Council Resources

Voluntary service manual



Handbook and Guidelines

Direzione Generale Opere Don Bosco
Youth Ministry and Missions Departments

Rome – 2008


Presentation (4)

Preface (5)


1.1 Voluntary service in the world (7)

    1. Voluntary service in the Church (8)

1.2.1 As a development of the baptismal vocation

1.2.2 Inspired by the gospel nourished by a deep Christian spirituality

1.2.3 Expression of the missionary dynamism of the faith

1.3 Voluntary service in a Salesian context (9)

1.3.1 Guidelines of Provincial Chapters

1.3.2 The expansion of experiences



Some clarifications (12)


2.1 A tradition begun in Don Bosco’s times (14)

2.2. A commitment that creates a new mentality (14)

2.3 Fundamental characteristics of the new mentality (15)

2.3.1 A vocational view of life as gift and as service

2.3.2 An attitude of disinterested service and of solidarity

2.4. Inspired by values of Salesian Spirituality (15)

2.5 Open to all persons of good will (16)

2.6 Salesian voluntary service and the mission ad gentes (17)

2.7 A possibility for the Salesian Family (17)


3.1 The Salesian Youth Ministry formation process values and promotes the spirit of voluntary service (18)

3.2 Voluntary service experience enriches the Salesian educative-pastoral project (18)

3.3 Salesian Youth Movement: fertile soil for promoting Voluntary service (19)

3.4 Stages in the educational process for Voluntary service (19)


4.1 Characteristics (20)

4.2 Mission (21)

4.2.1 The area of evangelisation

      1. The educational-cultural area

4.2.3. The social area

4.3 Values and attitudes of Salesian Voluntary service (22)

4.4 Different kinds of Salesian Voluntary service (22)

4.4.1 According to the length of time and the kind of activity

4.4.2 According to the place of this activity:

4.4.3 According to the nature of its placement in the Salesian mission:

4.4.4 According to the nature of the organisation:

4.4.5 Two main forms

4.5 Participation by Adults in Salesian Voluntary service (24)




5.1 The community experience of the volunteers (26)

5.2 Types of placement in the community that receives them (27)

5.3 The role of the community that sends (27)

5.4 The role of the Salesian community that welcomes (28)

5.5 Some requirements for a positive relationship between volunteers and the community (28)

5.6 The acceptance of volunteers of other religions and confessions
and of volunteers engaged in a religious search (29)


6.1 Objectives (30)

6.2 Contents (31)

6.3 Methodological Criteria (32)

6.4 Formation Resources (33)

6.5 Main stages in the formation for Voluntary service (34)


7.1 At local level (35)

7.2 At province level (37)

7.3 At national, inter-provincial and “Salesian Region” levels (38)

7.4 At world level (39)

7.5 The Salesian Non Governmental Organisations of Voluntary service (39)




The document on Salesian voluntary service which we are here presenting offers a reflection on its identity in the framework of the educative-pastoral proposal of the Congregation and some criteria and working guidelines.

Voluntary service is something that is growing in many Provinces. For the Salesians it is an opportunity to share their spirituality and the preventive system with young people and the laity in a practical way. Often it results from a formation process proposed by Salesian Youth Ministry and an experience of the Salesian commitment to poor youngsters and a society that is more open to solidarity. In many places it becomes for a few young people a discernment and vocational development process.

There is a multiplicity of different kinds of voluntary service experiences: this constitutes one of its strengths, but it can also put at risk its identity and capacity for formation. This has led us to look again at the document “Voluntary Service and Salesian Mission”, presented in 1995 by the Departments for Youth Ministry, the Missions and the Salesian Family, and produce a new version in the light of the abundant experience of these years, of the guidelines of GC24 and of the fundamental lines of Salesian Youth Ministry.

This new edition of the Manual has a long history. After various years of revision a first version was published on 31 January 2006. In 2007 a series of 7 meetings was organised in different parts of the world, involving most of the Salesian Provinces. Taking part in these meetings were the Provincial Delegates for Youth Ministry and for Missionary Promotion, as well as other confreres directly involved in the animation and promotion of voluntary service in the Provinces. The main purpose of these meetings was for them to get to know the Manual and in this way to promote voluntary service. In the light of the discussions held in these meetings and of the suggestions for improvement we now present this final version.

The process has been long, but we think a fruitful one because it has involved in different ways many volunteers and Salesian voluntary service organisations.

The document is addressed to the whole Congregation and therefore necessarily remains at the level of principles and general criteria, without dealing with the particular problems of certain areas or situations. It can be considered a “frame of referencefor the whole Congregation, in the light of which each Province, organisation or voluntary service group will have to identify in a practical manner criteria and working guidelines in its own action plan.

It is not a document destined for the library, but one to be studied and reflected on by all those who are directly involved with voluntary service. We entrust it especially to the Provincial Delegates for Youth Ministry and their teams, to the Provincial Delegates for the Missions and to those at Provincial and local level responsible for voluntary service, with the task of making it the subject of study and reflection in view of an in-depth assessment, leading to the renewal and promotion of Salesian voluntary service.

A first task entrusted to them is to present it to the Salesian communities and to produce in them a new awareness and interest in voluntary service, as proposed by CG24 (cf. n. 126). They ought also to draw up a “Provincial Plan for voluntary service”, «which will include detailed proposals for direct involvement in the educative and pastoral project, for the preparation of volunteers, for following them up during their period of service, and for welcoming them and using their experience on their return» (GC24, 126).

This document is also addressed, in a special way, to the Salesian NGO which promote voluntary service so that they ensure its identity and Salesian characteristics collaborating with the Provinces in its development.

Following the example of Don Bosco who entrusted all that he did to Mary Help of Christians, we pray for her maternal assistance so that she may be the guide along this path that the Congregation has taken: a path that provides new opportunities for self giving to many young adults called to become missionaries of the young.

Antonio Domenech

General Councillor for Youth Ministry

Francis Alencherry

General Councillor for the Missions

Rome, 31 January 2008,
Solemnity of St. John Bosco


[1] The Youth Ministry and Missions Departments offer the Salesian Provinces a unified vision of Salesian voluntary service as an educational process structurally integrated in Salesian Youth Ministry. This reflection is the result of the experience of voluntary service over many years during which there were two special occasions for reflection, the results of which were published in 1995 and in 2001.

The members of the Salesian Family are invited to make use of this document to bring about synergy in promoting voluntary service in the Salesian mission, especially in those places where they carry out their specific mission in collaboration with Salesians.

Volunteer – Voluntary Service

[2] Although what is being said in this document is mainly about voluntary service, we want to put at the centre of our reflection the volunteer, since our attention is principally addressed to the person and to his/her human and Christian development and involvement in the life of society and of the Church. What concerns us is the aspect of being rather than the manifold activities which are necessary for its maturing process.

[3] We consider every young person a potential volunteer, that is a person growing towards a vision of life as a gift, as a vocation, and therefore towards the acquisition of an interior disposition for service; a person in a permanent state of formation towards full human and Christian maturity. The task of guiding and providing support along this journey is the normal role of Salesian Youth Ministry. Consequently, in the specific process of analysing the development and the various expressions of voluntary service, we consider it necessary for us to refer to the overall framework of Salesian Pastoral Ministry.

[4] At the service of this human and Christian development of the volunteer, voluntary service has become the practical expression of an interior attitude of service and solidarity. Therefore the whole dynamic of voluntary service, that is the organisation of the various activities for its promotion, assessment and formation, the mandate, the accompaniment of the volunteer ought to be directed to the development of this interior attitude and to its being put into practice in a fruitful commitment.

[5] Salesian voluntary service is not limited to young men and women who are practising Christians. It is also open to other persons of good will, those non-practising baptised, or members of other religions who in a spirit of openness to people and cultures want to create a new world through social action, and share the Salesian ideal and its method, at least in its essentials. Therefore what is said in detail about volunteers applies also with the necessary adaptations to them, without diminishing the requirements of the Salesian charism and method.

Even though voluntary service is presented here as something that is part of YM it is also open to young people who do not belong to any of its structures and to adults who want to take part in the Salesian mission.

Purpose of the document

[6] The present document is intended to:

1. Offer the fundamental criteria common to the whole Congregation regarding the practice of voluntary service in the Salesian mission: its identity, the formation for and animation of Salesian voluntary service.

2. Promote voluntary service in the Provinces, as the result of the formation process developed by Salesian Youth Ministry, to foster in the young an attitude of service to the poor and needy, offering them experiences of social and missionary commitment, which help them to develop a vocational option.

3. Identify the essential criteria for a Salesian, ecclesial and social evaluation of the volunteer and of the activities of voluntary service.

[7] The document is aimed at all those who have the task of promoting voluntary service in the Provinces. In particular it is offered to those directly involved in YM, to missionary promoters, to Salesian NGO/organisations that promote the various kinds of voluntary service so that in their work of education and evangelisation they may take into account voluntary service as an experience to be proposed in a special way to the young and to ensure that its practice be firmly included in the overall process of human and Christian/religious development that is proper to the Salesian educational-pastoral proposal.



1.1 Voluntary Service in the world

[8] The meaning of the expression “voluntary service” in society and in culture is notably wider than that used of the experience in the Salesian world. However, it is an important social trend that is of interest to us. On this account, before clarifying what kind of voluntary service we intend to speak about in this document from a Salesian point of view, we shall examine the more significant aspects of this phenomenon at world level noting its educational import.

[9] In fact, in almost all the countries of the world there is a greater sense of active participation by the citizens in the life of society, which is called “voluntary service.”

In this context the term “voluntary service” is very broad and not too specifically defined, and refers to the free choice made by individuals or groups who are organised to make a contribution to the life of society.

Some characteristics of Voluntary Service in the world

[10] It arises as a person’s free choice

It results from the freely chosen action of millions of people who decide to devote a part of their time, that is of their lives, to improving the conditions of the most disadvantaged.

[11] It is rooted in a framework of values

It therefore constitutes a great testimony to the virtues of solidarity and generosity in an individualistic world.

It aims to promote the transformation of society; to contribute to the removal of the causes that produce poverty and injustice; to give an effective response to local needs, devoting primary attention to the poor and marginalised.

[12] It promotes a new attitude towards life

First of all it is an attitude and a style of life and action which includes openness to others, generosity, solidarity and freely given service, and – for the Christian – a testimony to the Gospel of Jesus.

But it is also organised collaboration, that is a form of involvement in society by the citizens, with a certain continuity and shared programmes, for the benefit of the community.

It develops a culture of citizen involvement, increasing awareness of people’s rights and a sense of responsibility in ensuring that those of the weaker ones are respected, and the value of personal involvement and the power of grass-roots social action.

[13] It is becoming a factor ever more present in society

voluntary service is a social and political factor different from the State and the Market such as the “Third Sector” which avoids the tension between “public” and “private”, in opening up a new area (“the private social sector”), which does not function according to the profit motive nor coercion but follows the principles of free giving and of voluntary participation. In this way voluntary service establishes a relationship of synergy with the world of the “Market” (profit, efficiency, exchange…), with the world of the “State” (minimal guarantees for all, security, compulsion…) and with the worlds of individuals and basic communities (gift, closeness, personal involvement).

1.2 Voluntary Service in the Church

[14] Within the context of the Church the practice of voluntary service has expanded greatly, and the organisations promoting it have multiplied. This, as Pope John Paul II said: “…is an authentic "sign of the times" and reveals a keen awareness of the solidarity that links human beings. By giving citizens an opportunity to take an active part in the management of the services intended for them and for the various structures and institutions, volunteer work contributes to bringing to them the "supplement of soul" which makes them more human and respectful of the human person.”1

[15] Speaking to young people in 1988, Pope John Paul II had already spoken clearly about the value of voluntary service in the Church: : «As to your role as young people, I simply say that you are indispensable, not for what you can do with your own human efforts but for what you can do through faith in the God of peace who creates a culture and a commitment to peace. You can become what people expect of you if you decide to act today. Given the state of things, do something. Voluntary service, one of the wonders of our times, lives on in you. You only need to have the right purity of intention so that you are transparent, a breath of hope that will make you persevere, humility in your brotherly love that will make you credible. I would dare to say that a young person of your age who does not in one form or another devote quite some time to the service of others cannot call himself or herself a Christian, such are the many hidden needs of our brothers and sisters around us.»2

[16] Voluntary service in the Church, on account of its witness value, its vocational dynamism and the strength of its commitment to being at the service of the full scale liberation of man, is a sign of the Kingdom of God. It demonstrates how love appears on the earth through believers who, urged on in the depth of their being by the power of Love, devote their energies to giving their lives for others.

The role of voluntary service in the Church could be considered from different points of view.

[17] 1.2.1 As a development of the baptismal vocation

Christian voluntary service is a sign and a concrete expression of the vocation and mission of lay people, who, through their baptism co-responsible for the mission of the Church, are called to contribute to the coming of the Kingdom of God, to the building of the human community, to the transformation of the world according to God’s plan3 as leaven within the secular world.

The lay state has a Christian value fully proclaimed by Gaudium et Spes, repeated in all the subsequent documents of the Church and particularly in Christifideles laici.

«The person is the primary route that the Church must travel in fulfilling her mission.»4

This lay state gives the baptised person the capacity to proclaim the Gospel from deeply within the human earthly condition.

The service of volunteers reaches its fullness when their valuable work of human development is explicitly motivated and inspired by a Christian call and by the witness of brotherly love.

[18] 1.2.2 Inspired by the gospel nourished by a deep Christian spirituality

Christian voluntary service draws inspiration from the Gospel and is nourished by it. It is an alternative plan of life that makes an effort to live and propose values that flow from the Gospel and are hardly present or are totally absent in the community in which people are living and working. Every day is lived with a new sensitivity, in a fresh way as a response to the current historical situation and to the way of thinking in the Church developed in Vatican Council II.

[19] 1.2.3 Expression of the missionary dynamism of the faith

Voluntary service is also an effective and valuable manifestation of the missionary dynamism of the Church, as much involved in the “new evangelisation” as in proclaiming Christ “ad gentes”. It is not a question of merely providing for the material needs of the most disadvantaged, but of enabling them to experience, in a personal way, the love of God. Through voluntary service, the Christian bears witness to the Divine love: this is the object of the proclamation and it becomes tangible at every moment, to the extent that s/he feels caught up in it and lives it.5

The volunteer, through the service provided, testifies that «Humanity is loved by God! This very simple yet profound proclamation is owed to humanity by the Church. Each Christian's words and life must make this proclamation resound. […] This re-evangelisation is directed not only to individual persons but also to entire portions of populations in the variety of their situations, surroundings and cultures. Its purpose is the formation of mature ecclesial communities,. […] The lay faithful have their part to fulfil […] also through a missionary zeal and activity towards the many people who still do not believe.»6

1.3 Voluntary Service in a Salesian context

[20] It is noted that in the Salesian context voluntary service has developed considerably in recent decades, so much so that some Salesian works begun in the last 25 years would not be what they are without the valuable service of the volunteers.

1.3.1 Guidelines of Provincial Chapters

[21] The Salesian Congregation, in its more recent General Chapters, devoted particular attention to the experience of voluntary service, integrating it in its own mission, and considering it as an appropriate means for the all-round formation of the young.

  • The GC21, without mentioning voluntary service explicitly, speaks about the direct participation of lay people in the missions.7

  • The GC22 requested the establishment of “youth and Salesian voluntary service in conjunction with the activities of youth ministry.”8

  • The GC23 dealt with voluntary service in the context of Salesian youth spirituality as “civil and missionary volunteer work for collaborating with other organisations for human advancement and evangelisation”;9 and as a practical way “of commitment and gratuitous service among the very poor as volunteers” in the context of vocational guidance of the young.10

  • But it is especially GC24 that devotes special attention to voluntary service:

    • It carried out an assessment, recognising its development and its different forms, its significant vocational and formation impact and the positive effect on the Salesian communities themselves which host the volunteers.

    • It also mentions some problems, noting those especially which are experienced by the volunteer on returning from voluntary service.11

    • It proposed to local communities and provinces some working guidelines to encourage the use and the development of voluntary service in the Salesian mission, the welcome offered, the formation and accompaniment of the volunteers especially on their return.12

[22] 1.3.2 The expansion of experiences

The voluntary service phenomenon has developed at world level in a wonderful way, especially among young people Everywhere in the world the Salesians come into contact with lively and generous young people who feel attracted – not without the work of the grace of God – towards voluntary service. The young people find in it an opportunity to freely show their spirit of initiative; they see a path which leads them to be of service to others, the possibility of a certain "prophecy", which courageously challenges the individualistic and consumer mentality that pervades much of society. Becoming engaged in voluntary service, young people are seeking and can find a way that gives authenticity to their lives and makes them capable of proclaiming — more with deeds than words —that life is not worth living if it is not lived in service. This “sign of the times,” needs to be welcomed, pointing out its manifold advantages, especially in the areas of education and solidarity.

[23] At present in the Salesian world there is a great variety of experiences considered “voluntary service.” It is difficult to make a complete list. We shall mention some of the more common ones.

  • The freely given service of leaders, catechists and other collaborators in the oratories and youth centres and in Salesian parishes. Some of these provide a full time service while others a regular but intermittent service.

  • Social voluntary service among the poor.

  • Voluntary service in educational contexts.

  • Voluntary service of a directly evangelising nature.

  • Voluntary service as a specifically vocational form of activity in a Salesian centre.

  • Voluntary service as a vocational choice of life, for an unlimited period.

  • Group experience, normally outside one’s own environment and for a short time – from two weeks to three months – to carry out a specific project. Often these experiences are carried out in Salesian contexts in developing countries.

  • Voluntary service for a considerable length of time (about a year) outside one’s own environment in works in the same Province.

  • Voluntary service for a short period of time (three months to a year) or for a longer period (more than a year) in other countries in mission territories entrusted to the Congregation.

  • Civilian (social) service supported by the State, that can take the place of military service.

From the variety in this list, to which could be added other experiences, it can be seen that in different parts of the Salesian world, not everyone has the same thing in mind when they speak about “Salesian voluntary service.”

For this reason we feel the need to establish certain criteria for the organisation and the promotion of this rich and promising phenomenon. As Salesians, we want to discover these riches, and recognise the challenges, bearing in mind the current social and ecclesiastical context, within the context of history and of Salesian values.



Some Clarifications

[24] The description of the identity of Salesian voluntary service that we are proposing in this part is functional and practical, indicating the more important choices to be made in order to ensure the Salesian educative-pastoral quality of the experience, and to facilitate communication and collaboration between the various Provinces and Salesian voluntary service organisations. Above all we want to clarify some terms and o in this handbook give them a precise significance

[25] 1. The Volunteer

As already mentioned in the preface, we want to put at the centre of our reflections the Volunteer since our attention is particularly addressed to his/her human and religious growth, and to their taking their place in social life and within a faith community. What concerns us is the aspect of being rather than the manifold activities which are necessary for their service.

The Salesian volunteer is a lay person, a man or a woman, a young person or an adult, single or married, who having come of age, and after an appropriate preparation, places at the disinterested service of the young and the working class, especially those who are poor and “at risk,” their professional expertise or other personal gifts and ability, in line with the Salesian charism and mission, in an explicit and continuing commitment.

Open to a world view and to a variety of cultures and with a profound respect for the dignity of the human person, s/he makes a response to the needs that are emerging that is considered, creative and on-going. Collaborating with civil and ecclesial institutions, s/he undertakes an activity to transform society and to remove the causes of injustice, according to the gospel model and the educational system of Don Bosco, drawing inspiration from Salesian youth spirituality.

[26] 2. Voluntary Service

By voluntary service is understood a disinterested service for a specific period of time carried out with a certain continuous commitment (either in the full sense of the term- a lengthy uninterrupted period, for example of six months, or a year or more, or in the sense of a service extending over a period of time, even of many years, but with a commitment, on a daily or weekly basis, of several hours) undertaken in a planned and structured manner as part of associations, NGOs, Provincial organisations etc.

Short individual or group experiences which have the features of voluntary service can be considered as preparation and formation for real voluntary service.

[27] 3. Salesian Voluntary Service

Service undertaken by a Volunteer can be considered Salesian voluntary service in so far as it is promoted by Salesian communities or is carried out in a Salesian context (work or community), and hence contributes to the carrying out of the Salesian mission.

Salesian voluntary service therefore is an organised experience that promotes a programme of voluntary activity inspired by the values of Salesian spirituality and integrated in the Salesian educative-pastoral project.13



2.1 A tradition begun in Don Bosco’s times

[28] Don Bosco knew how to involve his boys even at a very early age in almost heroic voluntary service activities. It is enough to recall the young "volunteers" during the cholera epidemic. Through these acts of service he helped them to bring to maturity a vocational life option.

Directly involving the young people in their education and in transforming their surroundings was for Don Bosco one of the key elements in his educational system, in addition to it being a real school of citizenship and holiness.

In practice at Valdocco Don Bosco succeeded in creating a style of life centred on the loving presence of the educators among the youngsters, in an atmosphere of joy and confidence in people and in their ability to grow, to take the lead and to collaborate, with special attention given to the those most in need and at risk.

In this way he himself showed and encouraged others to have a great sensitivity in the social field. He knew how to bring together and fill with enthusiasm many people, youngsters and adults, lay people and consecrated persons, in the service of education and the promotion of needy, working class young people, within and outside Salesian works.

To carry out his educational and social plan Don Bosco inspired the start of a great movement of persons,15 who collaborate with him sharing the values of his spirituality.

Today in promoting voluntary service, the Salesians want to expand further these intuitions of Don Bosco. Through it a way of life is proposed that is profoundly inspired by a positive and evangelical view of the person and of life, capable of leading young people and the educators also to the full development of their human and Christian/religious vocation.

2.2. A commitment that creates a new mentality

[29] In harmony with the Salesian mission and with the spirituality that nourishes it, Salesian voluntary service is based on evangelical values. It is committed to a project of life concentrated on the service of the needy and human society in general; it promotes the human rights of everyone, being involved with those forces concerned about solidarity, justice and peace; and it collaborates in this way in the all-round development of peoples.16 For members of the Church it is also an invitation to share their faith through witness and service.

In this way voluntary service even though a temporary phase of a person’s life, creates a new mentality which progressively is transformed into a practical way of considering one’s life as an effort to create a new world through the service of humanity in need.

For young people, this widespread involvement constitutes a school of life which offers them a formation in solidarity and in readiness to offer others not simply material aid but their very selves. The anti-culture of death that finds expression for example in drug use, is thus countered by an unselfish love which shows itself to be a culture of life by the very willingness to “lose itself” (cf. Lk 17, 33 et passim) for others.”17

2.3 Fundamental characteristics of the new mentality

[30] We can point to two characteristics that we consider fundamental, of this new mentality which ought to result from an experience of Salesian voluntary service well made. They happen in the case of every volunteer irrespective of faith or religion.

[31] 2.3.1 A vocational view of life as gift and as service

The volunteer takes on a vocational view of life, understood as a gift freely received and to be shared in the service of the fullness of life for everyone.

This vocational culture becomes something lived when the volunteer acquires important attitudes and values: the defence and the promotion of the sacred character of human life; trust in one’s self and in one’s neighbour; an interior life than enables one to discover the presence and the action of God in oneself and in others; readiness to assume responsibility and let oneself be involved for the benefit of others in an attitude of service and selflessness; courage to dream and to dare to want great things for the benefit of others.

This vision ought to develop during the formation of the volunteers and ought to inspire their plans and service in such a way that the experience of voluntary service is not reduced to a parenthesis, in the way one faces up to one’s life in society and in the Church.

[32] 2.3.2 An attitude of disinterested service and of solidarity

Voluntary service becomes a real school of life especially for young people. It contributes o educating them to a culture of solidarity with others, especially the most needy, in a spirit of welcome, openness and disinterested self-giving.

It constitutes a particular factor in becoming human: thanks to the variety of forms of solidarity and service that it promotes and to which it gives practical expression, it makes society more attentive to the dignity of the individual and to his/her many expectations.

Through the activities that are taken up, the volunteer comes to see that only the person who loves and gives him/herself to others is totally fulfilled as a human being.

2.4. Inspired by values of Salesian Spirituality

[33] At Don Bosco’s oratory the young people and the adult collaborators had an experience of living and working together with him for the education and the salvation of youth. This charismatic and community lived experience, the nucleus of Salesian Spirituality, throws light on the project of Salesian voluntary service. Here are some of its characteristics:

  • A preferential love for the young especially the poor, as a sign of God’s special love for them;

  • The educational style of kindness, the expression of a practical love suited to the young, to which they readily correspond with love;

  • The family spirit: a style of human relationships that is serene and welcoming, that gives rise to a positive self-image, builds up a lively formative climate, encourages a group process and the taking of personal responsibility for one’s own development;

  • The fulfilment of daily duties becomes the way of responding to a human and Christian vocation and one in which we collaborate in the redeeming mission of Christ and the transformation of the world;

  • Optimism and the joy of life: confidence in the victory of good over evil, openness to the human virtues present in everyone, even the poorest and the have-nots, a pedagogy of joy and celebration.

2.5 Open to all persons of good will

[34] The great challenges of today: globalisation, the development of peoples, peace and the defence of nature, new evangelisation, the active role of lay people … require from us an effort to overcome the temptation to close ourselves off in our own places with our own projects and to consider others as opponents against whom we have to defend ourselves.

The salvation of the young demands that we combine our forces seeking out those with similar ideas to ourselves, creating networks of collaboration and mutual support, giving up a self-centred approach that often divides us. This needs to start from the individual communities and works in the same local area, or within a Province, among the different youth ministry sectors and services. One significant form of this co-responsibility in the Salesian mission is precisely voluntary service,18 which is also a very special way of bringing a Salesian vocation to fruition in lay people.

[35] In this spirit, Salesian voluntary service is not limited to baptised or practising Christians. It is also open to young people and adults who are far from the Church, to those who practise other religions or to young people in a religious search. All people of good will who want to work with Salesians, sharing Don Bosco’s vision and educational project, can take part in the project of Salesian voluntary service.

The experience of voluntary service can constitute for a number of young people an opportunity to discover and open themselves to and undertake a journey towards a faith that is adult, committed, ecclesial and missionary a real process of evangelisation.

[36] In order to navigate safely in this delicate process of sharing and communion, to ensure a genuine Salesian voluntary service, it is important to ensure certain criteria and conditions:

The person who wants to take part in Salesian voluntary service needs to show some qualities:

    • That human maturity and personal integrity necessary to become for the young people an educational role model;

    • An educational approach and a sensitivity to the youth situation especially that of the poorest;

    • Sympathy towards Don Bosco and the Salesians;

    • Acceptance of the Salesian educational project and the educational method of Don Bosco;

    • Openness to a search for God and respect for the gospel approach and for the values of other religions and cultures.19

2.6 Salesian voluntary service and the mission ad gentes

[37] The missionary commitment ad gentes is an integral part of the Salesian charism. Voluntary service offers to those people interested the possibility of working alongside Salesians for the coming of the Kingdom of God in different contexts. It

  • offers the volunteer formation in forming judgements;

  • guides the volunteer to a developing awareness that all the baptised are “commissioned” by the Lord to preach the good news;

  • challenges the volunteers to open themselves to a worldwide view and to a variety of cultures;

  • introduces the volunteer to inter-religious dialogue and ecumenism, which appreciates the original contribution of different religious experiences;

  • offers volunteers opportunities for direct involvement on the frontiers of evangelisation, through a selfless and specialised service according to their own professional competence;

  • provides models who help the volunteer to live the lay dimension open to the most pressing human needs, in the fight against injustice, against the growth of new divisions and new forms of poverty.

Those directly involved in voluntary service ad gentes are not only the young but also adults, individuals, married couples and families.

2.7 A possibility for the Salesian Family

[38] In the vast movement of people that Don Bosco wanted to create for the salvation of the young the Salesian Family has a very special place. Voluntary service offers the Salesian Family the possibility of proposing to adults and young adults a practical way of becoming involved in the Salesian charism and mission, opportunities for a creative role in the service of the poor, concrete ways of taking a leading role in transforming today’s society, according to the style of Don Bosco.

Members of the Salesian Family are invited to help volunteers to find their place in a specific territory collaborating in carrying out the Salesian mission and promoting the vast Salesian movement. At the same time, voluntary service provides opportunities for formation and witness that can bring to maturity a vocation in one of the groups of the Salesian Family.




3.1 The Salesian Youth Ministry formation process
values and promotes the spirit of voluntary service

[39] Salesian Youth Ministry is the practical expression of the charism and mission of Don Bosco, that is, the implementation today of his educational and evangelising mission, according to the Preventive System and animated by the dynamism of Salesian Spirituality. It has as its aim the all-round development of the individual as a human being and in his vocation as a son of God (citizen and Christian).20

[40] This process towards all-round development, promoted by Salesian Youth Ministry through various specific formation agenda, develops and helps bring to maturity in the young the values and attitudes of voluntary service21. In practical terms this process strengthens:

  • the active and responsible involvement in socio-cultural, economic and political fields in order to transform them;

  • an attitude of service and solidarity in society and in the Church;

  • the development of the religious aspect, which opens a person to the transcendent and to the “discovery of God”;.

  • the significant experience of Christian life that leads to a meeting with Jesus Christ and a possible vocational option for life according to the Gospel.

[41] Clearly YM does not exist simply for the purpose of voluntary service, since it is not limited to the all-round development of the individual. Nonetheless, voluntary service is an effective sign of the success of YM. After the formation process provided by YM, a young person becoming involved in voluntary service indicates that the values listed above have been personally taken aboard.

It can also be seen that hundreds of young people and many adults who have not followed the YM process offer themselves for voluntary service in the Salesian context when in a variety of ways, especially through the internet, they become aware of the Salesian world. For these, whether young people or adults, it is necessary to organise a period of suitable formation that gives them the possibility of undertaking this process of all-round development in the Salesian style in order to acquire the values needed for Salesian voluntary service. Welcoming and forming these people, especially the young people, is a new and important challenge for Salesian Youth Ministry today.

3.2 Voluntary service opportunity enriches
the Salesian educative-pastoral project

[42] The opportunity for voluntary service helps the young person to mature further in the formation process undertaken by Salesian Youth Ministry and, at the same time, enriches with its own values the educative-pastoral process itself. In practice it puts to good use:

  • a commitment to the education and development of the poor and those in need;

  • lay involvement and the close collaboration between SDB and the laity in the Salesian mission of education;

  • an effective and significant presence in a given area, through contact and collaboration with other educational and developmental institutions and agencies;

  • a renewed interest and involvement in missionary work, as part of the popular culture so that it becomes an incentive to make life more human and leads to personal and community freedom;

  • a new way of being among the young and young adults, open to solidarity, which helps in the formulation of life options through gratuitous service of others.

3.3 Salesian Youth Movement: fertile soil for promoting Voluntary Service

[43] The Salesian Youth Movement, through the all-round gradual process according to age used in the groups, provides an effective preparation for Salesian voluntary service. In fact, through belonging to the groups in the Movement, the training programme they employ and the experience of leadership and animation they provide, the values behind the idea of voluntary service are promoted and the members are helped to arrive at more committed options in this area. In this way the SYM offers the opportunity for the maturing of more demanding options in this field, which can be implemented in voluntary service feely taken up.

3.4 Stages in the educational process for Voluntary Service

[44] As has already been mentioned. Salesian voluntary service is a unified experience, or an educational process structurally integrated in YM, which leads young people towards the gift of themselves for the benefit of others and eventually a decisive vocational choice.

The stages in this process can be set out schematically as follows:

  • T











    he development of a culture of voluntary service and formation in its values (disinterested service, openness to others, selflessness, solidarity…) throughout the whole educative-pastoral process with youngsters and adolescents.

  • Formation to voluntary service through various experiences of selfless service, such as youth leadership, active participation in various associations or short-term voluntary service experiences.

  • The choice of an organised or formal period of voluntary service which young adults or older adults undertake for a considerable length of time.

  • Throughout this process and through these experiences of voluntary service, the young people come to mature, conscious and long-term vocational options.




[45] Organised and positively promoted as it is, Salesian voluntary service has its own characteristics and types. In the list of the various activities that are considered voluntary service in different parts of the Congregation not all can be recognised are genuine voluntary service experiences. For this reason we want to indicate the characteristics and the different kinds that we want to especially promote while not denying the value of the other experiences as good preparation for a genuine Salesian voluntary service.

4.1 Characteristics

[46] Evangelical

Salesian voluntary service proposes the values of the Gospel of Christ through the witness of service disinterested and supportive, according to the Salesian spirit.

It supports, fosters and collaborates in the “missionary” task of proclaiming the Gospel in regions in which it is not sufficiently known.

This characteristic could be considered obvious when it is a question of baptised and practising volunteers, and less applicable to others. Nevertheless, it is also carried out by the others, given that a Salesian volunteer, whatever his/her faith, when taking part in the Salesian mission, is committed to putting into practice certain gospel values, especially, disinterestedness, solidarity, justice, peace etc. In fact, this characteristic offers them the possibility of a process of religious development.

[47] Educational

Salesian voluntary service is primarily concerned with the personal and social maturing of the volunteer who accepts the challenge of "educating while being educated oneself".

It becomes involved in human development projects, giving priority to the least, and gives its activities a Salesian educational slant; it is open to and promotes inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue.

[48] Socio-political

Salesian voluntary service takes an active and responsible part in the socio-cultural, economic and political world, with the intention of transforming it, collaborating with other civil and ecclesial institutions.


At the heart of Salesian voluntary service is the volunteer living his/her own human and religious vocation in the secular setting of the family, of work, culture, politics, the economy etc. S/he commits him/herself to transform these situations according to gospel values, making the values of Salesian spirituality present and offering a specific gospel witness to the world.

[50] Youthful

The Salesian volunteer is normally a “young adult”, living out his/her service with a youthful spirit on the same wavelength as the young people s/he is sent to serve.

There are also many adults who offer their special contribution to the Salesian mission and its project of the human, social and Christian development of the young and of the working class.


The communitarian aspect of Salesian voluntary service is seen in the fact that the voluntary is sent to carry our his/her service by a community after suitable preparation and is welcomed by another community. Group experiences lived in the family spirit inspired by Don Bosco help to develop the values of dialogue and self-giving. While not excluding the possibility of working in non-Salesian projects, normally s/he would be part of the Salesian Educative-Pastoral Community with which s/he collaborates sharing in its Educative-Pastoral Plan.

4.2 Mission

[52] The areas of service in which the Salesian volunteer makes his/her personal contribution vary according to professional qualifications, personal faith and particular skills and the contexts in which s/he is called to work. We indicate the three main ones:

4.2.1 The area of evangelisation

This involves among other things:

  • proclamation, catechesis and the journey of education to the faith;

  • teaching religion;

  • spiritual leadership/animation (prayer, liturgy, retreats, spiritual direction);

  • training catechists, leaders and pastoral workers;

  • vocational guidance;

  • animating groups and associations.

[53] 4.2.2 The educational-cultural area

This involves among other things:

  • educational initiatives of an informal kind (literacy programmes, revision of lessons, preparation for work...);

  • educational experiences of a formal nature (scholastic and vocational training);

  • assisting in the setting up of associations of various kinds;

  • animation of cultural (sport, music, art, theatre) and recreational activities.

[54] 4.2.3 The social area

This involves among other things:

  • the work of the promotion and defence of human rights;

  • social animation of the local area (cooperatives, associations, formal groups...);

  • activities to prevent the phenomena of social breakdown;

  • initiatives to counter marginalisation (of street children, drug addicts, immigrants...);

  • health work;

  • activities providing for primary needs (food, water, housing…).

4.3 Values and attitudes of Salesian Voluntary Service

[55] The Salesian volunteer promotes some basic values and attitudes that contribute to his/her way of acting22:

Disinterested service: as an attitude of devoting one’s whole life and professional skills to the call to build a better world. A person offers him/herself completely without concern for his/her personal gain or convenience in order to carry out a project of human development. This lack of self-interest consists precisely in focusing attention on the needs of others rather than on personal advancement.23

[56] Community spirit: the volunteer generously puts his/her gifts and talents at the service of the project and of the community in which s/he is working. S/he avoids working on his/her own, in isolation. S/he is open to dialogue and discussion, to planning and assessment, to “team work”.

[57] • “Oratorian”style: the volunteer displays in his/her activities an “oratorian heart” which means s/he knows how to be with the youngsters and make himself/herself loved, ready to take the first step to share his/her life with them, creating a family atmosphere which responds to daily needs, life experiences and the faith journey of the youngsters. S/he accompanies the youngsters in formation projects geared to their requirements and respecting their feelings.

[58] Intercultural approach and solidarity: with a clear and preferential option for the least regarded, in particular the poor and marginalised, the volunteer makes efforts to discover, respect, appreciate and make others appreciate the values of the culture in which s/he is working, and to learn the local language. Brings together the courage of prophecy with the patience of waiting. Avoids extremes and controls any tendency to dominate, which could be hidden under the guise of service.

[59] A critical and responsible involvement in the context in which s/he is working and in the pastoral activity of the local Church: the volunteer acquires an overall and critical vision of the society, contributes to the removal of the causes of injustice, collaborates in the building of the Kingdom of God and promoting the evangelical values of love, service and forgiveness, of fraternal sharing, of trust in the goodness of the Father. S/he also becomes involved in the pastoral plan of the local Church working with other ecclesiastical bodies.

4.4 Different kinds of Salesian Voluntary Service

We can distinguish different ways of carrying Salesian voluntary service from different points of view.24

[60] 4.4.1 According to the length of time and the kind of activity:

It is a commitment that should always be considered in terms of being long-term, systematic and continuous, and not only as a one-off experience. It can be undertaken:

  • during free time away from professional work or study (a service given part-time on a regular basis during a certain continuous period of time;

  • with a total commitment during a long period of time as for example in voluntary service abroad.

[61] 4.4.2 According to the place of this activity:

It is possible to consider:

  • local voluntary service: in the area where the volunteer lives,

  • national or Provincial voluntary service: outside one’s own area, whether within one’s own country or state, or in one’s own Province (bearing in mind that some Provinces contain distinct cultural and linguistic areas, both in the same State and in different ones).

  • International voluntary service: in a country other than one’s own in another Province, often in a developing country.

[62] 4.4.3 According to the nature of its placement in the Salesian mission:

We can think of a form of Voluntary service:

  • that directly collaborates in the educative-pastoral plan of a specific Salesian work;

  • that collaborates in evangelisation in mission lands (missionary voluntary service);

  • that is side by side a Salesian activity through a form of work or service belonging to a voluntary service organisation.

[63] 4.4.4 According to the nature of the organisation:

One can speak about voluntary service that is coordinated:

  • through a local or Provincial Salesian organisation;

  • through an organisation of voluntary service recognised at civil level (NGO or something similar), as part of the Salesian plan of a Province.

[64] 4.4.5 Two main forms

We can say that from an organisational point of view the different kinds of Salesian voluntary service can be summed up in two main categories:

Local voluntary service

This is the kind of voluntary service that offers more possibilities since there are many young people and adults, who in very varied social contexts and different countries, generously devote their time, full-time or part-time, and their talents to voluntary service

This local voluntary service is taking place in the areas of educational and social activity and in those of evangelising and missionary activity.

In addition, In some countries, national laws provide for young people the so-called “Civilian Service,” carried out for 10/12 months, in social activities of benefit to the public, with suitable chosen organisations. Properly prepared and accompanied, civilian service in Salesian contexts becomes a formation opportunity with the characteristics of Salesian voluntary service.

[65] International voluntary service

This is a more demanding form of voluntary service that requires strong motivation, clearly determined aims, a genuine life plan that the volunteer has thought through, the necessary professional skills, the clear specification of the roles and tasks to be undertaken during voluntary service, and opportunities for work and organisational openings on returning home.

For international voluntary service a reasonable period of one to three years is encouraged.

One concrete form of international voluntary service is missionary voluntary service in which the volunteer becomes part of a mission “ad gentes” project of the Salesian Congregation.

4.5 Participation by Adults in Salesian Voluntary Service

[66] An ever growing number of adults are offering themselves to form part of the initiatives and commitments of Salesian voluntary service. Some of these belong to the Salesian Family or are collaborators in our works. There are others who have come to know the Salesians through their programmes of education, of development and evangelisation.

Through the witness of their Christian life and charitable work, they commit themselves to evangelisation, human development, and educational tasks for a considerable period of time. Many of them, through their professionalism and experience, make a valuable contribution to the educational and development quality of the Salesian project; with their experience of life as lay people they bring a social and political contribution to the project; with their enthusiasm and missionary zeal they are often a valuable support to the missionary work of the Salesian community.

When they come to voluntary service, the majority of these adults have not followed any process of youth ministry that could prepare them for it. On this account the Province or the organisation that accepts them needs to programme a formation plan suited to their situation, which will allow them to get to know in depth the nature of Salesian voluntary service, to take on board the basic attitudes and prepare themselves to work in close collaboration with the Salesian community, actively taking part in the project entrusted to them.

This commitment can become for each adult volunteer, whatever their state of life a opportunity to grow in maturity in their human and Christian vocation and in the Salesian spirit.



[67] The three chapters in this second part offer some general suggestions that need to be applied as appropriate to the different kinds of voluntary service, according to the characteristics and requirements of each.

It will be the task of the Provinces and of the Salesian organisations of voluntary service to draw up a concrete project for voluntary service, making clear the way to apply these principles and criteria in their particular circumstances.




[68] The community dimension is an essential feature of Salesian voluntary service: it is of great value to the volunteer, to the Salesian community, and to the local area. It also gives a special character to the style of commitment to education, to the transformation of society and to the building of the Church: being signs and builders of communion, of dialogue, of concern for the all-round growth of others, according to the family style as lived by Don Bosco.

For this reason the insertion of the volunteer in the Salesian community and in the Educative Pastoral Community is considered the preferred way for formation, for growth, for preparation and for the carrying out of the mission of the Salesian volunteer.

5.1 The community experience of the volunteers

[69] This community experience is lived and is expressed at different levels:

With the community that sends them

The Salesian community welcomes and integrates in its life and activity people wishing to offer themselves for voluntary service with the purpose of preparing them for their insertion in the future setting of voluntary service. In the community the candidates experience and themselves take on board the values of Salesian pedagogy and spirituality.

With the Salesian community that welcomes them

[70] The volunteers benefit from the human and gospel qualities they discover in the Salesian community that receives them, such as the vocation to education, a passion for the salvation of the young, fraternity and the family style, and a life characterised by the profession of the evangelical counsels.

Their presence brings to the Salesian community the gift of a youthful approach, making it more sensitive to the world of youth and motivating it in its apostolic enthusiasm. In this way the volunteers become an incentive for the Salesian community and an element of renewal for greater fidelity to the charism.

[71]With the educative-pastoral community

The volunteers become part of the Educative-Pastoral Community, sharing in its Educative-Pastoral Project; within it they foster personal, generous relationships, collaboration and participation; they show the youngsters and the educators an alternative way of life based on the free gift of oneself, on the acceptance and appreciation of the other person, on service, collaboration and solidarity.

[72]Among the volunteers themselves

Relationships between the volunteers are inspired by the family model of Don Bosco. Each one brings his/her own human and spiritual qualities in order to create an atmosphere in which one feels accepted and helped in one’s own personal development. Each day sharing joys and sufferings, free time and work, the volunteers develop a sense of brotherhood and friendship. They accept each other, respect each other, wish each other well. They have moments of discussion, communication, prayer, relaxation, as well as for rest and personal recollection.

The volunteer also keeps in frequent touch with whoever sent them both the Salesian community and the voluntary service organisation the voluntary service organisation to which s/he belongs.

5.2 Types of placement in the community that receives them

[73] The volunteer needs to be aware that the community spirit is something acquired patiently day by day. On this account s/he accepts the tasks that derive from it learning to manage interpersonal relationships.

In this effort moments of reflection and communication, of prayer and celebration in common, accompaniment and attention to individuals are indispensable. This can be expressed in different ways:

  • Volunteers who live alone but share things with other volunteers and with the Salesian religious community, in addition to educational and apostolic work, family moments, of reflection and prayer.

  • Volunteers who live together in their own accommodation separate from the Salesian community with regular friendly contact for reflection and prayer with the Salesian community with which they are collaborating

  • Volunteers who live as lay people within a Salesian religious community, sharing their daily life, except those particular times that are for the religious community.

[74] In practice the way depends on a number of variables, such as: the duration of the period of voluntary service, the affective maturity and the condition of life of the volunteer (single, or married, with or without children), the number of volunteers in a single community, the presence or not of Salesians (or of other members of the Salesian Family), etc.

[75] The way the volunteer takes his/her place in a Salesian community cannot be left to chance, but before the period of voluntary service begins, needs to have been sufficiently considered, carefully reflected on and discussed by the community or organisation that sends, and by the one that receives. It needs an appropriate preparation of the community that receives the volunteer and the clarification of the role of the volunteer in the educative pastoral plan, some precise concrete norms to regulate their relationships with each other, also taking into consideration the various vocational options of the volunteers and of the religious. It is necessary to define these norms clearly, with the conditions, rights and duties, in a written agreement between the Province or voluntary service organisation that sends the volunteer and the Province that receives him/her, with the agreement of the community in which s/he will be placed.

[76] Whatever may be the model of placement and collaboration of the volunteers in the community, the identity, the cohesion and the integrity of the Salesian community as a religious community and the non-consecrated lay state of the volunteer need to be respected and maintained.

5.3 The role of the community that sends

[77] The Salesian community, whether local or Provincial, and the organisations that promote Salesian voluntary service should take care regarding the gradual insertion of the volunteer in the situation of the Salesian community and the Salesian works. This requires a well-organised formation process, with frequent contact with the Salesian community.

5.4 The role of the Salesian community that welcomes

[78] The Salesian community receives the volunteer with an open and grateful heart, facilitating her/his involvement in the educative-pastoral plan of the educative-pastoral community, respecting his/her lay state, and makes good use of his/her qualities and experience in educative and apostolic work, offering him/her opportunities for participation and co-responsibility.

The community is also responsible for the formation and the accompaniment of the volunteer and for establishing the essential norms regarding the arrangements for his/her community life and apostolic role.25

It tries to communicate the wealth of the Salesian spirit and the style of the mission to youth especially through witness. It does not neglect the opportunity to offer the concrete vocational proposal of belonging to one of the groups of the Salesian Family.

The option of consecrated life demands that the Salesians take the initiative in building communion and in witnessing to the radical nature of the gospel in a dialogue capable of ensuring the educational quality of the experience of voluntary service.

5.5 Some requirements for a positive relationship
between volunteers and the community

[79] To establish a positive relationship of fraternity, sharing and collaboration between volunteers and the community, the following requirements are seen to be important:

  • Knowing each other, an ability to welcome and be open in sharing the mission. To the offer of disinterested service on the part of the volunteer corresponds generosity in the welcome afforded by the community, which provides for an exchange of information and communication, regular times for being together and the sharing of life and faith.

  • Recognition and acceptance of the diversity of the volunteers (age, life choice, country of origin …) and the diversity of the Salesian communities and of the educative-pastoral communities.

  • A sharing of the project of voluntary service on the part of the Salesian community and the EPC, and on the part of the volunteer of the Salesian Educative-Pastoral Project (SEPP). This demands a recognition of the role of the laity in the EPC, clarity in determining the responsibilities and tasks of the volunteer, periodic meetings for planning and evaluation together with the Salesian community and the educative-pastoral community.

  • An educational approach on the part of the SDB in their dealings with the volunteers: the recognition of the personal vocation of each volunteer; awareness of their journey towards human and religious maturity, attention to their formation and assimilation of Salesian pedagogy and spirituality, the availability of an SDB to be responsible for and to accompany the volunteers…

  • Readiness for reciprocal collaboration to foster and promote the development of the local voluntary service.

  • A better and more fruitful relationship between SDB – FMA and other groups of the Salesian Family, which would allow for the enrichment of the relationship with the volunteers.

5.6 The acceptance of volunteers of other religions and confessions
and volunteers engaged in a religious search

[80] The Salesian community that welcomes volunteers who are non-practising Christians, persons engaged in a religious search or members of other religions, on its part, must:

        • live and demonstrate fidelity to its own charism and to the integrity of the Salesian educational project;

        • encourage a dialogue about life through a respectful welcome and a sincere sharing of the human and lay values present in the Preventive System;

        • cultivate dialogue in action, sharing the commitment to education and to human development and to justice and peace;

        • foster dialogue about religious experience, which implies sharing experiences of prayer and the search for God.26



[81] Salesian voluntary service is a real school of life, and at the same time the fruit of a long and methodical formation process; it is like the flowering of a plant that has been methodically cultivated over a long time; the seeds are sown and cultivated in youth ministry, and they are further developed in the process of specific formation before and during the experience of voluntary service Taking it seriously therefore means fostering in our centres and in different kinds of Salesian educational activities a serious formation process through motivations and suggestions that open to:

  • the social aspect of charity,

  • a spirituality of disinterested and responsible service,

  • a courageous confidence in the young, capable of launching them into the world which asks from them solidarity and help,

  • joining groups which strengthen the formation process,

  • an organised contact with those who are already generously living out an experience of voluntary service.

With these fundamental attitudes the process of formation can begin for every kind of voluntary service, which subsequently develops into specific preparation, according to the different types of voluntary service.

6.1 Objectives

[82] In Salesian voluntary service, the formation ought to enable the volunteer to work effectively in the fields of the education and evangelisation of the young especially the poor ones, contributing to the transformation of society according to the spirit and the mission of Don Bosco.27

To achieve this general aim, the Salesian volunteer commits himself/herself to becoming a witness to the values of the Kingdom, a guide, promoter and an educator.

[83] In order to witness s/he has TO BE in special way, developing some attitudes that make him/her a positive influence:

  • personal integrity, so as to become an educational point of reference for the young;

  • total self-donation of his/her own life and professional skills, inspired by profound motives that are lived and shared;

  • sound judgement, united to a capacity for dialogue and discernment;

  • ability to appreciate and dialogue with different cultures and ways of thinking, living and acting;

  • a gift for education and a sensitivity to understand and sympathise with the situation of young people, especially the poorest ones;

  • openness to the faith and a desire to deepen it and bear witness to it.

[84] To guide s/he has to KNOW, with sufficient socio-cultural, Christian/religious, Salesian knowledge, especially about:

  • the social system in which s/he is operating, with its good points, inequalities and problems, etc.;

  • the expectations and the specific needs of the area;

  • the language and culture with which s/he will have to work;

  • the norms that govern his/her relationship with the organisation in which s/he is living.

[85] To promote s/he has to KNOW HOW, acquiring the necessary skills to:

  • operate with competence and in a professional manner;

  • use the most appropriate "instruments" to share and become involved in the problems and situations of the young and of the people;

  • interact with others and with the situation.

[86] To educate s/he has to KNOW HOW TO ANIMATE others, having the pedagogical-pastoral skills to:

  • be with, welcome and talk to/dialogue with the young;

  • set in motion processes of self-development, opening up and strengthening peoples’ potential to increase their own capacity to make deliberate choices and to do things for themselves;

  • attract collaborators and work in a team with them;

  • know the principles and techniques of the animation of the group and of the community.

6.2 Contents

[87] The contents of the formation process can be arranged around five areas:

  • Area of motivational development, in which one’s own human and Christian/religious identity is examined in view of a qualified contribution as an educator and the fundamental contents of a process of evangelisation and of education to the faith are drawn up.

  • Area of Salesian knowledge and formation: this aims to provide a sufficient knowledge of the Salesian Congregation, of the Salesian Family, and of what Salesians do; an introduction to Don Bosco’s educative-pastoral system and the way a Salesian house/work is organised.

  • Area of technical skills: this refers to knowledge and skills belonging to the type of service or activity to be undertaken; the necessary administrative, juridical and financial aspects depending on the area involved; skills in planning and assessment, etc.

  • Area of communicative skills and ability to relate, within which are to be found questions about formation in communication, about knowledge of the language and the culture of the place, about handling interpersonal conflict situations, about the way of working in a group and the ability to recognise one’s own needs (as a group and as an organisation); on the more strictly organisational level in this area are also the issues of the ability and the skills (knowledge and know how) in relation to the management of internal human resources.

  • Area of a capacity to operate in the social field, within which are found the aspects of formation in relation to the identity and the promotion of voluntary service, to the acquisition of the ability to recognise the needs of the community and its requirements, the ability to reflect on oneself and to work in collaboration with others in the community, with other organisations of voluntary service, and with the organisations, associations and social institution active in the same place. In this area it is also important to offer the young volunteers courses on intercultural education and education to a world view, so that they become effective development educators at home or abroad, promoters of a culture of peace and of international solidarity, also at the conclusion of their time spent in voluntary service.

6.3 Methodological Criteria

[88] The process of the formation of Salesian volunteers takes account of the following criteria:

  • Its duration and contents depend on the kind of voluntary service and its duration: the Provinces and the organisations that accept and prepare the volunteers need to adapt the formation to their situation and to the tasks they will have to undertake;

  • It evolves as a gradual process of personal growth, through a concrete programme made up of moments of reflection, practical experiences and assessments which will enable the volunteer to take personal responsibility for his/her own formation, and to resist the temptation to rush through the stages of formation.

  • This happens in the ordinary life of the family, of the community, of the group; this will help to avoid the risk of a merely theoretical communication of the contents or of “things to do” and will ensure a deepening of the personal motivations which direct daily choices;

  • It facilitates the inculturation of the volunteer in the context where s/he will be sent, through a knowledge of the life, the language, the resources and the problems of the place and his/her openness to other cultures; this is especially the case for international voluntary service;

  • It deepens the faith of the volunteer and leads him/her towards a Christian vocational choice in lay life, in the ordained ministry or in consecrated life, giving special attention to a vocational decision in the Salesian Family;28

  • It ensures a systematic personal accompaniment which leads the volunteer to understand better his/her motivation, and helps him/her to make his/her own the formation recommendations, not limiting them to collective courses or group meetings or letters;

  • It begins a continuous formation process which develops a constancy in the attitudes of donation and growth in one’s own vocational choice, avoiding making voluntary service a “parenthesis” in one’s life.

[89] As mentioned earlier,29 for those who come from backgrounds unconnected with YM, it will be necessary to provide a gradual immersion in the Salesian world, before sending them as volunteers, taking part in a community project in a Salesian community for a reasonable period of time.

6.4 Formation Resources

[90] Among the available resources for the formation of volunteers we indicate in particular:

  • Formation procedures, which help the volunteers to reach, gradually and at the rhythm and according to the possibilities of each one, the formation aims set; for this courses, days of recollection, study days, meetings, and short-term practical experiences are arranged.

  • Personal spiritual and professional guidance, which helps the volunteer in his/her process of growing in personal and vocational maturity, in his/her involvement in the chosen project and in the evaluation of results.

[91] The group

The group to which s/he belongs normally offers the volunteer:

  • moments of friendly get-together in which to share feelings, plans, joys, celebrations, various activities;

  • times devoted to formation, through conferences, reflection, celebrations, days of recollection, etc.;

  • occasions to exercise leadership, various kinds of collaboration;

  • practical opportunities for service, human development and evangelisation;

  • missionary animation;

  • short-term experiences in poor countries, work camps in the Province or in one’s own country, “working holidays”…

[92] The Salesian community

The volunteer is formed through interacting with the Salesian community. In it, through contact with Don Bosco’s way, s/he learns to be generous and to love God and the young with "an oratorian heart".

The local community which sends him/her:

  • Encourages the candidate in solidarity, gratuitousness and responsibility,

  • Supports the volunteer during his/her service commitment,

  • Ensures an adequate preparation of the candidate for service and for life in community,

  • on his/her return facilitates his/her re-entry.

The local community which accepts them:

  • facilitates the involvement of the volunteer in its own plan,

  • supports him/her in his/her service of commitment,

  • involves him/her in the educative community and the area in which it is operating,

  • accompanies him/her in his/her process of formation at the cultural, pedagogical and spiritual levels.

The Provincial community, as having primary responsibility for the Salesian mission in the area, includes voluntary service in its own educative-pastoral plan, providing for a formation process and guaranteeing formation personnel and guides.

[93] Voluntary Service Organisations

The Salesian voluntary service organisations take on the responsibility for the formation and the qualification of their volunteers, providing them with the necessary information and means for the carrying out of their service, and they promote collaboration with other voluntary service organisations, in particular those of the Church and Salesian ones, which, at different levels, support the activities of Voluntary service.

6.5 Main stages in the formation for Voluntary Service

[94] In chronological order it is possible to distinguish various stages in the formation of the volunteer:

  • formation according to the circumstances of the volunteer and the kind of voluntary s/he is destine for;

  • preparation immediately before the departure which it would be well to conclude with a community celebration;

  • formation during service animated by the community to which the volunteer is destined;

  • assessment of the experience on the return;

  • the volunteer settling back into his/her environment.



[95] Voluntary service is already an element in the life and documents of many Provinces. The proposal of voluntary service is a practical way of implementing what the Constitutions of the SDB affirm: «…we commit ourselves to inculcating in them (in the young people) a convinced appreciation of true values which will lead them to a life of dialogue and service.»30

Voluntary service, therefore, is an educational possibility that attracts the young, leading them to experience and bring to maturity their spirit of generous self-giving and to direct them towards discernment and a vocational option. For this reason YM together with the organisation for Missionary Promotion is the one with the primary responsibility for developing within its educative-pastoral proposal the values of voluntary service and to promoting among adolescents and young people c voluntary activities of service. This is the first and basic level of animation.

[96] But it is also important to set up in the Province groups and organisations of voluntary service that promote practical proposals of voluntary service. On this account the 24th General Chapter asked every Province to «draw up and give effect to a provincial plan which, in line with the guidelines of the document “The Salesian Volunteer Movement,” will include detailed proposals for placement in the educative and pastoral project, for the preparation of volunteers, for following them up during their period of service, and for welcoming them and using their experience on their return.»31

In the light of the experience gained in these years and in order to guide the Provinces in promoting Salesian voluntary service, we offer some strategies for animation and government that require close coordination and collaboration between YM, Missionary Promotion and the Salesian organisations for voluntary service in a Province of group of Provinces.

7.1 At local level

[97] The local Salesian community is primarily responsible for the Salesian mission in its area and therefore also for Salesian voluntary service undertaken there.

Therefore the local community should:

  • become familiar with the nature, identity and the methodology of Salesian voluntary service and give it its backing;

  • draw up an agreed plan for voluntary service and ensure continuity;

  • be open and welcoming to those who ask to have an experience of voluntary service, whether at home or abroad, creating an atmosphere in which they can live and experience the Salesian spirit and share in the community mission;

  • collaborate in the formation process, the spiritual accompaniment and animation of the volunteers in their own works, not neglecting the opportunity of offering them a practical vocational invitation to join one of the groups of the Salesian Family;

  • accompany the volunteers who return from abroad with a brotherly welcome, but also with practical assistance as they take up once again their place at work, in society and in the Church;

  • support the one responsible for voluntary service locally and all the initiatives aimed at providing wider educational opportunities where volunteers can find a place to work with co-responsibility.32

[98] The Rector, as animator of the community is called upon to encourage those responsible for youth ministry to promote the ideals of voluntary service and to involve the Salesian community and the educative-pastoral community (EPC) in knowing and welcoming the volunteers.

[99] The one locally responsible for voluntary service: it would be well to appoint a confrere as the one responsible locally for voluntary service, who in close cooperation with the one responsible locally for youth ministry attends to the following points:33 :

Promotes voluntary service, that is:

  • in conjunction with the Rector, informs the Salesian community and the EPC so as to involve them more;

  • through the means of social communication available, awakens public interest about the opportunities offered by voluntary service;

  • collaborates with the Salesian voluntary service organisations in the Province or the Region in order to promote voluntary service and the care of those working in the locality;

  • in conjunction with other educational agencies, spreads awareness of voluntary service among all the local young people, and fosters in them an interest in voluntary service.

Facilitates a community experience for the volunteers:

  • helps create an experience of the Salesian family spirit among themselves, with the SDB and with other collaborators, through a daily learning process of accepting other people, working together, sharing life and faith;

  • provides opportunities for participation and co-responsibility of various kinds within the educative-pastoral community, depending on the type of voluntary service.

Sees to the formation of candidates for voluntary service, that is:

  • cultivates a personal relationship with the candidates for voluntary service and in a special way sees to their accompaniment;

  • helps the volunteer to come to a mature understanding of his/her vocational option in life whether as a lay person in the Church and in the Salesian Family or in the religious life or priesthood;

  • collaborates in the selection of candidates and in their formation, in conjunction with the voluntary service organisation and the one responsible in the Province;

  • maintains contact with the families of candidates.

Offers support to the young people who return from an experience of voluntary service, that is:

  • welcomes them and follows them up in the process of returning to ordinary life;

  • helps them reflect on their experience;

  • fosters their integration in the various groups of the SYM and the Salesian Family;

  • invites them to collaborate in the spreading of voluntary service and in the formation and animation of other volunteers.34

7.2 At Province level

[100] The Provincial, with the Provincial Council, is the one primarily responsible for Y M and Missionary Promotion in the Province, and therefore also for Salesian voluntary service.

Under the guidance of the Provincial, each Province makes its own practical decisions about Salesian voluntary service, by means of a Provincial Plan as part of the Provincial Educative-Pastoral Plan; it helps the confreres and the communities recognise the importance of voluntary service for the Salesian mission; ensures the continuity of voluntary service projects.35

The Provincial with his Council:

    • examines and approves the individual voluntary service projects, seeing that they find a place in the Provincial educative-pastoral Plan;

    • guarantees the availability of the SDB responsible and the necessary financial support;

    • reflects on the experience of the current voluntary service projects and assesses their pastoral effectiveness.

[101] The animation and coordination of Salesian voluntary service at Province level is entrusted to the one in the Province responsible for Salesian voluntary service, assisted by a group of experts or consulters; this person in charge is a member of the Province Youth Ministry Team. Among his responsibilities are the following:

Promoting voluntary service:

  • making the SDB and the communities aware of the value of voluntary service, and motivating them to appreciate the importance and the nature of Salesian voluntary service;

  • fostering positive contacts between the volunteers and the Salesian communities, and knowledge and understanding about the projects of voluntary service on the part of various groups and organisations existing in the Province;

  • promoting the idea of Salesian voluntary service in the educative-pastoral community and in the groups and associations of the Salesian Youth Movement; the ideal places for this promotion are the Oratories – Youth Centres and Social Works;

  • maintaining contacts of communication and collaboration with the civil and ecclesiastical organisations for voluntary service.

Taking care of the formation of the volunteers

  • Developing a Province Plan of formation for voluntary service;

  • Accompanying the selection and preparation procedures for the volunteers;

  • Establishing a direct and personal relationship with the volunteers;

  • Arranging for the integration of the volunteers in a project, considering both the preparation, the qualification and the level of maturity of the candidates, and also the needs of the place and the possibilities of the community in accepting volunteers.

  • Accompanying the volunteers when they begin their service, following them up, visiting them and if possible arranging the drawing up of a contract between the volunteers and the communities that accept them.

Coordinating voluntary service at Province level:

  • Animates and coordinates those responsible locally for voluntary service;

  • He is the point of reference and of unity for the volunteers and the organisations of voluntary service;

  • periodically visits the communities which are hosting volunteers;

  • ensures ample and clear communication between the Province /organisation sending the volunteer and the Province/community welcoming him/her;

  • sees to a constant supply of information and coordination with the YM team, the SF Delegate, the one for the Missions and with the Provincial and his Council;

  • keeps up-to-date records of candidates, volunteers and those who have returned from voluntary service.

Supporting those who return from the experience of voluntary service :

  • Staying in contact with them and helping them to find and live out their vocation in society and in the Church and especially in the Salesian Family;

  • helps them to reflect critically on the experience they have had, and to plan their future lives in the light of the new qualities they have found in themselves and in the environment in which they are once again welcomed;

  • fosters the integration in teams of those who return, to give support to other voluntary service experiences, to collaborate in the formation of young volunteers and to spread the idea of voluntary service;

  • fosters contacts with the community in which the volunteers have given their service, so that the continuity of the experience may be assured.36

7.3 At national, inter-provincial and “Salesian Region” levels

[102] The Provincial delegates in the same country or group of provinces should agree on a plan, unifying criteria, collaborating in the training of volunteers, sharing information and training materials, continuing to reflect together. They should also create a network and a data bank both of volunteers and of places or areas that are looking for volunteers.

7.4 At world level

[103] The promotion and animation of voluntary service at Congregational level is a responsibility shared between the Youth Ministry Department and the Department for the Missions, in conjunction with the Vicar of the Rector Major, responsible for the Salesian Family.

At the level of the Direzione Generale of the Congregation, a person is appointed to coordinate all forms of voluntary service. He will carry out his task referring to the Councillors for Youth Ministry and for the Missions. In particular he will:

  • follow the development of Salesian voluntary service, especially that for young people;

  • instigate reflection and study on it;

  • coordinate the various existing bodies and organisations in the Provinces and Regions, especially the Salesian NGOs which promote voluntary service ;

  • see in a special way to the quality of the training programme for volunteers;

  • see to the setting up of a Congregational data bank both of volunteers and of places for voluntary service;

  • promotes with particular attention voluntary service specifically ad gentes;

  • seeks economic support for the promotion of voluntary service through appropriate projects

7.5 Salesian Non Governmental Organisations of Voluntary Service

[104] Among the different kinds of organisation of Salesian voluntary service, there are the Salesian NGO which promote Salesian voluntary service in the social, international and missionary fields.

These are non-profit associations recognised by civil society, which promote social justice, fairness, the development and safeguarding of human rights, without formal links to governments and their policies; they operate in a professional manner in their own fields, and through suitable projects try to respond to the urgent needs of society swiftly and effectively.

The Salesian NGO promote and sustain in the context of the Congregation and the Salesian Family:

  • education to a world view; to solidarity and to collaboration among peoples;

  • campaigns to create awareness about social justice, fairness, the development and promotion of human rights, in a network with other associations working in the same field;

  • the planning, financing and implementation of projects of education and human and social development of the young and the poor, in particular of marginalised young people in developing countries;

  • the selection, training, placing and accompaniment of volunteers.

In the carrying out of these objectives it is to be hoped that the Salesian NGO work in close contact among themselves, sharing projects and collaborating in the promotion, training and support of the groups and of the projects of voluntary service in the Provinces and Regions.

[105] It is the role of these Salesian NGO to:

  • Collaborate with the Provincial Delegates for Youth Ministry and the Missions in education to the spirit of voluntary service and in the promotion of Provincial and National voluntary service;

  • Promote the selection, the training and accompaniment of the volunteers, in particular those involved in International and missionary voluntary service;

  • Ensure for the volunteers engaged in projects of international voluntary service projects the proper legal, economic and working conditions according to their status and state of life;

  • Formulate with the Provinces and the communities which receive the volunteers a contract that sets out the norms, the conditions, the rights and duties of the volunteers, of the organisation that sends them and of the Province and community that receives them;

  • Facilitate better communication and a “network” among them and with other Provincial organisations of Salesian voluntary service, encouraging the exchange of information, training materials, programmes, etc.


[106] When devoting special attention to voluntary service within the Church and the Congregation, we recognise it to be a "sign of the times," to be looked at with confidence. We take it as an incentive to fidelity to Don Bosco who always appreciated lay volunteers serving the mission to youth. We commit ourselves to implement the project of voluntary service, warmly promoted by the GC24, as a strong sign of collaboration between Salesians and lay people in carrying out the Salesian mission. We take up the challenge, while remembering Mamma Margaret, who was the first at Don Bosco’s side at the Valdocco Oratory to undertake a real voluntary service, and so many young people, who like Dominic Savio, lived in their own lives the ideals and the spirit of Salesian voluntary service.

The words of John Paul on the occasion of the International Year of Voluntary Service (5 December 2001) constitute a solemn confirmation of our journey:

[107] «Through their activity, volunteers come to realise that, only if one loves and gives oneself to others, does the human creature reach perfect fulfilment..

Through love of God and love of the brethren, Christianity releases all of its liberating and salvific power. Charity represents the most eloquent form of evangelisation because, responding to corporal needs, it reveals to men God's provident and fatherly love, concerned for each one. […] Through voluntary work, the Christian becomes a witness of this divine charity; he proclaims it and makes it tangible with courageous and prophetic contributions. […]

Whether dealing with microprojects or great initiatives, in any event, volunteer work is called to be a school of life, especially for young people, contributing to educate them in a culture of solidarity and outreach, open to the free gift of self.

How many volunteers through courageous commitment to their neighbour come to discover the faith! Christ, who asks to be served in the poor, speaks to the heart of the one who places himself at their service. He makes them experience the joy of disinterested love, that is the fountain of true happiness.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, who make up this "army" of peace spread over the face of the earth, you are a sign of hope for our times. Wherever situations of hardship and suffering appear, make bear fruit the hidden resources of dedication, goodness and heroism in the heart of the human person.»37


CFL Christifideles Laici, Apostolic Exhortation of John Paul II

C Constitutions of the Society of St Francis of Sales

EPC Educative and Pastoral Community

GC General Chapter, followed by the number of the chapter document

GS Gaudium et Spes, document of Vatican Council II

NGO Non Governmental Organisation

SEPP Salesian Educative Pastoral Plan

SRS Sollicitudo Rei Socialis Letter of John Paul II

SYM Salesian Youth Movement

YM Salesian Youth Ministry