My Dear Young People,
Last summer I took part in the World Youth Day in Australia. It was great to see so many young people coming from all parts of the world, despite the distance and the expense, belonging to diocesan groups, to groups led by religious institutes or by the movements.
My thoughts immediately went to the great adventure that began with Jesus of Nazareth. From the edge of the ocean I thought of the banks of a lake in a tiny and unknown country. Those banks enclosed the whole world of a group of fishermen whose experience was limited to the waters of a lake with its sudden storms and its long and mysterious silences, and it was precisely on the banks of that lake that they met Jesus.
Fascinated by the man, they followed him, listened to him and often didn’t understand him. They had doubts about him until the end, and they betrayed him. Finally, however, they all associated themselves with Peter’s passionate profession of faith: «Lord to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life» (Jn 6,69). They had been caught up in his total selfless love. A love far greater and more real than all their weakness, their every betrayal. And so that tiny seed germinated, and became a great people who cover the face of the earth: the Church.
I also had the joy of meeting the young people of the Salesian Youth Movement. In front of those thousands of enthusiastic young people there came into my mind the memory of a small group of young men who on the cold evening of 18 December 1859 had met together in Don Bosco’s room to make the most important decision of their lives: to stay with Don Bosco, giving themselves totally to the Lord. And so in a simple and humble way, 150 years ago, a seed was sown. I can see the young Cagliero who a week before that decision, walking up and down the yard, uncertain, confused, thinking first one thing and then another, until he finally declared: «Monk or no monk, I’m staying with Don Bosco!». He stayed with Don Bosco, carrying that tiny seed to the furthest boundaries of Patagonia. It is a story far greater than him, far greater than those poor but generous young men. From that tiny seed there came the Salesians, the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians the Salesians-Cooperators.
A story that has reached even us because that seed has become a great tree: the Salesian Family.
Yes, it’s true; they were poor young men, limited in their human and cultural experience. But, in Don Bosco, they had met Jesus Christ who launched them on a mission that humanly-speaking was impossible, a mad adventure: «You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth» (Acts 1,8). To you too, young people of the beginning of this third millennium, Jesus entrusts the mission which two thousand years ago he gave to his disciples: «I am sending you to proclaim my gospel to the ends of the earth. Go with that love and that apostolic and educative passion which led Don Bosco always to give preference to the young, the poor, the people not yet evangelised.»
Do not be afraid! The Risen Jesus will give you the power, the energy, the joy that come from the Holy Spirit. With the strength of the Spirit, the Church carries out her mission, making Jesus present today; the same Spirit who raised up and formed Don Bosco, has made that seed a fine large tree. To continue this mission I address to you dear young people, the pressing invitation to collaborate with your youthful enthusiasm and drive in making the Salesian Family into a great Movement, as vast as the world, for the salvation of the young.
You are not just the ones to whom the Salesian mission is directed, but, with the freshness of your youth, you are the beating heart of this great Movement. So you may ask: «But what do we have to do, how can we respond to the mission which Jesus entrusts to us, and in practical terms how do we set about evangelising and educating our companions?».
I’m sure that if you know how to find a place for prayer, and you listen attentively with docility to the Holy Spirit, it will become more and more clear what to do in a practical way in this work of your own evangelisation and education and that of your companions which is so important.
But here in very simple terms I want to give you some suggestions to reflect on in the generosity of your hearts.
Above all I invite you to cultivate as a fundamental attitude: the will to walk together towards a shared goal, with a deep spirit of communion, with the convinced desire for synergy, with a mature ability to plan together. We have received the great gift of Salesian Youth Spirituality which constitutes the source of our communion and the energy for our mission which we need to understand more deeply and share more and more.
Our common mission, our shared goal is the world of youth. For this reason, dear friends, we need to be part of the youth scene. Jesus is sending you together with the whole Salesian Movement to the world of today’s young people, with its lights and shades, with its anxieties and hopes, with its moments of joy but also its suffering, with its irrepressible life, but also with its deserts where only the bitter herbs of loneliness grow. I am thinking of the world of the school, of the university, of work; I am thinking about the places for free time and entertainment; I am thinking, in particular, about the desperate places of youth deprivation. It’s a question of being actively present in all these places fostering a better quality of life, better and deeper interpersonal communication and sharing to overcome so much individualism and so much loneliness in which many young people are living, bearing witness to the positive values that give meaning and flavour to life, and above all, making the person of Jesus Christ the source of the fulness of humanity, of life and of joy present among the young.
Here is another suggestion: make the voice of the young heard, in particular that of the many who don’t have a voice and no one listens to; make their needs and their expectations known, defend their lefts and support them in their demands. Above all make this voice of the young heard among your own companions, who often don’t know about these situations of marginalisation and hardship; make it heard by the groups of the Salesian Family. Like Dominic Savio who took Don Bosco to the person sick with the plague and left on his own, you too ought to take the Salesian Family by the hand so that it takes care of today’s sick people. If you don’t go there among your peers, perhaps no one else will in your place.
But also together, as a Movement, you ought to be the voice of the young speaking to society and also to the Church: with a spirit of creativity promote initiatives that make their plight known, their problems, hardships, their expectations and hopes. The many good things too that are already taking place in the world of youth need to be made known, the many positive initiatives for which often no space is found in the media; in this way foster a positive view of the world of the young among adults, infecting them with your enthusiasm and drive.
We are being called to go together to the heart of life, accepting the challenges arising from its cultural and social complexity. The family, school, social communication, culture, politics - all require new forms of solidarity. The response is to be found in living as active citizens for the common good, which, for the Salesian Family means promoting a shared commitment with regard to the great challenges: of life, of poverty in all its forms, of evangelisation, of peace, of human lefts. For you, young people, civilian, social and missionary voluntary service constitutes a possible vocation of significance and of great commitment which the Movement ought to promote.
Another area to be considered as a Movement is missionary commitment. In these last few years in the missionary expeditions there have always been some young people who are devoting some years of their lives to spreading the Gospel; but also in your own countries you can set up net-works of collaboration and support which sustain the missionary work of the Salesian Family and of the Church.
Be ready and willing to opt for demanding and generous forms of service even to the extent of accepting the gift of God who calls you to a vocation of special consecration.
Strengthen your own Salesian Youth Movement promoting contacts and knowledge about each other between the various groups in the same Salesian centre or in the same local area, encouraging the sharing of ideas and resources, collaboration in joint projects in the service of the great causes of life and of solidarity. Open up the SYM to other Movements in the local Church, collaborate with institutions and organisations in civil society, especially those which are working among the young and in the field of youth in straightened circumstances. Make the Salesian presence, as a Movement, visible in the Church and in society by taking part in joint projects, offering your resources and capabilities in support of initiatives on behalf of the young, encouraging forms of collaboration that are multifaceted, flexible, directed towards the same goal, and can be repeated…
And now the final suggestion which I think it is important that I make. The Salesian Movement was born from the apostolic heart of Don Bosco, enflamed with charity for the salvation of the young. For this reason we will build the Salesian Movement if we are present among the young with hearts centred on Christ. We are being called to model our heart, poor and sometimes even sinful on that of Jesus, in whom God revealed Himself to the world as the One who gives life, so that man might find happiness and have life to the full (cf. Jn 10,10). What is needed is a faith that constantly grows stronger, nourished by the Word of God and by the Eucharist, which is often immersed in the ocean of God’s mercy and discovers more and more how beautiful it is to allow oneself to be helped by a spiritual guide.Following paths of spiritual growth and development and of pastoral formation we will be able to carry out our shared mission which is the Christian education and guidance in life of the young person. Here is the question put by the Pope to the young people at the last World Youth Day in Sidney; he said: « Dear young people, let me now ask you a question. What will you leave to the next generation? Are you building your lives on firm foundations, building something that will endure? Are you living your lives in a way that opens up space for the Spirit in the midst of a world that wants to forget God, or even rejects him in the name of a falsely-conceived freedom? How are you using the gifts you have been given, the “power” which the Holy Spirit is even now prepared to release within you? What legacy will you leave to young people yet to come? What difference will you make? (Homily at the final Mass at Randwick Racecourse on 20 July 2008).
Let us walk together with hope: «You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses to the ends of the earth » (Acts 1,8). My dear young people, these words of Jesus are addressed to each one of you. Never ever forget it! The Risen Jesus opens up for each one of you these wide horizons, points out to you too the ends of the earth. But these begin here and now in you own countries, in your own cities where Providence has placed you. We are part of a great Family born in the heart of Don Bosco and increased with the gift of Mary Mazzarello and of all the Saints who have given it life, in a special way the young saints, Dominic Savio, Laura Vicuña, Zephyrinus Namuncurá, the five young martyrs from the Poznań oratory, and so many others. Today the Lord is calling us to continue this beautiful adventure for the benefit and the salvation of the young.
Mary, who was the Mother and Teacher of Don Bosco, cannot leave us alone on this journey. She is for us too the Mother and Teacher who opens our hearts to Christ and to the young, so that at the service of the poorest young people we can build a Movement of salvation and the fulness of life.
Turin, 31 January 2009
On the Solemnity of Saint John Bosco
Fr. Pascual Chávez Villanueva, SDB, Rector Major