My beloved sons,
I am writing to you as a father and friend, through my Ninth Successor.
The meeting with you in Madrid, on 17 August, in the huge courtyard at the Salesian Institute, Atocha, remains firmly etched on my mind and in my heart. That was an unforgettable experience emotionally speaking, but especially significant from a Salesian point of view. I enjoyed seeing your sense of responsibility, your pride at being young people committed to living your faith. I admired your desire to make your life an investment in God's plans for you and in the dream you nurture in your hearts. I was moved when I saw you pray, welcoming the Word with joy. It was marvellous to see you there in silence adoring the Eucharistic Lord. In the light of all this your cheerfulness seemed even more beautiful and pure, more contagious still. I enjoyed seeing so many Salesians and Salesian Sisters in your midst also, along with many young leaders. Some Provincials, Youth Ministry Delegates were amongst them. This is where they belong, there, attentive to your lives, desires and at the same time accompanying your growth and spiritual journey.
Now I am happy to know that you are preparing a huge feast for me in 2015. From up here in heaven, gazing on Jesus' face, we know whatever is going on down below on earth. And it is a beautiful story because it is a redeemed one, even if sometimes you only see the more dramatic side of it. Different from what you think, there is no distance between you and us, since you know so well that from the moment Jesus entered human history through his Birth, there is no human birth which is not holy, there are no children who do not have the resplendent Light of the Redeemer in their eyes. This closeness renders my presence amongst you more authentic and real, like at the time of the Valdocco Oratory in Turin, with one additional advantage - I can be alive in every Salesian presence spread across 130 countries around the world.
So, I am addressing you as I did then, more with the warm language of the heart than with abstract logical argument, even though I acknowledge how important clear ideas and solid beliefs are amidst the confused and fleeting ideas we encounter daily. So many messages and tweets come your way, but I would like you to open up channels of intense communication with me again, the kind that connect long-time, inseparable friends. This is shared communication and dialogue.
I would like to find the best words for tackling the mysterious, complex way to your heart, a heart so often hurt by adult indifference or betrayed love. Just looking at the often bored and demotivated youngsters today in school, or the ones who wander the streets aimlessly, my impression is one of general malaise and monotonous struggle through everyday life. By analogy, I sometimes catch a glimpse of the same thing I saw in a dream when I was nine years old: a huge crowd of kids in need of help, understanding, opportunity and love.
I was chosen - for you and for every young person. I was sent to you by the Lord, even though I did not immediately understand the singular nature of that call, important as it was. "This is the field of your work. Make yourself humble, strong and energetic, and what you will see happening with these animals in a moment you will have to do for my children".
In your situation today I have the feeling that many young people often lack air to breathe. I think I could say that they run the risk of dying of spiritual asphyxiation. Widespread corruption; the lack of interest in them; a future which is precarious, uncertain in an economy gone crazy; religion reduced to cold institutional schemes, so prayer then gets emptied of passion and enthusiasm; society or family groups whose relationships are sterile, words exchanged but impoverished in meaning and warmth. All this quenches their vital spark and dries up any source of good resolutions.
In this context, marked by poverty of values and a low-profile culture I am asking you young people to make a leap in quality, tackle things with renewed energy, make a prophetic gesture and proclaim a project of courageous life, stemming from profound human and religious conviction, Do this for your many companions and "dormant" friends, your families so often burnt out or weighed down with problems.
Unless you are given time and strength to dream it is hard to escape from the quagmire you are caught up in, or taste the whiff of freedom that lies beyond the prisons of this depressing history. Visions transformed our fathers into prophets capable of impacting on the lives of their contemporaries.
“My dream … your dream … God's dream”
The dream I had when I was nine was an event that marked my life, one that gave me, over time, the guiding inspiration for my chosen field of work, made me able to dream up a clever system of education to win over your hearts, and gave me striking patience to fight so I could change the world, your world.
With the Lord's help I invite all of you, since you are “hope made flesh”, to find the dream which will make you creative individuals amidst the many deceptive suggestions which bombard you, give you back the willingness lying dormant in you, arouse hidden energies and give you the strength to face up to and overcome the inevitable difficulties of growing up. May you find the dream that will give you indomitable constancy as you move to its fulfilment, without immediately pretending that what is dreamt is already in place.
To dream with your heart inclined to God and your feet firmly planted on the ground is no evasion, but an opening of your life to something new. You may not yet know everything about it that is to be known, but it will somehow seem significant. It means projecting yourselves towards something that you do not yet possess, but in which you recognise yourself; it means intelligently discovering the presence of “a God who accompanies us” as the days go on. No project that fills life with meaning, from the most modest to the most prestigious project, can be realised without first being nurtured by a dream. To make courageous choices in a fluid society without a soul and impoverished in terms of values, it is essential to rediscover the power of a sweeping vision that uproots human beings from their mediocrity and has them moving forward to a new heaven and a new earth.
When I was 58 years of age, I wrote up the story of the first 40 years of my life, to which I gave the title "Memoirs of the Oratory of St Francis de Sales". I did this at Pope Pius IX's express command. I certainly did not do it out of a desire to immortalise myself or from yearnings for greatness. We are eternal because we are in God's heart, loved and saved by His Son, Jesus. It is something I did out of love, a spiritual testament to help you in the present and the future. I invite you to read this “life”, not so much out of historical curiosity about my past, but rather because, between lines marked by blood and sweat, you can discover that the purpose of everything is to realise life in all its fullness. You will understand that those who have responsibility for education must necessarily conceive of their lives as a service of love, they must see their era as an opportunity for acceptance, must acquire knowledge not to humiliate or manipulate but to “shape” the heart to direct it to Christ. Education shows us up as people loved by God and man, because it is a practical exercise of charity.
As Salesians, therefore, we teach from an educational tradition of listening and respect rather than of preaching or tongue-lashing, of suffering silence that reveals love and expectation rather than of harsh scolding, of authority flowing from a consistent and blameless life, rather than of power stemming from our role, or the law. We educate especially with love. If our gratuitous love, the reflection of Jesus' mercy, were to disappear, young people would die of cold, because they can cope less easily with the dark night of the affections than with the shadows of reason.
While I embrace you all with affection I would like to reveal the biggest secret of my heart. I have always believed that my mission should demonstrate a particular characteristic: young people saving the young. I always wanted my love for you to be a mission shared by you and that you yourselves would become apostles of the young. We can want something or an ideal very much, but if we don't find the left approach, our ability to persevere wavers, because what does not convince does not become a stable goal in life. As it was in Isaac's time we have to dig new wells, give birth to a new culture, new ways of living together. I am counting on you, placing my life once more in the hands of your ability to pick yourself up, rediscover trust in life and in your insights for planning a future of solidarity and peace for yourselves.
In forming my group of Salesians, I put all my efforts into the young and it was a winning stroke of genius. Only you young people have the potential to transform your knowledge into wisdom, and employ this wisdom in living. Don't retreat into yourselves, like tired and resigned wayfarers, but interpret your human situation as a “divine adventure”. Get involved with each other, complement each other as the children of God spread throughout the world, in the splendid History of Salvation.
Be new prophets, men and women capable of pointing out the way to go amidst confused spirits, in the new, that sometimes uncertain variable that God lets sprout in hearts and history. The meaning of life, like prophecy and like mission, becomes an immense treasure for society.
There is no longer time nor room for mediocrity, since lukewarmness and spiritual dullness are forcing us to live off the cultural dregs of our times. My dear young people, do not waste your youth by living it superficially, without compass and without energy! Dream big! Do great things in your life!
Life becomes witness to the extent that it makes the greatness it is made of visible, that it overcomes the fears that threaten it, that it resounds strongly with true and sensible words. Be witnesses ready to risk, not because you trust in your own strength but because you know how to make weakness an instrument until God's incisive action enters the scene. Get onto the footpaths of daily life and run the roads of ordinary living, where so many of your friends spend their lives in the often vain search for happiness. Tell them loudly you want things to change.
Be sentinels ready to launch signals of love which arouse hope and courage to live; be free and lucid interpreters of the Gospel's demands. Be citizens who spend some of their lives for the common good, in a spirit of solidarity and attentive to circumstances around them.
Neglect by institutions can generate scepticism; the absence of fathers meant to be lighthouses on stormy nights can leave you without a polar star to guide you on your way, at the mercy of the dire shipwreck of your purest feelings, choked by the race to success, personal gain, superficial pleasure. These are all challenges which constantly bring our sense of meaning into play. Find the dream that restores values which help you move on and give you the strength to overcome difficulties. You do not want to walk alone, but together you can reinforce the feeling of responsibility amongst yourselves and for others. You can develop an attitude of solidarity which destroys loneliness and strengthens your search for meaning rather than success, in life.
Foster a culture of solidarity, nurture attitudes of disinterested service. Increase awareness in your heart of the need to stand against the thousand kinds of selfishness which plague society. The volunteer movement is "a school of life, a distinctive factor in becoming more human", an openness to values.
Dear young people, you know how much I have you at heart. I always think of you in the Lord and always think of you in that great family, the Church. This is why I would like to close my message with some thoughts that Benedict XVI expressed during one of his Christmas messages. These words seem to me to trace out a route for us all, a path, a plan for life.
Speaking to the Vatican Curia, the Holy Father made reference to WYD 2011, in Madrid, as “a new, rejuvenated way of being Christian”. And he used this World Youth Day in particular to emphasise five principle aspects which were a feature of this unforgettable event. They can be five ways to proclaim and witness to Christ today in a world that seems tired, and bored with what Christians have to offer.
The first aspect. The fact that young people from all over the world took part: different races, peoples, languages and cultures. This is evidence of “a new experience of catholicity, the universality of the Church”, which helps us discover that we are all brothers and sisters brought together in a single family, touched by the one Lord, Jesus, and sharing a common liturgy. This is not a mere idea but a real experience.
Second: the generous and cheerful involvement of thousands of volunteers highlighted this new way of being human, Christian. “To be there for others is a beautiful thing”. Life and time find their full meaning when freely given, when not kept just to oneself.
Third: the intense silence in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, in an attitude of adoration; it was an expression of faith in this font of spirituality which gives us the energy to give of ourselves and our lives. The Risen Lord is present everywhere, but especially in the Eucharist.
Fourth: the number who approached the Sacrament of Penance showed that while we have been created by God and therefore destined to achieve the fullness of life that comes from Love, we also experience the power of evil in us, which leads to selfishness in its many shapes and sizes. This makes us awarethat we are in need of forgiveness, and which is also a sign of responsibility.
Finally: the joy that comes from faith, the certainty of being wanted, accepted, thought well of, loved by God, by that Someone who tells us “it is good that you are who you are”, by that Someone who thought us up and has thought up a plan just for us.
To sum up, “new evangelisation” is an appeal to be together, be for others, to adore God and gain his forgiveness, to entrust ourselves to His love. This is the way that opens up to joy.
My most affectionate greetings my dear friends! While you are thinking of Me, just know that I am also thinking of you. I carry you in my heart, where I host the people who are dearest to me. I will remember you and support you with my prayer, since I am with Jesus, that you may be his image, making your life a gift. This is the only way you will find happiness, the joy of a dream which, thrown wide open to the Mystery of God, lets you navigate to clear, deep waters, towards the fullness of the potential that God has always sown in our hearts.
With a father's love.
Rome, 31 January 2012
Yours, Don Bosco