GENERAL CHAPTER 28
SALESIANS OF DON BOSCO
“What kind of Salesians for the youth of today?”
Rome, 16 August 2020
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Priority of the Salesian mission among today’s young people
Profile of the Salesian today
Modifications to the Constitutions
Modifications to the General Regulations
My dear confreres,
Four months have passed since the closure of the 28th General Chapter. It concluded three weeks earlier than planned due to the pandemic that made our continued stay at Valdocco impossible. Today I am offering you this presentation with sentiments of profound joy for what we experienced at Valdocco and with satisfaction for what was – I believe – a fruitful work carried out by all of us Chapter members and then completed by the General Council. This is because the Chapter Assembly entrusted the Rector Major and his Council with the task of finishing what had remained unfinished at the time of the early closure.
The document that now reaches all confreres through this publication is subtitled “Post-Chapter reflection” and not “Chapter documents”, as has customarily been the case in the past. This is because the Chapter Assembly did not arrive at the point of final approval of the text by vote. Only a few Chapter deliberations, especially those of a legal nature, saw the light of day during the first four weeks of our work.
As I have said on other occasions, because of the circumstances we had to live through GC28 was a “special” Chapter. Nevertheless, it was not a Chapter without its guidelines and policy directions. In fact, the document I am presenting to you contains a first part that both I and the confreres on the General Council consider to be very important for the animation, government and life of the Congregation over the coming six years.
These are the programmatic guidelines that the Rector Major offers the Congregation for the six-year period from 2020-2026. In this wide-ranging proposal you will find, dear confreres, the reflection that followed on from the General Chapter, a fruit of the Chapter itself and a synthesis of the journey taken within our Congregation over the previous six years. It is a rich and wide-ranging reflection that first of all captures the spirit of what is contained in the Message that the Holy Father, Pope Francis, sent to the General Chapter; it also brings together those elements that the Pope pointed to as essential and that were already part of the reflection developed by the Chapter Assembly on the first two thematic nuclei. The third nucleus – as you know – was drawn up by the General Council.
These programmatic guidelines should certainly be motive for study, analysis and further exploration both by the Provinces and by each confrere, especially by the Rectors for their service of animation and governance of the local communities. I assume that it will be the object of study by the Provincial and his Council.
I maintain that the whole Congregation must follow this path, even if at different tempos linked to the particular nature of each province. It is to do with our identity, is charismatic and offers guidelines and lines of action for our time.
I maintain that the whole Congregation must follow this path, even if at different tempos linked to the particular nature of each province. It is to do with our identity, is charismatic and offers guidelines and lines of action for our time.
This programmatic text for the six-year period is followed by the Message of the Holy Father, which without doubt will touch the heart of every Salesian and above all will be motive for meditation, study, in-depth consideration and personal engagement.
The three nuclei proposed as themes for the work of the Chapter were extensively developed, even though they did not go through all the stages of study and development initially intended. The texts offer a wealth of reflections, precise and timely proposals for the life of the provinces and all our presences around the world.
Finally, the Chapter deliberations are contained in this document. And as with all General Chapters, there are a number of messages and addresses appended.
I consider that the document that you now have in your hands will allow a deeper appreciation of the ecclesial, charismatic and identity-giving motivations that will help us pursue the journey of fidelity that we wish to continue as a Congregation and personally. Our world, the Church and the young along with their families, need us today as they did yesterday, in order to continue on their journey of fidelity to the Lord Jesus. They need us as significant and courageously prophetic individuals. May the Lord grant us this gift. Mediocrity and fears would allow us to offer little to the young, and this little would not be able to transform their life and fill it with meaning.
I am also convinced that we all want to belong to a Congregation that fells very much alive, and in which each confrere renews his dedication of himself daily: not just any old how, but by feeling that it is well worth the effort.
I deeply desire that this “special” GC28 will help each confrere to rekindle the apostolic passion that characterised our Father Don Bosco, so that we can be other Don Boscos today, everywhere in the world, in every culture and every situation.
Let me add a request. As I hand over this document, from a perspective of faith and with great confidence, I ask each one of you, dear confreres, to make it an impetus for prayer, an object of patient study, of careful and meditative reading so that it may touch your heart. I am asking you to internalise the spirituality you will find in these Chapter reflections, and to enter into dialogue with the proposals that seek to be significant and prophetic in our way of taking them on and translating them into our life. I believe that a significant time of study, getting to know and internalise them, and of heart-to-heart dialogue before the Lord, must be the principal task entrusted to each confrere, each Province and Vice-Province, each Region and Inter-provincial Conference.
My dear confreres, the promulgation of this Post-Chapter reflection takes place on 16 August 2020, two hundred and five years after Don Bosco’s birth and a hundred and sixty two years since our Congregation began. Until today, the journey of our Congregation and the Salesian Family has been a very beautiful one. If our response continues to be one that is faithful to the Lord, there is no doubt that there is much more that will be written for the good of the young through our daily self-dedication wherever there is a young person in need of Salesians who are capable of being friends, brothers and fathers.
May our Mother the Help of Christians accompany us on this journey and, as she did with Don Bosco, may She continue to do everything. Let us learn from Her what it means to listen attentively to the voice of the Holy Spirit and to be docile to Him; let us learn from Her to cultivate a life deeply immersed in God and simple and convinced dedication every day. This will increasingly make us authentic signs and bearers of God's Love for young people.
Let us entrust ourselves to our Mother the Help of Christians “that we may become witnesses to the young of Her Son’s boundless love” (C. 8).
Fr Ángel Fernández Artime
Rome, 16 August 2020
Anniversary of Don Bosco’s birth
My dear Salesian confreres throughout the world,
I address you all with great pleasure after the General Chapter and following the conclusion of the first plenary session of the new General Council. With this letter, which I have shared with all the General Council, it is my intention to offer you all, dear confreres, a true “road map” for the next six years, given that the interruption of the General Council, right in the middle of its proceedings, did not allow us to have the Chapter documents that would have been the norm and guide for the next six years.
Faced with the painful reality of the pandemic caused by the COVID-19 virus which has impacted and still continues to afflict the world, we experienced something unique: the interruption of a General Chapter. This is the first time that a similar event has happened in the history of our Congregation – if we exclude the tragic event of the First World War which made it impossible to hold the 12th General Chapter during Fr Paul Albera’s term as Rector Major; that Chapter had to wait almost twelve years.
Nevertheless, in our case the interruption to the work of the Chapter does not in any way imply that the 28th General Chapter was meaningless and did not produce a wealth of content. And in addition, all Chapter members returned to their provinces (some after waiting several months at Valdocco) enriched by the experience they had accumulated and by a Salesian sense of being nourished and strengthened by the “sources of Valdocco”, the sources of our charismatic birth.
Despite the threat of the pandemic and the risk of the assembly being suspended, the Chapter was able to elect the Rector Major and all members of the General Council during the final week, as well as entrusting us with the task of continuing the reflection on the points that had not been tackled.
This letter of mine and everything contained in the work entitled “Post-Chapter reflection” seeks to be a faithful response to the mandate received from the Chapter Assembly.
To that we need to add the sense of deep gratitude to the Lord for what we experienced; especially for having experienced it at Valdocco. Our GC28, indeed, was marked in a special way by the fact that it took place at Valdocco, cradle of our charism, the holy place where our Father Don Bosco “responded to the life of the young with a face and a history”. So then, we lived the time of our General Chapter at Valdocco with the clear understanding that this is everyone’s home.
This is what the Holy Father, Pope Francis, reminded us of. He wanted to give Don Bosco, in the person of his sons gathered in the Chapter Assembly, the beautiful gift of coming to visit us.
The Pope had disclosed to me some months earlier his personal desire to come to Valdocco. At the beginning of the General Chapter, conversations with those in charge of the Pope’s visit had confirmed the visit scheduled for the 6th and 7th of March. Everything was ready. We expected him to arrive on Friday the 6th of March at midday. He would have been with us at Valdocco until the morning of the 7th and then would have made a visit to his family. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions imposed throughout the Italian State made this visit impossible – it would have been a unique event in our history, at least for the length of time the Holy Father would have been present and for his direct participation in the General Chapter, as he had wanted.
By telephone, the Pope left us with a greeting that I shared with the entire Chapter Assembly; and the following day we were able to have a copy in hand of the Message he addressed to GC28 that you will find as part of this publication.
From the very beginning of GC28 we were living with a strong awareness that led us to place ourselves in an attitude for “the Spirit to rekindle the charismatic gift of [our] founder”. This is what the Holy Father wanted, inviting us not to close the windows to the noise and clamour coming up from the courtyard at Valdocco, evoking the first Oratory. This “background noise” must accompany us, making us restless and intrepid in our discernment.
This is what we will be busy with over the next six years, for the good of young people throughout the world; young people who had an actual, visible face in the splendid group who spent a few days with us in the General Chapter. They challenged us, they spoke from the heart and mind and we were moved by it.
And since everything at Valdocco speaks to us about Don Bosco and his young people, and because today’s young people are calling on us, speaking to us and waiting for us, we are proposing some goals as a Congregation that will put us in a position to give an answer to the reality today, and that will get us out of our fears and our comfort zones, wherever they are and whatever they are.
These guidelines, dear confreres, have the objective of becoming an action programme for the next six years, in absolute continuity with the path previously travelled by the Congregation and which, for this reason too, gives us strength and courage.
There are a number of challenges we have to face up to over the next six years. I am offering them to you as the fruit of reflection carried out during the General Chapter and following on from it. I am offering them to the entire Congregation, having come to a detailed knowledge over the past six years of the real circumstances we are experiencing and, ultimately, of the Church’s journey. I am offering them to all the provinces after having shared them with members of the General Council, because these challenges must be the mirror before which every province around the world is called to compare itself. They need to become the criteria defining the aims, objectives, processes and concrete actions for the next six years in all the places where the charism of the sons of Don Bosco has taken root.
The challenges that we need to give a response to and the objectives to be pursued are as follows:
1. SALESIAN OF DON BOSCO FOREVER: “Monk or no monk, I am staying with Don Bosco” (Cagliero). SIX YEARS FOR GROWTH IN SALESIAN IDENTITY
“The Lord has given us Don Bosco as father and teacher.
We study and imitate him, admiring in him a splendid blending of nature and grace. He was deeply human, rich in the qualities of his people, open to the realities of this earth; and he was just as deeply the man of God, filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and living ‘as seeing him who is invisible’” (C. 21).
In my last intervention in the Chapter hall during the GC28 closing address, I made reference to a conversation I had with a confrere the day before. He asked to speak with me and said: “Do not leave us alone. We need help to be truly Salesians, so we do not lose our identity.”
I had a profound sense that right at that moment the Lord was also speaking to us through this confrere of ours, and that he was making us understand the importance and urgency of giving growth to and strengthening charismatic identity in our Congregation.
The essential and fundamental point of departure is our circumstance as consecrated individuals. The future of consecrated life, and of Salesian life for us consecrated members, has its raison d’être in its foundation, Jesus Christ. As people who are consecrated, the sequela Christi, the following of Christ, shapes our identity, integrating our pastoral formation within it. As consecrated individuals, as Salesians of Don Bosco, God makes of us “a living memorial of Jesus’ way of living and acting”, And the vocational challenge for all of consecrated life and for us in particular as Salesians of Don Bosco, is that of “always returning to Jesus”, renouncing everything that is not Him or that distances us from Him.
With much humility and clarity of vision we need to recognise that the way out of the crises of religious life, of Salesian life, of the difficulties of each province, will not be found in new projects, nor in strategic plans, nor in a “planning 3.0”. Most of the time, in the face of disillusionment, existential fatigue, lack of motivation... it is a case of returning to Christ, to religious life, to Salesian consecrated life. Because, we can live by wrongly believing that everything makes sense when we are doing things. No, dear confreres: without Jesus Christ at the centre of our thinking, feeling, living, dreaming, working... there is no future, and we cannot offer anything that is significant. In the words of Pope Francis: “The Lord asks everything of us, and in return he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created. He wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence.”
Let us not forget that the Salesian mission and the Congregation itself came into being from God, raised up by his Spirit: “With a feeling of humble gratitude we believe that the Society of St Francis de Sales came into being not as a merely human venture, but by the initiative of God” (C.1); and that each one of us Salesians of Don Bosco, is sent to the young by God himself who sends us (C.15).
After this “special” General Chapter 28, I believe that 162 years after the beginning of our Congregation, we Salesians are expected to be ready and agile in listening to the breath of the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit. That we are expected to continue to have Jesus Christ the Lord as our foundation and the centre of our life so that we will renew the prophecy that must characterise our life, and continue to grow in our humanity. And this until we become those “experts in humanity” who know, to the point of being moved by it, how to see and contemplate the pain and needs of our brothers and sisters (beginning with those in our communities), of the young, of boys and girls and their families. We must seriously take up our prophetic service. Our specific contribution is to be an icon of Jesus’ lifestyle, totally consecrated to the Father and his Plan for humanity: the Kingdom. Therefore, we are expected to be signs and witnesses of God’s fatherly presence – a gentle presence capable of a tender gaze and with arms thrown wide open especially to the poorest, to our young people – making our brotherliness a reality, making it attractive, alluring, and living with simplicity and moderation.
The Risen Lord invited his disciples to return to Galilee to meet him there and see him once again. This invitation is extremely relevant for us, and expressing myself in Salesian terms, I would like to say that our Galilee for encountering the Lord today, as Salesians of Don Bosco, passes through Valdocco, the beginnings of Valdocco, fragile as they were, but with the strength and passion of the “monk or no monk, I am staying with Don Bosco”, that the young John Cagliero expressed with such ardour and youthful enthusiasm. Valdocco is indeed the spiritual and apostolic atmosphere in which each of us breathes the air of the Spirit, where we nurture and strengthen our charismatic identity. And it is the place of “transfiguration” for every Salesian who, by taking care of all the elements of our spirituality, can contribute to making each of our houses an authentic Valdocco, where it is possible to meet our Lord Jesus Christ face to face in daily life.
Jesus passes by, looks at us with love and calls us to follow him. And in the mystery of this call, in the gaze that does not judge but looks at and searches us from within, in the adventure of walking in his footsteps, everyone can discover the plan that God has designed for each of us in an original form. Today, many of those who decide to abandon the Congregation suffer from the same thing: they have not come into contact with the Lord Jesus and have not had the same passion as the young Cagliero for staying with Don Bosco in order to follow Jesus. That is why sometimes any other pastoral offering that has glimmers of autonomy, self-management, independence, self-management and economic resources is attractive enough for some confreres to make them ask to go elsewhere. We must honestly acknowledge that this is the case. At times, also the gift of ministerial priesthood is not fully understood and is manipulated and experienced as “power”. This obscures the covenant that God has established with us through the gift of religious consecration that is at the centre of our personal and community life.
This six year period will need to be distinguished by a profound effort in the Congregation to grow in charismatic depth, in Salesian identity in all phases of life, through a serious commitment in every province and every Salesian community to arrive at saying, as Don Bosco did: “I have promised God that I would give of myself to my last breath for my poor boys.”
2. In a Congregation where the “DA MIHI ANIMAS CETERA TOLLE” is URGENT
“With a feeling of humble gratitude we believe that the Society of St Francis de Sales came into being not as a merely human venture, but by the initiative of God. Through the motherly intervention of Mary, the Holy Spirit raised up St John Bosco to contribute to the salvation of youth, “that part of human society which is so exposed yet so rich in promise.
The Spirit formed within him the heart of a father and teacher, capable of total self-giving: ‘I have promised God that I would give of for my poor boys’” (C.1)
Testimonies from the early times of our congregational history, and the reflection it has developed over the course of the years, highlight something very significant: the saying that best expresses the zeal and pastoral charity of the Salesians of Don Bosco is “Da mihi animas, coetera tolle”.
Dominic Savio, the young lad in the presence of the 34-year-old priest Don Bosco, and who saw those words written over the entrance to his office, understood them perfectly: “I understand; here you do business not with money but with souls.” Looking at Don Bosco, we learn of his profound spirituality and those special qualities as an educator that marked his way of relating to teenagers and older youth. In Don Bosco and his history we encounter the basis of his educative and pastoral activity that is characterised by a very concrete proposal of Christian life; by the attention shown to each young person, along with a commitment to offering concrete responses to their needs; and by his trust in God’s presence.
Our task, above all in accompanying the young, must be characterised by the creative pedagogical and spiritual capacity typical of our Father Don Bosco, by means of which we are able to overcome our remoteness from the sensitivity of the new generations, offering them a loving ear and compassionate understanding, prompting the great questions about the mystery of life and helping them to seek the Lord to meet with him.
It was precisely the 26th General Chapter that tackled all this by reflecting on Don Bosco’s motto: “Da mihi animas, cetera tolle”. So then, with today’s insight and with the understanding of our reality, I think I can say that for us it is necessary and urgent that our Congregation live, breathe and continue on its path, endeavouring to make the “Da mihi animas, cetera tolle” a reality through proclamation of the Gospel on behalf of our young people and for our own good.
Our mission very often places us on the frontier where we habitually come into contact with Christians of other confessions, members of other religions, with non-believers or lapsed believers: we would like to carry the mission forward with and for them as well. Every time and every place is suited to the Gospel.
My dear confreres, at this time after GC28
Without this, dear confreres, other titanic efforts of the Congregation will tend towards the goodness of human development and social welfare – that are always very necessary and belong to our charismatic identity – but they will not lead us to the primary reason for which the Holy Spirit raised up the Salesian charism in Don Bosco: “Faithful to the commitments Don Bosco has passed on to us, we are evangelizers of the young” (C. 6). The first purpose of our youth ministry is the conversion of the individual to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
With all the nuances of historical sensitivity that we need to bear in mind and the linguistic understanding of the era that we consider to be necessary, we cannot ignore the essential and constituent element that characterised Don Bosco’s educative and pastoral activity, which the Rector Major, Fr Vecchi, expressed this way: “The pedagogy of Don Bosco is a pedagogy of the soul, of grace, of the supernatural. Once this energy has been activated, the more profitable work of education begins. The remainder, though valid in itself, is preliminary and contributory to this which transcends it.”
The “cetera tolle” makes us ready to leave behind everything that hinders us from going out to those most in need of us. It is the asceticism that emanates from the previous choice, renouncing much (personal tastes, preferences, and even legitimate actions and services) of what does not allow us to devote all the energies of our pastoral heart to what we have given priority to.
3. LIVING THE “SALESIAN SACRAMENT” OF PRESENCE
“Our vocation is graced by a special gift of God: predilection for the young: ‘That you are young is enough for me to love you very much.’ This love is an expression of pastoral charity and gives meaning to our whole life.
For their welfare we give generously of our time, talents and health: ‘For you I study, for you I work, for you I live, for you I am ready even to give my life” (C. 14).
In his Message to the Chapter, Pope Francis spoke to us of the “Valdocco option and the charism of presence”, the charism I freely allow myself to define as the “Salesian sacrament” of presence. The Pope writes that “Even before things that need to be done, the Salesian is a living reminder of a presence in which availability, listening, joy and dedication are the essential features which give rise to processes. The gratuitousness of presence saves the Congregation from any activist obsession and from any kind of technical and functional reductionism. The first call is to be a joyful and gratuitous presence among young people.” Our being disciples of the Lord, our profound and authentic way of being apostles of the young first of all passes through our being among the people and, in a special way, among the kids, among the young.
What has been said in colloquial terms cannot be better expressed. Dear confreres, we are talking about recovering the first love of our vocation, the love we experienced when we felt that the Lord was calling us to be a joyful and free presence among the young. I venture to say that there is not a single Salesian who has not felt this love in his heart one way or another.
We reflected on this during GC28. We realised that many young people live in a real situation of orphanhood even though they have parents. The young people themselves told us this in their message to GC28: “we are afraid, confused, frustrated and need to be loved... ours is a hard struggle... We believe that our society is individualistic and that we, too, are often individualistic... We want to… [return] to the first love that is Christ, to be his friends. We want to journey towards spiritual and personal growth and we want to do it with you Salesians.”
We do not doubt this truth of the young people themselves, a truth we recognised at the same time in the Chapter hall: “They ask us for time and we give them space; they ask us for relationships and we provide them with services; they ask us for fraternal life and we offer them structures; they ask us for friendship and we provide activities for them. All this commits us to rediscovering the riches and potential of the ‘family spirit’”.
The young people who accompanied us during the General Chapter addressed a strong appeal to us to be a significant presence for them. They told us explicitly: “Our search for spiritual and personal fulfilment worries us. We want to journey towards spiritual and personal growth and we want to do it with you Salesians... We would like you to guide us, in our situation, with love... Salesians, do not forget us young people because we have not forgotten you and the charism you have taught us! We want to express this with all our hearts. Being here, we have fulfilled a dream – in this special place in Valdocco, where the Salesian mission began, bringing together Salesians and young people for the Salesian mission with our desire to be saints together. You have our heart in your hands. You must take care of your precious treasure. Please do not forget us and continue to listen to us.”
Dear confreres, it is a great privilege to hear the heartbeat of young people's hearts! I have no doubt that throughout the Congregation there are so many confreres who are true Don Boscos today for the young. But I am not satisfied with this. We must all be like this. We must continue on the way of conversion. This commitment demands from us a change of mentality and rhythms of life, openness of mind and heart, overcoming habits that have struck root and become crystallised. Young people say that they love us, that they need us, that they are waiting for us. Don Bosco’s expression “studia di farti amare”, strive to make yourself loved, is fully relevant today. Presence does not only consist in spending time with young people as a group, but in meeting them individually in a personal way, establishing a relationship that allows us to get to know and listen to their desires, their difficulties and struggles and, at times, their fears and qualms. It is a relationship that seeks to go beyond superficial knowledge, offering friendship characterised by mutual confidence and sharing. Loving kindness or goodness has thus become a substantial form of Don Bosco's charity. He is asking us today, as he did in the Letter from Rome in 1884, for the capacity of encounter, readiness to accept, familiarity. Like Don Bosco, we still have to cultivate the art of taking the first step... eliminating distance and barriers and giving birth to the joy and the desire to see each other again, to be friends... This art also consists in creating, with patience and dedication, an atmosphere rich in humanity, a family atmosphere where young people feel very free and able to express and be themselves, joyfully assimilating the values that are proposed to them. This pedagogy of family spirit is also a school of faith for young people. We offer love and unconditional acceptance so that they may discover, progressively and from an option of personal freedom, trust and dialogue, as well as the celebration and community experience of faith.
And let us not forget that Salesian presence is a special presence, meaning that the Salesian treats young people with deep respect, meets them at their level of freedom, and treats them as active and responsible members of the educative and pastoral community. This is why the Salesian learns a style of listening, dialogue and personal and community discernment. And this applies not only to ministry among the young but also to our houses of formation, where “we learn to be Salesians”.
But this mode of presence is not possible if one is distant from young people: far from them physically and far from their psychology and cultural world. This is the danger. The right alternative is to live as Salesians, as sons of Don Bosco, with the same experience of fatherliness as he lived with his youngsters, one that translates into a real love and at the same time real “authoritativeness” in their regard. Starting from the great value that presence among the young has for us. In the Pope’s Message to GC28 we read: “Your consecration is, above all, a sign of the gratuitous love of the Lord, and for the Lord in his young people, which is not defined primarily by a particular ministry, function or service, but by a presence. Even before things that need to be done, the Salesian is a living reminder of a presence in which availability, listening, joy and dedication are the essential features which give rise to processes. The gratuitousness of presence saves the Congregation from any activist obsession and from any kind of technical and functional reductionism. The first call is to be a joyful and gratuitous presence among young people.”
Allow me to remind you that presence today also touches on the digital world, a new real areopagus for us, a habitat for today’s young people. Here too we need to be present with a clear Salesian identity, with the desire to bring the proclamation of the good news, and simply with the joy and simplicity of disciples of the Lord.
I propose for this six year period, as an expression of our CONVERSION, what was already requested by GC26, and that is:
“Let each Salesian find the time to be present with the young as a friend, educator and witness to God, whatever his role in the community may be”.
Despite the fact that it seems strange that I have to ask a Salesian to find the time to be with young people, I consider it extremely necessary.
4. FORMATION FOR BEING SALESIAN PASTORS TODAY
“Enlightened by the person of Christ and by his Gospel, lived according to Don Bosco’s spirit, the Salesians commits himself to a formation process which will last all his life and will keep pace with his maturing in other ways. He learns by experience the meaning of the Salesian vocation at the various moments of his life and accepts the ascetical demands it makes on him.
With the help of Mary, his Mother and Teacher, he gradually becomes a pastor and educator of the young in the lay or priestly state which he has embraced” (C. 98).
Formation is truly a precious gift from the Lord that brings to maturity in us, as Salesians of Don Bosco, the inestimable gift of the Father’s call to the Christian and consecrated vocation. Despite the fact that the situation regarding vocation numbers is not uniform throughout the world, every year the Congregation is blessed with the admission of around 450 novices. We thank God because, as our Constitutions say, every call is an indication of how much the Lord loves the Church and our Congregation (cf. C. 22).
Nevertheless, the Chapter Assembly also recognised some of our weaknesses and expressed them thus: “We note, in fact, that at times the Salesian consecrated identity seems weak and not deeply rooted: the primacy of God in personal and community life does not always emerge clearly; forms of clericalism and secularism risk bringing ‘spiritual worldliness’ into the Congregation; the promotion of the lay Salesian in some regions is scant; the lack of trained personnel in the area of Salesianity, despite the abundant material available, is a sign of insufficient attention to the deepening of the charism.” In point of fact this emerged very strongly during the work of our 28th General Chapter.
I would dare to say that if this happens in all religious congregations and also in the formation of diocesan seminarians, the abysmal gap that we perceive between formation and the Salesian mission is, without doubt, a huge challenge for us. Perhaps this gap is due to the great distance that exists between the situation of initial formation houses and life in the apostolic communities (the ordinary communities in all the provinces); perhaps the phenomenon also depends on the fact that formation does not always succeed in touching the heart of the young Salesian in formation; perhaps understandings and information are passed on in the formation curriculum that do not touch on Salesian life and mission. Growth is a slow process of the individual developing as a whole, an interrelationship of life experiences, existential needs, understandings, mission, relationships, vocation, project of life… In this process of holistic development we form ourselves to be educators and pastors in a new world and in a renewed mission. Whatever may be the reasons for the limits in formation that we have noticed, we find ourselves faced with a huge challenge that the Congregation has highlighted and that we must tackle decisively over the next six years.
On the other hand, we cannot deny that there is a dangerous belief: that formation ends after completing the initial phases; and, in the case of candidates to the priesthood, finishes once they gain access to the ministry. This misconception does a lot of harm to us and leads us to paying a heavy price in pastoral ministry. It is therefore a matter of understanding formation as a lifelong process of personal transformation, even if it is characterised by particular intensity and specific attention in the early stages. Ultimately, formation is a necessary path for building and safeguarding our vocation.
Often, we do not know how to transform daily pastoral life into an ongoing opportunity for our formation and therefore “both the religious and educative and pastoral community are unable to become the natural and ordinary environment in which one is formed”. We are aware of some of the likely kinds of pastoral fragility: superficiality, improvisation, activism. No less important is the danger of individualism. All of this requires humility, lucidity, authenticity and a new impetus in the community understanding of our life and our mission.
As was said at the General Chapter, initial formation is a multifaceted, positive and promising reality. Faced with this situation, the formation of the formators, meaning the formation of confreres who accompany the formation of young Salesians with a “particular vocation within their vocation”, and the setting up of good teams of individuals who can accompany the stages of formation, are a real urgency and priority given that the community is the first place of formation.
Perhaps we need to be speaking of adopting a new style of formation? In his Message to the General Chapter, Pope Francis speaks to us of the notion that: “Reflecting on the profile of the Salesian for the young people of today implies accepting that we are immersed in a time of change.” There is a need, then, to renew our style of formation, something that needs to be thought of more and more in personalising, holistic, relational, contextual and intercultural terms. We will have to continue to make progress in order to set up and really experience formation within the context of vocation and therefore far from being understood, as has been the tendency sometimes, as just a duty that lasts a few years and is necessarily superseded in order to arrive at “real life”, concrete life, the life we were looking for. What a dangerous notion of formation it is when we contrast real life with the formation of the Salesian educator and pastor!
In short, formation is a real work of handicraft, both on the part of the one accompanying the confreres and on the part of each individual in his own process of formation. In this field today there is no more room for “mass-production”. The craftsperson speaks about unique works of art, art that is hand made, one-to-one. And speaking of this handicraft, today we cannot ignore the role of women in our Salesian educative settings. “The presence of the woman in our works is an accepted fact, as regards both those for whom we work and those who share with us the responsibility for education.” To this effect, Pope Francis addressed a strong appeal to us in his Message, saying: “What would have become of Valdocco without the presence of Mamma Margaret? Would your houses have been possible without this woman of faith?… Without a real, effective and affective presence of women, your works would lack the courage and the ability to transform presence into hospitality, into a home. Faced with the rigour that excludes, we must learn to generate the new life of the Gospel. I invite you to implement approaches in which the female voice, her outlook and her actions – appreciated for her individuality – finds an echo in making decisions; not simply as a helper but as someone fully involved in your presences.”
A renewed style and model of formation, including with the strong emphasis that Pope Francis makes, will not be possible if we forget the unique and most important protagonist, who is neither the formator nor the one being formed, but the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God to whom each of us needs to be docile. This is why our Constitutions remind us that “each Salesian accepts responsibility for his own formation” (C. 99). Allow me to add that each confrere must act in such a way that the Holy Spirit transforms his heart throughout his life and at its different moments.
A formative journey lived in this way will allow us to consolidate in the Congregation what I have stated in the previous pages: the “Da mihi animas” must be the driving force of our educative and evangelising passion, and also the “energy” of the entire formation process.
In fact, the apostolic nature of our charism is a determining factor in our formation. As Pope Francis reminds us in his Message, “It is important to say that we are not formed for the mission, but that we are formed in the mission. Our whole life revolves around it, with its choices and priorities. Initial and ongoing formation cannot be a prior, parallel or separate instance of the identity and sensitivity of the disciple.”
It is clear that we have before us one of the essential nuclei of the Congregation's journey for the next six years: to care for the vocation of each confrere in particular, and of the young confreres in formation, in such a way that we all manage to be the Salesians of Don Bosco that our young people and their families need today.
That we commit ourselves to overcoming the gap between formation and mission by encouraging in the Congregation a renewed culture of formation in the mission today throughout the Salesian world, with measures and decisions of great significance.
5. ABSOLUTE PRIORITY FOR THE YOUNG, THE POOREST AND MOST ABANDONED AND DEFENCELESS
“The Lord made clear to Don Bosco that he was to direct his mission first and foremost to the young, especially to those who are poorer.
We are called to the same mission and are aware of its supreme importance: young people are at the age when they must make basic life-choices which affect the future of society and the of the Church.
With Don Bosco we reaffirm our preference for the young, who are ‘poor, abandoned and in danger’, those who have greater need of love and evangelization, and we work especially in areas of greatest poverty” (C. 26)
I would like to begin developing this priority by starting from the few lines I was able to dedicate to this topic in my last intervention in the Chapter hall, before the early conclusion of our GC28. I can assure you, dear confreres, that the words were few but the conviction was a strong and great one.
I said: “I dream that today, saying ‘Salesians of Don Bosco’ means consecrated ‘crazies’, that is, Salesians who love with a true Salesian heart, who are perhaps even ‘a little crazy’, oriented towards the poorest.”
Dear confreres, it would be the death-knell of our Congregation if we were to distance ourselves from the poorest. Don Bosco told us this when he spoke of our poverty and the danger of wealth. Allow me to be even more frank: if one day we were to leave behind the youngsters, older youth and, among the the poorest, our Congregation would begin to die, a Congregation that today, thanks be to God, is in good health despite our weaknesses!
So, let us pay attention to what I consider to be an authentic “Chapter deliberation”, although not in the proper sense of the term, given that its content is already found in our Constitutions. It is a question of asking us for a radical, preferential, personal, institutional and structural option for the most needy, poor and excluded young people, an option that must show up in a special way, in the defence of boys, girls and young people who have been exploited and are victims of any kind of abuse: from sexual abuse to any other kind of exploitation; from abuse caused by any kind of violence; from the abuse of manifest and clear injustice to any kind of abuse of power. I believe that this challenge is a great commitment that every Salesian must carry in his heart. A period of six years guided by this light will give us much life.
I am convinced that assuming this perspective as an indispensable one will be very significant throughout the Congregation and in all contexts, cultures and continents. Today there are many youth poverties that demand urgent attention from the whole human family, and no doubt from us Salesians in a particular way. In fact, the history of our Congregation is characterised by calls to go out to the poorest young people. “As sons of Don Bosco, we have taken on an historical commitment to serve poor young people.”
Our Father Don Bosco already told us: “Everyone will look on us and welcome us sympathetically, as long as our concern and our requests are for the children of the poor, those most at risk in society. This must be our greatest satisfaction that no one can take from us.”
Many years ago, GC19 declared: “Don Bosco and the Church send us by preference to the poor, the under-privileged, the ordinary people, especially so nowadays.” GC20 also spoke of the absolute priority of the “young” and among these, of the “poor and abandoned” when it asked who were the actual beneficiaries of our mission.
We ourselves said in our recent Chapter that we are consecrated to God for the poorest young people. Like Don Bosco, we too promised in our religious profession to offer ourselves to God pledging our forces to the service of the young, especially the poorest of them and this is why we must “[listen] together to God's call coming to us through forms of youth poverty. It also requires spiritual depth, so as not to fall into activism or a corporate mentality; cultural preparation, to understand the phenomena in which we are immersed and the new forms of youth poverty; a willingness to work together, abandoning all pastoral individualism; flexibility in rethinking our lifestyle and our Works, especially when they no longer express the missionary energy of the charism and respond primarily to the logic of maintenance”.
In short, the appeal I make to everyone is to really look at the faces of our youngsters, our young people, until we get to know their life stories which are often marked by real tragedies. If this happens it is because we truly love young people and we feel their suffering and pain. Speaking of the Valdocco option and the gift of the young, Pope Francis has something very precious to tell us, and it has moved me. He writes: “The Salesian Oratory and everything that arose from it, as the Memoirs of the Oratory tell us, came about as a response to the life of the young with a face and a history. This moved a young priest to action who was incapable of remaining neutral or unmoved by what he saw happening before him. It was much more than a gesture of good will... I think of it as an act of ongoing conversion and response to the Lord who, ‘tired of knocking’ on our doors, waits for us to go and look for him and meet him... or let him out when he knocks from within. It was a conversion that involved (and complicated) his entire life and that of those around him. Don Bosco not only did not choose to separate himself from the world to seek holiness, but he let himself be challenged by it and chose how and which world to live in.”
Over the six years, let the Congregation in all its provinces make the radical, preferential, personal and institutional option – meaning on the part of every Salesian, on behalf of the most in need, boys, girls and poor and excluded youth, giving particular attention to the defence of those who are exploited and victims of whatever abuse and violence (“the abuse of power, the abuse of conscience, sexual and financial abuse”).
6. TOGETHER WITH LAY PEOPLE IN THE MISSION AND IN FORMATION
“We bring about in our works the educative and pastoral community which involves young people and parents, parents and educators in a family atmosphere, so that it can become a living experience of Church and a revelation of God’s plan for us.
In this community lay people associated with our work make a contribution all their own, because of their experience and pattern of life.
We welcome and encourage their collaboration, and we give them the opportunity to get a deeper knowledge of the Salesian spirit and the practice of the preventive system.
We foster the spiritual growth of each of them, and to those who may be so inclined we suggest a closer of our mission in the Salesian Family” (C.47).
This article of our Constitutions contains the most essential elements of our mission shared with lay people. We must examine ourselves in the light of this perspective and verify the extent the journey of the Congregation, of every Province and of every confrere is moving in this direction that expresses our charismatic identity so well. We are involved in the formation of the lay people who share the mission with us, supporting their personal growth, their journey of faith and their vital identification with the Salesian spirit. We must also offer them the means that allows them to carry out the tasks entrusted to them. The (re)discovery of the vocation and mission of the laity is one of the great frontiers of renewal proposed by Vatican Council II and reflected in the Magisterium that follows. Our GC24 was certainly a charismatic response to Vatican II’s ecclesiology of communion. We know well that Don Bosco, from the outset of his mission at Valdocco, involved many lay people, friends and collaborators in such a way that they could be part of his mission among young people. He immediately “fostered participation and the sharing of responsibility by ecclesiastics and laity, men and women”. It is therefore, in spite of our resistance, a point of no return, because, in addition to corresponding to Don Bosco's actions, the model of the mission shared with the laity proposed by GC24 is in fact “the only practicable model in present conditions”.
Twenty-four years after that General Chapter, we need to recognise that the reception and implementation of what was decided have been very different. In some regions, the presence of lay people in the Salesian mission has become more evident. In other regions of the Congregation the progress has been much slower. In other cases the experience of communion is still in its beginnings – a path newly embarked upon – and sometimes we even find real phenomena of resistance.
Certainly over these years progress has been made, even in the most diverse cultural situations. Often the relationships between Salesians and lay people are characterised by warmth, mutual appreciation, respect, collaboration and, when there is a clear identity, the reality of educative and pastoral communities is very rich – even if the value of the vocation and mission of the laity is not always perceived. We tend, in fact, to more easily recognise what they do rather than their lay identity.
It is true that there is great variety among the lay people in Salesian presences in the 134 countries we find ourselves in: many work on a contractual basis while many others, especially the youngest ones, as volunteers. There are lay people with a strong Christian and charismatic identity, and others who are far from this. There are Catholics, there are Christians of other confessions, or lay people who profess other religions, and even people who are indifferent to religion.
Similarly, the ways in which communities and works relate to each other are different depending on the existing circumstances, contexts, etc... In the General Council’s reflection we became aware of this great diversity, as reflected in our contribution to nucleus 3 of the Chapter that had not been developed by the Chapter Assembly due to COVID-19.
As I have said previously, “from the beginning our Founder was concerned with involving the greatest number of collaborators possible in his operational plan: from Mamma Margaret to work providers, from helpful members of the public to theologians, from aristocrats to the politicians of the era. We were born and raised historically in communion with the laity and they with us. In particular, we must stress the importance that the young had in the development of the Salesian charism and mission: Don Bosco found his first collaborators in the young who thus became, in a certain sense, co-founders of the Congregation.”
So many times I myself – and certainly other Rectors Major – have strongly expressed the belief that the involvement of lay people in the Salesian charism and mission is not a concession on our part, a grace we offer them, and nor is it a means of survival – as many confreres have so very often thought. It is a right bound up with their specific vocation. Of course, here the difference between being a simple worker in a Salesian house and being part, at the same time, of a job, a mission and a vocation is evident. It is a radically different relationship. This demands from us in many cases a decisive change of perspective. As consecrated persons we are a specific incarnation of the Salesian charism, but we are not the only repositories of it.
An absolute priority derives from this: “The sharing of the Salesian spirit and growth in shared responsibility require the sharing of certain formation paths and experiences oriented towards spirituality and mission, obviously without neglecting specific formation paths for Salesian consecrated persons and lay people. Joint formation in shared mission is an absolute priority and should be directed above all to the members of the animating nucleus.”
Lay people are companions on the journey, not substitutes or surrogates for the religious: they and we have specific identities and mission-related tasks. Therefore, our lay collaborators need to know and experience Don Bosco close at hand, and that is what is lived in Salesian houses where they are found. Such understanding and formation is not received merely through academic courses, but in another special way, by reflecting, verifying and planning what is experienced together in a presence. It is essential to take further steps in common and joint formation, especially in those aspects that relate to knowing and living our shared charism. Indeed, we know that “the first and best mode of self-formation to participation and shared responsibility is the correct functioning of the EPC”.
It remains for me to emphasise in a particular and firm way that the shared mission with lay people reaches its most complete and full development when they are members of one of the 32 groups of the Salesian Family of whom, as we know, twelve are lay groups. In the case of members belonging to the Salesian Family the degree of charismatic identity is often very high, and together we live out a true vocation in the charism. It is one more reason for giving priority to having members of the Salesian Family in our presences, including as workers, when their professionalism meets the same conditions as others.
Finally, we must not forget that the future of this charismatic element – shared mission and formation with lay people – passes through the formation of the future Salesians. I do not hide from you, dear confreres, that I am concerned about the tendency of some of our young confreres who yearn, I would almost dare say vehemently, to finish their formative stages in order to see themselves with authority, positions and responsibilities before the laity. It is a tendency that runs totally contrary to the path we wish to undertake as a Congregation. Hence, “Formation in and for the shared mission must also touch on the initial formation of the Salesians not only as a topic for study but also through weekly and summer pastoral experiences. The experience of working with and under the direction of lay people during practical training, as well as taking part in the Educative Pastoral Community Council, are precious moments of formation, especially if well accompanied by the members of the animating nucleus, both lay and Salesian.”
7. IT IS THE TIME FOR GENEROSITY IN THE CONGREGATION. In a Congregation that is always missionary
“Each one of us is called by God to form part of the Salesian Society. Because of this God gives him personal gifts and by faithful correspondence he finds his way to complete fulfilment in Christ.
The Society recognizes his vocation and helps him to develop it; and he, as a responsible members, puts himself and his gifts at the service of the community and of its common tasks.
Every call is an indication that the Lord loves the Congregation, wants to see it vibrant for the good of the Church and never ceases to enrich it with new apostolic energy”. (C.22)
In the concluding session of GC28 I said that, in my opinion, this “is the time for generosity in the Congregation”. I have no doubt that we have a history of 162 years characterised by great generosity that already began with Don Bosco. Nevertheless, it seems to me that today this generosity is more necessary than ever.
Let me try to explain myself clearly.
Today, no less than in the past, the reality speaks to us of the need for evangelisation, pastoral needs and human development that we come to know of in our contact with various contexts. We receive frequent appeals, calls, inquiries because we take on one or other service in many parts of the world. We see boys, girls, young people and families in difficulty in every continent.
The hope to be able to work (and at time also to study) more easily continues to result in mass migration to the big cities (and also to other countries) with the natural consequences of maladjustment and social marginalisation. To this is added the chilling reality of the refugees and the camps in which they live; in many of them our confreres share life with the refugees themselves. (Kakuma-Kenya, Juba-Sud Sudan, Palabek-Uganda).
I could extend the list of this set of situations.
Dear confreres, we all belong to God and to our unique Congregation, of which we are joyfully members. We are all Salesians of Don Bosco in the world. Our affection will always be addressed to our confreres in our province of origin where we are “vocationally born”; but our truest and deepest membership is in the Congregation, and it begins with our religious profession.
For this reason, over the next six years the opening of horizons must become even more effective and real, thanks to the availability of the confreres and the generous response of the provinces that have a greater chance of offering help to other confreres. Sometimes with agreements between the Provincials themselves, at other times with the mediation of the Rector Major and his Council when it comes to new foundations, new missionary challenges, new presences in other nations or new missionary frontiers.
Fortunately, the provinces that are poorest in economic terms are the richest in vocations, and the formation of all these confreres is made possible by the generosity of the whole Congregation. Once again this demonstrates that generosity makes all dreams possible.
We live in times when we have to face reality with a renewed mentality which allows us to “cross borders”. In a world where borders are more and more “a defence against others”, the prophecy of our life as Salesians of Don Bosco also consists in this: in showing that for us there are no borders. The only reality we respond to is: God, the Gospel and the mission that has been entrusted to us. It is precisely for this that our international and intercultural communities have great prophetic value today, without hiding the fact that building fraternity in different situations requires a vision of faith and personal engagement.
The missionary reality of our Congregation continues to question us and present us with wonderful challenges, the missions urge us onwards and make us dream beautiful dreams that come true.
When, in the '80s last century, we continued year after year to lose a significant number of confreres, the Rector Major, Fr Egidio Viganò, prophetically launched Project Africa, and today it is a wonderful reality. In 2000, at the time of the new millennium, seeing the tough pastoral reality and the need for a new evangelisation for Europe, Fr Pascual Chávez promoted Project Europe with conviction. These are not times for being worried about survival, but opportunities for being more significant.
In his Message to GC28 Pope Francis also invited us to be careful about fears that end up “with us being obsessed by a paralysing inertia that deprives your mission of the parresia proper to the Lord's disciples. Such inertia can also manifest itself in a pessimistic outlook and attitude towards everything around us, not only in relation to the transformations taking place in society but also in relation to our Congregation, our brothers and sisters and the life of the Church. This is an attitude that ends up “boycotting” and preventing any kind of alternative response or process”.
I am proposing to the entire Congregation to make this time for generosity concrete by naturally assuming the availability of confreres from all provinces (transfers, exchange, temporary help) for international services, new foundations, new frontiers to we want to reach.
8. ACCOMPANYING THE YOUNG TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
We recognise that the focus on a sustainable future is a cultural conversion, not a fashion, and like any conversion needs to be strongly called by its new name.
The Chapter Assembly expressed itself with complete unanimity when when it was suggested that a small commission tale up the sensitivity we have among us as in the face of this emergency. Caring for creation is not a fashion. Humanity’s life is at stake, even though many public officials, prisoner to economic interests, look the other way or deny what is undeniable. This sensitivity materialised in a Chapter deliberation approved by the Assembly. Pope Francis insisted that we must avoid a “climate emergency” that risks “perpetrating a brutal act of injustice towards the poor and future generations.”
Out commitment to an integral human ecology comes from a conviction of faith for which “everything is interconnected, and that genuine care for our own lives and our relationships with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others”. We cannot separate the care of the environment from the social life of human beings. Therefore, ecology must be integral, human. And, consequently, we are invited to an ecological conversion that concerns not only the economy and politics, but also social life, relationships, affectivity and spirituality.
In recent years we have witnessed disagreements by politicians from various countries in the face of this emergency. The last meeting of the leaders of the countries in Santiago de Chile (but held in Madrid, Spain) had as its only result the agreement to meet again in a year's time. No significant operational agreement.
At the same time, millions and millions of people, most of them young, have raised a cry worldwide. Pope Francis, sensitive to all this as he has so clearly shown, reminds us that young people themselves are asking for radical change and are asking “how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded”.
The proposal for a Chapter deliberation was expressed thus: “Together with Pope Francis, we recognise the evidence provided by science that the acceleration of climate change coming from human activity is real. Air pollution, water pollution, Improper waste disposal, loss of biodiversity and other environmental issues that have a negative impact on human life are increasing. Unsustainable production and consumption are pushing our world and its ecosystems beyond their limits, undermining their ability to provide resources and actions vital to life, development and regeneration.”
As I am writing these lines, planet Earth and all countries of the world have been impacted to greater or lesser degree by the COVID-19 virus that to date has caused 624,000 deaths and has infected 15,300,000 people. We know well that the life of a single human person is sacred, and that there is so much sorrow due to so many deaths. But it is no less true that planet Earth has been bleeding for decades, and that every year pollution causes many more human deaths than have been the result of COVID-19. This fact, unfortunately, is not taken so seriously.
It is no less true that the poorest (it is always the poorest!) suffer the disastrous effects of deforestation and changes in climate, the ruin of their very poor crops, their only resource for survival. This too is not denounced.
I could go on making a list of these situations. It is not necessary. It is enough to stress that as educators and pastors we cannot be indifferent to this reality. We have to do something.
Listening to the worldwide cry of so many young people today, WE SALESIANS COMMIT ourselves to BEING CREDIBLE WITNESSES, personally and as a community, of CONVERSION in caring for Creation and Ecological Spirituality..
My dear confreres: let me conclude these guidelines by inviting you to accept them not just as a simple letter, but as a message and programme that seeks to be an expression of the beating heart of the Congregation today throughout the world.
I am proposing two important elements as attitudes with which to tackle the wonderful opportunity of the next six years:
With regard to hope, I would like to emphasise that, as we well know, it is a virtue that has so much to do with our Christian faith; it is a different way of looking at the future. Christian hope is a way of living, a way of journeying, a way of looking at things.
Hope is the fruit of an encounter with the Lord Jesus and is the fruit of acceptance of His Spirit in us. Hope is not the result of calculations and forecasts. “Neither pessimist nor optimist, the Salesian of the 21st century is someone filled with hope because he knows that his centre is the Lord who can make all things new (cf. Rev 21:5). Only this will save us from living in an attitude of resignation and defensive survival. Only this will make our lives fruitful.”
On the need to allow ourselves to be guided much more by the Holy Spirit of God, He who is the true inner Teacher, I make my words those of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras I, who met Pope Paul VI (today Saint) in Jerusalem in January 1964. The result of that encounter in the Spirit of God was the abrogation of the mutual excommunications that existed up until that moment and that had deeply wounded the heart of Christ in his Church.
This is the thought:
“Without the Holy Spirit,
God is far away,
Christ stays in the past,
the Gospel is a dead letter,
the Church merely an organisation,
the mission propaganda,
liturgy a memorial,
and Christian action a slave morality.
But in the Holy Spirit
the cosmos is mobilised to generate the Kingdom,
the Risen Christ is there,
the Gospel is power and life,
the Church brings about Trinitarian communion,
authority is transformed into service,
the liturgy is memorial and anticipation,
human action is deified.”
Let us bring this message into our prayer.
My dear Salesian confreres, this is what I felt I had a duty to communicate and ask of you all. I invite you to accept these challenges, this road map for the journey over these six years, with all your heart and with a profound desire to bring it to reality in the provinces and communities. Certainly, with the grace of God and the maternal presence of our Mother the Help of Christians, they will be years of fidelity on the part of the Congregation and of courageous and also prophetic response to the signs of the times today. May our Mother, the Help of Christians, continue to look after our Congregation and to “do everything”, as with Don Bosco.
May Her mediation and that of all the Salesian holiness of our Family be for us a blessing in the one important thing of our mission from God: “To be in the Church signs and bearers of the love of God for young people, especially those who are poor” (C. 2).
I accompany each and every one of you with a memento and prayer.
Ángel Fernández Artime, sdb
Rome, 16 August 2020
205th Anniversary of Don Bosco’s birth
 Francis, Message to the members of GC28, Rome 4 March 2020. I will take advantage of this first note to tell you that my letter will be enriched by quotes from the text of the message that Pope Francis gave thought to for us as a Congregation and as a Chapter Assembly, and that he sent us at the most fitting moment of our reflections and work. Given the importance that the Holy Father’s words have, I have decided not to offer them as footnotes but in the body of this document. It is enough to see the text between inverted commas to recognise that it is the Pope’s words.
 Vita Consecrata, 22.
 Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, Rome 19 March 2018, 1.
 MB XVIII, 258, also cited in the Constitutions, art.1.
 Cf. Francis, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christus Vivit, Rome 25 March 2019, 98. The exhortation has this quote: “Clericalism is a constant temptation on the part of priests who see ‘the ministry they have received as a power to be exercised, rather than a free and generous service to be offered. It makes us think that we belong to a group that has all the answers and no longer needs to listen or has anything to learn’”, Francis, Address at the Opening of the XV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (3 October 2018): L’Osservatore Romano, 5 October 2018, 8.
 G. Bosco, Vita del giovanetto Savio Domenico, allievo dell’Oratorio di S. Francesco di Sales, in ISS, Fonti Salesiane: I. Don Bosco e la sua opera, LAS, Roma 2014, 1040 (or Salesian Sources, Kristu Jyoti, Bangalore, p. 1180).
 J.E. Vecchi, Indications for a process of growth in Salesian spirituality, AGC 354, 1995, p. 26.
 GC28, Priority of the Salesian mission among today’s young people. First nucleus, no. 4.
 Final Document of the Synod on Youth, henceforth DF. ChV is Christus Vivit.
 Pope Francis told us: “The ‘Valdocco option’ of your 28th General Chapter is a good opportunity to compare yourselves with the sources and to ask the Lord: ‘Da mihi animas, coetera tolle’. Tolle especially anything that has been accumulated along the journey and that remains, and that in other times might have been an appropriate response, but today hinders you from configuring and shaping the Salesian presence in a meaningful evangelical way in the different situations of the mission. This requires that we overcome the fears and apprehensions that may arise from believing that the charism was reduced to or identified with certain works or structures; it implies a change of mentality in the face of the mission that must be carried out.”
 Cf. Young people’s letter to GC28.
 CG28, Priority of the Salesian mission among today’s young people. First nucleus, no.5
 Young people’s letter to GC28.
 “The digital revolution asks us to understand the profound transformations that are taking place not only in the field of communication, but above all in the way we set up and manage our human relationships” (Nucleus 1 as drawn up by GC28).
 GC26, “Da mihi animas, cetera tolle”, no.14.
 GC28, Profile of the Salesian today. Second nucleus, no. 1.
 Idem, no. 3.
 Idem, no. 5.
 Idem, no. 5.
 GC24, no. 166.
 GC20, no. 580.
 Cf. MB XVII, 272; MB XVII, 207.
 GC19, ACS 244, p. 94 (p. 81 English edition).
 GC20, no. 45.
 GC28, Priority of the Salesian mission among today’s young people. First nucleus, no. 8.
 Francis, Message to GC28.
 ChV, 98.
 Cf. GC28, Together with lay people in the mission and in formation Nucleus 3, recognising, no. 1.
 CG24, no. 71.
 CG24, no. 39.
 Idem, nos. 12-17.
 Post-Chapter reflection 42, and cf. also Animating and governing the community, 106 and 122.
 GC24, 43.
 GC28, Third Nucleus, Together with lay people in the mission and in formation, no. 43.
 GC27, Witnesses to the radical approach of the Gospel. Chapter Documents: Rector Major’s address at the closing of GC27, no. 3.7, Rome 2014.
 Francis, Message to GC28.
 Francis, To Participants at the meeting promoted by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development on the theme: The Energy Transition and Care for our Common Home (Rome, 14 June 2019).
 Cf. Francis, Encyclical Laudato si’, Rome 24 May 2015, nos. 71, 137-162. Henceforth LS.
 LS 13.
 GC28, Proposal for a Chapter deliberation on the ecology.
 LS, 217.
 Francis, Message to GC28, quoting his homily on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord for the 21st World Day of Consecrated Life, 2 February 2017.
 The words are by Patriarch Athenagoras I, even though some attribute the quote to Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim, in 1968.
approved by the Rector Major and the General Council
16 August 2020
PRIORITY OF THE SALESIAN MISSION
AMONG TODAY’S YOUNG PEOPLE
This first nucleus was presented during GC28 and substantially approved by the Chapter Assembly.
It was merely revised during the 2020 summer session of the General Councilin the light of observations from Chapter commissions.
As members of the 28th General Chapter, we are convinced that God, through his Spirit, is present in the lives of all the young people of our time. We have first of all sought to recognise his action through discernment, seeking to enter into the rhythm of “a twofold docility on our part: docility to the young and their needs and docility to the Spirit and to everything He wishes to transform” (from Pope Francis’ Message to GC28)
From the very beginning, this has led us to take a positive perspective, one shaped by humility, sympathy, courage, intelligence, faith and hope, in the certainty that this “is how God the Father see things; he knows how to cherish and nurture the seeds of goodness sown in the hearts of the young” whom, therefore, we should consider to be “holy ground” (cf. Christus Vivit, no. 67)
Called to be fathers, pastors and guides of the young, we wish to make this divine way of seeing things our own, aware that in this way we are following in the footsteps of our beloved father Don Bosco, who carried out his work right here at Valdocco, led by the hand of the Help of Christians.
Who are the young people of today? What is their situation? What are they looking for? What are they asking of us? First of all we have listened to them in order to answer these questions.
We have had the gift of having some young people from all over the world among us. They represented the very many young people who were present in our Provincial Chapters during the preparations for GC28. We have listened attentively to their voice and been moved by it. They have spoken to us of their spiritual restlessness and their hunger for God, their desire to be key players in and creators of a better world, their struggle to believe and to go against the logic of our time... They asked us to be less “managers” and more “pastors”; to be among them and to have time to accompany them.
In our many opportunities to work together, we have also become aware of the many forms of poverty young people suffer from, which leaves us horrified in the same way that Don Bosco was horrified on his first visit to the prisons in Turin. The cry of so many young people still touches our hearts today: economic, social and cultural poverty; emotional, relational and family poverty; moral and spiritual poverty. In many contexts, unemployment and the inability to study penalise large swathes of young people.
In many ways, the young people have shown themselves to be prophets for us: through their presence the Lord continually makes known to us his expectations and his appeals for the renewal of our mission. It is like Don Bosco, who “did not discover his mission in front of a mirror, but in the pain of seeing young people who had no future. The Salesian of the 21st century will not discover his own identity unless he can suffer with ‘the large numbers of young lads... fine healthy youngsters, alert of mind but seeing them idle there, infested with lice, lacking food for body and soul, horrified me… Public disgrace, family dishonour, and personal shame were personified in those unfortunates’ (Memoirs of the Oratory of St Francis de Sales, 48); and we could add: youngsters of our very Church” (from Pope Francis’ Message to GC28).
We are experiencing an age of change: today, more than ever, “no one can say with certainty and precision (if ever one could) what will happen in the near future on a social, economic, educational and cultural level” (from Pope Francis’ Message to GC28). It is clear, then, that it is no longer possible to think of our mission in terms of “this is how it has always been”. While on the one hand this is bewildering for us, on the other, it asks us to humbly and courageously get involved, and asks of us that we recover the youthful dynamics that were so vibrant in Don Bosco. We are more convinced than ever of what Pope Francis told us right here in Valdocco, in the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians, on 21 June 2015: “Your charism is of great relevance today. Look at the streets, look at the children and make risky decisions. Do not be afraid. Do as he did.”
Along with some perennial issues that continue to challenge us, our times present us with some new ones that we must inevitably tackle. The digital revolution asks us to understand the profound transformations that are taking place not only in the field of communication, but above all in the way we set up and manage our human relationships. The area of our emotions, with all the issues related to gender and sexual identity, challenge our anthropological perspective. The situation of women and their role in society and in the Church requires us to reflect more carefully and deeply. Ecological sensitivity, which is growing rapidly in the world of youth, calls on us to be prophetic in this field through clear and coherent choices. Contact with young migrants, refugees and many others deprived of their fundamental rights becomes for us a pressing call to action. Finally, the painful experience of abuse, which also touches our Congregation, is a strong call to conversion.
The rapid change taking place affects the ordinary processes of faith transmission. In this regard we find considerable differences: while in some contexts the life of faith does not pose any problem and young people experience their belonging to the Church in a natural way, in other strongly secularised contexts the Christian faith has become an issue that no longer has any personal or social relevance. In some areas where we are present there is fundamentalism, discrimination and even persecution; in others we can freely propose the Gospel. We also work in many multi-religious contexts in which the majority of young people who attend our Works belong to other religions or other Christian confessions
Faced with a global crisis of authority, tradition and transmission, we are challenged regarding style, content and ways of proclaiming Jesus Christ, insofar as we all feel that we are called to be “missionaries of the young”. Convinced of the need to reach their hearts, we feel the urgency of offering initial proclamation with more conviction, because “Nothing is more solid, profound, secure, meaningful and wisdom-filled than that initial proclamation” (Christus Vivit, no. 214)
Young people are bearers of the Salesian charism and help us to know, to deepen our understanding of, and to better take up the mission entrusted to us. From the beginning, “far from being passive agents or spectators of missionary work they became, beginning with their own circumstances – in many cases they were “religious and social illiterates” – the main protagonists of the entire founding process. Salesianity is born precisely from this encounter capable of arousing prophecies and visions,” in the belief that “every charism needs to be renewed and evangelised, and in your case especially by the poorest young people” (from Pope Francis’ Message to GC28).
Hence, we feel that it is our duty to involve the young and we uphold their right to be involved within the educative and pastoral community that is first of all a family where everything is shared in an attitude of friendship, listening, respect and cooperation. We recognise that many of them “find themselves in a deep sense of orphanhood to which we must respond by creating an attractive and fraternal environment where others can live with a sense of purpose” (cf. Christus Vivit, no. 216). It is precisely in this direction that the recent synodal journeys have helped us rediscover the family nature of the Church, so much so that the latter can be thought of as “a family of families, constantly enriched by the lives of all those domestic churches” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 87).
Finally, we are aware that many times we fail to satisfy this very real “nostalgia for community” that young people and families have: they ask us for time and we give them space; they ask us for relationships and we provide them with services; they ask us for fraternal life and we offer them structures; they ask us for friendship and we provide activities for them. All this commits us to rediscovering the riches and potential of the “family spirit”.
To interpret what we have recognised so far, we would like to allow ourselves be guided by one of the most significant passages of the “Letter from Rome” in 1884. Don Bosco saw that a physical and spiritual barrier had been created in the Oratory at Valdocco between the Salesians and the young people, which hindered educative activity and betrayed the charism. In dialogue with one of the young people in the dream, he tried to interpret the situation to find a way to resolve it: “How then are we to set about breaking down this barrier?” The reply he received is also enlightening for us: “By a friendly informal relationship with the boys, especially in recreation. You cannot have love without this familiarity, and where this is not evident there can be no confidence. If you want to be loved, you must make it clear that you love. Jesus Christ made himself little with the little ones and bore our weaknesses. He is our master in the matter of the friendly approach.”.
This text illuminates the three fundamental core issues around which we have gathered the interpretation of this nucleus: meeting young people where they are to be found and where they express themselves spontaneously; closeness that creates confidence and makes accompaniment possible; the warm emotional tone of the educational relationship that Don Bosco calls for with a term that comes from family experience. It is in this perspective of faith that we want to look for the reasons for what we experience, with its lights and shadows, to bring out the challenges that await us and identify the criteria for facing up to them.
COMMUNITY OUTREACH TO POOR YOUNG PEOPLE
Too often, poverty distances young people and older youth from the opportunity to grow up peacefully, to have a proper education, to decide about their future. Not infrequently, poverty also distances them from the Christian community and from the possibility of encountering the joy of the Gospel, which is aimed at the very least among them: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me… he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor” (Lk 4:18). Thus, poverty today becomes an exclusionary barrier that must be overcome.
The prophetic Magisterium of Pope Francis is helping the Church to become increasingly aware that distance from the poor betrays the Gospel and generates many ills in the Christian community. We too feel the need to go deeper into the interpretation of the times we are living in, to the point of recognising that social phenomena and spiritual challenges, appeals of the young and movements of the Spirit are closely linked, without any possibility of separating them. This was Don Bosco's experience, which made him able to respond to the most urgent needs of his young people and to have them feel the tenderness of God that warms their hearts and instils hope. Where this also happens today, through generous commitment and pastoral creativity, we see a true flourishing of the charism. On the other hand, where communities lose “familiarity” with the poor, religious life becomes lukewarm, risking becoming salt that loses its flavour, a lamp placed under a bushel. (cf. Mt 5:13,15).
Going out to poor young people and doing so as a community of believers is certainly an ever new challenge, but it is also a prospect that fills us with enthusiasm. Like our father Don Bosco, we too said to God on the day of our religious profession: “I offer myself totally to you. I pledge myself to devote all my strength to those to whom you will send me, especially to young people who are poorer.” (Constitutions, art. 24).
In the first instance, this demands of us a capacity for community discernment: it is not a question of entrusting new projects to an individual confrere to launch, but of listening together to God's call coming to us through forms of youth poverty. It also requires spiritual depth, so as not to fall into activism or a corporate mentality; cultural preparation, to understand the phenomena in which we are immersed and the new forms of youth poverty; a willingness to work together, abandoning all pastoral individualism; flexibility in rethinking our lifestyle and our Works, especially when they no longer express the missionary energy of the charism and respond primarily to the logic of maintenance.
ACCOMPANIMENT OF THE YOUNG FROM A VOCATIONAL PERSPECTIVE
“You cannot have love without this familiarity, and where this is not evident there can be no confidence.” These words of Don Bosco are enough for us to understand the value it had for him to reach the boy's heart, allowing him an opening in trust and sincere confidence. Don Bosco did not use the word “accompaniment”, but all his actions aimed precisely at this. His educational commitment, rich in proposals and attentive to the different dimensions of growth, aimed at accompanying young people in a simple and concrete way to holiness. To neglect this dimension of the preventive system means to distort it.
While the whole Church, in the Synod on Young People, has rediscovered the value of accompaniment for discernment, we too are invited to re-interpret the riches of our tradition in this regard. It gives us three closely related levels of accompaniment: the setting, the group and personal accompaniment. The first is achieved through the offer of a welcoming, joyful atmosphere, rich in varied proposals and capable of triggering paths of growth. The second fosters a greater commitment to personal maturity and the journey of faith, sees the value of each individual’s aptitudes and inclinations, and promotes the spirituality of the Salesian Youth Movement, as well as belonging to it. The third leads the young person to more deeply discern the meaning of his or her existence before God. In this respect, the Synod on Young People spoke of accompaniment “from a vocational perspective” (Final Document of the Synod, nos. 138-143; Christus Vivit, Ch. Eight), helping one to think of life not as a project of individual self-realisation, but as a path to discover and respond to the divine call. Pope Francis' expression “I am a mission” (Christus Vivit, no. 254) points clearly to the goal that accompaniment has before it: to help each one to discover his or her uniqueness as a gift for others.
Since it arises from familiarity in everyday life, accompaniment involves many people and is not the exclusive task of one individual. The entire educative and pastoral community is involved, even if not everyone has the same aptitude and preparation for guiding personal discernment. In any case, the key player in each act of accompaniment is the Spirit of the Lord, who fills us with gifts and charisms; we are simply servants and mediators of God's work
It is very important to emphasise that good accompaniment does not place the young person in a passive or subordinate position, but on the contrary promotes that individual’s active participation in community life and shared responsibility in the service of the poorest. It is therefore an accompaniment for involvement, for active and responsible presence in society and in the Church. The active role young people played in the founding of our Congregation and their active commitment to sodalities at the Oratory in Valdocco still have much to say to us in this respect.
In the certainty that “those who accompany others in their growth must be people with broad horizons, capable of holding both limitations and hope together, thus helping them to always see things, ultimately, from a saving perspective” (from Pope Francis’ Message to GC28), we are called to foster a renewed commitment to accompaniment that first of all requires that we take greater care of the preparation of confreres and lay people in this delicate area and that we ourselves have the experience of being accompanied. This perspective of the active involvement of young people then presupposes a greater trust in their resources: we should not be afraid of their healthy restlessness, their questions and their sensitivity to new issues which we are not always ready to face. So let us learn every day to listen with empathy and to offer our help with humility. The genuine authority of an educator does not consist in the power to manage, but in the strength to promote freedom: this is how Don Bosco exercised his role as father.
JOURNEYING WITH FAMILIES AND AFFECTIVE EDUCATION
We are aware that the family is the school of love in which we learn the grammar of the affection through which God makes himself known and encountered. The recent synods on the family and the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia have offered many pastoral indications on the accompaniment of families and on educating emotions, which we too are called to accept and assimilate
For us Salesians, the interest in the family springs spontaneously from the very heart of our educational charism. We know how much Don Bosco learned from Mamma Margaret, so much so that he wanted her with him in Valdocco as a valued presence for making the Oratory a true “home”. On the other hand, John Bosco as a boy did not grow up in a perfect family: he experienced the suffering of losing his father, the lack of understanding of his brother Anthony, the humiliation of poverty, the need to leave home to work. All this contributed to maturing a fatherly heart in him that was rich in mercy and acceptance.
Today, we too feel the need for great closeness to families, acknowledging their efforts, but above all fostering their strengths. Through our Works we actually meet many families in the most diverse situations: Some turn to us for what we offer by way of education, others share our religious choice and charismatic inspiration, others are in the first years of marriage and ask for accompaniment. Not a few are in situations of poverty, discomfort or are wounded families and the result of second marriages. Then there are young people who have grown up with us and ask us to accompany them in preparation for marriage, while there are also people who live in new relational configurations who come to our settings.
This complexity is undoubtedly a challenge and requires adequate preparation. However, the presence of so many families in the groups that make up the Salesian Family and others who collaborate with us is a great resource, especially if we are able to listen to their experience and value their witness.
The fundamental criterion for our work with families is the educational nature of our mission. We do not want to pursue a family pastoral ministry parallel to youth ministry, but rather to present the educative and pastoral community as the place and form of our journey with families
Deriving from this criterion is the need to take up the challenge of the emotional and sexual education of young people in a more courageous way. This is a request which the Council had already addressed to the Church’s educational institutions (cf. Gravissimum Educationis, no.1) and one we have pursued too little. It is not simply a matter of giving information but of accompanying a journey of self-knowledge and discovery of the call to love. We know the importance that Don Bosco attributed to purity in the growth of children and the delicacy with which he spoke about it. In a context that not infrequently trivialises sexuality, we are called to present a serene, positive and balanced vision of the emotional side of life, to shed light on the languages of the body and on the sense of reciprocity between man and woman in conformity with the Word of God. Seeing to proactive and “preventive” settings, animation capable of involving young people in all their dimensions (theatre, sport, art, play, music ...), personal accompaniment that looks after the profound dynamics of the person, are all tools that our tradition gives us and that we are called to rethink in today's new contexts.
Let us go out to poor young people by going beyond a pastoral ministry of maintenance and renewing our community dynamics.
Attitudes and mentalities to convert
Processes to put in place
Structural circumstances to guarantee
Let us promote a renewed commitment to accompaniment from a vocational perspective, seeing to an adequate formation of Salesians and lay people in this area.
Attitudes and mentalities to convert
Processes to put in place
Structural circumstances to guarantee
Let us strengthen our journeying with families in the educative and pastoral community and propose more carefully-attuned paths for emotional education.
Attitudes and mentalities to convert
Processes to put in place
Structural circumstances to guarantee
PROFILE OF THE SALESIAN TODAY
This second nucleus was drawn up during GC28 as a first draft, but it was not possible to present it to the Chapter Assembly.
It was completed during the 2020 summer session of the General Council.
In the dream at nine years of age the Virgin Mary, after pointing out to John Bosco the field he was to work in, invited him to become “humble, strong and energetic”. With these words she was proposing he enter a demanding path of formation closely linked to the vocation received and the mission entrusted to him. We too recognise that formation is a precious gift from the Lord and an indispensable requirement of the vocational journey. This commitment to formation touches on all the dimensions of our apostolic consecration: this is why the 27th General Chapter was consistent in outlining the profile of the Salesian as a mystic in the Spirit, prophet of fraternity and servant of the young
By examining the statistics of the Congregation we have learned that in the last decade we have had a yearly average of around 2600 young men in formation. This fills us with joy and hope because it shows that our charism continues to be fruitful. At the same time, the data challenges us and calls on us to be responsible, asking that we assess the quality of our initial and ongoing formation
We note, in fact, that at times the Salesian consecrated identity seems weak and not deeply rooted: the primacy of God in personal and community life does not always emerge clearly; forms of clericalism and secularism risk bringing “spiritual worldliness” into the Congregation; the promotion of the lay Salesian in some regions is scant; the lack of trained personnel in the area of Salesianity, despite the abundant material available, is a sign of insufficient attention to the deepening of the charism.
One concern clearly emerged in the Chapter reflection on the profile of the Salesian today: the gap between the formative journey in its different phases and the reality of the ordinary educative and pastoral mission. Some speak of a gap between formation and mission, others of a separation between initial and ongoing formation, while some others still speak of a degree of inconsistency between what the Congregation proposes in initial formation and what is in fact experienced in apostolic communities
Formation as it is now, with its structures styles and methods, sometimes appears to be more informative than performative, because it does not always succeed in transforming the heart. The apostolic mission, on the other hand, does not always succeed in drawing elements for ongoing formation from the reality of young people and from the concreteness of life: the “university of life” struggles to become a way of interpreting life in the light of faith (lectio vitae) and offering elements for a continual renewal of our way of being and working
We also recognise that there is an urgent need to examine in depth some of the matters that must be fully integrated within the formation journey: enabling individuals for the spiritual accompaniment of young people, which requires the maturation of specific sensitivities; the clear awareness that our mission is shared with the laity and therefore requires new relational skills; the growing attention to ecological issues which requires specific preparation in this area. Finally, the new digitised world calls for a rethinking of the way we approach our fraternal life and apostolic mission as a whole, because “individualistic withdrawal, so widespread and fashionable in this profoundly digitised culture, requires special attention not only with regard to our pedagogical models but also with regard to the personal and communal use of time, and of our activities and assets” (from Pope Francis’ Message to GC 28).
We are thankful for the presence of a good number of Salesians who constantly rekindle the gift of God they have received (cf. 2 Tim 1:6), through “a contemplative attitude, one that is able to identify and discern the focal points” (from Pope Francis’ Message to GC28). This is the only way to overcome the unfortunately deep-rooted idea that formation ends with the conclusion of the initial stages and access to the ministry
In fact, some confreres lack the conviction that commitment to their own formation is a precise style of taking on the mission, so much so that it is difficult to ignite the desire and passion for ongoing formation. We recognise that at both the central level and at the provincial level there has been an effort to offer resources and paths of formation, but these do not always bear the hoped-for fruits. It is difficult, in particular, to transform daily pastoral experience into a formative occasion, since we have not begun to discern things from the concrete nature of reality. For this reason, both the religious and educative and pastoral community are unable to become the natural and ordinary environment in which one is formed
However, there is also a need to recognise that there is a degree of confusion concerning the individuals responsible and the paths of ongoing formation: there is often a lack of confreres who have been prepared to accompany this journey, while there is a multiplicity yet weakness of formative references at the provincial and local level. Some warn of the risk of reducing ongoing formation to a few sporadic refresher courses or entrusting it to the delivery of some new manual. Finally, in an ever more fluid world, there is the challenge of “cultural diligence” in the Congregation, because without study, reading, and continuous updating it will not be possible to escape from a pastoral ministry of maintenance and repetition.
From the data and discussions that emerged at the Chapter, we recognise that initial formation is, as a whole, a multifaceted, positive and promising reality. It is a great mosaic of different situations in which we recognise the presence of new dynamics in the Congregation.
Who are the young people in formation today? By way of summary we can say that most of them come from Asia and Africa; as a whole they are “young adults”, and not “teenagers” as in the past; they are young men of our times, who therefore bring with them all the potential and fragility of young people today; they are seeking an authentic life and a prophetic fellowship, even if sometimes the motivations that have led them to Salesian life need to mature; being closer to the younger generation, they have an ease of contact and a natural commonality of language with the world of youth. All of this implies a completely different formative approach in our formation houses and study centres.
Due to this epoch-making metamorphosis, we understand that being on the lookout for and forming the formators is a real urgency that must be tackled in the best possible way. Recognising that being a formator is a “vocation within a vocation,” there will be a need to shift from improvisation to authentic discernment for the competent choice of formators and teachers: it is not a question of “recruitment”, but of true vocational dialogue. Recognising the community, then, as the first place of formation, Chapter members stressed how decisive the team of formators is, acting collaboratively and under the direction of the Rector who has the task, above all others, of accompanying and coordinating the commitment of everyone involved.
As Pope Francis tells us, “reflecting on the profile of the Salesian for the young people of today implies accepting that we are immersed in a time of change” (from Pope Francis’ Message to GC28). There is a need, then, to renew our style of formation, something that needs to be thought of more and more in personalising, holistic, relational, contextual and intercultural terms
Above all, what is needed is a style that is capable of acquiring its fundamental tenor from the mission, because it is the mission that “sets the tenor of our whole life; it specifies the task we have in the Church and our place among other religious families” (Constitutions, art. 3) and also because we are all convinced that “when we isolate ourselves or distance ourselves from the people we are called to serve, our identity as consecrated persons begins to be distorted and becomes a caricature” (from Pope Francis’ Message to GC28)
This new style of formation that we dream of should make the unity of the Congregation shine forth in the plurality of its expressions: it is most important, faced with the “serious risk of levelling and homogenising cultures,” that we recognise that the worldwide presence of our charismatic reality “is a stimulus and an invitation to guard and preserve the richness of many of the cultures in which you are immersed without trying to get them all to conform” (from Pope Francis’ Message to GC28).
In order to make a healthy discernment of our formation, it is useful to reflect on the experience Don Bosco had of formation. He himself recounts the main moments in the Memoirs of the Oratory, with many observations that give a clear glimpse of his outlook in this regard. We dwell here in particular on one of the formative stages for which Don Bosco showed the greatest appreciation, that of the Convitto Ecclesiastico or Pastoral Institute. Don Bosco says of that institution:
“Qui si impara ad essere prete”, here one learns to be a priest (J. Bosco, Memoirs of the Oratory of St Francis de Sales, in ISS, Salesian Sources, 1. Don Bosco and his work, Kristu Jyoti, Bangalore, 2014, p. 1393)
Formation at the Convitto put together a solid spiritual and cultural proposal (“Meditation, spiritual reading, two conferences a day, lessons on preaching, a secluded life, every convenience for study …”) and accompaniment in the live encounter with “the malice and misery of human beings” in the places of greatest poverty. The main strength that guided the young priests in achieving a synthesis of prayer and ministry, reflection and pastoral practice, was a group of formators of the highest calibre, among whom Fr Cafasso stood out. Don Bosco met them in the classroom while they were teaching, but he also saw them personally involved in the most varied and difficult kinds of ministry. For him and his companions they were solid teachers of doctrine, enterprising apostles and true models for life. Today we would speak of an exemplary, compact team that accompanies people as they take up the mission in an integral way
His years at the Convitto were decisive for Don Bosco’s growth to apostolic maturity, and it is beautiful to see that they were a choice he made, something he was under no obligation to do. He took on this commitment when he was already a priest and could have already immersed himself in activity on a full-time basis. But on Cafasso's advice he pursued another more demanding but immensely more fruitful path. His example teaches us that formation does not end with the completion of studies, perpetual profession or priestly ordination, but remains an open process to be cultivated with care throughout life. It also reminds us that the true apostle does not mature by swiftly forging ahead, and that the most fruitful investment for the mission is that of a good formation.
FORMATION AND VOCATION: ACCOMPANIMENT IN THE LIGHT OF THE CHARISM
Formation, in consecrated life, is not reduced to a mere collection of techniques and methods, but is a faith experience which has its roots in the very mystery of vocation. God the Father, who chose us before the creation of the world, continues to be at work in us through the power of his Spirit, to make us more and more conformed to Christ. Indeed, the goal of the journey of formation is to arrive at having in oneself the sentiments of the Son, or in other words feeling, thinking and acting in him (cf. Phil 2:5)
Understanding formation within the context of vocation helps us to see it not as a duty imposed from without – by rules of the Church or the Congregation – but as a gift of grace that helps us to make the “form” of Salesian consecrated life something that is truly ours, avoiding it being a kind of external habit
The fact that there are vocational failures reminds us of just how delicate this process is, and how initial acceptance of the call does not automatically protect us from the risk of losing our way or turning back. What, in fact, are clericalism, secularism and individualism if not deviations from vocational energy which extinguish its beauty and deaden its growth for want of depth, motivation or generosity? Vocation without adequate formation is then confused with a kind of “volunteerism for life” in which the heart is not truly handed over to God and to young people and the formative conversion that this entails is not accepted.
Since formation is a pedagogy of grace, it can never be first and foremost a matter of rules and standards. Undoubtedly these are necessary, because they safeguard against errors and point to well-established paths, but they do not suffice alone to create the conditions for an authentic experience of formation. We must therefore be careful not to give mainly normative solutions to a challenge that is primarily charismatic and generative. Formation is something crafted daily, it is practical wisdom, quality of witness, ability to read situations and to touch hearts: all things that no law can guarantee and no manual is enough to ensure. As the venerable Fr Giuseppe Quadrio, an extraordinary model of the formator and teacher, reminds us, these qualities are first of all the fruit of inward docibilitas to the Spirit [openness to allowing oneself to be taught], who raises up true masters of life in our charismatic family
All the indications of practical wisdom that Don Bosco put into practice in education are therefore valid for our formative proposal. The Preventive System must be rediscovered more and more as the principal inspiration and profound soul of our system of formation. This means asserting the primacy of theological charity and trust over all legalism and formalism; passing on vocational values through a genuine family spirit; actively involving the youngest confreres and making them jointly responsible for formative choices. The pedagogy of the Preventive System, in fact, is one of trust that believes in the resources of the young and urges them to a generosity of commitment, without ever stifling their intuitions or crippling their creativity. This is the logic behind article 99 of our Constitutions where it says: “Each Salesian accepts responsibility for his own formation.” Through fidelity to this inspiration the Congregation shows itself to be a mother to each confrere and helps him to mature on his vocational journey.
FORMATION AND MISSION: A UNIFIED PROCESS
The apostolic nature of our charism determines our formation in a decisive way. As Pope Francis reminds us, “it is important to say that we are not formed for the mission, but that we are formed in the mission. Our whole life revolves around it, with its choices and priorities. Initial and ongoing formation cannot be a prior, parallel or separate instance of the identity and sensitivity of the disciple” (from Pope Francis’ Message to GC28). These words very clearly indicate that formation and mission are closely intertwined and cannot go ahead without each other
Understanding formation within the context of the mission means first of all highlighting the Da mihi animas as the deep energy of the formation process. If this energy is extinguished and no longer radiates zeal for the good of the youngsters, then vocational maturity is seriously compromised. Instead, if apostolic passion is alive, it nurtures human growth, commitment to study, care for spiritual life, growth to pastoral maturity. The Da mihi animas is, indeed, the way in which God makes us partakers in his love for the world
“Don Bosco” says the Pope once more, “not only did not choose to separate himself from the world to seek holiness, but he let himself be challenged by it and chose how and which world to live in”. Taking up the mission as a formative principle requires developing the shepherd's gaze and the courage of the prophet who knows how to be with poor young people and to dream of a different world with them and for them. Hence “the mission inter gentes is our best school: beginning with this we pray, reflect, study and rest” (from Pope Francis’ Message to GC28).
To overcome the gap between formation and mission, it is first of all necessary to get out of the delegation mentality which often tends to unload responsibility in this delicate area onto the formation communities. The passing on of the charism does not occur, in the first instance, in appropriately structured communities, but in the freshness of daily sharing of service to the young. The first source of formation in the Congregation lies in the treasure of the generous life of the confreres. Where communities are lively in service, solid in spirituality and capable of reflection, the proposals of the formation houses are more penetrating because they introduce a way of living Salesianity that the young confreres encounter in the ordinary reality of the houses. This explains the importance that our tradition has always attributed to practical training, which is a typically Salesian formation stage. Instead, where the mission is confused with work and ongoing formation in the community is not taken care of, the entire formation journey is impoverished
Greater integration, then, requires that we “find a style of formation capable of structurally taking on the fact that evangelisation implies the full participation, and full citizenship… of the baptised,” making of our houses an “ecclesial laboratory” capable of recognising, appreciating, stimulating and encouraging the different calls and missions in the Church”. This is what we are trying to do by implementing the model of the educative pastoral community. How this model can and should affect initial formation is a question that has not yet been clearly answered. The Synod on Young People spoke, for example, of the importance of forming differentiated formation teams, including women, in which different vocations interact. (cf. Final Document of the Synod, no. 163). Dialogue between provincial communities and houses of formation can further encourage more meaningful interaction with the journey of the educative and pastoral communities and allow formators greater presence alongside the young confreres in their pastoral exercises. More than a single structural solution which would not take into account the remarkable diversity of contexts, it is therefore necessary to work towards a renewed formative planning in the missionary sense, which will seek its most adequate implementation in each setting.
FORMATION AND STRUCTURES: A NECESSARY RENEWAL
One of the risks of our formation process, repeatedly warned against in the Congregation, is a degree of fragmentation between the different stages. Undoubtedly, the movement from one phase to another of initial formation offers a wealth of new stimuli and contributes to broadening horizons, but it brings with it the strain of having to resume the journey of accompaniment several times over. This strain becomes more onerous when the imposition of formation choices and the instruments offered for accompaniment are not adequately coordinated.
This makes clear the need for the Congregation to clarify and, where possible, simplify the institutional references and to determine more precisely the tasks and responsibilities of the structures of coordination between the different phases and between the different levels of formation. Too often, in fact, important decisions for the formation process are hampered or remain unfulfilled due to uncertainties in the system.
The Ratio and its associated documents do not lack valuable indications for formation work, especially with regard to the objectives to be achieved and admission criteria. On the other hand, the methodology and instruments are weaker. It is therefore important to implement the process of revising formation accompaniment that has been undertaken in the Congregation and to verify its results. Clarity and sharing on this theme are the first condition for a more solid and personalised formation.
Any growth process needs the structural conditions that will facilitate it. Following this reasoning, the desire to foster better accompaniment must translate into a generous investment on the part of the Congregation in finding and adequately forming formators who know how to work in a team under the guidance and responsibility of the Rector
No less important is renewal within our study centres, called to take up with determination the indications in the Apostolic Constitution Veritatis Gaudium. They offer an indispensable service not only to the young confreres who attend these centres, but also to the cultural robustness of our provinces. Among these centres, the Salesian Pontifical University stands out in particular as the most authoritative cultural voice of the Congregation in the Church. The renewal it needs requires rediscovering the reasons that led to its foundation eighty years ago
The regional formation centres offer an appreciated service to the ongoing formation of the confreres and are increasingly called on to take up joint formation with the laity. Regions that do not yet have such centres will have to identify the most suitable ways of guaranteeing this type of service.
Let us foster a renewed commitment to the formative accompaniment of confreres in the light of the charism.
Attitudes and mentalities to convert
Processes to put in place
Structural circumstances to guarantee
Let us commit ourselves to overcoming the gap between formation and mission, encouraging a renewed culture of formation in the mission at all levels.
Attitudes and mentalities to convert
Processes to put in place
Structural circumstances to guarantee
Let us invest energy into finding and forming formators and let us courageously tackle the rethinking of institutional references and formative structures.
Attitudes and mentalities to convert
Processes to put in place
Structural circumstances to guarantee
TOGETHER WITH THE LAITY.
IN THE MISSION AND IN FORMATION
During the 2020 summer session, the General Council worked on the third nucleus of GC28, insofar as it had not been taken into consideration during the General Chapter because of the latter’s forced interruptiondue to the pandemic.
Starting from the “Working document”, the General Council employed the same discernment method as GC28 and worked in the same way as the Chapter commissions did. In drawing up the text it sought to maintain the same form as the first and second nucleus, just as they were drawn up by GC28.
We recognise that GC24 is, for everyone, a “point of no return” for the renewal of our way of living and working together. It is at the centre of the Salesian post-conciliar magisterium, and at the same time marks a return to the origins of the Salesian charism: From the beginning, Don Bosco involved so many lay people in his youthful and popular mission
We recognise that many steps forward have been taken throughout the Congregation, even though at different speeds and in different ways: the involvement of the entire educative and pastoral community; the spiritual, pedagogical and pastoral formation of the laity; the inclusion of young people in animation teams; entrusting a number of Works to lay people. This perception of growing mutual involvement, of shared wealth, of the strength of mutual assistance and of the fruitfulness of the charism is gradually materialising, shifting from the perspective of involving the laityin educative pastoral activityto one of sharing our spirituality with them
At the same time we note that some difficulty still remains, because we do not always succeed in getting the laity to share in the Salesian spirit and mission: many provinces still need to shift fromutilitarian involvement of the laityto the strategy of evangelical co-responsibility. At times we even encounter situations of real resistance: some confreres complain about the excessive prominence of the laity while some lay people show opportunistic motives in their offer of collaboration. Then, for the lay people most committed to educative and pastoral activity, it is not easy to reconcile the needs of the Salesian mission with personal and family life. Finally, in some situations we note the tendency to level out the different states of life, to the extent that some think that consecrated Salesians are no longer needed to keep the charism alive.
Very often the relationships between Salesians and lay people are inspired by esteem, respect, cordiality and collaboration, especially where there is clear vocational identity, a systematic proposal of formation and a shared journey with the appropriate bodies and instruments such as the Educative and Pastoral Community Council and the Salesian Educative and Pastoral Project
There is not always an acceptance and appreciation of the particular contribution of the laity, taking into consideration their identity and vocational experience: we know what they do but we do not appreciate what they are. Where there is a lack of clarity about the respective identities, we see a kind of “clericalisation of the laity” and a “laicisation of the consecrated members”. In this case, instead of bringing out the specific nature of each, daily collaboration leads to a flattening of identities. Sometimes lay people are simply classified and positioned within a hierarchical and pyramidal model of “Salesian Work”
Sometimes we find a certain unease among Salesians in the management of complex Works that demand managerial ability, and a lack of preparation for the challenges that come from the pastoral model of sharing with lay people. We recognise that faced with epoch-making changewe really are not able to “discern”, and hence risk remaining trapped within the logic of pastoral maintenance based on “things have always been done this way”
We note that there are different types of lay people: employees, volunteers, young adults, Catholic Christians or of other denominations, practising or more distant from the Church. The same word “laity”, which in ecclesial language indicates the baptised (Christifideles laici) is sometimes also used in reference to people who are involved in our Works but who belong to other religions. To avoid confusion or inflexibility, it is important to deal seriously with the theological and pastoral issues underlying such complexity. In this way it will be possible to better illuminate the form which the educative pastoral community is called to take in multi-religious or secularised contexts.
Over these years, some fine initiatives of joint formation of Salesians and lay people have emerged. With regard to formation courses there are some excellent proposals at local, provincial and regional level. Sometimes there is a lack of a systematic approach to formation programmes that then manifests itself in the weakness of educative and pastoral planning. Indeed there is a lack of a more systematic formation that aims at integrating all aspects of the Salesian charism (spiritual, pedagogical, pastoral and professional). The formation of collaborators belonging to other religions and beliefs remains an open question
In daily life, joint formation occurs mainly through options chosen by the educative and pastoral community, with its various bodies and processes of animation, discernment and governance. The life of the educative and pastoral community is one of the most effective areas for joint formation of Salesians and lay people and is an excellent example of “formation in the mission”
We note a degree of resistance on the part of some confreres to being involved in formation with lay people, and the difficulty in setting aside an attitude of presumed superiority. Another source of difficulty in joint formation is fatigue, excessive activity and the accumulation of tasks and roles. There is little awareness of their task in the Church for some lay people, and therefore little willingness to take on the formative responsibilities that come with it.
At the moment in the Congregation there are various kinds of relationships between the religious community and the Salesian Work: there are some Works or work sectors entrusted jointly to the Salesian community and to lay people; there are Works entrusted to lay people within the framework of a provincial plan; there are also Works where pastoral animation, but not the management, is entrusted to a nearby Salesian community. There are still Works where the number of confreres allows them to hold all roles of responsibility: in this case there are many lay collaborators with little or no responsibility; here, the animation structures of the educative pastoral community are very weak or absent
Where it is a case of a Work jointly entrusted to the Salesians and lay people, what GC24 says in nos. 149-159 is not always carried out. When it is the case of a work managed by lay people under the direction of the province, in many cases the provinces have made a great effort of reflection and creativity to face the challenge of accompaniment
While recognising the positive aspects, there are also problems that are quite serious: the difficulty of Salesians guaranteeing systematic accompaniment; the struggle lay people have in combining the commitments required by these Works with the demands of family life; the difficulties linked to the turnover of lay people, the absence of criteria and control mechanisms; the need to initiate management evaluation practices; the need to find an appropriate legal framework; the need for a change of formation culture on the part of both parties in order to be better prepared for managing these new situations. There are even situations in which the role, skills and functions of the Salesians and lay people with responsibilities in the houses are neither clear nor well defined
The entrusting of a Work or work sector entirely to lay people forms part of the province’s planning and responsibility. There are situations where the province entrusts an an activity, a work or sectors of a work and the use of real estate belonging to it to a legal entity (foundation, association, cooperative, society). In this case an agreement regulating legal and economic relationships is not always concluded.
The fundamental elements for a deeper exploration of the theory and practice of communion and sharing in the spirit and mission of Don Bosco are provided in the GC24 text. It continues to be an essential reference in this area
From an inspirational point of view there are some valuable paragraphs demonstrating that throughout his life our Founder was concerned with involving the greatest number of collaborators possible in his plan of operation, giving rise to “a vast movement of persons who in different ways work for the salvation of the young” (Constitutions, art. 5): from his close friends to fellow students, from Mamma Margaret to potential employers, from helpful members of the public to theologians, from aristocrats to the politicians of the time (cf. GC24, 69-86)
We were born and raised historically in communion with the laity and they with us. In particular, we must stress the importance that the young had in the development of the Salesian charism and mission: Don Bosco found his first collaborators in the young who thus became, in a certain sense, co-founders of the Congregation!.
In this constant process oriented towards the search for communion, sharing and co-responsibility we still find one of the qualifying features of our call to work for the coming of the Kingdom of God in the world.
A SYNODAL CHURCH FOR THE MISSION AND SPECifIC VOCATIONS
Much of the resistance to the serious acceptance of sharing the Salesian spirit and mission is rooted in the weak reception of the two great pillars of the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council: the reality of the Church as the people of God on a journey through history and the consequent ecclesiology of communion that highlights the reciprocal and complementary nature of different vocations in the Church
Coming from this perspective, it is clear that the laity’s participation in the Salesian charism and mission is not a generous concession made on the part of consecrated Salesians, nor is it a survival strategy. St Paul clearly teaches that charisms are gifts that the Spirit distributes for the common good (1 Cor 12); they are not the prerogative of a certain state of life, but enrich the life of the Church in the diversity and complementarity of its vocations
Convinced that there is no higher dignity than that which has been conferred through baptism, such that “All the baptized... are agents of evangelization” and that “it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients” (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 120), we feel called – Salesians, members of the Salesian Family, lay people and young people – to live out our vocation, each in his or her specific way, with a view to mutual edification. Where this ecclesiological approach is welcomed with joy and developed with conviction the results are clearly visible: the educative pastoral community flourishes and becomes an experience of the Church that lives communion and mission in an attractive and fruitful way.
The rediscovery of the Church’s synodal nature was one of the defining points of the recent Synod on Youth: “The fruit of this Synod, the choice that the Spirit has inspired in us through listening and discernment, is to walk with the young, going out towards everyone, so as to bear witness to the love of God. We could describe this process by speaking of synodality for mission, or missionary synodality” (Final Document of the Synod, no. 118). More than asking us to do something for them, young people have asked us to walk with them!
Pope Francis is even more radical when he declares that “it is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium” (cf. Address for the commemoration of the 50th anniversaryof the institution of the Synod of Bishops, 17 October 2015). Consistent with these statements, the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops – still in its preparatory stage and to be held in October 2022 – will have synodality as its theme: “towards a synodal Church: communion, participation, mission”
Such words cannot leave our Salesian settings indifferent. Instead, they demand conversion of heart and mind, combined with a renewed readiness to change practices. It is precisely youth ministry – which “has to be synodal” (Christus vivit, no. 206) – that should advance without delay in this direction, opening new paths for the benefit of all. It is increasingly clear that only men and women of communion will build the spirit of family and share the mission.
Good identification with one’s own vocation and an adequate understanding of the vocation of others are fundamental, in order not to reduce the shared mission to executive collaboration. Salesians who live their specific calling with joy and freshness are capable of an effective and fraternal animating presence and are able to offer the laity emotional and effective support in the difficulties they encounter. The lay people who assume their baptismal call to witnessing to the Gospel with conviction are free from the complex of being relegated to second-degree pastoral services. Together they become an “ecclesial laboratory” and a prophetic sign of communion for the Church and society
Sometimes young people understand the testimony of the laity better because it is less obvious and it is presumed they are not speaking and acting out of a sense of belonging. The laity’s vocation, by placing them in the heart of the world, sometimes makes them more suitable for responding to the new cultural demands of young people. In this way the laity speak a language more suited to the ordinary situations of life and often possess professional skills which make them valuable in the mission
The change in the role of the religious community will depend on various factors, but among them the following will become increasingly more relevant: the willingness to reinterpret its role regarding the fundamental charismatic option; the readiness to question its role as manager and its sole responsibility for the work, given shared responsibility with the laity; the ability to reinterpret the significance of its presence within the context in which it finds itself.
MANAGEMENT OF THE WORK, COMMUNITY LIFE AND ANIMATING NUCLEUS
Today the Congregation recognises only two models of relationship between the Salesian community and the work. The first and most important one, which must be considered the reference standard, is made up jointly of the Salesian community and the laity; the second refers to “activities and works of the laity accepted within the provincial project” (cf. GC24, nos. 180-182)
We believe that there is no longer the model – which could be considered valid before Vatican Council II – that provides for the animation of the Work by Salesians alone. We strongly reaffirm that the Salesian mission is structurally communitarian and is entrusted to an educative pastoral community and its animating nucleus, which will be made up of Salesians and lay people in different and complementary ways and proportions: the mission that Don Bosco has given us is never an individual action nor is it self-referential!
In each of these two models the “animating nucelus” or “educative and pastoral community council” is central. It is to be considered as the engine and heart of the entire educative pastoral community, because the smooth running of the work depends on its quality and proper functioning. It is a very valuable animation body and key to the life of the work: we are talking about “a group of people who identify themselves with the Salesian mission, educational system and spirituality, and together take up the task of assembling, motivating, and involving all those who are concerned with a work, so as to form with them the educative community and to carry out a plan for the evangelization and education of the young” (cf. J.E. Vecchi in AGC 363, p. 9; Salesian Youth Ministry Frame of Reference, V,1,3; Animating and governing the community, nos. 121-122).
In Works entrusted to the religious community and to lay people, the community is a significant part of the animating nucleus and the charismatic point of reference: “Such a sharing of the spirit and mission of Don Bosco with lay people is a new phase in the development of our charism. From it follows the need for the Salesian religious community to reflect on and assume fully its relatively new role within the EPC... This involves a momentous shift from a pyramidal structure of authority to a more participative style, where personal relationships and processes are of the greatest importance” (Animating and governing the community, no. 124)
The concrete form of the relationship of the religious community with the Work as a whole cannot be reduced to a single model (cf. GC26, no. 120). Hence it is necessary to take into account certain determining factors: the different levels of belonging and sharing and the Salesian spirit and mission; the different degrees to which shared responsibility is achieved; the kind of Work; the voluntary or contractual nature of the presence of lay people. And finally, it should be remembered that “the precise relationship between the Salesian community and the Work, as also the authority of the Rector, is codified in the provincial and local Salesian Educative and Pastoral Plan (SEPP)” (Animating and governing the community, no. 125).
Twenty-four years ago, GC24 placed this second kind of Work among “Some particular new situations” (cf. GC24, Chapter III). Today we can say that those new situations have become part of the ordinary patrimony of the Congregation at the world level, even though with very different proportions, forms and procedures among the regions and provinces
It is important to restate the two essential conditions for entrusting a work to lay people: first of all criteria of identity, communion and Salesian significance must be ascertained; secondly the constant and competent accompaniment of the provincial and his council must be guaranteed (cf. GC24, nos. 180-182; Salesian Youth Ministry Frame of Reference, VIII, 2,2; Animating and governing the community, no. 126)
These conditions must be carefully considered when discerning and entrusting the work to lay people. A charismatic choice and appropriate formation are necessary, especially for those in top positions, as well as fair and just remuneration and working conditions. Finally, it should not be forgotten that this journey undertaken with the laity, as well as being accompanied, must be constantly monitored.
JOINT FORMATION FOR THE MISSION
The sharing of the Salesian spirit and growth in shared responsibility require the sharing of certain formation programmes and experiences oriented towards spirituality and mission, obviously without neglecting specific formation programmes for Salesian consecrated persons and lay people. Joint formation in shared mission is an absolute priority and should be directed above all to the members of the animating nucleus. (cf. Animating and governing the community, nos. 106,122). Our lay collaborators need to experience and know Don Bosco closely, and to reflect on the lived experience in our Works
It is the task of the Province and Region to offer appropriate formation paths for Salesians and lay people. The province is called to develop a joint formation plan at provincial level and accompaniment of processes at the local level, guaranteeing adequate resources of personnel and means. At the local level, one of the first objectives that the Salesian Rector pursues, together with the Salesian community council and the educative and pastoral community’s animating nucleus, is the development of a formation plan which ensures specific attention to the theme
Experience confirms that it is very positive to entrust the organisation of the various formation initiatives to mixed teams made up of Salesians and lay people,: the Salesians offer the wisdom acquired in formation, assistance and spirituality; in turn the lay people offer, in addition to their specific skills, the fruits of contact with the professional world, a greater attention to family life, a style of simplicity and friendship in relationship with women and an evangelical sense of everyday life
Finally, it is good to remember that formation does not just happen through academic courses, but above all from the experience of living and working together, because “the first and best mode of self-formation to participation and shared responsibility is the correct functioning of the educative and pastoral community” (GC24, no. 43).
“It is important to say that we are not formed for the mission, but that we are formed in the mission. Our whole life revolves around it, with its choices and priorities. Initial and ongoing formation cannot be a prior, parallel or separate instance of the identity and sensitivity of the disciple. The mission inter gentes is our best school: beginning with this we pray, reflect, study and rest. When we isolate ourselves or distance ourselves from the people we are called to serve, our identity as consecrated persons begins to be distorted and becomes a caricature.” These strong statements by Pope Francis in his Message to GC28 speak to us of the importance of a radical change of perspective in the formation of all the confreres, and in particular of those who are experiencing initial formation: we must learn more and more to reflect critically on the pastoral experience we have among young people!
Formation in and for the shared mission must also touch on the initial formation of the Salesians not only as a topic for study but also through weekly and summer pastoral experiences. The experience of working with and under the direction of lay people during practical training, as well as taking part in the Educative and Pastoral Community Council, are precious moments of formation, especially if well accompanied by the members of the animating nucleus, both lay and Salesian.
In secularised and multi-religious contexts, our educational commitment is shared by people of different religions and beliefs. Many of them are also included in the animating nucleus of the Educative and Pastoral Community. Their formation is a delicate challenge that requires wisdom, courage and creativity. The Church's doctrine teaches that the revelation of God in Christ, while surprisingly surpassing human wisdom and the experience of other religious traditions, brings to completion the seeds of truth that they contain and invites in many ways to engage in inter-religious dialogue. For this reason it is possible to identify common values which lay the foundations for a differentiated, inculturated and contextualised formation without losing the originality of the Christian faith.
GC24 had already dedicated a rich reflection to this issue (cf. GC24, nos. 113,183-186), identifying two fundamental elements that form the basis for working with people of other traditions and beliefs: first of all the sharing of the Preventive System (in its human and lay values for those who do not believe in God; in its religious values for those who accept God and the Transcendent; in the Gospel of Christ with Christians of other Churches and ecclesial communities); secondly, openness to the search for God by those who do not profess a faith (cf. GC24, nos. 185,100). Since “the mission to youth leads us to an education which is at the same time evangelisation”, GC24 had also recognised that positions hostile to the Catholic Church such as are found in certain ideologies, sects or movements, instead are incompatible with our mission (cf. GC24, no. 185)
Following on from the experience of these decades It would be useful to verify the implementation of these criteria and the concrete results that they have in terms of education and evangelisation, so as to highlight the good practices to be enhanced and the risks to be avoided. Certainly the fundamental condition is the consistent presence of Salesians and, where possible, of lay Christians who live their vocational identity with joy and authenticity. (GC24, nos. 183-185; Animating and governing the community, no. 135), without hiding what constitutes the heart and the underlying motivation of their life. Equally important is the climate of respect, patience, acceptance and friendship which avoids both the imposition of values and beliefs and the fear of touching upon issues that characterise our identity
We are convinced that we can share with all people of good will who wish to share in the Salesian mission, in Don Bosco’s fatherly loving-kindness, in the reasonableness inherent in his educational system and his trust in the resources of the young, and in the privileged choice of the poorest and the commitment to a culture of acceptance that knows no limits of race, colour, nation, culture and religion.
Let us decisively take up the mission shared between Salesians and lay people, valuing the reciprocity of vocations.
Attitudes and mentalities to convert
Processes to put in place
Structural circumstances to guarantee
Let us ensure spaces and times for joint formation and sharing of life between Salesians and lay people for a better educative and pastoral service of the young.
Attitudes and mentalities to convert
Processes to put in place
Structural circumstances to guarantee
Modifications to the Constitutions
The Rector Major is elected by the General Chapter for a term of six years and may be re-elected only for a second six-year period. He may not resign his office without the consent of the Apostolic See.
The Vicar General of the Rector Major remains in office for six years and can only be elected to the same office for a second six-year term.
At the end of the first six years, the Vicar of the Rector Major can be elected General Councillor or Rector Major.
At the end of the second six-year period, he can only be elected Rector Major.
The General Councillors remain in office for six years. They can be elected to the same office or to another office, as General Councillors, only for a second six-year term.
At the end of the first or second six-year period, the General Councillors can be elected Vicar General of the Rector Major or Rector Major.
Modifications to the Regulations
The regional councillors will keep in touch with the individual provinces: they must visit them periodically, arranging meetings of provincial councils. In agreement with the provincials, they may meet with rectors and other groups of confreres and lay people to point out to them whatever they consider more opportune for the welfare of the Congregation and for the provision of a better service for the province and for the particular Church.
They shall have at least one annual meeting with all the provincials of the Region and liaise with bodies in the Region, formation communities and any Provincial Conferences.
The election procedure is to be carried out by means of an electronic system (intranet). All Chapter members are to have access to the personal details of the individual members who can be elected. The individual voters will express their vote by selecting the surname of the member for whom they wish to express a preference.
If there is a technical malfunction of the system, the procedure for election by means of a paper ballot will be used.
The scrutineers will verify that the number of votes in the electronic system corresponds to the number of voters. If the number of votes exceeds the number of voters, the ballot shall be null and void; if, on the other hand, it corresponds to or is lower, the scrutiny is to begin. The secretaries will record the names as they are read out by a scrutineer.”
“The Rector Major and the General Council, at the beginning of the six-year period, will establish the times and ways for carrying out extraordinary visitations in each region, exploiting the possibilities offered by art. 104 of the General Regulations, so as to ensure, in any case,