Ivo Coelho, SDB
Consigliere generale per la formazione
San Callisto – Rome, 10-12 May 2018
Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord
Provincial Formation Delegates
Greetings to you from Rome, where we have just concluded a small study seminar on Salesian meditation. The participants were Jose Kuttianimattathil INK (coordinator), Xavier Blanco SSM, Giuseppe Buccellato ISI, Eunan McDonnell IRL, Cleofas Murguia, Giuseppe Roggia UPS, Gianni Rolandi from the Missions Department, and Silvio Roggia, Francisco Santos Montero and myself from the Formation Department. The aim was to clarify the place of meditation in the Salesian tradition and life and to offer guidelines for growth in this area. I offer you this rather long letter as a way of sharing the fruits of our seminar.
The seminar originated in a suggestion by Xavier Blanco, Rector of the Salesian house in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, where we were meeting for the last “Consulta” on Formation (February 2016). During a mass at which he was presiding, Xavier surprised us by saying: “Why don't you teach us to meditate?” In the light of the fact that we are in the process of revising the manual of Salesian prayer at the request of GC27, we thought that a seminar dedicated to this theme would be more than opportune. The participants, we eventually decided, would be the formation team led by Jose Kuttianimattathil, Eunan McDonnell, Giuseppe Buccellato and Giuseppe M. Roggia for their expertise in Salesian matters, and Xavier Blanco himself.
The seminar was hosted by the San Callisto community in the wonderfully peaceful setting of the catacombs of San Callisto, 10-12 May 2018. We began with a sharing of our personal experiences in meditation: our initiation to meditation, how we meditate, what impact meditation has on our life and apostolate, what difficulties we encounter.
The next step involved illuminating our experience with the Salesian tradition. Drawing upon his experience of forming and guiding generations of young Salesians, Giuseppe M. Roggia shared what he considered important elements in formation to meditation. Giuseppe Buccellato offered us amazing information about the role of mental prayer in the founding charism of Don Bosco, and how Don Giulio Barberis, the first novice master, dedicated the first two months of the novitiate to formation to meditation. Eunan McDonnell drew upon Francis de Sales and his own experience to present first why we should meditate, and then some elements of the how. Xavier Blanco held up Jesus as the man of the “three times” in whom action, prayer and community come together in a wonderful way, before drawing upon the new thirst for silence and meditation that is manifesting itself in Spain, for example through the work of Pablo d’Ors.
After a time of silence to allow things to sink in, facilitated by a guided meditative visit to the catacombs, there followed a moment of diagnosis and brainstorming: how is it that so many of us lose interest in meditation, even while in initial formation? Is there a specific Salesian method of meditation? Are there other methods that might be in harmony with our spirituality? What could we learn about meditation from the study of Salesian Personal Accompaniment conducted by the departments of Youth Ministry and Formation? What could be done to reawaken esteem and love for meditation among Salesians in initial and ongoing formation? What might be the steps for an efficacious initiation to Salesian meditation? How might Salesian meditation be related to other types of meditation such as the lectio divina, centering prayer and the Jesus prayer?
The final step was an effort to gather the fruits of the two days of study, prayer and reflection, and to see how to share them with the congregation. I put them down here by way of sharing, hoping that you will find something of use.
Meditation in the founding charism of Don Bosco:
Why to meditate:
How to meditate:
Among the steps we want to take in the immediate future are the following:
From the seminar itself we have learned that it is very fruitful, especially in the area of something like meditation, to begin by attending to our personal experience and by sharing it with simplicity, before illuminating it with the tradition. We also realized that the dynamics of a small group are quite different from that of a larger one. This method itself might be something precious in our effort to make progress in meditation, given that it exemplifies the “learning by experience” that is at the core of C 98: “Enlightened by the person of Christ and by his Gospel, lived according to Don Bosco’s spirit, the Salesian… learns by experience the meaning of the Salesian vocation….”
I end with a feeling of quiet gratitude in my heart for this little seminar that arose from the spontaneous request of a confrere. I would like to thank all the confreres who participated and made their contributions in a spirit of great simplicity, to Jose Kuttianimattathil and Silvio Roggia for their coordination and animation of the seminar, to Gianni Rolandi who so willingly joined us to help with translations, and the community of San Callisto that hosted us with such warmth and fraternity. One seminar, we might ask, what difference will that make? At least it made a difference to us who participated, I must say; and then, as Don Bosco said, if we accompany our work with prayer, two grains that are sown will give us four.
A happy feast of the Ascension of our Lord, the feast of Jesus “seated at the right hand of God” and at the same time “acting with us” in our proclamation of the Word and in the signs that accompany it (Mk 16,19-20), most especially the signs of our transformed lives. May our Lady of Fatima and Mary Mazzarello, with their spirit of contemplation, intercede for us!
 See “Lettera di S. Vicenzo de’ Paoli indirizzata a’ suoi religiosi sul levarsi tutti all’ora medesima (15 gennaio 1650)” annessa alle Costituzioni della Società di S. Francesco di Sales dal 1877 al 1907; G. Barberis, Manoscritto Barberis del 1875 dal quaderno delle istruzioni ai novizi, Archivio Centrale Salesiano; G. Barberis, Il vade mecum dei giovani salesiani, nuova edizione riveduta e corretta (Torino, 1931), ch. 12: Della meditazione; G. Buccellato, Alla presenza di Dio. Ruolo dell’orazione mentale nel carisma di fondazione di San Giovanni Bosco, Tesi Gregoriana, Serie Spiritualità 9 (Roma: Editrice Pontificia Gregoriana, 2004); G. Buccellato, Don Bosco, Sant’Ignazio e la Compagnia di Gesù: storia di una relazione nascosta… ma non troppo, in id., Alle radici della spiritualità di San Giovanni Bosco (Città del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2013); G. Buccellato, “Giovanni Bosco: il geloso custode della sua vita con Dio,” Nuovo Dizionario di Mistica, ed. L. Borriello, E. Caruana, M. R. del Genio and R. Di Muro (Città del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2016); G. Buccellato, Da due grani nasceranno quattro spighe. Piccola antologia di insegnamenti di San Giovanni Bosco sulla preghiera (Torino: ElleDiCi, 2017).
 See Pablo d’Ors, Biografía del silenzio (Siruela, 2015)
 See Marco Bay, Giovani salesiani e accompagnamento: Risultati di una ricerca internazionale (Roma: LAS, 2018).
 A note from Rinaldi found by Giuseppe Roggia in the novitiate house of Pinerolo: “Are the novices learning to meditate? It is the most important thing.”