Fr Antonio MARTINELLI
Councillor for the Salesian Family and Social Communication
Preliminary: reawakening the awareness of the importance and urgent need of communication.
With the present number of the Acts of the Council, the Rector Major consigns once again to the provinces, those responsible and the communities, the obligation of a more efficacious work in the sector of social communication.
Provincials and Rectors are asked to rethink their animation in the area of communication and to help the individual confreres to realize the incentives they receive from the General Chapters.
The following is a rapid summary of the process we have followed at the level of General Chapters, indicating the practical directives which have guided or should guide the commitment of the salesian community.
Concrete proposals are highlighted and emphasized.
The capitular assemblies have returned frequently to this theme, with various emphases.
From all this arises the obligation of a serious examination of conscience which every province and community are called upon to make.
It should be kept in mind that the longer the delay in updating and intervening directly in this sector, so much the greater will be our distance from the reality of the world and from the young people among whom we live.
The GC19 - 1965
In these years the entire Church was living the Council experience with commitment and enthusiasm.
The Congregation, for its part, presented two particular strong points for a communication orientated in a salesian sense:
· the preparation of confreres who can be authoritatively inserted in the field of communication;
· the indispensable collaboration with other institutions working in the sector, especially institutions of the Church.
The reasons put forward for following these indications are immediate:
- on the one hand, the statements of the Church which declare the importance of communication. It is sufficient to recall the words of Paul VI in Evangelii Nuntiandi (n.45): "When they (the mass media) are put at the service of the Gospel, they are capable of increasing almost indefinitely the area in which the Word of God is heard; they enable the Good News to reach millions of people. The Church would feel guilty before the Lord if she did not utilize these powerful means that human skill is daily rendering more perfect. It is through them that she proclaims `from the housetops' the message of which she is the depositary. In them she finds a modern and effective version of the pulpit. Thanks to them she succeeds in speaking to the multitudes".
- on the other hand, the awareness that for the Salesian commitment to social communication is in perfect harmony with the family tradition. To form young people as good Christians and upright citizens meant for Don Bosco that he must get involved in the world of communication of his time.
The Provincials have a vast work of animation to carry out, with the help of their delegate for communication.
The Rectors in the communities cannot ignore the risk and richness of communication, whatever be the work carried out by the confreres and laity.
The GC20 - 1971/72
This is the Chapter of the renewal of, and in, the Congregation.
In re-reading its history and determining its charismatic identity, the Congregation expressed the need to recover its educative force.
In this context was inserted the reflection on communication and on the mass media.
From this arose the commitment to look upon communication as a cultural and educative reality.
For Salesians it does not represent a purely technical dimension.
The "anthropological" concern to put the concrete youngster at the centre of our pastoral commitment, and the "moral" obligation arising from a communication which rapidly becomes large-scale and depersonalizing leads us to look well beyond simple instruments.
Communication is a factor of primary importance which speeds up the history of peoples and influences the education of the young.
Thus were laid the foundations for the present art.43 of the Constitutions:
"We work in the social communication sector. This is a significant field of activity which constitutes one of the apostolic priorities of the salesian mission.
Our Founder had an instinctive grasp of the value of this means of mass education, which creates culture and puts before the public models of Christian living; he showed great originality in the apostolic undertakings which he initiated to defend and sustain the faith of the people.
Following his example we utilize as God's gift the great possibilities which social communication offers us for education and evangelization".
This gives us two guidelines for the community:
· to be like Don Bosco in the advance guard of progress, committing ourselves seriously with persons and strengths in a communication which creates communion. In this way a perspective is outlined to which all the provinces have given effect in different ways through the Provincial Newsletters. At a distance of 30 years from the SGC we do well to check up on what is being done for information and communication within the communities to achieve a deeper communion and more efficacious incentive for the fulfilment of the mission;
· to realize a liberating education, by developing the responsibility of each one and the shared responsibility of all. Thus are laid the foundations for what today is called "media education", i.e. education to communication through the mass media. It is a reality which can and must find fulfilment, for example, in the school, the liturgy, catechesis and in the whole of educational and pastoral service.
Rectors will find ample scope here for ideas for reflection and action. A bit of apostolic enterprise is needed in the style of Don Bosco.
The GC21 - 1978
This General Chapter made a somewhat rough and ready objective analysis of the situation in the Congregation with respect to social communication.
The inadequate preparation of the confreres was noted, and the urgent need recalled to have groups and communities capable of dealing with the new facts.
What developments did the Chapter want to see?
· In the first place the setting up of groups for study, research, experimentation, and the elaboration of concrete and realizable projects based on serious scientific foundations. As long as social communication is seen as a hobby of individual confreres, or is entrusted to people chosen at random, not only will there be no efficacious results but the communities will begin to lose faith in it.
· All this implies in consequence that a kind of communication must be realized which is alternative to what everyone is doing. It is not a good thing to merely repeat what others are doing. It is not necessary to load ourselves with structures and instruments. What is really necessary is to develop new ideas. And here come in all those activities of a traditional kind which exploit the theatre, music, singing, dancing, and various groups which make use of the various products of communication.
Communication is not yet a choral work, one we do together. It often remains a matter of just a few, who are sometimes even isolated from the community. A qualitative leap is needed!
This is a requirement and perspective which needs to be in the PEPS.
Provincials and Rectors have an important service to render in this connection.
And they must be helped.
The GC22 - 1984
This is the time when the identity became consolidated.
The new Constitutions drafted by the SGC received definitive form and the approval of the Holy See.
In the area of social communication also this Chapter saw the passage from the contemplation of a charism to its practical implementation.
The Chapter gave birth to the Department of Social Communication with a Councillor General.
The combination with the Department of the Salesian Family seemed the natural result of the preceding salesian history: i.e. the former existence of the "social apostolates" linked with the Salesian Family, and the setting up of a "secretariat for social communication" entrusted at the time to the Councillor for the Salesian Family.
Two requirements were presented by the Chapter to the provinces:
• to learn to be `popular' communicators. The expression implies the need not to lose sight of the relationship with those to whom our mission is addressed. Communication enables us to reach the young and people in general. In respect of its laws and demands it must realize the objectives of human advancement, of education and evangelization. It is not something desired for its own sake. And on the other hand it is impossible to think of our mission to the young and the working-classes without communication; this is stated explicitly in art.6 of the renewed Constitutions;
· to make of our work in communication a "new" presence. The evolution of youth and working-class culture, generated and accompanied by social communication and its instruments, seemed to many people to be an occasion for young people leaving the Church in large numbers. Insertion therefore in social communication will provoke the renewal of the salesian community itself which seeks young people in a pastoral manner.
The deeper study of the theme and the preparation of practical projects require that social communication in the province and in the communities find a place with a certain regularity among the points on the agenda of the provincial councils. The circle of those responsible should be enlarged, with the integration of lay people and all the Salesian Family when communication is sought for beyond the community.
The GC23 - 1990
With the GC23 we reached the perspective of the education of young people to the faith, and communication became enriched with new lights and further commitments.
Significant here is the description of the reality of communication.
It serves in the first place to inform, to make one's own personal experience known to others, so that they can share it.
Furthermore, communications forms, in so far as it offers examples and models of life, and presents criteria for behaviour and judgements of value. It is therefore a school, an alternative school, with which formal education has to contend. Even if there is no direct confrontation, education is influenced by it.
Yet again, communication tends to conform. Its typical characteristics of pervasiveness and attraction easily condition and mould options, especially of the young.
Finally, communication applied exclusively with an eye to economy and the audience can easily deform. One hears, for example, the term "teledependents" used of those who look to Television for an answer to all their questions or the realization of their desires.
A second emphasis is also important: a reminder of the many forms of communication.
We are accustomed to expressing ourselves only in words, spoken or written.
Today's young people, on the other hand, in addition to verbal communication use kinds that are:
· sign language,
· body language,
· etc., etc.
If on occasion a religious and formative meeting between educator and pupil becomes difficult, the fact is often due to the different ways of reading and interpreting the various signs of communication.
How do we learn the new languages?
The Chapter's response was to assign to the provincial delegate for communication a service necessary for overcoming the distance between the young and adults, between educators and pupils.
It would be his task to set up a network of points of reference in the individual communities, to multiply relationships, even using electronic means. This is an organizational problem which involves authority, the first in responsibility for animation.
The GC24 - 1996
The indications emerging from the last General Chapter are evident to all.
In the exploitation of communication the Chapter laid emphasis on the following three points:
· the re-reading of the salesian commitment in the light of communication. Reflection is needed, for instance, for a new understanding of the preventive system, of assistance, of education, seen from the perspective of a process of communication. The same is true for evangelization;
· the maturing of adequate cultural and spiritual attitudes
in those who want to communicate. Communication, in fact, encloses in itself a dimension of spirituality which has to be learned and lived: i.e. mutual respect, attention to maturing processes, ability to dialogue, the acquiring of technical and critical skills, etc.
· at both provincial and local level there is need on the one hand for a strengthening of animation through the service of the delegate, and on the other for a verification concerning the quality of communications.
The Provincial with his council, the Rector with his local council, and all the confreres by virtue of fidelity to their vocation must grow in communicative ability.
Here the prevailing concern has been to recall practical aspects for a personal and communal commitment in communication.
If one wishes to recall the richness of doctrine present in our community assemblies, another route needs to be followed, one which is no less interesting.