Council Resources

Intercultural experience in the formation of the Salesians of Don Bosco

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General Councilor for Formation


Orientations of the "Ratio formationis" and experiences

Article for the magazine of the Congregation for Consecrated Life
"Sequela Christi"
In the global context of multiculturalism

The current global context is becoming increasingly multicultural. Getting in touch with other ways of living, of feeling, of understanding reality is always easier. The sometimes conflicting relationships between different ethnic groups of the same nation or continent are intensifying; but it is above all the phenomena of globalization and migration that have transformed the world scenario, making it increasingly complex and multicultural.
The globalizationis creating processes of economic, cultural, political and technological interdependencies whose positive and negative effects have a planetary relevance. Positive aspects include: the speed of communications and information, the opportunity for growth for countries remaining on the margins of the economy, the reduction in space-time distance, and the reduction of costs thanks to increased competition. Among the negative aspects there are: environmental degradation, the risk of increasing social disparities, the loss of local identities, the reduction of national sovereignty and the autonomy of local economies, the decrease in privacy.
the migrationthey are another phenomenon that contributes to the constitution and expansion of multicultural contexts. Among the most visible aspects are: the inclusion of immigrant workers in various sectors of the economy, their difficulty in integrating into social life, the uncontrolled influx of irregular immigrants and illegal landings, their marginal presence in social life , the contrasts between foreigners and natives, the increase in minors of foreign origin in schools and their school failure, the increase in unaccompanied foreign minors and the risk of their exploitation. In addition to these factors, there is also a growing number of immigrants in the area, an increase in mixed marriages, an increase in the number of births of immigrant families, family reunions, increases in second generations,
The multicultural perspective enables us to understand that we are a single human family, which should avoid ethnocentric conflicts and that should act for the good of all. In multicultural societies it is important to start integration processes . Integrating does not mean canceling differences, it does not mean adapting to undergo a process of acculturation and incorporation within a dominant culture. Integrating means finding a vital space for expressing one's own peculiarities within a reference system that does not erase diversity, but exalts and recomposes them in a multiform and rich framework.

Multicultural development of the Salesian Congregation

From the beginning Don Bosco wanted to characterize the Salesian Congregation for a strong missionary commitment. This commitment continued with the first Successor of Don Bosco, Blessed Michael Rua, who opened Salesian presences in all continents, beginning that process of globalization of the Congregation then carried on by the successive Rector Major.
Project Africa started by the Rector Major Don Viganò in 1980, new presences in Eastern European countries after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the beginning of works in the Pacific Islands led the Congregation to be present today in 132 countries of the world and to be divided into 8 Animation Regions: 3 in Europe, 2 in America, 1 in Africa and Madagascar and 2 in Asia. Because of the different increase in vocations in the various geographical areas of the world, new cultural balances are being created in the Congregation, with a focus on enhancing diversity, but also on safeguarding the unity and charismatic identity.
Project Europe, started by the Rector Major Fr Pascual Chavez in 2002 and made official by the General Chapter in 2008, brought missionaries from all over the world to the European Salesian communities; today there are about 90 Salesian missionaries present in Europe. With the continuous sending of missionaries also in other parts of the world, international communities were formed, where previously the missionaries came mainly from Europe, while today from the other continents.
These are processes analogous to those that take place within the life of the Catholic Church, which has become increasingly global, also because of the theology of the mission, which has developed since the conciliar Decree "Ad Gentes" up to reach to the Encyclical "Redemptoris missio".

Orientations and experiences for an intercultural Salesian formation

Faced with this changed scenario, the Salesian Congregation became aware of the need for a change in formation: besides the demands of inculturation, it was also necessary to respond to the new challenges of interculturality. For this reason it has focused on shifting the emphasis from a predominantly provincial formation to an interprovincial formative collaboration; or rather the need to network the formation communities and to foster formative collaboration, has created new multicultural situations and posed new challenges to education. [1]
The formands of our formation communities often come from different ethnic groups; to these are added the young missionaries who, having left for missions during the formative phases, must complete their formation in the sending countries. Recently, another factor has accentuated interculturality in the formation communities: the Provinces that have a small number of those in formation or of formators have been invited to join other Provinces in interprovincial collaboration to ensure that degree of formation that they alone cannot offer. In these communities there is a good reception and interaction between the confreres of different cultures and there is ample space for them to express themselves in their own cultures. The shared charism creates a good sense of belonging.
In every continent we haveinterprovincial and regional communities, in which formandi are found of different Provinces. For example, novices from Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay meet in the novitiate of Alta Gracia in Argentina; that of Gbodjome in Togo, for the Vice Provinces of West Africa and Tropical Africa, has novices who come from thirteen African countries; the novitiates of Pinerolo and Genzano in Italy have novices from Italy, the Middle East and many European countries. There is also a similar experience for post-novitiates with centers of philosophical and pedagogical studies. The proposal assumes a more international character for the specific formation of candidates for the priesthood and Salesian brothers, as for example in the theological study centers of Manila, Bangalore, Shillong, Nairobi, Lubumbashi, Tlaquepaque, Krakow, Turin and Messina.
We then wanted to increase worldwide formation communities for theology students in Rome in Italian and in Jerusalem for the English language; there is also a world community for the specific formation of Salesian brothers in Turin Valdocco on the places of Don Bosco. All the Regions of the Congregation are present and an attempt is made to maintain a balance between the various origins and cultures. Four other world communities are in Rome for Salesian confreres who attend the Salesian Pontifical University and other Pontifical Universities.
These communities and centers of study play an important role in fostering enriching experiences of interculturality: they open the students to other cultures; they offer a broader view of the charism and an appreciation of the different ways of living it; they help to form the sense of belonging to the Congregation, which is not monolithic but unique in essential realities and varied in expressions. All this contributes to creating the sense of the catholicity and missionary nature of the Church.
Interculturality is a reality that is encountered not only in formation communities and study centers; there are also other regional training initiatives, in which the Salesian participants come from very different places and experiences: for example the preparation for perpetual profession, the meetings of the trainees, the "quinquennium" of young priests and assistants, and other similar periodic meetings. Collaborations are also taking place between Provinces for the study of languages, particularly in the Italian and English languages. There are also analogous experiences of ongoing formation: formation of the directors, refresher courses, study seminars, ...

Training conditions for intercultural experience

As mentioned, in the Salesian Congregation we have numerous multicultural formation communities for initial formation and university qualification; we also have international study centers open to religious of different diocesan and lay congregations. Now it is necessary to ensure certain conditions, so that they can offer a true intercultural experience.
New mentality. The starting point consists in creating a new mentality about the formative responsibility: a formation community or an interprovincial study center does not "belong" exclusively to the Province in whose territory it is located and the educational and academic responsibility concerns all the Provinces involved. A Province therefore does not renounce the task of formation, sending its formandi to international communities; only the way of exercising this task changes, which is realized with a shared responsibility. In this way we intend to ensure "in an institutional way" the attention to the different contexts and the various cultures represented.
Continuity of collaboration and experience. Intercultural experience and formative collaboration between Provinces have a history with their beginnings, progress, slowdowns, verifications, raises. Experience and collaboration need maturation and growth times; there can be no fragmentation of experiences or improvisation of choices. Only with a continuity of walking can the variety of initial training practices, the multiplicity of lifestyles, the diversity of the contexts of origin be harmonized. Only continuity ensures a real inculturation in formation and a true intercultural experience.
Inter-provincial team.The teams of the formation community and of the study center must be interprovincial. This guarantees the solidarity of all in supporting the community and the center of study and above all facilitates the knowledge of the different cultural contexts of origin of the formandi, thus favoring inculturation. The insertion of new trainers and teachers takes place with a collegial choice of inspectors; this applies in particular to the director of the formation community.
Body of co-responsibility. The Salesian "Ratio" declares that interprovincial collaboration, for the formation community and for the study center, "presupposes the creation and adequate functioning of a body of co-responsibility, for example the curatorium". The curatorium's competence concerns: the project of the formation community, the information and opinion on the annual academic planning of the study center, the annual calendar, the criteria for pastoral exercises, the style and practice of poverty, the holiday period academic, the returns in the Province, the budget and final balance, the definition of annual fees, academic fees, ...
Training of trainers. An important task is to prepare the formators to face the new multicultural situation of the formation communities, but also of the pastoral environments. In this regard, the Sector for the formation of the Congregation offers meetings of formators and meetings of the inspector delegates for the formation of each Region; these are mostly continental meetings, which are already multicultural in themselves. These meetings demonstrate a sensitivity to different cultural situations and a search for solutions to problems, always with the concern for unity of the Congregation and fidelity to the charism of the Founder.
Provincial belonging.To increase the sense of provincial belonging in the formands of the interprovincial communities, the "Ratio" asks that, in addition to the presence in the formation team of formators of their own Province, there be frequent visits by the Provincial, the exchange of news, the meetings of information and communion with the confreres of their own Province, the planning of the academic vacation period made in agreement between the Director of the formation community and the Province of origin, and other forms of communication.

Challenges to intercultural experience

In addition to positive considerations, which lead to enhancing the intercultural experience, some uncertainties of evaluation are encountered in the Congregation, even if they are going over and over. This is why it is important to address the training questions that arise with regard to intercultural experience, with particular reference to contextualization and inculturation.

Contextualization of formation
Training is a contextualized reality. In fact, it occurs in a particular context, which is determined by multiple elements: the social condition of the territory, the culture and lifestyles of the people, the situation of the Church, the practice of the Province. The context, with its emphases or weaknesses, exerts considerable influence and conditioning on the formative process.
The Salesian Constitutions entrust each Province with the "task of establishing, through the various organs of animation and government, how to carry out formation according to the needs of one's own cultural context" (Const. 101). And the "Ratio" adds that "this responsibility requires a permanent attitude of reflection and comparison between the Salesian identity and the cultural context. In this field, collaboration between Provinces of the same context should be encouraged ”. (17)
Now, when choosing an interprovincial formation community, sometimes the doubt arises that attention to the context is neglected; it is thought that those in formation come to find themselves in a situation that does not help them to mature, given that they are inserted in a "different" context from the provincial one. The instance of "training in context" is right, but requires further study.
Today we see that formation cannot be reduced only to the provincial context, but must have a broader scope. In fact, the local and immediate context is not the only context in which we live. Often in a Province there are multiple contexts. We then belong simultaneously to a plurality of contexts: we live in the context of the local Salesian community, but also of the provincial community and of the Congregation; we are part of the reality of the territory, but also of the nation, the continent and the world; we are part of a parish, but also of a particular Church and of the universal Church. We often then live in "plural contexts" in which there is a marked diversity, as in pluricultural, multi-ethnic, interreligious contexts. Globalization and migration are certainly processes that produce the "contamination" of contexts.
Even in the diversity of contexts, exercising discernment, we can find homogeneous contexts. If two contexts are compared, we discover affinities and differences, with positive aspects to be valued and negative aspects to be purified. The contexts are not static, but are evolving. It is therefore possible to find a homogeneous context in a group of Provinces of the same nation or conference or region. Today, for example, we can say that Europe is becoming an increasingly homogeneous context; similar situations exist also in other Regions of the Congregation.
In an interprovincial formation community then, especially when it is part of the same Region, contextualization is not denied. At the same time, the interprovincial community exposes those in formation to a confrontation with different situations, creating openness of mind and heart. It promotes the capacity for insertion in different contexts through openness to the outside, the analysis of the situation, discernment, the response to needs. Certainly a gradualness of experiences is needed, but it is necessary to train to be open and to fit into every context.

Inculturation and interculturality training
L ' inculturation in initial formation is a process of personalization; it is realized when the vocational values ​​are assumed first of all by the culture of formation, so that he transforms his mentality, attitudes, lifestyles, behaviors. In this sense, training must always be inculturated; in fact without personal identification with charismatic values ​​there is no formation. To facilitate this process, generally the first formation takes place in the cultural context of the formator or in a homogeneous context.
Inculturation in initial formation is also a community process, we could say a process of socialization. The formation community is the main subject that begins, accompanies and verifies this process. For this reason the community must have a knowledge, understanding and experience of the charism; it knows its history, its identity, its manifestations. Moreover the community must know the culture of the context and the mentality of those in formation, so that they may be helped to assume the charismatic values ​​in their own culture. Therefore it is a community that communicates, interprets and expresses the charism in a particular culture and in a certain context.
Inculturation must always be accompanied by a process of interculturality. It opens the formant to other cultures, leads him to appreciate their positive aspects and to recognize their limits, leads him to evaluate his own culture without making it absolute, then invites him to assimilate and integrate some valid elements of other cultures into his own. This dialogue or exchange between cultures is an enriching and complementary experience to the inculturation process. The interprovincial communities open to a broader vision of the Salesian charism; they help to form the sense of belonging to the Congregation, attention to the needs of the world's youth, the global vision of the urgent needs of evangelization, which are realities that go beyond the provincial horizon.
Inculturation and interculturality in initial formation are closely linked to the charism, to which they are placed. Ordinarily in the early stages of formation, up to the post-novitiate - apprenticeship, we should pay close attention to the processes of inculturation, that is, to the transformations of the culture of formation. Starting from the specific training phase, we should pay more attention to the processes of interculturality. In this stage those in formation demonstrate that they have reached a certain maturity of culture and faith and that they possess a sufficient openness and critical sense; they can therefore positively address the intercultural experience.

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to conclude, we can say that it is the different multicultural contexts of today that ask us to offer intercultural experiences in formation and to prepare these new situations, opportunities and challenges to live in the pastoral care. The new "multicultural" situations ask us for new "intercultural" formative responses, otherwise we do not help the confreres to live

[1] Br. CEREDA, Interprovincial Collaboration in Initial Formation , in "Acts of the General Council" No. 388, Rome 2005. It should be noted that in Salesian terminology the expressions "ispettoriel" and "interprovincial" correspond to the usual language of life religious of "provincial" and "interprovincial".