hopes to make significant changes to both how people treat the urgency of global issues and the actions politicians take in solving them, but acknowledges that necessary legislation begins at a local level.

“We recognize the value of talking about poverty,” he said, “but recognizing it in an international context, like through the UN, is harder.”

Lang emphasized that starting locally, even just attending lectures like this one, is the best way to begin.

The event was the first opening talk of the Lecture Series that serves as a way for different members of the global Vincentian family to share the ways they are serving and encountering the poor and God in their part of the world. “So many of us strive to promote social change and political advocacy at DePaul,” said Karen Kraft, the communications and editorial assistant for the department of Catholic studies. She helped organize the event. “I knew Fr. Memo when he used to work here and for him to come back and share all the wisdom he’s gained from working at the UN is empowering. It really drives home the mission of the Vincentian community.”

The next lecture for the series is set to take place at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 24 with native Haitian and DePaul alum Yasmine Cajuste who will touch on the work she does with the FamVin Homeless Alliance.