'SENT TO ANNOUNCE THE GOOD NEWS TO THE POOR'
The recent letter of the Rector Major on poverty has clearly oriented the choice of the central theme of this encounter of the provincial economers of the Provinces of East Asia and Astralia .
I am personally glad to be able to entertain myself with you, in a first instance, on a charismatic theme which has a direct reference to our identity of consecrated religious and which has been entrusted to our responsibility by the Salesian tradition. In a second instance we will obviously deal with economical and financial matters which are the main source of our worries.
As a matter of fact our commitment in the economical field, although it takes inspiration from the autonomy of secular realities and is regulated by its own laws, is finalized to a transparent witness of religious consecration and to the Salesian mission. We shall also deal with technical and specialised topics, but it is providential that they be set within the deeper and wider reality of our consecration to God and our mission to the youth.
I therefore intend to analyse the Rector Major's letter in two different moments as indicated in the program. In the first talk I'll endeavour to introduce the content of the letter in its essential points, linking it directly to the reflection of GC24. In my second talk, following on the commentary appeared in the same issue of AGC, I'll introduce some more operative points and problems on which I feel a shared analysis will be useful in strict connection with the present context and reality of the various Indian provinces.
(Chapter II of the Third Part Towards the future).
Within a context where the Salesian mission is carried out by different and complementary identities, GC24 clearly underlines that Don Bosco wanted consecrated persons at the centre of his work: 'But from some Don Bosco asked still more than this. He asked to stay with him always, to commit themselves full- time to the young with all their very existence and to dedicate their life by vow to following the obedient, poor and chaste Christ, in a faithful service to God and youth' (GC24,149). The religious had to be a precise point of reference of his charism through their total dedication. The consecrated Salesians are, in the different contexts, 'the Don Bosco of the present day'(GC24 , n.150) for the youths they get into contact with and for the laity whom they share their mission with.
At n. 152 of GC24 one underlines in particular the value of poverty freely embraced for the Kingdom, understood as 'imitation of the radical choices of Christ' and the following indications are given:
- Tending towards 'the outcasts, the poor, the working classes, the young';
- Sharing one's life with the poor, not taking refuge in the security of structures, of a regular stipend, of power and dominion;
- Basing one's security solely on God's sufficiency, the true richness of the human heart;
- Applying a dynamism, within the CEP, so that justice, solidarity and charity may triumph
This is to be the starting point of our reflection on poverty both for methodological reasons and for a correct reading of the contents of the letter. Don Vecchi moreover, following on his predecessors' footsteps, is offering the whole Congregation a present-day reading of the vows, as a concrete way to implement the planning of the general program drawn by GC24. We should reflect on poverty also in this light, emphasizing the specific witness of the Salesian SDB among the various protagonists of the Salesian mission within the CEP.
Before analysing the structure and the contents of the letter, I think it is useful to underline some expressions which appear as a direct and immediate echo of GC24 and which are to be found in the section entitled 'Freedom and detachment'.
Jesus is the most precious good : 'In our meeting with Jesus and his person we have discovered good things infinitely superior to those which are temporal, though the latter are not without value. This is the first meaning or significance of our poverty'(page 5-6). It should be very clear, for economers in a particular way, therefore that the management of goods should always be functional to 'goods infinitely superior'.
In this perspective, Fr. Vecchi, rethinking GC24 'God's sufficiency'(152), underlines detachment as the underlying theme 'because temporal goods are beneath our desires we have discovered others far superior' detachment which 'is applicable to affections, health, individual freedom, power, personal cultural preparation, sufficiency of our intelligence, material means, and also to our will and decisions. In this sense poverty is founded and becomes merged with obedience'(6).
It is therefore evident that poverty is firstly lived at the level of convictions and interior attitudes and in a second instance with external and visible signs. 'You cannot practice poverty unless you love it' according to don Bosco's famous expression. 'We can understand why the 'the poor' person in Scripture represents not only the one who restricts himself in his use of material goods, but also the person who restricts himself in his use of material goods, but also the person, who has entered into the mystery of human existence, in his need for the infinity of God'(6-7).
a reference to GC24, the goals of the letter, suggesting a creative reading.
This first part of the letter is an analysis of our Salesian tradition in the specific field of poverty, as it has been accepted by our renewed Constitutions, with a direct connection with Don Bosco and with due attention to the daily context. At the basis and in the horizon of our commitment in poverty there are the two basic tenets of community and mission. The points offered by the letter are the following:
i. Freedom and detachment
ii. Investing in the Community: in its fullest sense, both with a view to the things to be shared and the persons with whom to share.
Solidarity and sharing : 'Solidarity with the poor generates attitudes of sharing: physical presence especially where poverty means squalor, lack of essentials, want of educative possibilities, absence of prospects. And with our presence there must also be a sharing in the living conditions, and the sharing too in the efforts to improve conditions'(page 8).
iii. A sign of the salesian mission: our poverty tends to be expressed in concrete services because the 'detachment of heart' is directed to the 'generous service of others':
- the resources we have at our disposal are aimed at serving young people and therefore we are enterprising;
- the social impact of our mission with an educative intention: the common good, justice, concern for those who are weak and disadvantaged.
iv. Work and temperance: the spirituality of apostolic activity relates work with poverty and temperance and refers both to the life style of the single confreres and rhythm of community life itself
v. Wise administration: .our poverty includes the sound administration of goods: precision, with careful foresight, skill in putting to good use, openness, and with the shared responsibility of the community (page 15).
III. Today's challenges (Letter, pages 16-19)
In this second part of the letter the Rector Major deals with some of the tendencies and customs of today, which are often in contrast with the guidelines mentioned above and which require of us a clear evaluation of our witness.
i. The world is divided by the possession of goods
- development is taking place at different speeds;
- consumer mentality based on comfort and a free and easy life;
- in poorer contexts: courageous discernment;
ii. The relevance of economics and the importance of money in the financial and social system
- money more decisive than work;
- a more direct and growing solidarity;
- benefactors and Providence.
iii. The complexity of economical management:
- high administration and maintenance expenses;
- the commercial side of our activities, taxation, salaries of employees
- the need for large sums of money.
iv. Tendency towards the autonomous management of one's life
- individualistic forms of organising life;
- respect and personal responsibility with regard to the requirements of the vow of poverty.
V Icons of Salesian poverty (Letter, pages 19-30)
Following the guidelines of the Constitutions and the document Vita Consecrata Don Vecchi reflects on three biblical icons and further and Don Bosco's witness of poverty.
i. The disciple: the follower of Jesus
- the christological aspect of poverty : entering the mystery of Christ;
- the self-emptying of Christ;
- the total dependence on the Father;
- prayer : the characteristic attitude of the poor.
ii. Good news to the poor
- the ecclesial aspect of poverty: the key to the fruitfulness of the Church;
- the poor : the mission is primarily addressed to them;
- poverty is content of the proclamation;
- Jesus' teaching on riches and on goods;
- Poverty : an indispensable characteristic of the evangelizing missionary.
iii. The first Christians
- The social aspect of the evangelical poverty;
- Communion and sharing in a full sense.
iv. Don Bosco's poverty
- oriented by the ideal of the poor Christ;
- personal poverty and the needs of the educative mission;
- a beggar for the benefit of the poor;
- unshakeable trust in Providence
IV. Some suggestions for the present day (Letter, Pages 30-37)
The Rector Major, after outlining the motives of our poverty, offers some orientations for our way of life, insisting on the need to make wise judgements, to concentrate on the essentials and to entrust ourselves to the Holy Spirit.
i. Intelligent responsibility
- the attitude of vigilance;
- the 'scrutinium paupertatis' at a personal and community level;
ii. Apostolic application of goods
- educative, formative and charitable application of goods;
- criterion of the safeguarding of the goods: keeping our resources readily available for the apostolate;
- Providence and foresight
- a constitutional duty
- responsibility of the provincial government;
- a periodic plan of financial solidarity.
iv. Educating to the use of goods
- idolatry of consumerism and tendency to waste;
- a Christian vision of an ordering and application of goods;
- forming young people to the social dimension of poverty.
v. Loving the poor in Christ
- feeling oneself poor among the poor;
- awareness of the different kinds of poverty.
In his conclusion Don Vecchi takes inspiration from Mary who proclaims poverty in the Magnificat and introduces herself in the tradition of the poor of Jahwe: 'History begins again always from the poor and opens to the future in the measure of their hope'.
Don Vecchi has offered us an immediate, clear and certainly stimulating reading on poverty.
The same Rector Major, in the introduction, advocates 'a creative reading of the text in communities'.
This is the reason why I chose to introduce it within this meeting of provincials and provincial economers. I am thinking of a thoughtful reading with direct connections to life, to our experience of consecrated Salesians, more than of notions to be critically analysed.
The groups will help us to grasp all the aspects which I have only hinted at and which are relevant for our life and apostolate. We shall concentrate on 'today's challenges' and 'some suggestions for the present day', keeping in mind the main guidelines.
We ought to remind ourselves of the dream of the diamonds and the two scenarios which identify the situation of the Congregation: 'Our Society is blessed by heaven, but He wants us to be active in this field. The threatened evils will be avoided, if we preach about the remarked virtues and vices; if we practice what we preach, we will be able to hand it over to our confreres with a practical tradition of what has been and will be done' (B.M. Vol. XV, page 187).
The meaning of this dream and the preoccupation of Don Bosco confront us today and lead us back to the original spring of our consecration and to the faithful practice of evangelical poverty.
D. Gianni Mazzali