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The Salesian Family yesterday and today



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150th anniversary of the Founding of the Salesian Congregation


Two events coming together

1. The Salesian Family yesterday..

1.1 The “seed” of the  charism.
1.2 The seed under the snow.
1.3 The tree and the wood: a luxuriant growth.

2. In the third millennium: today and tomorrow.

2.1 On the path of communion.
2.2 Communion in and for the mission.
2.3 Some requirements to continue the journey.

3. Lines for the future.

3.1 Synergy in the mission.
3.2 The resources.
3.3 Some areas of collaboration: the young -  vocations -  the Missions -  the Salesian Bulletin.
3.4 Visibility in the Church of the Salesian presence as a “Movement”.
3.5 A culture of the Salesian Family.

4. Suggestions to make the Strenna concrete.

4.1 Collaborating together in the formation and the deepening of the charismatic mentality.
4.2 Promoting a shared commitment.
4.3 An instrument of communion: the local and Provincial Consultative Committee of the Salesian Family.
4.4 Some areas of net-working to be promoted and developed.
Conclusion.The prayer of the Salesian Family. -  A parable: the fir trees.

Roma, 25 December 2008
Solemnity of the Birth of Our Lord

My Dear Confreres,

On such a beautiful and meaningful day as the Birth of the Lord I am writing to you sending my best wishes that the Father may enrichen you with all those gifts with which He wished to endow us in the Incarnation of His Son: especially Himself, since Jesus came to give us God, and with Him His love, His joy, peace, light, truth and life.

Since I last wrote to you to present the Programme of animation and government for the six-year period 2008-2014, the world panorama has changed profoundly, with a financial and economic crisis without precedent, which is raising questions about the western model of society. In fact, at this stage it is clear that the cause of the financial crisis is to be found not only in the lack of legal transparency and responsibility, but in an erroneous set of values on which attempts are being made to build society. Today’s crisis is being compared in economic terms with the great depression of the ’30s; however, it seems true that the situation is much more serious, since this time it is accompanied by a profound spiritual crisis.

Rightly, at World Youth Day Benedict XVI exhorted the young people to be that «new generation of Christians called to to help build a world in which God’s gift of life is welcomed, respected and cherished … building a future of hope for all humanity »; and he added: «The world needs this renewal! In so many of our societies, side by side with material prosperity, a spiritual desert is spreading: an interior emptiness, an unnamed fear, a quiet sense of despair. How many of our contemporaries have built broken and empty cisterns (cf. Jer 2:13) in a desperate search for meaning – the ultimate meaning that only love can give? This is the great and liberating gift which the Gospel brings: it reveals our dignity as men and women created in the image and likeness of God. It reveals humanity’s sublime calling, which is to find fulfilment in love. It discloses the truth about man and the truth about life ». (Benedict XVI, Homily at the Mass for WYD, Sydney 20. 07. 08) What is especially of great concern for us is the extremely precarious state in which the large majority of people are living, and also the constant increase in the lack of a future for the young.

To this dramatic economic situation which is forcing so many men and women to live with insecurity, without work, and all that this implies, sometimes simply to survive, is added the new wave of violence, including the massacres in progress in the region of Goma with millions of people displaced. I have to say I felt very proud of the confreres and the volunteers who remained at their posts to continue to defend and to welcome as many refugees as possible. This tragic situation has given rise to another initiative, called “Emergency Congo”, which has brought together the two Unions of Male and Female Superiors General to respons in various ways. I hope that the International organisations will finally decide to intervene to ensure the rights of all the people in that area so afflicted.

During these months in addition to our ordinary family events there have been a number of others in which I have been able to take part: the General Chapter of our Sisters the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians which was held between  8 September and 15 November, with the theme “Called to be signs of God’s  foreseeing love”; the Harambée and the Missionary Departure Ceremony, on Sunday 28 September, on which occasion I issued the challenge of preparing an extraordinary missionary expedition  to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Founding of the Salesian Congregation; the Synod of Bishops on “The Word of God in the life and mission of the Church,” between 5 and 26 October; the visit to the Bilbao Province on the occasion of the centenary of the presence of the Salesians in Santander; the Plenary Session of the Congregation and then the Congress of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life; the six-monthly General Assembly of the Union of Male Superiors General; thee Meeting of the Provincials of Europe, between 28 and 30 November, to work on the “Project for Europe.” Finally we have resumed the ordinary activities of the Council with the winter plenary session, and to start the course for new Provincials.

My participation in the General Chapter of the FMA as Rector Major was intense and I hope also of significance. It began with the preaching of the Retreat at Mornese; continued with the Mass and participation in the opening ceremony in the FMA Generalate in Rome; then with the visit to Mother Yvonne Reungoat, to offer best wishes after her election as the new Superior General, together with all her Council; and concluded with the closing Mass. For me it was not only a formal occasion as Successor of Don Bosco, our common Founder, but especially one of affection, esteem and closeness to this Institute, with which we are so strettamente unitied, also through the Salesian Sisters whom we have met in the course of our Salesian life, and who have been true sisters to us. This is certainly in harmony with the subject of this year’s Strenna, which invites us to rediscover what Don Bosco wanted: to found a family. This is our treasure which we are living with a spirit of communion that is real, deep and  convince. All of this at the service of the young for their salvation. This also gives meaning to our lives, the meaning we live in a mission that is shared, important, committed. It is my hope that in addition to the beautiful spiritual and charismatic experience lived by the Chapter members, the GCXXII may represent  for the whole Institute a time of profound renewal, even more so since our Sisters wanted to get to the heart of things taking as their theme the first article of their Constitutions, so as to be able to respond to the current expectations regarding feminine consecrated life and to the new requirements of the mission.

The Synod with the theme  “The Word of God in the life and mission of the Church”, in the course of the Pauline Year, was for me a beautiful and stimulating experience. Every Synodal  Assembly is a powerful experience of ecclesial communion, presided over by the Holy Father, the Vicar of Christ and the Successor of the Apostle Peter, with the participation of Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops,  representatives of the Curia and of the Bishops’ Conferences, to whom are added ten Superiors General, as well as invited guests and the experts. This Assembly was even more significanti because at the centre of attention was that which illuminates and guides the Church: the Word of God,who is Christ in person. Indeed I would dare to suggest that the greatest insistence throughout the Synod was precisely the affirmation that the reading of the Sacred Scripture is authentic, full when it leads to a personal encounter with Christ today, and therefore, the great challenge is that of knowing how to pass “from the words to the Word,” from the Scripturees to the Word of God!  This is only possible when there is a prayerful reading of the Word of God, open to what the Spirit is saying to his Church.

The Assembly which began on 5 October with the opening Mass in  the Basilica of Saint Paul outside the walls and ended on 26 October with the closing Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica, was not organised like an intellectial Congress on an academic or pastoral subject to be discussed but like an experience of a religious listening to the Word, which was evident from the liturgy (masses, the prayer of the office of Terce with the respective Lectio, and Vespers in the Sistine Chapel at which His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I took part) and in the procedure of the Synod itself.

I think the most precious fruit was the new awareness that the priority role of the Church and therefore of the Congregation at the beginning of this millennium is above all to nourish itself with the Word of God, for it to be effective in the task of the new evangelisation, of the proclamation of the Gospel in our days. I shall mention some practical consequences for our consecrated life and mission which you can find in some of the Propositiones approved and presented to the Holy Father: in the first place what is said in Propositio n. 24: the Word of God and consecrated life; Propositio n. 31 on the Word of God and formation; Propositio n. 14 on the Word of God and the Liturgy; Propositio n. 22 on the prayerful reading of the Bible; Propositio n. 23 on Catechesis and Sacred Scripture; Propositio n. 25s on the study of the Scriptures.

From this point of view the Message of the Synod, developed according to four icons – the Voice of the Word: Revelation; the Face of the  Word: Jesus Christ; the Home of the Word: the Church;  the Path of the Word: the Mission – is very expressive both for one’s own life and for pastoral action, and I cannot but recommend to you its attentive reading and meditation. 

Propositio n. 2, in particular, expresses a wish that is in harmony with the Pauline Year and with Key Issue 2 of the GC26, that is “The urgent need to evangelise”. I make it my own on behalf of all of us, dear confreres: «This Synod Assembly expresses the hope that all the faithful may grow in knowledge of the mystery of Christ, the only saviour and mediator between God and men (cf. 1Tim 2,5; Heb 9,15), and the Church, renewed by religiously listening to the Word of God may enter into a new missionary season, proclaiming the Good News to all mankind ».

The Meeting of the Provincials of Europe, which took place at the Generalate between 28 and 30 November, served to define the contents and the process of the “Project for Europe”, in obedience to the lines of action of the GC26. As was said right from the beginning, it is not a question of salvaging in a continent with un unstoppable process of the ageing of the personnel, with a very limited influx of vocations and with an increasing number of lay people who are managing our works; it is not even a question of maintaining structures nor of repeating the model used in the “Project for Africa”. What one wants to do, as the General Chapter decided, is to “re-launch the Salesian charism in Europe” (n. 108), to plan for a renewed Salesian presence in a context characterised on the one hand, by great prosperity, by marvellous scientific and technological development, by a powerful social sensibility, and, on the other by an oppressive secularism, by a relativism and nihilism which has become “a disturbing guest,” and by an uncontrollable flood of immigrants.

This particular situation is first of all a challenge to the capacity of the confreres in Europe to re-vitalise the  charism and to make it alive in a continent more than ever ion need of God, of Christ and his Gospel; but it also requires the intervention of the whole Congregation, convinced that the Europe of today and of tomorrow is still a place for the Salesian charism, with the presence of the young especially the poorest and abandoned, with a need for an education able to produce a new culture to give a soul to this continent so rich in humanism and poor regarding its future since it is closed to transcendence. If in the past thousands of Salesian confreres from the different countries of Europe have gone out to the missions, nowadays Europe – as in fact the whole world– has itself become mission territory and needs apostles to bring a new message, one of good news that gives real meaning to life.

Finally on 18 December we began the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Congregation. I have already written a letter introducing this very significant year with some precise proposals and suggesting the  attitudes with which to live it, to which have been  added a series of helps for celebrations throughout the whole year so as to conclude this year of grace with the renewal of our Religious Profession, making our own the commitment of the first group who gathered in Don Bosco’s room on 18 December 1859, began our Society of Saint Francis of Sales. To this event, in the light of the Word of God, in the Pauline year, I should like to devote my next circular letter; and so, for the present, I shall limit myself to recalling what I wrote in the letter introducing this Jubilee. This also was the inspiration for the subject of the 2009 Strenna, which ought to mean for everyone, but especially for us Sons of Don Bosco, a profound transformation, a change of  mentality in the way of understanding and living the Salesian Family, of which we are fundamental founding members and, at the same time, those mainly responsible for its animation.

Here then is the commentary on the Strenna >>