DIREZIONE GENERALE OPERE DON BOSCO
Via della Pisana 1111 – 00163 ROMA
Il Consigliere generale per la Formazione
Rome, 29 April 2006
Provincial Delegates for Youth Ministry
and Provincial Delegates for Formation
DeDear Provincial Delegates,
I am writing to you to offer some reflections which we have been sharing together in the Youth Ministry and Formation Departments with regard to vocation promotion.
Our mission requires that we help every young person to discover and to implement the life plan that God has for each of them. In this sense all youth ministry is vocational; therefore this aspect should always be present at every stage of what we are planning and carrying out.
In particular for the vocational guidance of those young people who feel called to Salesian religious life it is necessary to create a link between youth ministry and formation. In this regard we are asking you to begin a process of discussion and collaboration at provincial and regional level about the aspirantate. On this account we are proposing a common frame of reference.
Our Constitutions have three articles which present the fundamental criteria for understanding the different levels on which vocation promotion operates in youth ministry and which help to identify the links between vocational guidance and initial formation. These levels of guidance require different stages of vocational maturity.
In different ways every Salesian, the whole educative and pastoral community are responsible for vocational promotion through their witness, what they say, personal support, prayer, so that each young person may discover his human and Christian vocation.
“We educate the young to develop their own human and baptismal vocation by a daily life progressively inspired and unified by the Gospel. 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. This work of collaboration with God’s design, the crown of all our educational and pastoral activity, is sustained by prayer and personal contact, above all in spiritual direction.” (C. 37)
The Christian vocation should mature into an apostolic vocation. Salesian youth ministry therefore should help the young to open themselves to discern and to develop their own vocation in the Church. It is committed to nurturing lay, consecrated and priestly vocations.
“To meet the needs of his people the Lord continually calls some to follow him, and enriches them with a variety of gifts in the service of the Kingdom. We are convinced that many young people are rich in spiritual potential and give indications of an apostolic vocation. We help them to discover, accept and develop the gift of a lay, consecrated or priestly vocation, for the benefit of the whole Church and of the Salesian Family. With equal zeal we nurture adult vocations.” (C. 28).
Special attention should be given to those young people who show the signs and the desire for a Salesian religious vocation, with programmes and specific help that will prepare them to make a clear and responsible choice.
“To anyone who is thinking of becoming a Salesian, an environment and suitable conditions are offered to enable him to discern his own vocation and to mature as a man and a Christian. In this way, and with the help of a spiritual guide, he is able to make a choice with greater awareness of what he is doing, and without any external or internal pressures.” (C. 109).
In the Constitutions we have seen that vocation promotion exists on three levels; consequently, the maturing process of a vocation requires separate stages which help the young person to discover and develop his human and Christian vocation, his apostolic vocation and perhaps even his Salesian religious vocation. The Regulations refer to these stages in practical terms especially when they speak about apostolic vocations and about Salesian religious vocations.
The first stage of the maturing process consists in creating a vocational culture. It is a question of developing the vocational aspect of youth ministry so that each young person may discover his own human and Christian vocation. There is a common call to all, and each one has his own vocation.
Every Salesian centre ought to develop a vocational culture, which needs to have certain features:
- an educational atmosphere with significant witnesses who are living life as a Christian vocation;
- educational and professional guidance which helps each young person to discover his own talents and gifts;
- an experience of grace through the sacraments, prayer, entrustment to Mary;
- the presentation through examples of the different vocations in society and in the Church;
- the opportunity for experiencing some form of selfless service on behalf on those in need as an exercise in generosity;
- vocational attitudes of listening, availability and service;
- accompanying the vocational search of adolescents and young people.
The second stage regards the nurturing of apostolic vocations. It is a question of providing opportunities and guidance for an apostolic vocation in the Church and in the Salesian Family. The General Regulations contain two articles in this regard: one about vocational guidance and one about centres for vocational guidance.
“With the help of trained educators and a programme of suitable activities, due attention should be given to the vocational guidance of young people. Special regard should be paid to the discovery, and subsequent follow-up by suitable initiatives, of those youngsters who show signs of lay, religious or priestly vocations” (R. 9).
“Vocational guidance centres welcome and keep in touch with young people who feel called to some commitment in the Church and in the Congregation. This service can also be carried out by organising local and regional meetings, by means of activities of special groups, or by inserting young people in one of our communities.” (R. 16)
Vocational guidance is conducted through:
- the further development of human formation: self-knowledge, fostering basic vocational attitudes such as service, generosity, a sense of responsibility, formation to love … ;
- help in Christian and spiritual formation through an introduction to prayer, to listening to the Word of God, frequenting the sacraments, taking part in the liturgy and Marian devotions;
- active participation in the life of the Church community through apostolic groups or movements, considered as the ideal places for Christian and vocational development;
- meeting and having contact with witnesses and communities representative of the different vocations of special consecration in the Church and in the Salesian Family;
- times for reflection and further examination of life as a vocation and of the different vocations: vocation groups, vocation meetings, vocation retreats, summer camps;
- a specific community to accompany and reflect more deeply on the process of human formation and education to the faith with a vocational slant.
At the end of this stage of guidance the paths diverge. For someone aiming at a Salesian religious vocation, there is the possibility of the aspirantate. For those who are thinking of other forms of vocation Christian, lay, consecrated or priestly, specific paths for the maturing of their vocation need to be offered. In particular, it is important to identify the paths for those who are aiming at the vocation of Christian marriage.
For the young person who is aiming at the Salesian religious vocation, there is the experience of the aspirantate.
“The aspirantate is a centre of Salesian vocational guidance. Its keeps itself open to the neighbourhood and in contact with the families, and helps older boys and young men who show an aptitude for the religious and priestly life to know their own apostolic vocation and to correspond with it.” (R. 17)
The aspirantate is a necessary stage for the discerning and maturing of a possible choice for the Salesian religious life. It is primarily an experience of personal guidance and discernment, in which candidates to the Salesian religious life are assisted.
There are different kinds of aspirantate: secondary school aspirantates, aspirantates for university students, aspirantates for those undertaking vocational voluntary service, open community, … There can be more than one aspirantate in a Province, according to the different situations in which the candidates find themselves and according to the possibility of having vocational directors to guide them.
This kind of aspirantate experience requires:
- a lively and open community, in which friendly relationships with the Salesians are evident;
- a community which helps with the development of the necessary human and Christian qualities and the personal growth in faith;
- a community open to the candidates family, to its own surroundings and to the Province’s youth ministry so that a choice can be made free from any undue pressure;
- a community which provides a serious academic and cultural programme;
- a community in which knowledge of Don Bosco is deepened and Salesian life and mission experienced, so as to help the candidate to come to know his suitability for them;
- a community which offers a community experience with other candidates;
- a community which provides specific vocational guidance and helps the candidate to discern his own choice of vocation, to draw up a personal plan of life, to get to know the two forms of Salesian vocation, and to prepare himself for the prenovitiate.
The aspirantate is a phase in which there is a vocational journey and a formative experience. The “Ratio” requires that before the pre-novitiate the candidate has made a “serious vocational journey” (FSDB 329) and is admitted to the pre-novitiate “only when he has made his option for the Salesian life and shows in the judgement of those responsible a corresponding human, Christian and Salesian maturity.” (FSDB 330).
Great importance therefore attaches to the progress made before the prenovitiate; in particular the choice of the aspirantate is of strategic importance in the provinces (R. 17). There cannot be a good formation process without the aspirantate experience (AGC 385 p. 44 - 45). It is not possible during a year of pre-novitate to acquire the human and Christian formation needed to enter the novitiate. The aspirantate is also necessary for the discernment process; with this experience the candidate is in the position to make a option for Salesian life before beginning the prenovitiate.
The community experience and the personal guidance in the aspirantate ensure a process of human and Christian development and help to overcome any cultural and family deficiencies. At the same time they help in the process of getting to know the candidate and his family. For an improved evaluation of motives, the higher age, the limited cultural preparation of the prenovices all need to be better monitored and this suggests that an attempt be made to find new solutions regarding the aspirantate.
The aspirantate is the link between youth ministry and the formation process. At Provincial and Regional level it is necessary that the Provincial Delegates for Youth Ministry and Formation get together with the vocation directors, those in charge of the aspirants, those in charge of the prenovices to look into the question of how human and Christian formation, and the option for Salesian life before the prenovitiate are dealt with.
Dear Delegates, through this letter we hope to encourage greater collaboration between Youth Ministry and Formation in the area of vocational promotion and in particular that of the aspirantate. The Youth Ministry Department will later be offering a more detailed proposal on the subject of vocation promotion.
Thank you for your attention. We wish you every blessing on your work and send you our best wishes.
Fr Antonio Domenech Fr Francesco Cereda
General Councillor for Youth Ministry General Councillor for Formation
At provincial and regional level the Provincial Delegates for Youth Ministry and for Formation study together some issues with regard to vocation promotion. In particular they consider and adopt common critera and guidelines regarding the aspirantate:
- elements for a vocational and formation project in the aspirantate: its nature and purpose, the kind of experience, vocational and formation requirements;
- criteria for the selection of candidates to begin the aspirantate experience;
- vocational and formation programmes in the aspirantate;
- methods of providing personal guidance and of discernment;
- proposal for aspirants to the vocation of the Salesian Brother;
- personal plan of life for the aspirant;
- preparation of vocation guides for the aspirantate.