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“You who seek the Lord; look to the rock from which you were hewn” (Is 51,1)

LETTER OF THE RECTOR MAJOR - AGC 393


PRESENTATION OF THE INTERAMERICA REGION

Voi che cercate il Signore, guardate la roccia da cui siete stati tagliati” (Is 51,1)

INTRODUZIONE.
1. STRUCTURE AND HISTORY OF THE REGION.
Andean Zone. Ecuador - Colombia: Provinces of Bogotá and Medellín - Peru - Bolivia.
Zone of Central America. Provinces of Mexico-Mexico and Guadalajara (MEM - MEG) - Venezuela - Central America - Antilles - Haiti
North American Zone. United States: Provinces of San Francisco and New Rochelle (SUO - SUE) - Canada.
2. THE SOCIAL AND CULTURAL SITUATION.
3. SALESIAN WORK.

3.1 Community life
3.2 Formation
3.3 Youth Ministry. Salesian foundations. Schools - Parishes - Oratories and Youth Centres - Starting up work - Care for young people at risk - Works for social advancement - Care of migrants - Universities. Pastoral activities.Youth group activity. The Salesian Youth Movement - Pastoral work for Vocations. The Volunteer Movement - Formation of lay peoplei
3.4 The Salesian Family
3.5 Social Communication
3.6 The Missions and missionary promotion.

4. CHALLENGES AND FUTURE PROSPECTS.
4.1 Witnessing to the primacy of God among young people in today's world
4.2 Giving new life to Don Bosco and his zeal for "Da mihi animas"
4.3 Giving new meaning to our work in the Region, prompted by the option for those we work for by preference
4.4 Creating synergy by uniting efforts, means and commitments for the realisation of experiences through collaboration.
CONCLUSION.

Roma, 1 March 2006


My Dear Confreres,

I am writing at the end of an intense month of visits and meetings with confreres. First I was in Sri Lanka for the celebration of the golden jubilee of Salesian work in that country. From there I went on to India, to Thanjavur, where I presided at the conclusion of the celebrations for the centenary of the arrival of the first Salesians. Subsequently I made rapid visits to the Provinces of Chennai, Tiruchy, Bangalore and Hyderabad before moving on to China to celebrate, once again, the hundred years of Salesian work: Don Bosco's missionary dream that still awaits its full realisation. And finally I went to Johannesburg in South Africa for the Team Visit to the Africa-Madagascar Region.

I recall so many impressions, all of them wonderful and exciting and at the same time so diversified. Perhaps I shall be able to tell you about them at greater length on some future occasion. For the present it is sufficient to say that we must be grateful to God who has loved us so much and blessed us so copiously. No one will be unaware that the future of the Congregation as regards vocations lies in Asia and in Africa. It is our responsibility to inculturate faithfully Don Bosco's charism, which consists in the expansion of the work, vocational fruitfulness, the growth of the Salesian Family, the quality of our educative and pastoral mission and, above all, in our personal holiness.

Taking up again my presentation of the different Regions, I want to speak to you this time about the Interamerica Region, to which I feel myself linked in a particular way because it includes the country of the origin of my vocation, and also because I was its Regional Councillor in the previous six-year period. It is a Region I know better than any other. I remember all its houses and confreres. To them I send my cordial affectionate greetings accompanied by my greatest desire to see them totally committed to the living out of their Salesian vocation with joy, generosity and fidelity. In this context I recall the words of the prophet Isaiah who, writing to the exiled people of Israel, reminded them of their election by God and to seek him always by remembering the firm nature of their origins: "seek the Lord…" (Is 51,1). With two eloquent images, the prophet makes a pressing appeal to them to renew their trust in God and imitate faithfully those who had given them birth in the Faith and in the Spirit: "…look to the rock from which you were hewn, to the pit from which you were quarried" (Is 51,1). It is a fine text, both constructive and encouraging. And it is with these words that I sum up what Don Bosco would want from the Salesians of this Region at the present day.

 

INTRODUCTION

The circumstances that, according to Fr Ceria, favour Salesian work in the Americas can be applied to nearly all the 18 countries that make up the Interamerican Region:

"In his missionary dreams Don Bosco saw Salesians at work throughout South America; but he could not himself send them everywhere during his own lifetime. He had sent them to Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil; then in his last years he received requests from five other Republics that he had seen in his dreams; to only two of these was he able himself to send evangelical workers, leaving the other three to be provided for by his successor. They are the five that stretch without interruption from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, from Sucre to Santiago: Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile. The great interest shown by the Salesians for Latin America eventually reached the ears of Leo XIII through information sent by the Governments of the countries concerned, and made such an impression on the Pontiff that on the basis of it he began to appreciate the contribution and efficiency of the Salesian Congregation.

(…) In 1888 South America already had some 304,000 immigrants from Italy, and the number would soon become much greater. Those were times when the Mother Land cared little or nothing for those of her citizens compelled to emigrate to foreign lands to keep body and soul together. For them it was a great good fortune to find at their destination priests who could understand them and help them. As is well known, assistance to migrants was a part of Don Bosco's missionary programme from the outset". [1]

Probably other reasons could be added: the effect produced by the biography of Don Bosco written by Charles D'Espiney while the Saint was still alive, the reading of the Salesian Bulletin in Spanish, the fame of Don Bosco transmitted to America by Bishops returning from visits to Rome and by seminarians studying in the Roman Colleges, especially the Latin-American College; by diplomats who had known Don Bosco and his work in Rome and prompted their governments to invite the foundation of Salesian work in the various countries of America.

 

1. STRUCTURE AND HISTORY OF THE REGION

Because of the great variety in the geographical, political and social situation found in the different countries, the Interamerican Region has been organised in three zones. Such an arrangement seems useful also for a presentation of the history and development of the Congregation in this continent.

Andean Zone

The Andean zone is made up of Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia.

Ecuador

The Salesians reached Quito on 28 January 1888, at a time when the country was undergoing profound changes of an economic, political, social and religious nature. It was the last expedition personally sent by Don Bosco.

After two and a half months of unending sacrifices, on 15 April the "Talleres Salesianos del Sagrado Corazón" (workshops of arts and trades) were inaugurated in the former "Protectorado Católico". Fr Luigi Calcagno, who had been put in charge of the expedition, was appointed Rector of the new work. The foundation soon proved to be a quite exceptional educative and pedagogical experience: a centre was built to house an installation providing electricity for the Ecuadorian capital, contact was made with the Meteorological Society of Italy for the installation of a new observatory at Quito, and experiments were made to find new primary materials for the leather industry. All with excellent results.

The work of the Salesians in Quito gradually expanded. First they took care of the young apprentices of the School of Arts and Trades, and then of the prisoners in the "Panóptico" (high security prison). The Salesian Cooperators were promoted, and this led to the creation on 15 April 1894 of the Catholic Workers' Circle for the care of the working classes. In 1893 the houses of Ecuador, which had been a Vice-province, were erected into a Province, even though the canonical decree was published only on 20 January 1902.

The government of Ecuador, in the desire to extend to other provinces in the country the great benefits the Salesians had brought about in Quito, had on 8 August 1888 issued a decree establishing two new foundations, at Riobamba and at Cuenca. The Saint Thomas the Apostle Institute was founded at Riobamba in 1891 followed, two years later, by the School of Arts and Trades at Cuenca. After these, in 1896 came the houses of Tola at Quito, and the novitiate at Sangolquí, a village close to the capital. As missionaries, the Salesians did not delay in entering the eastern part of Ecuador, the Amazon region: Sígsig was the point of departure for those who eventually reached the Vicariate of Méndez and Gualaquiza. On 17 August 1903 the foundation stone was laid of the church of Mary Help of Christians at Gualaquiza.

During the liberal revolution, with its anticlerical tendency, Salesian work suffered considerably. Only in 1903, after a most difficult and violent period, could the interrupted work be taken up again; it began with a return to the country of the confreres who had been expelled; the houses of Quito, Riobamba and Cuenca were reopened, and a year later at Guayaquil the "Domingo Santistevan" Institute, which thus became the first Salesian educational and pastoral centre in the coastal area, was founded. During the revolutionary period the Province was in the trustworthy hands of three outstanding superiors: Fr Luigi Calcagno, the first Provincial, who was later expelled from the country in 1896; Fr Antonio Fusarini, the second Provincial, whose name will always be linked with the story of Salesian work at Riobamba; and especially Mgr. Domenico Comin, the third Provincial, who governed the Salesian houses for two periods (1909 to 1912, and 1916 to 1921) and was consecrated Bishop in October 1920 as Vicar Apostolic of Méndez and Gualaquiza.

After the First World War and the weakening of the liberal regime, a new period in the country's history began. The Congregation became consolidated, especially from the thirties onwards, with a decisive move towards the education of the young in the 'Sierra' (the high plateau of the Andes) and in the 'Costa' (the coastal plain), and to development and evangelisation in the Amazonian missions. Educative work in the towns became well established because of the great demands from the youth sectors of the population, to which the Congregation directed its preferential care. Similarly it became possible to organise new missionary expeditions which enabled the long-desired work of the evangelisation of the Shuar people to be started. By means of an agreement with the government, official recognition was even obtained for the protection and safeguarding of the territory by the Salesians and, by means of an official subsidy, important economic support for the Salesian educational institutes in the Amazon area.

Following World War II (1939-1945), which prevented the Salesians from communicating with the centre of the Congregation in Italy, and reduced in consequence the sending of new personnel, Salesian activity in Ecuador had to be organised in a more autonomous manner, by the opening of houses for the formation of young confreres. After Vatican II and the General Chapters of the Congregation that gave effect to the new requirements, the Province underwent profound changes. The Salesian missions were the first to be affected by the great transformations: a pastoral activity was organised that aimed at the formation of ministers who were natives of the territory, and a liturgy was developed with religious celebrations that were in harmony with native cultural values. The organisation of the Federation of Shuar Centres provides an important example.

In 1961 the Province was divided into two, with headquarters at Quito and at Cuenca respectively. The division lasted only twelve years, until 29 August 1973, and served among other things for the definitive establishment of the Vicariate of Méndez, with the acquisition of new personnel and energy. At the end of the seventies and the beginning of the eighties work on new fronts was opened up: the Andean missions of Zumbagua, Salinas and Cayambe, and the work with street children in Quito and Guayaquil. To these must be added, in the nineties, the beginning of the Salesian Polytechnical University with campuses at Cuenca, Quito and Guayaquil.

Colombia: Provinces of Bogotá and Medellín

The Salesian presence in Colombia is the result of a dream of Don Bosco, who in 1883 during the night preceding the feast of St Rose of Lima, saw a map in which "the diocese of Cartagena was highlighted. It was the point of departure". [2] Don Bosco was already well known in Colombia as a wonderworker, and he would soon become known as the great educator of the young. And so it was, that through the mediation of General Joaquín F. Vélez, their representative with the Holy See, the Colombian government invited the Salesians to Colombia to provide religious, scientific and artistic education for the young.

Sent by Don Rua and led by Fr Evasio Rabagliati, the first Salesians arrived on Colombian soil on 31 January 1890, disembarking at Barranquilla. A few days later they reached Bogotá, where on 1 September they opened the first school in the country for technical education, the Colegio Salesiano León XIII de Artes y Oficios, which became a focal point for cultural expansion in Colombia.

Little by little Salesian works began to grow and multiply. In 1896 the Province was erected with St Peter Claver as its patron. And 1895 saw the first branch of the fertile tree of the Salesian Family, the Institute of the Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, founded at Agua de Dios by Fr Luigi Variara, who had continued the heroic work of Fr Michael Unia for the benefit of the lepers.

With 31 houses scattered all over Colombia, in 1957 a division brought into being the new Province of Medellín.

In Colombia the Salesian Congregation has charismatic works which have become benchmarks, such as the work for lepers at Agua de Dios and at Contratación, or the work for the Ariari, which continues to be a challenge for the Church because it is one of the country's regions most afflicted by violence. Thanks to the work done by the Salesians over the last forty years, the Vicariate has become a Diocese and has a group of local secular priests. For this reason the Salesians are gradually withdrawing and handing over parishes to the diocesan clergy, though there are still some places that require the apostolic generosity of the sons of Don Bosco.

For several years now, the Salesians of Bogotá (COB) have been opening works of great significance, taking care of street children (known locally as "gamines"), youngsters highly at risk because of violence (Tibú, San Vicente del Caguán) or the marginalised who gather in large numbers on the outskirts of towns (Ciudad Bolívar); and youngsters who because of the poverty of their families could have no access to a good education (in the 'colegios concesionados'). Deserving of special mention is the movement for the benefit of street children, now widespread in so many provinces throughout the world, which had its origin at Bogotá through the work of Fr Xavier De Nicolò who, after observing this tragic social phenomenon, was able to devise an effective educational project to meet it, which has become an example for others.

The Salesians of Medellin (COM) have also strengthened social works directed preferentially to young people who are poorer. I would like to recall especially the "Ciudad Don Bosco", and also, in the Afro-Colombian contexts of Buenaventura and of Condoto, the care of youngsters at risk in the "Centro de Capacitación Don Bosco'" at Cali, the project for the re-education of former participants in armed conflict in the "Hogar San Juan Bosco" of Armenia, and the training for employment offered in many of our works.

Peru

In 1886 the President of the Republic of Peru visited Valdocco and, in a meeting with Don Bosco, asked him for Salesians for his country. A similar request reached Don Bosco from a group of Salesian Cooperators, to whom he replied in 1887 asking them to discuss the matter with Fr James Costamagna who would be visiting Lima in 1888.

In 1890 Fr Angelo Savio arrived in the Peruvian capital to assess the suitability for the desired foundation and held a meeting with members of an Institution called the 'Sociedad de Beneficencia', who had the intention of setting up in the city an Institute for girls to be directed by the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, and a School of Arts and Trades to be entrusted to the Salesians. Meanwhile Don Rua had received two letters, one from Mgr Macchi, Apostolic Delegate in Peru, and the second from Cardinal Rampolla, in the name of the Holy Father, insisting on the presence of Salesians in Peru. In the face of these requests, on 6 June 1890 the Superior Council approved, with some modifications, the project presented by the 'Sociedad Benéfica', even though the definitive response of Don Rua could not be given until he obtained the approval of the Archbishop of Lima, which arrived in May 1891.

The founding group of Salesians and Daughters of Mary Help of Christians left Turin on 16 August and reached Lima on 27 September 1891. The Salesians, two priests (Fr Antonio Riccardi and Fr Carlo Pane) and a Brother (Bro. John Sciolli) started by assisting the nine Daughters of Mary Help of Christians who began their work on 15 October. They were able to open their own oratory only on 8 December 1891. Nearly a year later they began a boarding establishment. Salesian work, thus begun in the Rimac district of Lima with an Oratory and Workshops of Arts and Trades, soon spread to Arequipa in the southern part of the country (1896); then later to Brena, another part of Lima (1897), and about the same time to the port of Callao, not far from Lima.

In the light of the rapid expansion of the work, Don Rua had erected the Province of St Gabriel the Archangel, with headquarters at Santiago in Chile, to include the houses of Chile and Peru, but because of the impossibility of any real animation and government, and to maintain the rhythm of development, in 1902 the Province of Saint Rose was erected with headquarters at Lima-Brena for the houses of Peru and Bolivia.

The opening of the missions in the "Valle Sagrado de los Incas", after the closing of the works at Puno and Yucay so as to take on a work more directly benefiting native youngsters of the Peruvian high plateau, was an important step towards giving the Peruvian Province a more integral Salesian appearance; a similar objective was achieved by the organisation of the training centres for employment starting in the seventies and the initiative of the Don Bosco reception houses. In addition, the "Bosconia" foundation at Piura, the reopening of the Oratory of Rimac, the strengthening of the SYM, the opening of the mission at San Lorenzo (2000) in the Amazon region of the country, are also contributing to the presentation of a more complete image of what the Salesians are trying to do in Peru.

Bolivia

Fr James Costamagna visited Bolivia in 1889 and aroused the enthusiasm of the authorities to such an extent that they asked for the foundation of Salesian work in their country. But several years were to pass before Don Rua, in 1895, signed an agreement in Turin to open two boarding schools for arts and trades. Fr Costamagna, who by then had become a bishop, travelled to Sucre and La Paz to establish in both cities the "Colegio Don Bosco", a boarding establishment organised for students and artisans and with a festive oratory; at Sucre there was also the care of a church. The two houses experienced a wonderful development from the outset and the Salesians gained the good will of the people; they were made part of the Peruvian Province. The distance from the provincial headquarters did not favour repeated attempts to make new foundations in Bolivia, and it was only in 1943 that were opened the agricultural school at Chulumani and two diocesan seminaries, those of "San Jerónimo" at La Paz and of "San Luis" at Cochabamba. In 1955 we withdrew from the two seminaries and opened an aspirantate of our own at Calacoto to foster local vocations. The following year the Fatima agricultural school was opened at Cochabamba. In 1960 the agricultural school of Muyurina was inaugurated at Montero (Santa Cruz), and in 1963 the "Colegio Don Bosco" of Cochabamba.

Because of the small number of foundations and of personnel, Bolivia was slow in becoming a Province; the erection took place only on 9 January 1963, with "Our Lady of Copacabana" as its Patron and Fr Peter Garnero as its first Provincial. Unfortunately Fr Garnero had to leave Bolivia a year and a half later on being appointed Provincial of San Paolo in Brazil. Fr José Gottardi was appointed as his successor, but he too was unable to consolidate the work, because after eighteen months he was sent as Provincial to Uruguay. Salesian work in Bolivia achieved a certain stability under Fr Jorge Casanova, from Argentina, who was able to complete successfully his six years as Provincial. Under his successor, Fr Rinaldo Vallino, who came from Guadalajara (Mexico), new foundations were made: the mission of Kami and Independencia on the high plateau, and those of "Sagrado Corazón" and of "San Carlos" in the eastern part of the country.

After Fr Vallino's six years as Provincial, the Province began to be governed by Provincials coming from its own communities. The first of these was Fr Tito Solari who had come to Bolivia through a twinning arrangement between the Provinces of Venice and Bolivia. At the end of his mandate Fr Solari became Auxiliary Bishop of Santa Cruz and, a few years later, Archbishop of Cochabamba. During the subsequent periods of office