Council Resources

Study Days on a Salesian Presence among Muslims 2012

Study Days on a Salesian Presence among Muslims


Rome, Salesianum, 31 July 2012
Fr. Václav Klement, SDB General Councillor for the Missions



1. Welcome to the Rector Major’s house
2. A short account of the Salesian presence among Muslims (Annuario 2012)
3. A short account of Salesian reflection on our commitment among Muslims
4. The process of preparation  for the Study Days up to the present
5. Why are we here and what do we expect from the Study Days?
6. Method and approach during the Study Days.
7. Taking full advantage of the resources available for the  formation of SDB and FMA

1. Welcome to the Rector Major’s house

My Dear Salesian Brothers and Sisters,

   First of all a heartfelt welcome to the Rector Major’s house. And a long awaited  appointment. 11 years after the previous Seminar of Salesians SDB and Salesians FMA in this same place, we are meeting again to reflect together on the Salesian Presence among the Muslims. The world of globalisation has changed a great deal in these 11 years.
Starting from  9.11.2001 – scarcely six months after the previous Seminar in 2001, throughout  the whole world relations between Christians and Muslims were subjected to great tensions and challenges. And again after 9.12.2006 – the date of the conference Benedict XVI gave at the University of Regensburg – it is clear that the growth of Islam signifies for the disciples if Jesus Christ one of the ten 'megatrends' which exert a great influence on the future of the Catholic Church.
   World statistics (PEW Institute, 2010) indicate that there are  1.6 billion Muslim faithful in the world, with an annual growth of 1.5%. In 2030 it is predicted  that 60% of Muslims will be living in the Asia-Pacific region and that Pakistan will become the country with the largest number of Muslims in its population, passing Indonesia which is in first place at present.
   Starting from the General Chapter in 2008 I have asked myself many times: ‘What is the significance of Islam for our faith and for our Salesian charism? I began reading on the subject of the Days and gathering material. During my visits to places where we are in daily contact I collected accounts of the varied experiences: catechumenate classes composed almost exclusively of young Muslims (AFW), Muslim director of a Salesian Oratory (FRB), an experience with Muslim leaders in a Youth Centre (ICP), the enthusiasm of the confreres with their experience in the Gulf States (INB), almost the whole of the educative pastoral community made up of Muslims committed to living the preventive system (ITM).
It is not easy to find any Provincial  reflection (ICP 2011 - YM Delegate, MOR 1992 - Province SEPP) concerning our pastoral praxis which involves those we are working with from other religions, especially Muslims.
2. A short account of the Salesian presence among Muslims (Annuario 2012)

  From the times of Don Rua in various missions we have been present among our Muslim brothers and sisters. A glance at the Annuario of the Salesians of Don Bosco 2012 (vol. II, 217 –The beginning of Salesian activities in the various countries) shows that starting from 1891 we are present among the Muslims in about 50 countries in which a significant percentage of Muslims are living:

1891 Algeria, 1891 Holy Land / Israel, 1894 Tunisia, 1896 Egypt
1903 Turkey, 1906 India, 1907 Mozambique
1927 Thailand, 1929 Morocco, 1936 Iran, 1939 Libya (1976),
1940 Albania (1992), 1948 Syria
1951 Philippines (Mindanao 1989), 1952 Lebanon, 1965 (Serbia-Jugoslavia), 1966 (Montengro)
1971 Gabon, 1976 Ethiopia, 1979 Liberia
1980 Kenya; 1980 Senegal, Tanzania; 1981 Angola, Ivory Coast, Mali; 1982 Nigeria, Sudan, Southern Sudan; 1985 Indonesia, 1986 Sierra Leone, 1987 Yemen, 1988 Uganda
1993 Burkina Faso; 1994 Bulgaria, 1995 Bosnia/Hercegovina, Chad, Eritrea; 1998 Pakistan
2000 Azerbaijan, Kuwait, Kosovo; 2008 United Arab Emirates, 2009 Bangladesh

On the other hand there are various Salesian presences in the Muslim world which we have given up or left for various socio-political reasons or lack of personnel:

Libya    (Vicariate Apostolic of Derna, 1939-1950: Apollonia, Battisti, Beda-Littoria, 
         Berta, Cirene, Derna, Luigi di Savoia, Mameli, Razza, Tobruk)
Morocco (Casablanca 1979-1992, Port Lyautey (=Kenitra) 1937-1958, Rabat 1992-1999,
         Sidi Yahia Du Rharb 1955-1958)
Tunisia   (La Marsa 1894-1960)
Turkey  (Smirne 1903-1943, Adalia 1913-1927)
Egypt    (Port Said 1924-1963, Ismailia 1925-1940, Suez 1923-1940
Lebanon   (Beirut 1952-1977)
Iran      (Teheran - School 1939-1980 (1 SDB, 1 FMA, 1 Italian), Abadan 1954-1981)

In addition, in European Provinces where we were already present the Muslim presence has recently increased. Today we are present among the Muslims also in the following countries:

France, Spain, Austria, Germany, Belgium, Great Britain and various Salesian works in Italy have a large  percentage of Muslims. 

  A glance at the world map tells us that that about 30+ Provinces cannot ignore the presence of young Muslims in our works on a daily basis. Approximately according to the Regions: South Asia - 8 Provinces; East Asia - 3 Provinces; Africa - 6 Provinces; West Europe - 5 Provinces; North Europe - 7 Provinces; Italy & MOR - 5 Provinces.

  There are the Provinces present in  territories with a Muslim majority, which already include a good number of local confreres, who live on a daily basis in contact with Islam:
MOR (Middle East, 1902, 7 countries) Israel, Palestine, Turkey, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt
AFO (French-speaking West Africa, 1998, 7 countries) Mali, Senegal, Guinea Conakry, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Togo, Benin)
AFW (English-speaking West Africa, 1998) Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia
AFE (East Africa, 1982, 4 countries) Sudan, Southern Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania.
ITM (Timor Leste - Indonesia, 1998)
FIS (South Philippines - Pakistan: present since 1998).
 In the list of holy members in the Salesian Family so far there are two coming from  Christian communities in the middle of Islamic contexts – the Venerable Salesian Brother Simone Srugi (Palestine, 1877 - 1943) and the Servant of God, Salesian-Cooperator Matilde Salem (Aleppo, Syria 1905-1961).
  During the 120 years of our presence in the Middle East  there have been 3-4 cases of confreres who suffered a violent death even though not for strictly religious reasons. At the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2011 a young Polish missionary  Fr. Marek Rybinski, suffered a violent death at the Salesian School in Manouba (Tunisia), where the students we are educating are 100% Muslims.
 The most important fact is that we can count hundreds of Salesians born in countries with a Muslim majority, who grew up within Christian communities which had the opportunity be in a dialogue of life with Muslim brothers and sisters and with the different Muslim cultures: Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Liberia, Eritrea, Sudan, Southern Sudan, Tanzania, Kenya, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, Mali, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Guinea Conakry, Chad, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, Albania etc. Now among Salesian Superiors we have the first Provincial of Arab origin Fr. Munir El Rai (MOR, originarily from Syria, 2012-18) and Fr. Boedi Yohannes Soerjonoto (ITM, Provincial Delegate for Indonesia, originarily from Jakarta (2011-14). 

3. A short account of Salesian reflection on our commitment among Muslims

  Probably the first meeting at Congregation level to reflect on the issue was held in Cairo (Egypt, 1988.12.30 - 1989.01.03) attended by 26 SDB, 14 FMA. Most of them came from the Province of the Middle East and North Africa, with only 1 SDB from Subsaharian Africa. The Acts also contain contributions by Fr. Bashir SDB and Sr. Ibtissam FMA. In workshops various important topics were examined regarding culture and evangelisation, relationships between the Islamic and Christian religions, education in the Islamic context and the position of women in the Middle East. Some conclusions appeared in the SEPP of the Province (MOR,1992).

  A second opportunity for reflection at Congregation level was organised 12 years after the first and held in Rome (Italy, 2001.02.25 - 03.02). Present were 18 SDB and 7 FMA, 1 Layman  from Azerbaijan representing an even wider geographical diversity (Middle East, Subsaharian Africa, South Asia, East Europe – the Balkans). The Acts (in Italian and English, 224p.) containing the talks by  Fr. Pozzo, SDB and Sr. Ibtissam, FMA, focused on Salesian presence in Muslim contexts (education in intercultural contexts, dialogue). We consider the conclusions of the two Seminars to be valid, but we do not have an assessment of the application of the conclusions.

  In the previous six-year period, the  Councillor for the Missions, Fr. Francis Alencherry in the years 2005-2007 conducted a world-wide survey into 'Salesian commitment in the Islamic world'. As a result a Dossier was published (Rome, Department for the Missions, 15 February 2008, 164 p.) The dossier contains the replies from 11 Provinces (AFO, AFW, ATE, FIS, FRA, INB, INK, MOR, SLK, SLO). In  three chapters - (4) Salesian praxis up to today, (5) The challenges of Islam to the Salesian charism and (6) How to organise ourselves for the future – are gathered together practical suggestions and working guidelines arising from the survey. The dossier is available in a French translation, the original was published and distributed during the GC26 (a multilingual edition – Italian, English, Spanish, French).
Some practical emphases: The need to be present in Islamic countries, the importance of witnessing, the need to strengthen our presences (MOR), the formation of Salesians,  the quality of the education and of the preventive system, a commitment to peace, justice and human rights.

At the level of  West  Africa (thanks to the 'initiative of the AFO Province) a short Seminar at Bamako (Mali, 2010.10.11-14) was organised. 25 Salesians from the  13 countries of  Subsaharian Africa (AFW, AFO, AFE) took part with the invite expert  Fr. Jean Bevand, Af.Miss. In re-reading the Acts one is struck by the lack of a serious reflection on the application of the preventive system in these contexts in all the countries involved.

Some Provinces do offer a reflection on our educative-pastoral praxis with young Muslims. As an example: the draft of a reflection on the form of our pastoral action on behalf of those of other religions (especially Muslims)- ICP, YM Team (2011) and the Salesian Educative Pastoral Plan of - MOR, Provincial Chapter 1992, p.35-48

In the whole Congregation unfortunately we have few confreres with a good academic and practical preparation. Few confreres (MOR 4, IRL 1, FIS 1...) have taken advantage of the opportunity to study  in the Pontifical Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies in Rome: one doctorate, two licences, three diplomas, updating (PISAI,  

4. The process of preparation  for the Study Days up to the present

 An official impetus was provided by the  26th General Chapter, when various delegates at the GC26 requested that there be some careful reflection for a well thought through educative pastoral approach:            

  Many of our works find themselves operating in a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural context which poses new challenges to and offers new opportunities for evangelisation. Among these, our relationship with Islam is of particular note, since it demands that we set out adequate strategies for dialogue and proclamation. Where an explicit or immediate proclamation of Jesus Christ is not possible, our presence as Christian educators is a prophetic sign and plants a precious seed of evangelisation(GC26,30).    

  In the first meeting of the World Consultative Committee for the Missions after  the GC 26 (September 2008), Fr. Vittorio Pozzo (former Provincial of  MOR) was given the task of undertaking a preparatory study for the Study Days in 2012. In the last three years Fr. Vittorio has shared some of the fruits of his reflection that are useful for the proper organisation of the Study Days (2009: Re-examination of the process of Salesian reflection 1988-2008; 2010: Islam and Youth Culture; 2011: Re-examination of the Seminar at Bamako, Mali 2010; 2011: Analysis of the replies to the first questionnaire for the Study Days 2012). In his absence I sincerely thank  Fr P. Vittorio for his precious help!

 In 2011 a first questionnaire was sent out to possible participants in the Days coming from the four main zones. The three questions  (1) The challenges facing us in these situations, (2) Subjects for clarification or reflection – expectations (3) Subjects to be suggested. Replies came from Europe (4), from the Middle East and North Africa, Gulf (10), from Subsaharian Africa (8) and from South - East Asia (9 replies).

  Finally all the participants (and some who are interested but unable to take part) in the Study Days 2012 received three questions as an immediate preparation (June - July 2012).

5. Why are we here and what do we expect from the Study Days?

 We are gathered here after 11 years to reflect on our way of being present in daily contact with our Muslim brothers and sisters in our works, or of working in countries with a Muslim majority as Christians who bear witness to and proclaim Jesus  Christ. And as Salesians we want to examine more deeply the practical meaning of art. 22 of our Regulations:

  'In non-Christian countries Salesians by the application of their educational and pastoral method should create conditions favouring a free process of conversion to the Christian faith, with respect shown for the cultural and religious values of the neighbourhood.
  In places where the religious, social or political context does not allow of forms of explicit evangelisation,  the Congregation should maintain and develop a missionary presence of witness and service.'

     We can sum up the expectations in the fundamental question:
How should we behave as Salesians educators - missionaries towards young non-Christians and especially Muslims? What kind of presences, of strategies or educational - pastoral methodologies are we to make use of as Salesians?
      Many are waiting for clarifications in particular regarding:
(1) a knowledge of the internal dynamics  of the Islamic faith and culture, which condition the thought and action of the young, and how to face the defensive attitude of the Muslims?
(2) the significance of 'religion' in the preventive System and how to apply R22 (SDB) to pursue evangelisation yet without proselytism, without discrimination.
(3) how to make our own witnessing explicit, our attitudes as evangelisers?
(4) an all-round  formation for everyone, but diversified with specific points for the attention of the Christians

Some suggestions  that refer to the expectations - conclusions of the Study Days

  1. How to manage the presence and the balance between Christians and Muslims in our centres (MOR, Africa, Asia) where we find ourselves with very diverse criteria..
  2. Help towards breaking down the diffidence between Salesians and Christians living in the situation of being the minority  among a Muslim majority
  3. We are not looking so much for the principles, but rather for examples of good practice  (successful experiences in the  dialogue of life) so as to find a modus vivendi shared by the Salesian communities present among Muslims

-  However we know that Salesians want ‘ricette’. Therefore we feel the need to offer some  
common criteris to be made personal and contextualised in the differnt settings so different among themselves (to be made practical according to the 4 geographic zones that are more homogeneous).
    All the material collected during the preparatory phases in the three years between 2009 and 2012, is available in the AGORA digital area of the SDB site in the section Islamic context 2012:  (
6. Method and approach during the Study Days

  As has already been announced, the Study Days will follow the workshop method  as employed in Study Days (SDB-FMA, 2008-2014):
Each day will begin with Lectio divina. At the centre of the day there is  (1) a talk  intended to lead to a deeper reflection in analysing the the situation and to help the participants come come to new insights and perespectives. This is followed by (2) a reaction to the talk and  dialogue, which continues with (3) a further reflection – discussion in work groups. A return to real life is ensured by (4) a 'Road map 2020' for the Superiors and animators at Province level  and by  (5) modules for ongoing formation to be used in the communities.

At the end of the five days  we want to  offer to the confreres some modules for the ongoing formation of the confreres and to suggest to the Superiors of the 30+Provinces involved in the issue of these Study Days  a 'Road Map 2020' for the next 5-10 years.

A possible scheme  for the 'Road Map 2020'
(categories corresponding to: a common part and four sections for the 4 more  homogeneous regions)

Formation of the Salesians with a presence among Muslims (language, culture,organic plan)
Formation of Lay Collaborators (Lay Mission Partners - Muslims)
Christian faith journey in our educational settings (school, CFP, oratory, boarding school)
Inter-religious Dialogue – preparation of some confreres as experts-animators in the Province
Spirituality of the Salesian (missionary) in the presences with Muslims
Criteria for beginning new presences or developing existing ones
Constant exchange of reflection on the preventive system in the various Muslim contexts
Terminology and relationships with the Catholic and Salesian Media (ANS, Fides...)
How to continue the sharing of experiences, reflections, material after the Study Days

7. Taking full advantage of the resources available for the  formation of SDB and FMA

Some web sites with essential Church documents (Council for Inter-religious dialogue) - 7 languages (PISAI - Pontificio Istituto di Studi Arabi e di Islamologia, Roma)

Other web sites useful for our subject (European Multicultural Foundation) - P. Vittorio Pozzo,SDB (P. Christian Troll, SJ - Muslim Asks, Christian answers) 8 languages (Ricerca globale 2010) (USA)

Some basic publications available in the main languages
ABC per capire i Musulmani, St. Paolo 2007, Maurice Borrmans (per un dialogo corretto)
What every Catholic/Christian should know about Islam?

Frequent Questions & Answers from Salesians and for Salesians present among the Muslims
It is necessary to make good use of the questions gathered during the Study Days.