THE REAL UTOPIA: VICENTE FERRER
As you know, this blog Solutions aims to generate contents focused on entrepreneurial activity and social transformation. This week I would like to share a chapter of the book I co-authored with my friend Francesc Miralles, ‘The Treasure Map’, in which we approach a man, a generator of an extraordinary social transformation, whose life is a proof that utopia is possible, in spite of the effort it takes to be performed might be of titanic dimensions.
VICENTE FERRER: REAL UTOPIA
“I do not want to be remembered when I die, but to be left alone. Once there, I will make up another Vicente Ferrer Foundation.”
It may be surprising that the latest example of a life that completes this book is someone’s who did not play the role of businessman or entrepreneur, but whose work was characterized by initiative, by the desire to create prosperity, to innovate, to improve the quality of life in an environment that was prey to endemic poverty. His results achieved by persevering, full of courage and determination throughout his existence, with such force and roots, that are still being acknowledged, after his death.
Perhaps this is the best example of a searcher and creator of treasures, because it shows how the combination of wanting (attitude), knowing (knowledge), doing (persistence) and passing on (generosity) with unwavering ethics is what changes and can change in the future this world we live in.
Vicente Ferrer said that India had chosen him. This Jesuit entrepreneur decided, from a young age, to devote his life and his efforts to help the poorest people. That was the treasure he pursued.
After the Spanish Civil War and having been confined to various concentration camps, he chose to join the Society of Jesus following the adventurous character of San Ignacio de Loyola, whose spirit he admired.
After getting to be transferred to the Indian subcontinent, three years later he left his religious formation as he was convinced that the time away from spirituality to reach holiness by more terrestrial paths had come.
Vicente Ferrer thought action is always the most important thing.
He married journalist Anne Perry and together, in India, they founded an organization to relieve the suffering of the most vulnerable ones there. One of his arguments against the powerful locals was that if you want to be rich you have to give, while if you want to stay poor, you should not give anything to anyone.
With this own philosophy, Vicente Ferrer found enemies of the most influential caste in the area of India where he worked, them fearful that he was converting peasants into Christianity. Although this had never been his goal, he was invited to leave the country and “take a little holiday for a while” through a telegram from Indira Gandhi, who although supported his work, had to calm this situation more diplomatically.
And it was the poor who came forward and demanded the return of the man who helped them to improve their lives through the construction of schools, hospitals and wells.
Vicente Ferrer was able to return and settled down in tribal villages of Anantapur, this time. Quickly he took back his task to create the Vicente Ferrer Foundation with his inseparable wife. The conviction that they could contribute to improving the quality of life of people in Anantapur with very little resources led them to provide more than 1,500 small villages with infrastructure to make water drinkable, hospital beds, books for learning to read in schools and agricultural cooperatives which generated economic activity.
These populations were still poor, but managed to make the most out from the money they received, leaving behind the tyranny to the extreme poverty that they had undergone.
Vicente Ferrer visited Spain frequently to seek additional funding for his projects in India and he explained to peoples that human battle cannot be won without a good dose of dedication. His dream was that 90% of Spaniards donate money to poor countries.
His wife, Anne, told that when Vicente visited Spain he was welcomed as a great sage, for he had to express his vision of human existence in a philosophical way. However, in India his spiritual messages consisted only in improving the lives of the needy.
Vicente Ferrer managed to be a hero to thousands of citizens devoting his life for the welfare of others. His simple philosophy of life was based primarily on these two premises that he never ceased to apply throughout his long humanitarian career:
1) Do not ever stop being optimistic and being in love with life and with people, always practising with idealism.
2) We must convince people that without massive reaction or collective heroism we cannot ensure that the most disadvantaged improve their situation. We must assume that humanity is sick, but we can win the battle.
Vicente Ferrer put voice to lucidity and compassion, but his words and thoughts were full of pure common sense, so precious as scarce that is in our time. The common sense of someone who knew how to preserve the simplicity and kindness throughout his life and made it a message of hope and a proof that utopias are possible if you walk on with the power of love.
Some inspirations by Vicente Ferrer:
“I do not know what my happiness is, I think that is too selfish”.
“Do not forget that poor people are happy, and although it is difficult to understand, the more they have they become less happy because they live with less confidence”.
“What I do is more than enough to spend a lifetime doing it”.
“For me, acting is the most important, the final spirituality”.
“The Foundation works without me, but I cannot make it without it”.
“A man is endowed with spiritual forces that do not need any adding to explain them”.
“No good deed is lost in this world. Somewhere it will remain forever”.
“You think you come to save the world, but what you are really coming is to save yourself”.
“Poverty is not only to understand but also to be solved”.
“The heart is split in two. With a half, man loves himself and with the other half we love others. This heart is a continual guide. He always says, ‘Do it good’. It is always running at full speed. If inside of it, the love for yourself is greater that the love for others, then ypu may make many mistakes”.