Fr Antonio MARTINELLI
Councillor for the Salesian Family and Social Communication
The program of the Rector Major and his Council for the six-year period 1996-2002 (cf. AGC 358, Supplement, p.30) includes a precise objective: "Launch a renewal of the SB, as a unique institution of the Congregation (R 41), within the broad system of communication aimed at".
With an eye to the programmed renewal and relaunching, I have read over again the work done by Don Bosco in the Bulletin's early days, and some of the things he said. I did this with the desire to find once again his criteria and incentives, in view of the implementation of the program.
I was surprised to read Fr Piero Stella's note in Don Bosco nella storia della religiosity cattolica, vol.1, p.247: "At his death the Bulletin in Italian, French and Spanish, would have reached more than one hundred thousand copies".
Equally surprising was what I found on reading once again what Fr Eugene Ceria had written in Annali della Society salesiana, Vol, 1, all of Chap. XXIII dedicated to the Salesian Bulletin. He presents the rapid increase in the circulation of the Bulletin as a unique phenomenon! On the other hand the early Salesians used it as an efficacious `instrument' for spreading knowledge of Don Bosco and adherence to his spirit. For this
reason they gave a great deal of attention to organizing the work of the Bulletin.
We find ourselves facing a reality which from the very beginning had occupied much space in the words, deeds and preoccupations of Don Bosco and the Congregation. What are we to make of all that?
I will try to provide some guidelines which can be of help in what we are doing today.
The expression is meant to accentuate the importance that can attach to work with the SB.
When it was a question of entrusting the direct responsibility to a confrere, Don Bosco chose Fr Bonetti. "He could not have made a better choice", wrote Fr Ceria. Don Bosco relieved Fr Bonetti of his task as Rector of the College of Borgo San Martino, and called him to the Oratory to head the new work which was just beginning.
Although it may seem a repetition of things known to all Salesians, to recall that Don Bosco himself was concerned with the SB in at least three General Chapters can prompt some practical attention on our part.
1.1 A General Chapter has pointed to a process shared between the SB and the Association of Salesian Cooperators (cf. BM XIII, passim).
In the first General Chapter of the Congregation (1877), at which our Father presided, Don Bosco established the very close relationship between the Cooperators' Association and the Bulletin. He said:
"The great effort I have made for the Cooperators, something which I studied for many years and for this reason alone I think
I have succeeded, has been how to keep all the members united with the head and how the head could get his thoughts across to all the members. At this point, not even we ourselves can form an idea of how far this work will extend, and of the moral influence it will exert when it has reached large areas. When the copies run into thousands, and I firmly believe that it will not be long before we reach at least 5,000, then we shall begin to see surprising effects".
These words were spoken in 1877. Nine years later the Bulletin was printing 40,000 copies (cf. Annali, o.c., pp.242-243).
On p.242 there is a note: "In the last years of his life he offered the Diploma of Salesian Cooperators to all the Bishops of Italy, together with a complete collection of the issues of the Bulletin as a source of information".
As an indication of the close linkage between Cooperators and Salesians, in the same General Chapter Don Bosco incorporated in the Code of our Society also the basic Statute of the Pious Association of Salesian Cooperators, made up of eight articles. Thus the Cooperators became an adjunct of the Congregation itself.
In the fourth article he assigned to the SB the task it was to perform regarding the Association. Don Bosco wrote: "The bond of union between the Cooperators is the SB. When some member renders himself unworthy of being a Cooperator, the Bulletin will no longer be sent to him, without further formality".
This very simple statement turned out to be, in fact, the highest praise Don Bosco could bestow with regard to the Bulletin. To deprive someone of the periodical is an example of the salesian style of the preventive system, which combines clarity with kindness, respect for the individual with the demands of the organization.
The Cooperators must frequently recall the words Don Bosco wrote to them shortly before he died: "If you have helped me with such kindness and perseverance, I beg you now to help my successor after my death. The works I have begun with your help no longer have need of me, but they will still have need of you and of all who, like you, sincerely want to do good on this earth. And so I entrust and recommend the works to all of you".
The emphasis given to the Cooperators in no way excludes the direct responsibility of the confreres, of the salesian communities, and of the salesian provincial organization.
Here, on the other hand, must be considered also the contribution that can be made by the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. Those responsible for the Bulletin at provincial level must be able to incorporate the help and originality of the FMA for a more complete and efficacious presentation of Don Bosco's charisma in today's world.
1.2 A General Chapter has reflected on the communicative, unifying and promotional force of the SB (cf. BM XVI, pp.326335, particularly pp.327-328).
We are now in 1883. Don Bosco is heavily involved in the consolidation of his work. In the 3rd General Chapter of the Congregation he said: "If the Governments do not cause problems, the Bulletin will become a powerful instrument, not just in itself but because of the people it brings together".
I seem to see condensed in Don Bosco's words many intuitions which guided him in his life and which in some way he wanted to leave as a legacy to us his sons. They form part of that vast collection of dreams and desires, of utopian ideas and practical realizations which have accompanied the story of our Father and Founder?
The first intuition: communication, through available instruments, is a strong and efficacious force.
In Don Bosco's hands the use of the means of communication was always directed to the good of his work and of the young. Books and periodicals, pamphlets and single editions, long or short contributions, newspapers or reviews: everything
could be made use of for education and evangelization. Rightly is Don Bosco called a `master', not least for the use he made of the means of communication of his time. Fr Ceria observes again: "Among all Don Bosco's publications, the SB is perhaps the one which has produced most fruit, both by warming hearts in favour of the missions and so many other works of faith, and by prompting numerous ecclesiastical, religious and missionary vocations" (ibid. p.244).
The second intuition: the importance of publicity in spreading what is good and in bringing good people together.
This might seem a reflection somewhat remote from the time and thought of Don Bosco, but it is in full accordance with his spirit. He never made any mystery, for instance, about Pope Leo XIII's membership of the Cooperators' Association. The history of the Oratory gives us the date he became a member: 16 March 1878. Don Bosco did not let the grass grow under his feet, because in April of the same year the SB announced, commented on and gave full importance to the event. For Don Bosco, for the Association and for the Bulletin itself it was an item of the greatest importance and relevance!
Civil society was undergoing a profound change at the time. Communication served as a sounding board for projects of renewal, and Don Bosco knew how to involve himself skillfully and successfully in this new situation.
The third intuition: the need for a spiritual bond as a support and help for the organization of good.
Don Bosco was dominated by the idea of unity and of linkage with the whole Church, and through these means in a unique way with God. Unity is attainable when and where there is unity of mental intent and spirit. This the line in which the work of the Bulletin is to be explained and understood. Don Bosco said as much himself in the conferences of St Francis de Sales of 1877: the SB will have the function of gathering together entire populations and uniting them in the salesian spirit.
The service of the Church was the dominant factor in Don Bosco's desire for aggregation. It applied to the Cooperators' Association as well as to the avid use of the various means of communication.
1.3 A General Chapter has defined the SB as the organ of the Pious Salesian Society (cf. MB XVIII, 185 ff.).
The Fourth General Chapter of 1886, the last in which Don Bosco took part, took up once again the theme of the Bulletin and made decisions about the responsibility for its publication.
It recalled, in the first place, the responsibility of Don Bosco and of the Superior Chapter (as the General Council was known in those days): "The Bulletin is to be edited and printed under the immediate supervision of the Superior Chapter... ".
The Provincials were given the task of responding to some regional and national requirements; for this reason they were to prepare a few pages as a supplement concerning local events. They were also to nominate in the Provinces persons whom we now call "correspondents" for different areas. They were to be suitable people with time available for gathering news and information to be sent to Turin to the director of the Bulletin.
The directors of the Bulletin were to have the time and skill to do their work of information about salesian and church matters effectively.
Two interventions of Don Bosco are worth recalling. The first is that of 10 August 1877, when the very first issue of the SB was fresh from the printers, and in a conversation with Fr Giulio Barberis Don Bosco said: "The Bulletin's aim is as much as possible to publicize our activities and show them as they really are. By winning popular good will for our works we shall obtain people's help. In skilfully presenting our needs we can also suggest varied ways of supporting our undertakings. This magazine will be the mainstay of all our enterprises; if it fails, they fail with it. We have to work to get as many readers as possible by spreading it far and wide and free of charge, convinced that our main benefit does not lie in the three lire subscription. So let us not insist on the price. One benefactor's alms will sometimes make up for everyone else" (BM XIII, 191-192).
It is interesting to note that in Don Bosco's thinking there are always overall visions, global concerns, wider interests than what lies immediately ahead. Above all there is always the concern for the development and consolidation of the Congregation in the good will of the people.
The second intervention is of 17 September 1885, when the Bulletin had been in existence for some years. While its merits were recognized and also the advantages that accompanied it, questions and difficulties had arisen. Don Bosco intervened in the Superior Chapter, and the Minutes report him as saying: "I support the need for a single Bulletin. My reasons for keeping control of this most powerful means for attaining my purposes, and the fact that the Bulletin may sometimes be exposed to deviations from the purpose I laid down for it, make me remain firm in my opinion".
In vol. XVIII of the MB at p.668, the author adds: "It is a most powerful instrument, and must always be under the control of the Rector Major".
Today we are called upon to measure ourselves against the experience of Don Bosco to understand how and which of the original criteria we can and must revive, and which on the other hand we should modify and adapt.
I start from the standpoint of the directors of the SB and point to some questions which have arisen through experience.
First question: Is the SB a salesian look at the world, or a vision of the salesian experience for the world?
Fr Egidio Vigano once replied to a question expressed in these terms during a meeting with those in charge of the SB: "The first expression is a euphemism for producing a review according to one's own ideas, prescinding from the guidelines given by Don Bosco and from the linkage with the Salesian Family, in such a way that everything is talked about but without any reference to the Salesian Family. The salesian outlook on the world must be all of a piece with the internal concept of the BS. In other words, in the SB which makes known the salesian experience of the little world of the country concerned, the director is able to select points and also add Salesian views on the wider world, but always from within the salesian phenomenon. Otherwise the Bulletin becomes a review according to the director and will be made according to his own image and likeness. And what is a salesian view of the world? It is that of a Salesian who lives out his own vocation, the typical educative mission to the young".
Directors of the SB need to be particularly vigilant about purely celebrative aspects of salesian life. The SB includes such events, but does not emphasize them nor make of them the only contents of the Bulletin. Items must not be overlooked which present educative and pastoral concerns; nor should educational and pastoral problems be excluded. The proportion between the various topics is an indication of the wisdom of the one responsible.
Second question: How can the objectives of the SB as an organ of information be presented?
Information coming through the SB has three fundamental purposes:
- to foster a sense of belonging: all of us scattered throughout the world, in different situations of life and work, feel ourselves to be Salesians; we recognize a common orientation and the same animating spirit;
- to create motivations for living in unity: as Don Bosco's Salesian Family we are all aware of bonds of communion and fellowship;
- to sustain the joy of the salesian vocation in its various expressions; we feel a certain pride in knowing that we are children of a Father like Don Bosco.
Constant dialogue between the Salesian Family and ecclesial life, between the salesian vocation and the world, between secular experiences and the salesian mission, will prove to be an indispensable instrument for the attainment of the abovementioned purposes.
It is a question of a demanding work which calls for persons wholly dedicated to this salesian service, which has become more necessary today than ever before.
Third question: Is the idea, so frequently expressed by Don Bosco, of the unity of the SB still realistic today? First let us read again art.41 of the General Regulations:
"The Salesian Bulletin, founded by Don Bosco, spreads knowledge of salesian spirit and activity, especially in its missionary and educational aspects.
It is concerned with the problems of youth, encourages colltzborution and tries to foster vocations.
It is as well an instrument for formation and a bond of union between the different branches of the Salesian Family.
It is edited in accordance with the directives of the Rector Major and his Council in various editions and languages".
The article of the Regulations leads us to consider two aspects which seem to be opposed: unity or convergence, and difference or autonomy. The intention of the article, as also of the program of the Rector Major and his Council, with regard to the necessary and convenient autonomy, suggests a degree of common identity greater than seems to exist at present. Coordination is a real possibility, and so has become an objective of the renewal and relaunching of the Salesian Bulletin.
At this point discussion will naturally centre on the persons and groups responsible at different levels for the "phenomenon and work" of the SB.
Those immediately and directly concerned are The Rector Major with his Council, the Councillor General and the whole department for social communication (now enriched by a new member, the central director of the SB in the person of Fr Orlando Vito), Provincials and Provincial Conferences, directors of the SB, Salesian Cooperators and all the friends of Don Bosco.
As each one works with the responsibilities attached to his specific role, he will render an important and eloquent service to Don Bosco's spirit.
In the Provinces the Salesians should place on the agenda for reflection the theme of the Salesian Bulletin.
The Groups of the Salesian Family should consider the very real contribution they can make to the extension of this unique instrument for manifesting the "living Don Bosco" of the present day. Where convenient, groups of friends of the SB could be started up to provide collaboration, shared responsibility and greater interest.
The renewal of the SB in the world finds a very positive and efficacious place in the framework of GC24, n.82.