Rome, April 6th, 2010
To the Rev. Provincial Delegate for Formation
For information, to The Rev Fr Provincial
I am sending you some statistics for 31 December 2009. At the beginning of every year they are considered in the General Council; I think they can also be useful for you. They are statistics on which I invite you to reflect, as they provide us with important material on which to respond in our vocational and formative work.
Initial Formation in the Congregation
|2004||594||118||469||211||281||242 + 1P||38||203|
|2005||621||151||476||237||249||219 + 2P||28||230|
|2006||561||137||470||227||260||221 + 2P||37||192|
* To interpret the first three columns, regarding the novices, novices left and novices professed, the following should be borne in mind. The novices who enter the novitiate in a given year, make their first profession the following year; therefore the number of novices who left is the difference between the novices who entered in a given year and those professed the following year. For example: in 2002 607 novices entered and in 2003 470 made their first profession; therefore the difference between the novices who entered in 2002, who were 607, and the novices who were professed in the following year 2003, who were 470, is 137 novices; this number is on the line “novices left” for 2002. In 2009 530 novices entered; but we shall know the number of newly professed only at the end of 2010.
Ongoing Formation in the Congregation
|Year||Perpet. clerics left||Perpet. brothers left||Deacons dispensed celibacy||Priests dispensed celibacy||Exclau-stration||Secular.
* To interpret the columns regarding the dispensations from celibacy, secularisation and dismissals, the following should be borne in mind. The numbers do not refer to those who in a given year make the request, but those for whom in a given year the legal process is concluded.
Regarding the numbers
Looking at the statistics, we have first of all to thank God for the vocations He sends us; this means that Salesian consecrated life is still seen as attractive. As Constitutions say, “Every call is an indication that the Lord loves the Congregation, wants to see it vibrant for the good of the Church and never ceases to enrich it with new apostolic energy.” (C 22).
As you will have noted in fact, every year God sends us more than 500 novices; we have in addition about 250 perpetual professions, of whom almost 30 are Salesian Brothers, and over 200 new priests. These vocations also represent the fruit of the work of the confreres, especially those who are working in vocation promotion and in formation. It is up to all of us to take care of these vocations, to help them to grow and to live in joyful fidelity until the very end.
However, we cannot fail to consider those who leave. Between 2002 and 2008 4,047 novices entered; of these 885 left during the novitiate. This means to say that out of an average of 578 novices each year an average of 126 leave, equal to 22% of the novices who enter.
Between 2002 and 2009 the annual average of the newly professed was 449 and that of the temporarily professed who left the Congregation was 221; while the annual average of the perpetual professed who left was 91, considering clerics and brothers perpetually professed, dispensations from celibacy for deacons and priests, those secularised “praevio experimento” and “simpliciter”, those dismissed. Thus there was a total average of 312 leaving each year; which means that with regard to the number of confreres who enter, each year the Congregation loses an average of 69%. It should be noted that between 2002 and 2009 two thirds of the confreres who left Congregation were temporarily professed.
At present in the Congregation, the proportion between Salesian brothers and clerics is about 1 to 8. In the last three years, the proportion of the newly professed brothers in relation to the newly professed clerics had gone down and is about 1 to 10, while the proportion of the newly perpetually professed brothers in relation to the newly perpetually professed clerics is about 1 to 13.
Every year we have an average of 65 priests who leave the Congregation: 17 are dispensed from celibacy, 10 are secularised “praevio esperimento”, 12 secularised “simpliciter”, 26 are dismissed.
There is no doubt that, especially in the early stages, some of those who leave were not called to Salesian consecrated life; their leaving therefore is the fruit of a more careful process of discernment. However, the numbers of those leaving being rather high, even though those in ongoing formation are lower, we ask ourselves whether they do not contain a message for all the confreres of the Province and not only for the formation personnel.
The situations are complex and require constant reflection and attentive discernment especially at Province level. It is up to each one of us to know how to interpret the statistics, which unless examined closely tell us nothing about the real situation The situations in which we are living and the numbers are a way in which God is speaking to us. While aware of the danger of over-simplification I should like to point out three issues.
Nowadays formation is facing new and difficult problems. For example, one notes the fragile psychological condition of young people; sometimes one sees a superficial grounding in the faith of candidates; there is no doubt that a pervasive permissive culture regarding the media exists. These and other factors weaken the character of our young Salesians in formation, who otherwise have a wealth of gifts and qualities.
The efforts of a number of Provinces are praiseworthy who have begun or strengthened the prenovitiate and the aspirantate. One can already begin to see the fruits in the improved quality of those in formation but there is still a long way to go, especially in the preparation of the formation personnel for the initial phases. These need a sound formation which prepares them to face the new demands. Not everyone is capable of carrying out a good process of discernment with the aspirants and to help the prenovices, for example, to manage their interior life, to come to terms with their past life, to overcome their fears, to form within themselves a mature affective life, to begin a journey of faith and spiritual life.
Overcoming vocational fragility is not limited to the phases prior to the novitiate, even though it is a matter of strategic importance to have a strong experience of the aspirantate and a good period of prenovitiate. The high number of those leaving the novitiate and especially during the period of temporary profession is an indication that the problems of fragility occur at the beginning and in the first years of Salesian consecrated life. A process of making formation an individualised experience is needed. There is a great deal needing to be done to help the novices and the young Salesians to make their formation become deeply rooted within them so that they acquire sound convictions which can sustain them in the not always easy journey of life.
It is necessary to recognise that not all nor the majority of those who leave, whether temporarily or perpetually professed confreres are from the formation communities. This underlines the need for fraternal, welcoming and serene communities where the confreres feel at home, where the atmosphere of fraternity, prayer and work opens them up to the generous gift of themselves, where they feel accompanied by a Rector who is “father, teacher and spiritual guide.” (C 55). The Rector Major in this regard likes to say that “a confrere is alive where he is loved.” The statement in C. 37, that “the family atmosphere of welcome and of faith, created by the witness of a community which gives of itself with joy, is the most efficacious setting for the discovery and guidance of vocations,” applies also to the perseverance on vocations.
In addition to the commitment of each confrere to live in vocational fidelity, the role of the Rector is, therefore, fundamental. He is called to be close to the confreres, to imbue them with the apostolic passion of “da mihi animas”, to help them to deepen the Salesian dimension of their vocation, to support the process of their affective maturity (cf. GC26 63). In a particular way, it is his task to accompany the young confreres, those in practical training as well as the priests and brothers in the first years of their involvement in apostolic work; on this account special care should be taken of the phases of practical training and the period of the quinquennium; these are crucial moments in vocational growth, which in the apostolic communities because of the many commitments and occupations are often neglected. All of this requires the continuous formation of the Rectors.
Salesian consecrated Vocation
Looking at the statistics, in recent years a fall in the number of vocations of the Salesian brother can be seen. On the other hand, every year about twenty Salesian priests ask for secularisation, that is to join the diocesan clergy. This and other signs lead us to think that perhaps in the Congregation there needs to be on the part of everyone a greater commitment to live the Salesian consecrated vocation, both in the formation communities and in the apostolic communities.
It is necessary to strengthen the conviction that the Salesian priest and the Salesian brother have the one and the same consecrated vocation (cf. C 45 and C 4). There is a need for a more profound understanding and a better appreciation of the Salesian consecrated life in its two forms (cf. GC26 55, 59, 74-78). Only in this way will vocation work be able to foster the vocation of the Salesian brother, and the Salesian candidates for the priesthood and Salesian priests themselves understand better that fidelity to the Salesian vocation requires them to live consecrated life in its depths.
It is also necessary to increase confreres’ interest in Salesian charismatic identity offering them both in initial formation and in ongoing formation updated and progressive programmes in Salesian studies, encouraging in the communities the provision of books of Salesian studies, and when available translations, to prepare Salesians to teach and to communicate Salesian studies, to speak more frequently about Don Bosco and to create a sense of joy in being his Sons.
I have offered you these reflections in the context of the statistics. I hope they may be of encouragement to all of us as we face the challenges we meet in our lives each day. I invite you to share this letter according to your own particular circumstances with the Rectors of the formation communities, with the formation personnel, with the Rectors who have confreres on practical training, with the Provincial Formation Commission, with the Provincial and the Provincial Council. Perhaps these considerations could also be taken up in the Regional Formation Commissions.
Let us entrust ourselves to the care and protection of Mary Help of Christians, the wise teacher of Don Bosco; may she guide us and support us on our way.
With best wishes,