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Presentation of the Acts of the 26th General Chapter



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Roma, 11 May 2008
Solemnity of Pentecost

My Dear Confreres,

I am happy to present to you the Acts of the 26th General Chapter which was brought to a happy conclusion on Saturday 12 April 2008. This concluding date has a symbolic significance for us: it recalls the day when Don Bosco entered Valdocco on Easter Sunday 1846. If that day meant for him the beginning of a new stage in his mission, for us the 12 April 2008 represents the launch of a six-year period that will bring us to the celebration of the bi-centenary of the birth of our beloved Founder and Father.

During the unfolding of the Chapter you have had the opportunity of being promptly informed about the intense Salesian experience that was lived, the methodology of the work undertaken, the various issues examined. In addition you will have certainly heard about their experience from those who took part in this great Chapter event: Provincials, Delegates and invited guests. Now the promulgation of the deliberations of the Chapter invites us to put them into practice (cf. C. 148).

The publication of the Acts, with the documents that form part of them, makes the decisions taken official policy, and marks the starting point of the six-year period 2008 - 2014. I hope that the personal reading, the study by the community and the putting into practice of the guidelines will bring as their precious fruit the inflaming of the heart of each one of you with the spiritual and apostolic passion of Don Bosco himself. May the Lord Jesus, through His Spirit “open your heart” (cf. Acts 16, 14).

In this presentation of mine I want to describe for you the theme, the method of discernment, the people involved, the spirit of the Chapter and its deliberations. Taken together these will serve as a guide in reading the document, and above all in its implementation.

The theme: “Da mihi animas, cetera tolle”

The theme of the GC26 is a single one even though it is set out in key issues. At first sight it might seem that the GC26 dealt with five different questions; in realty it is just the one theme: Don Bosco’s programme of spiritual and apostolic life.

The motto “Da mihi animas, cetera tolle” can be fully understood from a knowledge of the life and work of our beloved Father and Founder Don Bosco. In fact it is a question of his personal plan of life, expressed as a personal prayer. It needs to be interpreted in the light of his apostolic dedication, pastoral creativity, untiring work, in a word of Don Bosco’s apostolic mystica, but also of the self sacrifices made, of the many difficulties overcome, of the commitments undertaken by Don Bosco, of his ascetica. The implicit subject of this motto is Don Bosco; the first key issue “starting afresh from Don Bosco” makes it a manifesto and establishes it as the foundation of all the rest.

The “da mihi animas” is translated into the commitment to evangelise the young, especially the poorest ones. In fact the apostolic passion of Don Bosco and of the Salesian is at once expressed in the ability to recognise the urgent needs for evangelisation and to act in such a way that Jesus Christ and his gospel become a gift to everyone. In evangelising activity we also transmit this apostolic passion to lay people, to families and especially to the young; it is particularly to them that we have the courage to propose Salesian consecrated life as the following of Jesus in the steps of Don Bosco, not as one possible way among others of personal fulfilment, but as a call from God.

The “cetera tolle” makes us ready to leave everything that might prevent us from going to where the most serious needs of the young are to be found: the new frontiers of the Salesian mission. The gospel is good news for the poor and needs to be proclaimed by poor people. The most compelling needs of the young are their material forms of poverty but also those that are affective, cultural, spiritual; these call us to a radical availability and to put to one side everything else. The different forms of poverty of the young require us also to be at one with them, to share with them a simple and poor life, to put at their disposal the resources we have.

The challenges of post-modernity call us to overcome the fragmentation of our life and of our culture. For this reason the theme of the GC26 ought to help us to live the “grace of unity,” in other words, to accept the gift of the unification of out lives, to take on board Don Bosco’s programme of spiritual and pastoral life as the criterion of unity, to translate it in practical terms in our personal and community choices and in those of the Province, the Region and the Congregation.

Method of discernment

As had already happened at the GC25, for the study of the key issues GC26 adopted the method of discernment. Making use of a method already tried, one that is also used for the personal plan of life and the community plan of life, facilitated the work, but above all helped in the appreciation of the potential of discernment itself. This enabled us to follow a sure path and to offer a development of the Chapter theme that was forward-planning and not only doctrinal.

In God’s call, by means of a process of discernment, in each key issue, the urgent appeals and the priorities were identified. Therefore, the call does not describe exhaustively all the demands linked to an issue, but only the priority ones; the process of discernment led us to make choices. To discern is precisely to distinguish what is fundamental from what is secondary at a certain time, and consequently to make choices. For example, in order to start afresh from Don Bosco the GC26 identified and proposed three main pathways: returning to him, returning to the young, strengthening charismatic identity and revitalising apostolic passion. Similarly, in order to respond to the urgent need for evangelisation, the Chapter chose these priorities: taking care of the Salesian community in such a way that it is evangelised and evangelising, making the proposal of Jesus Christ central, giving depth to the relationship between education and evangelisation, paying attention to the regional contexts. The same method was then followed in the other key issues.

In the analysis of the situation the process of discernment leads us to identify the positive aspects, the signs of hope, the resources, but also the difficulties, the hesitations, the challenges, with regard to the fundamental choices identified in the call. From this there arises an overview of the issues that concentrates on the identification of priorities; in this way a picture emerges of light and shade, which immediately leads us look for the most appropriate things to be done.

In the guidelines for action, for each key issue we find something new: at the beginning, the processes required for change are indicated. That is, the situations to be dealt with are listed and the goal towards which the guidelines for actions should lead; it is a matter of passing from a state of weakness to a new approach to life. They are processes for a conversion in ways of thinking and a change of structures; they are indications of our exodus and our passover.

Seventeen guidelines for action are presented; but in realty these form five major themes with an indication of the practical ways of implementing them. In fact, basically, it is a question of undertaking the following tasks: starting afresh from Don Bosco, responding to the urgent need for evangelisation, having the courage to propose to young people the Salesian consecrated vocation, giving a credible witness of evangelical poverty and a simple life, venturing out onto the new frontiers of the Salesian mission.

The guidelines for action are made more specific through particular interventions. These are given to different subjects. It should be noted that each one does not have to do everything, specific contributions are requested from the different subjects. With everyone’s contribution, the guidelines for action can become something practical; each one is invited to play his part. This is the importance of different subjects being involved.

The people involved

The GC26 will be able to bring about the desired changes in the life of the Congregation so that they become reality therefore, only if there are people who take on the mentality and guidelines with generosity and in a responsible manner. The fact that there are a number of subjects involved ensures effective action.

The GC26 addresses first of all the Salesian. After the 23rd, 24th and 25th General Chapters which focused on the local Salesian community, the GC26 intends to put at the centre of attention the individual confrere. It is he who has received from God the gift of the Salesian vocation; it is he who is called to respond to that gift with creative fidelity and to take up Don Bosco’s spiritual and pastoral programme of “da mihi animas, cetera tolle”.

The GC26 intends to revitalise in the heart of each confrere the apostolic passion and to offer him a role characterised by charismatic identity; in this way he can be Don Bosco for the young people of today. He is called to have an intense and profound spiritual life, to live in a joyful family spirit, to be with the young, to be daring in evangelisation, to go out to the frontiers of our mission, to live in the way of the poor, to involve the laity, families and the young people themselves in pastoral zeal, to propose to young people Salesian consecrated life, to love Don Bosco and make him known.

GC26 then directly issues a challenge to each community. In fact in the guidelines for action there are almost always interventions proposed to the community, for it to take up. In particular, the community takes the initiative for evangelisation, takes care of vocations to Salesian consecrated life and gives its witness to evangelical poverty. The evangelised community is called to be evangelising; the witness it gives is the first vocational invitation; its life lived in simplicity and austerity shows its love for poverty; it goes out among poor young people with daring; in the place where it lives it reproduces with the young the Valdocco experience.

In this way the GC26 asks the Salesian community to continue those processes that the GC25 set in motion, once again inviting it to focus on consistency in quantity and quality. In the community the confrere grows in his following of Christ and makes the gift of himself to God for the young. He is called to assume personally the new demands of his vocation; at the same time the community by living its own life to the full fosters his ongoing formation.

The GC26 also indicates other subjects: the Province, the Region, the Rector Major with the General Council. Giving due weight to subsidiarity, each one carries out his tasks and all cooperate in the responding to the same call and putting into practice the same guidelines for action. Without question action cannot be limited to these subjects. At once there comes into play the co-involvement and the active role of the young, the laity and families, and hence of the educative pastoral community. Likewise it is unthinkable to live and to act without reference to the Salesian Family and without links with the surrounding area and with the local Church.

The Spirit of the GC26

The General Chapter was an unforgettable event, one that will soon become a chronicle to be narrated especially by those who lived it. It has also been translated into a fine document, which, however, would run the risk of remaining a “dead letter” without a spirit to animate it. The GC26 therefore is also a spirit; thus we need to recognise what the spirit of GC26 is.

Just as the “spirit of the Second Vatican Council” is alive and active, we can also say that there is a “spirit of the GC26” that needs to be welcomed. It is made up of the passion that burned in the heart of Don Bosco and drove him to seek the glory of God and the salvation of souls. It guided the Assembly in the process of discernment and in the drawing up of the document and it will see to it that the text of the Chapter is transformed into life, vitality and vivacity for each confrere, for the communities, the Provinces, the Regions and the whole Congregation. It is the Spirit of Christ who animates and vivifies. The spirit of the GC26 is a gift of the Spirit of the Risen Lord to our Congregation. He has poured out his gifts abundantly on all of us with a renewed Pentecost. He opens the mind of each confrere and warms his heart; in this way He inflames him with a renewed passion that will give abundant fruits. In this way the GC26 is not only an event of historical record nor just a document, but becomes part of the life story of each one of us and of the Congregation.

Deliberations regarding the Constitutions and Regulations

The General Chapter also produced some deliberations regarding the Constitutions and the General Regulations and the government of the Congregation. Some of them refer to central government and to the Regions, others to the relationship between the Salesian community and the work, and to the local economer, others again to our institutions of higher education.

In particular I mention the guideline regarding the so-called “Departments for the Salesian mission”. The Chapter expressed the need for greater collaboration and for unification in the organisation and the implementation of the Salesian mission. I encourage the Provinces to bear in mind this sensitivity and to draw inspiration from it in the animation of the Province.

To me it seems important also to draw attention to the guideline regarding the three Regions of Europe. Taking into consideration the cultural processes of the unification of Europe, the experiences of collaboration in progress and the re-structuring of the Provinces, it is necessary to intensify the forms of coordination, to encourage synergy, to overcome a view from the perspective of a single Region, and therefore have a European outlook.

I also consider of interest the deliberation expressed concerning the relationship between the Salesian community and the work. The guideline offered will help in understanding better, also from the institutional and juridical points of view, the action taken by the GC25 which asked that the Salesian community and the educative pastoral community should be considered two genuine subjects.

The General Chapter is now handed over to the whole Congregation. Through the Provincial Chapters, the Provinces and Vice Provinces had already produced their guidelines for courses of action, identifying objectives, procedures and interventions. Now with the deliberations of the GC26 they are called upon to integrate the work already done, with reference to the individual Salesian, to the local communities and to the community of the Province.

We entrust ourselves to Mary Help of Christians. Through her motherly intervention, to contribute to the salvation of youth, the Holy Spirit raised up Don Bosco (cf. C. 1). She was his guide in the carrying out of his mission to youth. «She has done everything ». She is our Mother and Teacher. From her we learn docility to the Holy Spirit and the depth of the spiritual life, that is the root of the fruitfulness of our mission. To her we recommend the challenges of evangelisation, vocations to Salesian consecrated life, and poor young people. May Mary Our Help intercede for us.

Fr Pascual Chávez Villanueva
Rector Major