General Councillor for Formation
Fr Francesco CEREDA
THE DELEGATE AND PROVINCIAL COMMISSION FOR FORMATION
The figure of the provincial delegate for formation is gradually taking on an ever more decisive role in the animation of the life of provinces, especially because of the now recognized importance of formation for the vocational growth of confreres, for the quality of educational and pastoral activity, and for charismatic identity. The delegate is the one who “gives life” to formation in the province: he animates it, stimulates it, follows it up and monitors it; the same can be said of the provincial formation commission which he coordinates.
Recent guidelines of the Congregation assign new tasks to this person. The Ratio frequently speaks of his role and presents an overview of his duties, comparing them with those of the Provincial (FSDB 246 - 247). The GC25 calls for his involvement in the study and animation of the personal life-plan, the community project, the province’s yearly programme for ongoing formation, and the plan for the qualification of the confreres (GC25 16, 60). And finally the Councillor for Formation requires of him that he take special care to foster and promote the vocation of the salesian Brother (AGC 382).
I think it important therefore that the provinces become fully aware of the new figure of the provincial delegate for formation that is taking shape, and hence of the actual formation demands of which he will have to ensure the implementation. At present the application of the Ratio is dependent mainly on the qualification and strengthening of the delegate and of the provincial formation commission. They are at the service of the Provincial and his Council for the animation of the communities and the growth of the confreres. Here I offer you an overview of their obligations; the provinces will thus be able gradually to better appreciate their duties and make better use of what they can do.
The first task of the delegate is to reflect on formation in the province. This means that he must keep up to date in the field of formation and in areas connected with it, such as consecrated life, the human maturing process, the spiritual life, “Christian states of life” and the challenges of evangelization, and also in the guidelines of the Church, the General Chapters, and the Rector Major with his Council. It also requires that the delegate be in contact with the real situation in the province, especially with the young people in initial formation, the formation guides, the formation communities, and indeed with all communities, confreres and initiatives in ongoing formation.
1.1. He reflects on the Ratio and on the “Criteria and norms for salesian vocational discernment”. The Ratio provides charismatic, spiritual and pedagogical guidelines which accompany the norms; they give the general picture of formation and identify its dimensions. It presents a synthesis of the salesian vocation and of how growth in it takes place by accepting the principal directives of the Church and of the Congregation and by observing formative methods. It is a strategic document, and so merits meditation, study and assimilation on the part of every Salesian, and especially of those who have responsibilities for animation and government, for initial and ongoing formation, and especially on the part of the delegate and provincial formation commission.
1.2. After assimilating the Ratio and the other documents of the Church and Congregation on formation, the delegate reflects on the formative practice of the province, that is, he constantly asks himself whether the formative processes – and especially their results – really correspond to the expectations of the Church and the Congregation, to the present circumstances and to local demands. In this way he becomes aware not only of what is valid in formative procedures within the province, but also of their weaknesses and difficulties.
1.3. It is not sufficient that he reflect with the Provincial, the provincial council and the formation commission; he must be able to persuade every confrere and community to do likewise and accept their share of responsibility. In this way he will help in implementing one of the guidelines of the Ratio which declares: “The Province engages in a continual process of reflection on the situation of the confreres, and the communities and their formation, and becomes a setting that animates, fosters and demands fidelity to the salesian vocation” (FSDB 226).
Reflection with the provincial formation commission on the guidelines of the Church and the Congregation, verification of formative practice, and the inculcation of reflection throughout the province, leads to the second task of the formation delegate, which is that of planning.
2.1. The delegate and the commission work together in preparing the formation section of the provincial directory. In this are found the norms and broad formative options of the province. It is the task of the Provincial Chapter to do the actual drawing up of the directory which, once it has received the approval of the Rector Major and his Council, becomes the code of particular law for the province. It is then up to the delegate, with the commission, to prompt its implementation and ensure at regular intervals that it is being applied in practice.
2.2. The province is involved in the drawing up, implementation and revision of the province formation plan. It is a mistake to think of the provincial plan as a document to be prepared by the delegate and the commission. The plan is in fact the process of discernment and convergence of the provincial community on its own formation; this is the responsibility of everyone, and the delegate is the one who helps the province to accept this responsibility.
It is a matter of creating an agreed view among the confreres of the province about the type of Salesian they want to form, about the stage they have reached, what still remains to be done, and how they intend to do it. The plan covers the areas of initial and ongoing formation, qualification of confreres, and the joint formation of Salesians and lay people. In it special care is taken to provide the various elements for the formative curriculum of the salesian Brother (FSDB 424).
When the plan has been drawn up and approved by the Provincial with his Council, it belongs to the delegate to see to its implementation, evaluation and if necessary to its revision. He, therefore, is the one who follows up its implementation by everyone: by the formation commission, by the Provincial and his Council, by the formation guides, by the confreres and by the communities. He makes of the plan the means for the continued growth and renewal of the Province.
2.3. The GC25 asks the Provincial and his Council, with the help of the delegate and commission for formation, to suggest ways and means for drawing up the personal life-plan and the salesian community plan (GC25 16). The personal life-plan, already asked for from everyone by the Ratio, is a way of “bringing together one’s desires, energies and values in a personal project of life, in which one assumes responsibility for one’s growth and lives to the full the deepest motivations of one’s vocation” (FSDB 69). In it the confrere depicts the kind of Salesian he feels called upon to be and the process for achieving this. The salesian community plan is an effective means for giving a solid foundation to the ability to “live and work together” and overcome the dispersion of individual work and the risk of fragmentation. The community tries to discern the will of God in its regard, appraises its situation, and discovers the path to be taken to reach the goal; in this way communion grows among the members, together with a sense of common responsibility.
2.4 Finally, according to the guidelines presented in AGC 382, it belongs to the delegate with the provincial commission for formation to plan and develop activity for promoting the vocation of the salesian Brother, involving the whole province, the educative and pastoral communities and the Salesian Family. This activity aims at the realization of the four lines of action mentioned by the Councillor for Formation: a better knowledge and appreciation of the identity of the salesian Brother, beginning with the confreres and salesian communities; a greater visibility of this figure especially in educative and pastoral communities; a formation of quality for the Brother; and a strong commitment to the promotion of this vocation. To this must be added the animation of constant prayer. The delegate and commission have to involve the whole province in the planning and implementation of these commitments, but they should take the initiative for stimulation and coordination.
3. FOLLOWING UP INITIAL FORMATION
Initial formation calls for specific kinds of care according to the phase the young confreres are living through. The formation delegate must give particular attention to stages, persons and situations.
3.1. The part of the provincial plan of formation that deals with initial formation is called precisely the plan for initial formation. The delegate and formation commission must arrange the various procedures and the different experiences, activities, persons involved, periods, contents, environments and phases, so that they converge on clear goals. It should be noted that the emphasis is to be placed not on the number of things to be done but on their purpose. If, for instance, in its provincial formation plan a province has the aim to inculcate among young confreres a strong incentive to work for the very poor or to the formation of a missionary mentality, the delegate will try to concentrate the efforts of all on this objective. For this reason it is a great help to draw up at the beginning of the year a good programme of initial formation, based on the provincial plan.
3.2. The delegate must also foster the continuity of the formation process during initial formation. This can be achieved in different ways. There can be periodic meetings between those responsible for the different phases to reflect on how the formation process is proceeding (FSDB 239); the Ratio suggests links be maintained between those responsible for formation in the postnovitiate, novitiate and practical training (FSDB 415) and between those responsible for the prenovitiate and the director of novices (FSDB 345). There can be meetings of formation guides in order to exchange views regarding knowledge and convergent application of criteria and norms for salesian vocational discernment (FSDB 297) or initiatives for ensuring continuity in pedagogical formation or the method of teaching at various phases. There should also be a plan to ensure that the young confrere experiences a true continuous and unified process during the various phases.
3.3. The delegate follows up the formation communities and the study centres. This means that he visits them periodically, keeps himself informed about their general situation and programming, and monitors their formative activity. He also visits any interprovincial formation communities, maintains contact with the formation personnel and meets the young men in initial formation.
3.4. The delegate organizes suitable initiatives of animation and guidance for those in practical training in accordance with a prearranged programme. For them these initiatives are opportunities for direct comparisons, exchange of experiences, shared reflection and mutual support; they help to make the individual formation process effective (FSDB 439). The delegate also maintains contact with the Rectors of those in practical training and receives the quarterly formation assessments.
4. FOLLOWING UP ONGOING FORMATION
Ongoing formation is a field in which the delegate has an important role to play. He sensitizes the confreres and communities to the need for conversion, renewal, updating and continuous growth; it is a matter of inculcating in everyone a mentality of openness, reflection, research, a desire for holiness and responsibility for one’s personal growth, or in other words a mentality of ongoing formation.
4.1. At provincial level the delegate involves confreres and communities in the formulation of the plan of ongoing formation, which forms part of the provincial formation plan aimed at spiritual renewal, pastoral qualification, and the educative and professional competence of the confreres. Its elaboration takes into account the different roles and ages and specific vocation and life situations: the quinquennium, degree of maturity, significant anniversaries and old age (FSDB 556).
It is expressed in a yearly programme of ongoing formation concerning the formation of the main animators: Rectors, formation guides, delegates, but without overlooking the sick and elderly, so that they can live their particular situation with untroubled mind and a spirit of faith (CG25 60). It prepares helpful material and organizes appropriate services: retreats, days and other periods of prayer, renewal courses, updating meetings for different categories, meetings for the study of documents of the Church and the Congregation, and bibliographical information (FSDB 549).
It helps every community to draw up its own annual programme of ongoing formation and follows up its implementation, all of which forms part of the community project. It watches over the day to day life of the community to make sure it is formative. It encourages the confreres to foster the quality of personal prayer, and especially meditation, fostering the knowledge and use of methods consistent with our spirituality (FSDB 120), and to give special attention to the affective area and the building of interpersonal relationships (CG25 60) and the practice of the “lectio divina” (CG25 31).
4.2. Nowadays it is becoming increasingly important that the formation delegate help to create in the province concern for the salesian spirit and encourage communities and confreres to give more serious attention to it, by promoting initiatives or providing helpful material to make known the guidelines of the Congregation, the Rector Major’s letters and other salesian documents. He sees to it that the province has a good salesian library (FSDB 51) to facilitate access to the sources of our charism (CG25 60). He ensures that in the various phases of formation there is a serious and updated programme of salesian studies embracing history, spirituality, pedagogy and pastoral work. Similarly he organizes salesian experiences as part of ongoing formation (FSDB 50). Another of his important functions is the help he should provide for a deeper understanding of the vocational identity of the salesian Brother and for giving it greater visibility in the salesian and the educative and pastoral communities.
4.3. The delegate helps the Provincial to plan the qualification of all the confreres for their educative, pastoral and formative tasks; particular attention needs to be given to the preparation of those who will have to assume the responsibility of animation, government and formation in the local and provincial communities. It is a question of identifying the prior needs of the province in the light of the mission and formation, of finding ways to respond to these needs and choose the persons best suited to them by aptitude and inclination. All this is expressed in the plan for the qualification of the confreres, that is part of the provincial formation plan submitted by the delegate to the Provincial and his council for decisions. It belongs to the delegate to see to it that they are given effect, and in so doing he takes care to give due weight to philosophical, pedagogical, theological, salesian, professional and academic studies (CG25 60); the Ratio recommends that we keep in mind the preparation of specialists in salesianity for the benefit of confreres and communities (FSDB 547).
4.4. The delegate ensures that within the provincial formation plan are found the suggestions for the common formation together of Salesians and lay people, envisaging the content, experiences and times dedicated to formative activities (FSDB 547, 560). He promotes collaboration with the various groups of the Salesian Family in the field of ongoing formation by systematic action or particular initiatives that can be proposed and animated by teams including members of the different groups (FSDB 547).
5. WORKING AS A TEAM
It is fundamental for formation in the province that there be an animating nucleus; this is normally made up of the delegate and provincial formation commission (FSDB 18); without a reference group it is difficult to make progress. Formation is a crucial element for the life of the province. It embraces a variety of communities, programmes, situations, persons, experiences and needs; it includes initial and ongoing formation, the qualification of confreres and the formation together of Salesians and laity. It is difficult to think that a single person, highly qualified though he be, could attend to all of this and do it well.
5.1. This is why the delegate has alongside him a commission to collaborate directly with him in the formation field. It is with the commission, in fact, that he reflects on the situation of formation in the province, identifying the crucial points, seeking the most suitable responses, making proposals to the provincial council, planning for the future, organizing and coordinating the various activities, implementing decisions made, and checking up on results. Team work like this produces an activity which is organic, well programmed and unified (FSDB 22).
5.2. Attention needs to be given to the composition of the commission. It must be made up of people who because of their preparation and/or experience can make a valid contribution and who have the time required for meetings, reflection, and collaboration in practical initiatives. It is desirable that among the members there be at least one salesian Brother.
5.3. The situation of the province and the options it has made can lead to particular roles within the commission. Animation of the various areas can suggest the setting up of working groups for initial formation, for ongoing formation, for the formation of Salesians and laity together, for links with the Salesian Family; but it is always necessary to ensure a convergent set-up which refers back to a single delegate and a single provincial formation commission.
6. WORKING WITHIN A NETWORK
The provincial delegate for formation collaborates with many other people; formation is something which needs many contacts and synergy producing contributions; the delegate must be a ‘network’ person.
6.1. The delegate maintains frequent contact with the delegate for youth ministry and his team, so as to promote in the province mutual collaboration between youth ministry and formation. Knowing the plan for educative and pastoral work in the province, he sees what lines must be followed in the educative and pastoral formation of the confreres and seeks the support of the delegate for youth ministry in the formative process. In dialogue with him he draws up a programme of educative and pastoral activities for every phase of initial formation; he organizes them and later evaluates them. Together they discuss vocational animation, the aspirantate or special supportive community, the prenovitiate and the vocation of the salesian Brother; they also collaborate in defining the lines of common formation of Salesians and laity. One form of link between youth ministry and formation is the presence of the delegate or a member of the formation commission on the team for youth ministry.
6.2. The delegate offers studies, suggestions and proposals to the Provincial and provincial council. It is fitting that he be a member of the provincial council (FSDB 247); in this way he can keep the council informed about matters relating to formation and maintain their concern in its regard. When, as is already the case in many provinces, the delegate for formation is the Vice-provincial this gives him added authority before the confreres, makes more clearly visible the importance of formation, facilitates his proposals in the area of formation, creates a link with the provincial council, and fosters closer contact with all the communities.
6.3. The delegate maintains contact with other formation delegates. Because of the multiplicity of formative requirements it is impossible for a single province to “go it alone”; interprovincial collaboration has become essential, and the delegate can foster it.
This contact between formation delegates helps the provinces to reflect together, to promote the exchange of experiences, to adopt common policies, to strengthen collaboration, and to assess the contribution of study centres and those of ongoing formation. A particular link is needed between the delegate and the regional coordinator and with the regional commission for formation; the Ratio recommends contact with the delegates of other provinces and with the person responsible for coordination at interprovincial level (FSDB 549).
In addition to the setting up and strengthening of interprovincial formation communities – the form of collaboration most urgently needed – there are numerous ways of combining forces at the service of formation: they range from occasional coordination to interprovincial teams and to national or regional centres; from sporadic meetings to periodic initiatives and organic planning; from the sharing of experiences to meetings for reflection to the preparation of common helpful material; from the training of formation personnel to formation courses for specific groups of confreres: rectors, priests and brothers of the “quinquennium", confreres preparing for perpetual profession, salesian Brothers.
6.4. Finally, the delegate keeps in contact with the Councillor General for Formation. It is a great help, in fact, to the Councillor to be aware of the formation situation of each province: the challenges appearing, experiences made, decisions taken; in this way he can assess the formation problems and needs of the Congregation as a whole; he is prompted to reflect on them and find ways to respond to them. Moreover the Councillor and all the personnel of the Department are always available to support the formative work being done by the delegate in the province, and to offer him their help.
The Ratio highlights the diversity of tasks of the Provincial and of the provincial formation delegate (FSDB 246 - 247); they are not tasks which are either super-imposed nor mutually exclusive. The Provincial has the ultimate responsibility for formation, and the delegate – precisely as a delegate – performs all his activities in the name of the Provincial and in agreement with him. This makes it all the more necessary that the provinces reflect on this figure, give it proper importance and augment it with a view to competent animation and effective formation. This is the line already taken by many provinces; the delegate and provincial formation commission have proved to be a resource for their growth.