Returning to a previous topic
The AGC 338, pp.56-65, contained a first set of guidelines for the setting up of an operational structure in the social communication sector. Its objective was indicated in the words of the GC23, 259: The Provincial will appoint someone to be responsible for social communication in the province. From the documents reaching my office it is clear that in nearly every province such a confrere has been appointed: a fact which will bear fruit in due time.
We can now return to the same theme to go more deeply into the obligations involved at provincial level. The purpose I have in mind is to press the Provincial and his Council to produce a program for the salesian presence in this sector. I will merely point out some indispensable steps that need to be taken; in some provinces many of these elements may already exist, while in others there may be need for more decisive intervention.
A negative attitude needs to be overcome: the organization of the social communication sector is sometimes thought to be not a concern for each and all of the provinces! And reasons are put forward to justify a lack of commitment in this sector.
The customary arguments are:
- the Province is very small;
- it has no specialized publishing house;
- it has no starry-eyed ideas about radio or TV transmitters; - no qualified personnel is available;
But one must also recall the many situations and activities that call for coordinated interventions with reference to communication. With the technology now available, I could draw up a long list of statements that emphasize the utility, necessity and urgency of work in this field.
To quote a brief paragraph from the GC23: "Communication often becomes a determining factor for survival and development. It touches on every area of social life and every dimension of the life of the individual. It not only passes on information, but communicates ideas, creates easy agreements and puts forward models of life and behaviour" (GC23,254).
I recall the many active commitments (leaving aside the passive ones in which the province is on the receiving end) that every province has in respect of:
- the newsletter,
- the Salesian Bulletin,
- free-time activities: theatre, cinema, etc. - formal and informal education,
- the many parochial bulletins, youth news-sheets etc.
Can one still say that a Salesian province can be exonerated from organizing the social communication sector?
A nucleus of persons capable of competent animation
The provincial delegate must work with a team that is stable and officially constituted, and which functions as a working group for deeper study, comparison purposes, programming and the preparation of guidelines. The involvement of many people is needed because of the urgent need to intervene in various fields which call for persons with different roles and functions. The provincial delegate alone cannot shoulder the entire commitment for the sector; he could never have the time to follow up competently all the aspects involved.
It is indispensable that the Provinces make this further decision to constitute a nucleus for work in this sector. Social communication includes the organization of a network of interpersonal and institutional relationships, of small and large groups, for the purpose of producing (especially among the young and ordinary people) a critical ability, solidarity, communion and cultural identification, beginning especially with messages emanating from the means of social communication.
The areas in which an animating presence must be ensured are the following:
- collaboration and public relations;
- production within and outside the community;
- follow-up of the 'communicative dimension' in the local and provincial communities, with reference to the various activities and works.
Fidelity to Don Bosco calls for specialized and competent interventions, if we SDB are to take our place in today's civil and ecclesial society with a presence that is significant and efficacious.
I am well aware of the effort I am asking for from Provincials in giving attention to this problem, in assigning personnel to this task, in following up the team so that it will meet expectations. The insistence on a nucleus of persons capable of competent animation is meant to avoid a work of isolated persons and bring into the community (which bears the primary responsibility for the salesian mission) a work that is interesting but difficult.
Sound realism and the need for a pastoral quality in interventions suggest two aspects which must not be overlooked.
In the first place, in setting up the nucleus, the including of lay people will be considered. It is often said that social communication is a field tailor-made for the believing laity. The lay components of the Salesian Family have asserted in their fundamental texts their availability for the urgent work needed in this "new Areopagus of the contemporary world". The seeking in every province of qualified personnel and success in forming with them in a relatively short time a group for reflection and the making of proposals, will be a sufficient measure for the realization of the intentions for guidance contained in the present disposition
Moreover, differentiated roles and functions do not demand the numerical multiplication of persons working in social communication; what they call for is that consideration be given to the real requirements that stem from an alternative communication which aims at getting inserted into the drawing up of criteria and life projects.
It is not a case of the material determination of the number of individuals needed to form the nucleus of animators. Flanking the provincial delegate with his function of coordination and animation, other persons will take care of one or two of the areas previously mentioned. What must not be lacking is the initial competence to bring about a growth that will be continuous and in a manner suited to the concrete situation.
I appeal to the Provincials to set up a nucleus as described above.
Intercommunication for a significant and organic salesian presence
Among other things the social communication sector shares with the overall pastoral organization of the province both workers and those to whom the work is directed.
Those for whom we work are:
- young people, who at the present day are the consumers of many products of communication, and are always looking for new languages and modes of expression: "In the face of the bombardment of the mass-media they find themselves committed to resist the media's power for standardizing and making everything fit into a pattern" (GC23, 255).
- the common people in general, who make use of the means of social communication sometimes out of personal lack of concern, sometimes as a randomly chosen amusement, sometimes out of mere curiosity. From them however they form their criteria of judgement, superficial values, frames of reference, and life models.
The workers are:
- the Salesian Family, in its various components, committed to the fulfilment of Don Bosco's legacy and to respond to the challenge presented by communication to today's society. Don Bosco "initiated apostolic undertakings to defend and sustain the faith of the people" (GC23, 256);
- the educative community which, in the pastoral organization of the salesian community, undertakes the synthesis of the results of the analysis of concrete situations and practical linkage of strengths and options in view of an intervention that will be both educative and evangelizing.
The reminder of those for whom we work and of the workers themselves highlights the immediate and essential importance of foreseeing an intercommunication between the persons, projects and activities which stem from the different sectors of pastoral work. The organization of social communication in the province must establish contacts, relationships, exchanges and collaboration with the Formation sector, that of Youth Pastoral Work, and with the Salesian Family.
I am pointing out a requirement; it is not my intention to indicate a method for linkage and coordination between the different sectors. The manner of doing this will be coherent with the whole of the provincial organization of pastoral work. But there are some points that cannot be left unmentioned.
The nucleus of persons capable of competent animation, already referred to, will have as its primary task (primary as regards both time and mental effort) its linkage with the provincial formation team, so as to agree on content and method as regards the formation of young Salesians, the ongoing formation of the community, and the preparation of some specialists in communication.
It will seek, moreover, to establish a linkage with pastoral youth work in the, province, for the animation of typical items of pastoral work, for the consistent organization of youth activities, and for the insertion of the communicative dimension into educative and pastoral interventions.
Finally it will examine its linkage with the Salesian Family, for possible collaboration with specialists in communication, for contacts with similar external institutions, and for sharing in projects of wider scope in the area.
Some notes for a provincial programme
Before taking up the topic of programming in the province, it will be worth our while to recall some general objectives of social communication.
- "To attain a new awareness and a renewed apostolic cultural commitment of social communication in the Congregation, following our Rule of life, by interesting and animating those responsible at provincial and local level, the formation personnel and delegates who have charge of this sector.
- To promote the finding of animators and specialists in social communication in agreement with the Provincials and ensure the preparation and updating of confreres as communicators with the common people, in the service of the mission.
- To raise the quality of the commitment of Centres, structures and means which the Congregation manages and coordinates in the field of social communication" (Report of the Rector Major, Fr Egidio Vigano, to the GC23, 1990, p.181).
I will try to express in practical terms the objectives quoted, giving priority to the points of greatest urgency.
Project and programming
I do not intend to go into the matter of terminology; I think I can express more clearly in a different matter what I want to say.
I want to keep the term project for all that goes on inside the salesian work, organized around the mission to be carried out: and so we can speak of the educative and pastoral project of a salesian province.
On the other hand, I use the word programming so as to restrict the application of an intervention to a more limited and more specific sector: and so I refer to the programming of social communication. Hence the province is not living with two projects, one called pastoral and the other of social communication.
This leads to an understanding of a consequence following from the previous reflection on intercommunication between the sectors of activity.
To a large extent social communication is indebted for its content, criteria and methods of intervention, to the typical options made in the educative and pastoral project. Agreement between the two is therefore obligatory, and consistency in operative practice is a guarantee of success in a meaningful presence or work.
For the part that does not coincide, social communication has an urgent need to study its own particular organization in embracing the salesian perspective on the mission, spirit and preventive system.
The duty which devolves on the Provincial, the provincial delegate for social communication and the nucleus of persons who accompany him in this service, is to re-read the educative and pastoral project of the province from the standpoint of the specific and particular requirements of communication, so as to:
- bring about integration, in both the analysis of the cultural situation of the present day and the possibilities of approach not only to small groups but to people in general;
- propose new modes of intervention in educational and pastoral activity, making use in a competent and professional manner of all the instruments of communication;
- offer to the work of education and evangelization more adequate instruments that take into account the new language of youth and the common people;
- prepare formation kits for young people and adults in the field of social communication;
- introduce a new awareness of the significance of social communication today in the salesian community and the educative community, as the Rector Major asked of the 23rd General Chapter;
The original contribution of social communication to the salesian presence in a locality
During the process of formation of the nucleus supporting the provincial delegate - and this not only materially by gathering together various persons but also with shared responsibility as regards perspectives and interests, spirituality and organization - two other aspects must be taken care of at the same time: internal and external information, and collaboration through public relations.
The aspect of internal information is already being attended to in all the provinces (think, for instance, of the provincial newsletters). Many provinces also provide information for outsiders; the Salesian Bulletin fulfils this informative function too.
The provincial delegate and his team will see to it that the specific objectives of salesian information are achieved. I describe them below, but I want to point out from the start that they will not be attained without previous explicit programming:
- strengthen the sense of belonging to the province and the Congregation, reinforcing the bonds of communion and unity by the wise choice and proportion of the news submitted;
- foster the unity of the Salesian Family by involving its component groups in its life and activities, in the rich originality of each group and the sharing of common salesian values;
- make known the educative, pastoral, cultural and social experiences of the salesian life, so as to express and consolidate the spirit that animates them in the service of the mission to the young and the poor;
- coordinate the flow, content, kind and quality of the items of information that the province regularly produces in its various communities and groups, in view of efficacy and professional appearance;
- organize information in such a way that different items are destined for particular sections of the educative community, so as to offer perspectives suited to the various circumstances of the life of the province.
From reflections of this kind two logical conclusions would seem to follow.
In the first place, the setting up in the province of a minimal structure for the publishing of salesian information, not leaving this to a single individual with the onerous task of following up its every aspect: selection of content, graphical and technical layout, distribution, etc.
In addition, the strengthening of the attitude of the salesian community towards information in its two senses (receiving and giving), urging the giving of greater attention to the history we are living, so as to offer to Salesians who will come after us an adequate documentation of the Congregation and the province for the years 2000. The Secretary General frequently reminds Provincial Secretaries of their task of preserving documentation in archives.
The renewal of operational structures in the Communications Department, the importance given to the aspect of information in daily life, the preparation of some confreres for the specific sector of information in the special course of last July, will have positive effects on provinces all over the world, as regards quality and professional approach.
It is the Centre's intention to give help to the provinces in the growth and realization of the obligations linked with communication.
I leave to another time some possible notes on information for those outside the salesian community.
Collaboration through public relations
The second area in the province calling for organization in good time, and which does not involve the further expenditure of personnel and forces, is that of public relations and collaboration with other organisms.
This article of mine makes no pretence to be of a technical character; its purpose is solely one of animation for an initiative which salesian communities have always had at heart, and which is not easy to realize at the present day. But the practical advantages for the salesian mission are many and interesting, even though they do not all lend themselves to measurement.
The efforts of a salesian community to find external collaboration could be of many kinds. I will present one of them in particular.
Let the provincial delegate and his team make contact with workers in the communications field in both civil and ecclesial contexts who live in the same area. Let them strike up with them relationships of friendship and reflection. Let them celebrate together circumstances linked with particular and meaningful events. Let them declare their availability, if circumstances warrant it, for providing a pastoral contribution expressing sympathy, support, encouragement and fraternal help in a work which does not always receive attention from the christian community.
They could organize and take part in round-tables, study seminars, days for a deeper consideration of the service of information in the contemporary world, and courses of formation for young people and adults. They can provide first-hand documentation on facts and options of salesian life, on the commitment of the Congregation and the province to the education of the young and presence among young people in difficulty, on the vitality of the preventive system in all kinds of contexts, and on the salesian movement in the world.
It is easy to pass from friendship to collaboration, especially when we find among the workers in the communications field Salesian cooperators and past pupils.
I would not want to stop only at the immediate advantages of relationships with specialists and qualified persons in the sector.
It should be remembered also that for the provincial delegate and his team all this can become a practical school of ongoing formation, to make their own service ever more competent.
In conclusion, I offer the following summary of the tasks I have set out for a province beginning the organization of the sector of social communication.
- Appoint the provincial delegate.
- Set up a nucleus of persons around the delegate.
- The delegate and his team should be in contact with those responsible for Formation, Youth Pastoral Work and the Salesian Family in the province, to study the matter of intercommunication between the different sectors.
- The delegate and his team should re-read the Educative and Pastoral Project of the province from the standpoint of social communication, to verify the obligations set out in the paragraph on project and programming.
- The delegate and his team should verify the realization of the particular objectives of internal salesian information in provincial operations.
- The delegate and his team should establish cordial and stable relations with other workers in the field of social communication living in the territory of the province.