Fr Francesco CEREDA
General Councillor for Formation
Examining the characteristics of vocations to the religious life in the present day, one often speaks about psychological fragility; however, it seems more correct to speak about vocational fragility. In fact, vocation refers to the whole of life; it is not just a matter of the psychological life and development of an individual, but also the human maturing process, the life of faith, the processes of formation, social and ecclesial relationships, the historical and cultural context. On the other hand, it is necessary to recognise that normally nowadays difficulties in living vocational values arise at a psychological level; it is important therefore to give particular attention to this kind of fragility. So, in the reflections which follow, various aspects will be considered; without losing sight of the variety of contexts in which they are found, and the situation regarding fragility will be analysed from the psychological, spiritual, moral and pedagogical perspectives in particular.
The reflections considered here refer to initial formation; but with the prolongation of adolescence and youth, in part they also concern the years that follow. In fact if the period of initial formation is marked by fragility, no less so is the period when for the first time one assumes real responsibility. There is then the particular phenomenon in our Congregation, and in religious life in general, which is often a sign of fragility: the many who leave during temporary profession; for us in the last six year period the number of these has increased to a notable extent (cf. Report of the Vicar of the Rector Major to GC25 103). However, this phenomenon is not found to the same degree in all Provinces; rather in some of them vocations are sound and there is good perseverance. The same can be said for some Congregations, which in spite of the same difficult situation, experience a good supply of vocations and a high level of perseverance. (AGC 382 p. 24).
This document is addressed first of all to Provincials and their Councils, to Provincial Formation Delegates and their Commissions, and to teams of formation guides so that they can examine the situation, take account of the difficulties and try to find ways to help the new vocations; it is also addressed to young confreres in initial formation and raises questions about the life of communities and provinces. Talking about fragility means considering only part of the vocational situation nowadays, which in fact has many positive elements; there is the danger of over-emphasising failings, weaknesses and lack of success. Concern for the salesian vocation requires that we have a special care for our young confreres, responding to their problems and developing their potential. Without a courageous and well-thought-out formation process even the most promising hopes can be dissipated; it is a question also nowadays of providing an approach to formation based on the dream at nine years of age: Make yourself humble, determined and strong.
1. Roots of vocational fragility
Vocational fragility has its roots in the dominant culture of today. We are living in a time of postmodernity: this is characterised by its complexity, which makes life into a maze without any sign posts, and produces a confused situation in which to make decisions; in addition, it is marked by the characteristics of transition with rapid change, the abandonment of old ways of doing things and the lack of new terms of reference; finally it is caught up in the processes of globalisation, which lead to the acceptance of a confused mentality and give rise to a confused identity. In this situation the crucial issue is the evident split between a faith perspective and a culture in a state of continual evolution, which produces a marked relativism with its consequent influence on clear thinking and vocational perseverance.
This weak culture brings with it some consequences related to mentality and life styles: consumerism, which shows itself in a constant search for novelty and especially involves the area of the emotions with attitudes of: I feel or I want; subjectivism, which presumes that ones own point of view is the only valid one; the focus on the immediate, which re-enforces the idea of everything and now; cultivation of the ephemeral and of the image, which glorifies appearance and efficiency; the exaltation of the anthropology of secularised man, which sidelines the model of the religious man.
Religious experience then becomes the search for the feel-good factor about oneself and for highly emotional experiences. In general religious formation makes little impact and does not involve the person in the depth of his being. Each one remains self-centred, convinced that everything can be easily achieved on the basis of personal prestige and possessions, and not with effort and perseverance. Then, as a result of ethical relativism, shared values do not exist.
This has a knock-on effect on civil, ecclesiastical and religious institutions, which, in addition to being weak and not very attractive because of changed times, are no longer popular nor appreciated, not trusted nor referred to. Families too, especially problem families and broken homes, are influenced by this cultural climate; they alternate between being anxiously over-protective of their children, and being noticeably absent from their education, creating a strong affective void and a lack of points of reference. Finally, people, especially young people, reflect a state of affairs that leads them to live in a way that is disjointed or conditioned by what is in fashion; this weakness then leads to even more inconsistency, incoherence, dissatisfaction, instability, superficiality.
Our Congregation operates in many different contexts. We find ourselves in situations which are secularised, pluri-cultural and multi-religious, in which the Christian faith is seen as irrelevant, or where Christians are a minority and where new forms of religious expression are sometimes being sought. We also come across contexts in which globalisation is producing situations of great poverty and extreme marginalisation as well as fresh opportunities for cooperation and solidarity. Finally there are situations of complexity and fragmentation which result in disunity and escapism, as well as acceptance of diversity (cf. CG25 44). While we are living in a culture which tends towards homogeneity, in some contexts the roots of vocational fragility can appear with different features which then need to be studied in the various provinces.
2. Indications of vocational fragility
The characteristics of the current vocational fragility are to be seen particularly in certain attitudes, which tend to become more marked in an individual. Only some of the indications of fragility in young vocations are mentioned here: others can and should be identified according to the various different contexts.
2.1. Inability to make definitive decisions
A tendency can be observed of being tied to the present without any regard to future prospects or any certainties. People are living uneasily with a sense of emptiness, and an inevitable apathy and sense of insecurity. A life of faith does not provide the stimulus needed to look to the future, it is marginal, and does not influence the moral conscience. People are led to fill the emptiness with strong emotional experiences, giving ever more importance to matters of secondary concern. Quite significant in this regard is the anxious seeking for affirmation: affection and esteem are sought, then degrees, and professional qualifications, then high public marks of recognition in ones career. People feel themselves called for today, but are not so sure about tomorrow. It seems impossible to provide the total definitive commitment to the vocation, and so one feels out of place and frequently confused. Vocation then comes to be seen ever more as a private matter that never goes beyond ones present frame of mind. One is afraid of the future and does not have the courage to look at the past; one is frightened of coherent and definitive choices; the capacity to plan ones life becomes weak.
2.2. Uncertainty as regards vocational identity
Another form of immaturity comes from a weak sense of identity, from insecurity and a lack of self acceptance. Even in consecrated life one does not know how to identify oneself and therefore focuses on what you do or what you have rather than who you are. After years of consecrated life, there is uncertainty about ones identity. Ones weakness and sense of alienation take over. One gives way to ones emotions. There is a great falling off in the ideals of ones consecration: the primacy of God, the gift of oneself for the young, the radical following of Christ, fraternal life in community, formation. In particular, the misconception that success in the apostolate will come easily and the subsequent disappointment have a profound unconscious effect on self-esteem and easily lead to a loss of interest, cutting oneself off and ambiguous compensatory behaviour often in the affective area. In addition to a lack of an authentic sense of belonging to the person of Jesus, to the Church and to the Congregation, there remain significant personal aspects of immaturity that have never been taken seriously, tacitly covered up in various ways and never faced up to.
2.3. A seeking for security
There is a tendency to try to find in community a safe haven, or enjoyable friendly relationships to fill a personal emptiness or insecurity, arising from experiences in the family or peer group. One can see a need for affirmation and approval. There are those who relate to the institution in an observant and respectful manner, in order to be given affirmation which they cannot find in themselves. There is often a stifled struggle between autonomy and dependence, to which is added a touch of competitiveness, the need for esteem, the cultivation of appearances. Much is expected from the community and little thought given to generosity in giving oneself. In this way problems of interpersonal relationships arise and are made worse by the crisis experienced by the community which often shows little concern for the individual and great concern about the management of the work. The consequence is a lack of appreciation for fraternal life since it does not satisfy the need for affection, for achievement, for fulfilment. Harsh criticisms follow, being then extended to include all authority, ones own Institute, the Church, civil institutions.
These indications of fragility are a cry for help and an appeal. Behind them lies a formation query. Young confreres are living in a pluralist, neutral, relativist culture: on the one hand they are looking for authenticity, affection, wide horizons; on the other they are fundamentally lonely, attracted or wounded by affluence, confused by ethical uncertainty. One therefore has to take into account the fact that together with their availability and strengths, fragility is also a constant part of life for the young. The problem is not vocational fragility as a given reality among young consecrated persons today; the fact is rather that it is not seen as an opportunity for further maturing, and people do not know how to integrate it.
3. Causes of vocational fragility
The different and complex manifestations of vocational fragility have led to the identification of a phenomenology of fragility. It would be well to go further into this matter now, looking into the causes. Without an understanding of and then a radical attention to the causes it would not be possible to overcome the consequences of fragility. The four fundamental causes which are presented here cannot be taken into consideration separately; as always a systematic approach is important to the understanding of the phenomenon and to the search for remedies.
3.1. Lack of human maturity
A first source of fragility is linked with superficiality, the neglect of and the inability to honestly deal with ones own life story, with the strengths and weaknesses in contains. There is lack of places and of formation guides who are capable of dealing with the complex reality of human maturity and helping young people to form a new conscience. Too many problems are put off and not seriously faced; the young confreres do not have the courage to seek help or they deceive themselves into thinking that they can successfully pursue a maturing process without guidance.
The areas that most often emerge are those of identity, affectivity and sexuality. Sometimes young people try the religious life because that are attracted by it, but they do not know what they are looking for. Often too, they have not received from their families the basic emotional maturity and affective education they need. They are incapable of recognising the unconscious motives behind their vocational response, either as a fundamental option or in everyday decision making. They lack sound terms of reference. Sometimes they have a history of negative experiences which need to be integrated in their life story.
They are lacking in the necessary forgiving attitude needed to accept their own weakness, entrust it to the Lord and accept the necessary laborious change of direction. Young confreres manifest a great thirst for authenticity which they are unable to find and to live out within themselves and which they project upon the community and upon the institution in an idealistic manner; consequently they experience great disappointment and frustration. Only a clear-eyed decision linked to a clear awareness of fragility and a sound motivation can give strength to the vocation.
3.2. Lack of motivations based on faith
Strictly connected with this is a weakness in faith, in prayer, in the interior life, in the spiritual combat, in charismatic motivation, it the ability to bear witness; in this case the young religious are unable in fact to sustain a sense of vocation. Sometimes the family or the culture do not have a Christian tradition. In some situations the religious choice is not based on real faith motives, but becomes an opportunity to escape from poverty to have social recognition, to achieve cultural advancement.
It is difficult to be aware of the real motivations; but if these are not clarified and unless the extent to which faith is the determining factor is verified, any kind of difficulty can lead to the abandoning of the vocational choice. We really have to ask ourselves whether our young men beginning from the first formation really have a profound life which implies a sense of interior freedom, respect for everyone, cultivating ones conscience, consistency between thoughts and emotions, authenticity in behaviour..
We also really have to ask ourselves whether the young confreres have a genuine experience of the primacy of God and the basic centrality of Christ or whether rather they are hiding a spiritual emptiness which, when times are hard, will come to the fore. We have to ask ourselves whether they have any experience of generosity and whether they have at times lived without any immediate reward. We have to ask ourselves whether they are on track for a serious process of internalisation, personalisation, maturation of motives. Without these initial experiences there will be no progress in maturation in the faith.
3.3. Weakness of the formation process followed
Initial formation processes in these years which have been very well developed help to outline the identity of the consecrated person but they do not help him to go into himself in depth and reach maturity. In this way the identity is forgotten or continually reconsidered or deviated by periferal distracting experiences. The formation procedures are discontinuous; some times they are too long and not very effective; it is therefore possible to speak about formation fragility.
The most serious formation weakness lies in the inability to make it sufficiently personalised to help the young confrere to make his own the values of human development, of the faith and of the charism. It must be recognised that often the formation we provide is weak, it does not change nor convert the person, nor reach his heart. Very often there is not sufficient time to do this, because more attention is given to the acquisition of knowledge, to academic degrees, to professional qualifications than to the process of personal maturity.
It must be acknowledged that in some parts of the Congregation, the aspirantate experience having been set aside, other experiences that achieve the same objectives have not always been found. During the teenage years the aspirantate created the educational atmosphere and relationships that provided a Christian way of life and created a certain attraction towards the values of consecrated life. In some places the aspirantate experience while continuing to be available has not been renewed in its methodology.
Sometimes the formation guides in the different phases do not use a common methodology; there are not always enough of them nor are they sufficiently prepared. Enough is not done to make the best use of the teams of formation guides nor to change those formation communities which are still lacking in the personalised approach. For all these reasons personal fragility is never put to the test.
3.4. Malaise of the communities
Another source of fragility is conditioned by the actual state of community life, which provides a implicit and underlying process for formation. The limited spiritual and vocational progress of the community creates a provincial culture that is not very encouraging and sometimes even inconsistent with the atmosphere of the formation communities. The failings in ongoing formation provide poor vocational motivation. The way of thinking, the life styles, the poor examples of behaviour in the Province create for everyone not only for the young confreres a weak religious life against which it would be necessary to react by going against the current. The liberal model of religious life is in fact the source of many weaknesses. (cf. Letter of the Rector Major in AGC 382, p. 13-14).
The lack of real encouraging personal relationships in the community produces individualism and disaffection. The effects of belonging to communities that are too much directed towards the demands of activities and stressful timetables in an attempt to cope with all the commitments they have in spite of reduced forces, have a negative impact in that they create and sustain forms of fragility. This happens with the young but also with the not so young. Feeling themselves more like workers in a business than consecrated people with a mission, they live everyday in a confused state which produces a disorientation that becomes ever more serious.
Two symptoms particularly have emerged in these years: a sense of isolation in community and an inability to communicate at any real depth. People are afraid to talk about their lives; relationships are on a formal or functional level, especially because of a fear of appearing to others in a way that will not attract their esteem. Therefore close relationships, often the result of needing to be understood and supported emotionally, are sought outside. And since, in community one is often valued more according to what one does than for who one is, on the one hand one takes a limited part in the mission, and on the other one tends to be jealous in managing ones own patch.
4. First things to be done
Conscious that every vocation is a precious gift, the Congregation is pledged to take care of every young person that God sends, helping him to overcome any inevitable frailties and to strengthen his fidelity. In order to do this some priorities are now proposed.
4.1. Care of vocations to salesian religious life
Above all it is a matter of taking care of the educational contexts in which we are working, so that they are healthy and constructive; from this good soil sound vocations can emerge. The family needs to be given support so that it can be a place where children grow in human maturity and Christian education. The parish community can help by providing meaningful faith experiences; while the school should offer serious and stimulating educational opportunities; free time can provide occasions for growing in generosity. For this reason one hopes that most vocations to salesian religious life will come from our own places, precisely because of the foundations of culture and faith which are laid down there, for the salesian spirit spontaneously assimilated, for the sense of belonging that results.
Today special care of vocations to salesian life requires that we look again and in new ways at the question of the aspirantate or of a special vocation community or at some other form of continuous and community-based vocational guidance; in fact it is clear that vocation groups are not enough for this. It is a question of having places that are open and available to young people during their time in secondary school or at university or college, with an atmosphere suitable for discernment of salesian religious vocations. In these places there could be a very good human experience, a serious cultural and linguistic preparation, a vigorous Christian life, a lively sharing of the salesian mission; in a particular way there could be a sound education in love, formation of consciences, personal guidance.
This sort of experience can be adapted to the educational situations in every country; one should not wait until candidates have finished their school or academic courses before following and guiding them. It is even more necessary for those young people who have already completed their studies outside our own places; no one should begin the prenovitiate without having spent a suitable time as a candidate. Here there is room for all the flexibility and variety of experience desired, on condition that there are the necessary formation guides involved. One notes everywhere these days a growing interest in this idea of the aspirantate or vocation community, which needs to be studied jointly by those concerned with youth ministry and formation.
If the aspirantate or the vocation community serve as a preparation, the prenovitiate is the key occasion for the verification and deepening of the vocation, particularly in terms of human maturity. In this period the prenovice acquires a sufficient knowledge and acceptance of himself; he becomes aware of his own life; he integrates in his life past experiences including the less than happy ones; he builds up his affective and sexual life; he becomes aware of the educational impact of his family; evaluates the state of his physical and mental health. In this way he takes in hand his own personal history: he discovers his strengths and his weaknesses; adopts a positive self image; builds up a strong sense of his own identity.
The prenovitiate is also a time for a good foundation in the faith and in the Christian life, which implies a sound catechesis and initiation into sacramental life, Marian devotion, a life of prayer. In addition it is the time when the prenovices have an experience of spiritual direction and of community life, acquiring a good capacity for human relations and interpersonal communication. The work of the prenovitate requires formation personnel who are prepared; it requires a structured programme that is not left to improvisation. Today, someone in charge of prenovices needs the same preparation and experience as a Director of Novices.
For this stage of formation nowadays we have a good programme even though its implementation still remains a little vague and little defined. In some cases the organisation of the prenovitate is more like an anticipated period of practical training without the required preparation; in others excessive weight is given to academic studies with little possibility of serious work being carried out on oneself; in others again there are no suitable programmes, or the prenovices are scattered in different communities. The prenovitiate needs to be preceded by a serious pastoral work for vocations. (FSDB 349); it can take the form of an autonomous community or a group within the salesian community under the responsibility of one or more confreres (FSDB 344); the candidate is admitted to the prenovitiate only when he has made his option for the salesian life (FSDB 330) and wishes to prepare to enter the novitiate.
Without wishing to minimise the effect of the subsequent phases on the development of the vocation, there is a growing awareness of the crucial role played by the preliminary stages: a serious vocational process and the prenovitiate. These two stages constitute the foundation of formation. In fact many instances of people leaving the religious life and the priesthood are linked to a weak faith, to a poor human maturity, to a lack of genuine discernment, to problems of affectivity and relationships and the use of freedom not resolved in the initial stages.
4.3. Methodology of formation
Not only in the preliminary stages but especially in the subsequent ones the main strategy to overcome vocational fragility is personalisation. It is a question of a real change in methodology that the Ratio treats in a excellent manner. Essential elements are: attention to motivation, emotions, feelings, sentiments; the process of identification with the salesian vocation; assuming responsibility for ones own formation and the personal plan of life; personal guidance, the practice of discernment, formation inculturation. In this way formation succeeds in reaching a person in the depth of his being. Certainly we should not forget that we are in a area which touches the mystery of personal freedom and the grace of the Spirit.
The key factor in this work is personal guidance that combines spirituality and the human sciences, based on understanding and a challenging approach. This should not be considered as limited to initial formation. It should help to bridge the gap between the ideal and the real situation, encouraging a small daily step forward without undervaluing the ideal. It should not create dependence but the ability to make personal responsible decisions; it ought to foster self discipline, ascesis, a spirit of sacrifice, of self-denial. Accepting a spiritual guide is a decisive element in discernment and in vocational development. In fact, freedom and the ability to put oneself in the hands of a guide are very important elements in connection with a genuine vocation; whereas, being closed and afraid to open oneself up are often indications of a vocation that is not really genuine.
Guidance needs to be continuous from one stage of formation to another, which means that the appropriate information is communicated to those responsible for the next stage. It also needs to be expressed in different ways such as in fraternal correction given immediately before it becomes too late. The periodic opportunities for personal assessment, the scrutinies are important, in which the confrere is involved, and in which he is helped to evaluate the situation of his own personal formation, he is given practical guidance and encouragement in the process of his maturation and growth (cf. FSDB 261, 270, 296).
4.4. Personalisation of the formation experience
The formation experience is something unifying in relation to the life in the Spirit, apostolic dedication, intellectual activity, and human maturing. It is important to live this experience as a process of personalisation.
Life in the Spirit, taken up personally with an effective growth in maturity in the faith, a lively sense of belonging to Christ, the imitation of his style of life are the basis of the formation experience. It is a matter of progressively moving from being servants fully committed to the work to being friends who are in the presence of the Lord Jesus, in listening to his Word and in the celebration of the Eucharist so as to become people so in love with him that they faithfully take up the cross every day. Christ becomes in a practical way the centre of gravity of lifes experiences and its reference point. In is important to cultivate the process of interiorisation, by being able to find moments for silence, personal prayer, the practice of lectio divina, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, meditation on the cross. It is necessary to prepare for an appreciation of the interior life, making the interior realm of each one more open, more profound and more alive, so as to leave room for the action of God in each ones heart. It is necessary to invest in a life of faith both at the intellectual and at the emotional level, especially in the prenovitiate, novitiate and postnovitiate. Along the same lines a formation in prayer is needed in all or almost all the stages of formation.
A joyful following of the Lord becomes a self sacrificing love in the service of the young, especially the poorest. It is important for the young Salesian to make his own discovery of the zeal of an apostolic commitment. When the sense of the apostolate is weak, and the mission among the young is not found to be attractive, problems of vocational identity can arise. When relationships with the young are only a matter of organising them, when the joy of meeting and of being with them is lacking, when one fails to see the apostolic aspect of what one is doing it is obvious that a void is being created in the heart. The candidates and the young Salesians need to be helped to grow in their love for the young, for Don Bosco, for the Church and its evangelising mission. To do this many pastoral activities are not necessary; rather what is needed is pastoral guidance. If the heart and the mind of the evangeliser are not formed through reflection on his apostolic work, through sharing and through prayer there is the risk of falling into activism and exaggeration.
A notable contribution to the consolidation of a vocation is provided by intellectual exercise: It is only with the help of an intelligent approach to situations and an open outlook on culture, an outlook rooted in the Word of God, in the mind of the Church and in the guidelines of the Congregation, that the Salesian can arrive at a solidly motivated decision and experience concerning his own vocation, and be able to live his Salesian identity and its human and religious significance with understanding and maturity, without oversimplifications or complexes. Otherwise he runs the risk of being led astray by ways of thinking or taking refuge in models of behaviour and forms of expression that are outmoded or inconsistent with his vocation. (FSDB 124). This means that in addition to a serious approach to study something else is needed. Often studies do not have a formative impact; they have an academic slant rather than being related to life; and so they do not help in the formation of a unified way of understanding and a reflective faith. We continue to use a model that is neutral: intellectual formation does not engage with the depth of the individual, it does not relate to the salesian religious plan of life nor his own personal plan of life, it does not become an affective understanding of reality; for this it is not just teachers that are needed but real masters. Studies need to be integrated with the whole of the formation process.
Human maturation in short is a process that happens when a person comes face to face with his inner self. There he reflects on his past experience, perceives the action of God in his own life, and in the light of God and of his own experience sets his course for the future. That is, he begins to take ever more responsibility for his own life; this means that he needs to be ready to work on himself. He learns to manage his own interior life, examining the motivation for his activity, conquering his fears and controlling his emotions. He develops a critical sense so as to be able to arrive at objective judgments about people and events. He becomes capable of resisting family and social pressures and of taking motivated decisions. He tries to train himself in the responsible use of his freedom, realising that love always implies dedication and sacrifice. He discovers the way to growth in accepting others, in listening, in dialogue, in collaboration, in solidarity with those who are suffering. In short, human maturation makes the person a site under construction where, with the help of divine grace and its human mediations, he builds himself up according to Gods plan.
4.5. Consistency in the teams of formation guides
It is obvious that a personalised formation requires the presence of teams of qualified formation personnel, who in dialogue and interaction with the young confrere know how to discuss with him his ideas and convictions and to succeed in helping him to come to an understanding of his own motivations and feelings. Unfortunately attention to the human sciences associated with guidance is still neglected and its value underestimated. There are complaints everywhere about the difficulty of finding spiritual directors, formation personnel and teachers who are well-prepared and available. The task of finding the time and the means for the formation of formation guides therefore becomes more compelling.
There is also the need for synergy in formation, also in order to make the best use of the confreres with experience and to have them qualified. The Ratio rightly insists on the need to ensure qualitative and quantitative consistency in the initial formation communities, and in the first place on the presence of teams that are well-prepared, sufficient in number and quality and stable, as a necessary condition for an adequate formation experience. It adds: To avoid having formation communities of poor quality it will be necessary in some situations to make strong and courageous decisions for collaboration between Provinces. (FSDB 230).
The multiplication of formation communities and their weakness certainly do not contribute to a good formation. This is an area in which it is necessary to proceed with vision and decisiveness, both in regard to regions where vocations are flourishing and where one can be carried away by a rhythm of development that does not take account of the requirements of a formation of quality; and in those new regions where development is slow and where there is need in the first place to ensure the quality of the vocations; and also in those regions where historically vocations were numerous but now are few, where there is a process of re-organisation and collaboration in the area of formation (cf Report of the Vicar of the Rector Major to GC25 103).
4.6. A meaningful community life
For young Salesians the community is a decisive factor in the decision to embrace salesian life as it also is in the decision to leave it. The joyful witness of fraternity and a family spirit, pastoral zeal and work for the poorest, the spiritual life of the community constitute a strong attraction to consecrated salesian life and a stimulus to grow in it. In meaningful communities those in practical training will be encouraged to grow; young confreres will be helped to assume the primary responsibility themselves; everyone will find stimulus and joy in their vocation. This applies to both the local and the provincial communities; the ordinary life of the community strongly influences the processes of initial formation and fidelity to ones vocation. GC25 points out the way for us to grow as charismatic and prophetic communities.
It is therefore important to ensure communities easy to live in with regard to the rhythm of daily life, the atmosphere and especially relationships. It is necessary to overcome personal breakdown by building up peoples maturity and identity; and it is equally important to check against community breakdown, providing an opportunity for and meaning to fraternal life, to the prayer and the pastoral commitment of the community. This is possible if the Rector of the community gives pride of place to devoting himself to meeting each of the confreres every day; if he creates a atmosphere of faith and of love for ones vocation; if he animates community life with practical formation initiatives; if he links together the values of the Gospel and of the charism with the current challenges; if he knows how to create openness and links between the community and the world of the church and of society around them.
This is still possible if the group of confreres believes that it is important to build community, making space and time available to meet each other, to know each other, to listen to and to share with each other aspects of their lives, and to love the people and the young passionately. This is made easier if each year the community draws up its plan of life and its mission plan. Rectors and formation personnel will become more experienced in guidance; but over and above this, they will build up friendly relationships with each individual confrere, meeting him informally, showing an interest in him, in his studies, in his work, in his family.
The number of those leaving is a preoccupying fact. It is not enough to stop at the statistics; an understanding of the challenges that these figures present to vocational and formation praxis is important. The present form of documentation regarding dispensations from perpetual profession and even more so for dispensations from temporary profession, which are the highest number for a long time do not provide sufficient material for a worthwhile worldwide study. According to the Ratio each Province is asked to make a careful evaluation of those leaving and a periodical assessment of perseverance.
These written notes are offered as a starting point for reflection; therefore it is important to carry out a formation analysis of the roots, of the forms and of the causes of vocational fragility in the context of each single Province. Such a contribution will then indentify the priority procedures to overcome the fragility; it is necessary to continue the enquiry at provincial level in order to provide more adequate instruments in the face of the urgent requests for help that come from many young confreres in worrying situations of fragility. Without a contextualised examination of the phenomenon of fragility and a local enquiry into its remedies, the work of the inculturation of formation, and therefore a real personalisation, will not be possible. For this reason the Provinces are asked to undertake the following work.
1. In each Province the Provincial Formation Commission and then the Provincial Council:
- studies the roots, the forms and the causes of vocational fragility in their own cultural context and in the history of their own Province;
- examines, from a formation perspective, those who have left during the period of temporary profession and also in subsequent stages, starting from 1990;
- seeks to find procedures to implement in formation activity and in the life of the Province in order to confront the fragility and to overcome the phenomenon of people leaving;
- examines, from a formation perspective, what would foster perseverance within the Province.
They should consider how to involve in this process the formation communities, teams of formation personnel and young confreres in formation but also the Rectors and the other communities.
2. Each Provincial Formation Delegate should sent to the General Councillor for Formation a written report by September 2005. It should describe the process followed and be divided into four sections replying to the questions set out above. Annual statistics for the period should be provided as an appendix with the number of novices, the number of those leaving during temporary profession, the number leaving after perpetual profession and requests for dispensation from priestly celibacy.
3. In each Region it would be opportune for the Regional Formation Commission with its Coordinator to put all the results together. In addition it would be useful for the Provincials of the Region with the Regional Councillor to share their thoughts on the matter.