“NOW IS THE ACCEPTABLE TIME”
1. vocations – A POINT THAT GIVES US FOOD FOR THOUGHT – A propitious moment. – In harmony with the Church. – Vocational guidance in our pastoral renewal. – A new approach.
2. THE SALESIAN COMMUNITY: A SETTING FOR VOCATIONAL EXPERIENCE AND PROPOSALS. – The logic of “Come and see”. – The vocational force of community life. – Pastoral action of the community. – Follow-up. – Some areas for special attention. – “The angel declared unto Mary”.
Rome, 8 September 2000Feast of the Birthday of Mary
My dear confreres,
I cannot begin this letter without a heartfelt word of thanks to you for your fraternal closeness and prayer during the trial which the good Lord has laid upon me.
It has been his will that this has led to a greater fraternal union within the Congregation and the Salesian Family and all have come to know more about our confrere Bro. Artemide Zatti, for whose beatification all requirements are now substantially complete. Soon we shall see him raised to the altars.
This present letter continues the Chapter theme on the presence and life of the salesian community, to help you in your reflections in the provincial chapters and later in the General Chapter.
We had already identified three areas in which the salesian community must be competent and visibly present in the neighbourhood: fraternal life, witness to evangelical values, and welcoming reception of the young and the poor.
1. VOCATIONS: A POINT THAT GIVES US FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Among the topics to which the Congregation showed itself very sensitive at the time of the consultation on the theme of the coming General Chapter, there was that of our ability to attract vocations. And rightly so. This has always been considered an essential characteristic of our witness and was in consequence frequently referred to with various emphases in the GC24: our formation for vocational discernment; unified vocational promotion in the Salesian Family; the salesian community’s ability to foster the vitality of the charism and vocational dynamism through its own deep, conscious and radical way of living them; and the recommendation of a follow-up which once again proposes the question of vocations in the EPC. It was therefore a matter demanding our attention, and one we could not fail to take up again.
Even more clearly and decisively the GC23 had placed the vocational field among the essential areas of our journey of faith with the young and a characteristic dimension of Salesian Youth Spirituality.
Within the theme of the GC25, which refers specifically to the life and mission of our communities, we want to examine the conditions of life and activity which can foster a joyful and encouraging experience of vocation, a way of life that will be both witness and prophecy, an environment that becomes a vocational appeal for all who feel attracted by Don Bosco’s spirit and mission.
Concern about vocations is, in fact, one of the factors that led to the choice of the theme of the Chapter. In a certain way the crisis in vocations to the consecrated life, which we are experiencing in a good part of the Congregation and of the Church, is profitable for us in the sense that it compels us to evaluate the quality of our personal and community life, the significance of our structures and organization, and the possibility of being more effective and positive at the present day.
Young people need witnesses; they need people and environments that show by their example the possibility of adopting in our society a life style in accordance with the Gospel. This gospel witness is really the first educative service to offer them, the first proclamation of the Gospel.
This letter is intended to be a contribution to the examination the Provinces have to make; it will try to throw some light on the topic, to encourage the great deal already being done, to prompt every confrere and community to become personally involved in vocational witness and proposals, and to open wider horizons so that our pastoral work be not limited in the field of vocations to general and superficial proposals, nor be reduced to seeking for candidates to the salesian life only outside our own settings.
The theme of vocations has often emerged as the leading question or concern in the conversations I have had with confreres during my visits: and this not only through fear of our becoming extinct in vast areas of the north-western world, where every year sees a fall in the number of confreres, a rise in their average age, and a scarcity of newcomers; but also perhaps because the lack of vocational fruitfulness is a clear reflection of the little force of attraction exerted by our communities and the limited depth of Christian life that we propose to young people.
The questions of the confreres always concern the particular situation regarding vocations in each part of the world: they ask about the possibilities of finding more of them to the consecrated life in environments considered to be strongly secularized and well-to-do, characterized by freedom, by the many opportunities for young people, by short-term life-projects; about the conditions needed to ensure authenticity and perseverance in contexts marked by popular religious devotion, by a demographic situation of very large numbers or by limited prospects in life for the young. Many have asked for this to be included among the reflections on the community for the coming Chapter.
This, on the other hand, is in line with what our Constitutions state when they insert the promotion of vocations among the objectives of our mission: “Faithful to the commitments Don Bosco has passed on to us, we are evangelizers of the young, and the more so if they are poor; we pay special attention to apostolic vocations”.
Confirmation is found in art.28, in the chapter concerning those to whom our work is primarily addressed. “To meet the needs of his people the Lord continually calls some to follow him in service of the Kingdom and enriches them with gifts for the purpose. We are convinced that many young people are rich in spiritual potential and give indications of an apostolic vocation. We help them to discover, accept and develop the gift of a lay, consecrated religious or priestly vocation, for the benefit of the whole Church and of the Salesian Family. With equal zeal we nurture adult vocations”.
Every Salesian therefore should be someone who seeks vocations and follows them up. Every community has this same purpose among its main objectives. We must examine whether this directive of our Constitutions shapes the action of every community in the individual provinces and inspires the activities of every confrere; or, on the other hand, we are so poorly informed and attentive with regard to vocation and the ways that lead to an evangelical decision, that we cannot take our pastoral work to its point of full maturity.
All this reflects the experience and concern of Don Bosco. The thought of vocations was ever in his mind in a practical manner. We need only recall two facts. The first was his initiative in creating the students section at Valdocco for the benefit of those who by their good nature and intellectual ability gave signs of a vocation to the ecclesiastical state. Their commitment to study, but more especially the intensity of their life of piety and relationship with Don Bosco himself, would lead to the maturing of the seeds he had spotted in their first contacts.
The second fact is the host of priests and religious who came from the Oratory and of whom Don Bosco himself was proud and happy to give statistics, as a sign of the sound Christian formation of his youngsters. We may quote from the Biographical Memoirs: “In 1883 in the presence of Fr Dalmazzo and others, Don Bosco exclaimed: ‘I am happy now! I have had careful statistics drawn up, and we have found that more than two thousand diocesan priests have come from our houses. Let us thank the Lord and his Most Holy Mother for having given us the means to do all this good’.
However, his figures were not final; before his death an additional five hundred boys had entered diocesan seminaries. There were also others whose vocation he had encouraged who began studying for the priesthood after his death. We need to add those from other salesian houses who entered the seminary and we should also mention the many who joined religious orders. There is hardly an Institute in Italy that does not have some of Don Bosco’s sons among its priests. Another merit of his is that he indirectly helped to strengthen the Church. We could say that it was his example and sometimes his insistence and cooperation that led to the opening of many minor seminaries. It was from him that not a few rectors of minor and major seminaries learned how to look after their charges with loving and fatherly care, and to stress piety – especially Eucharistic piety – that is so indispensable for persevering in a priestly vocation. All this greatly benefited the diocesan clergy in their respective dioceses. (…) From what we have already said and will say, we can infer that it is no exaggeration to state that in his lifetime Don Bosco formed some six thousand priests”.
From the school of Don Bosco there came a Rua, a Cagliero, a Dominic Savio and many others. Salesians of today are convinced that the flourishing of vocations in different contexts, through proper attention to pastoral work and the process of Christian formation, is a measure of their ability to communicate a sufficient knowledge and a love of Christ to prompt others to imitate and follow him. And on the other hand they discover how far from the salesian ideal are those who think that vocations should be sought in other contexts or through the efforts of persons with this special task, while the community should be dedicating itself only to providing “services”, albeit for the benefit of the very poor.
A propitious moment
There are many points from which one could start for a fuller understanding of the vocational question. In Sacred Scripture we find paradigms where is clearly seen the part of God, who never fails, and the conditions for the response of the man or woman.
The Bible has pages for times of vocation difficulty or sterility. In them God, who is the guarantor of salvation, speaks directly to the heart of people to ensure that his covenant is remembered. I like to recall the episode of Samuel. At a time of decay of religious institutions, when the attention of everyone was concentrated on war efforts, when even the figure of the prophets had been forgotten, Samuel received the direct call of God during the night. There were no models with which to identify and the urgent demands of the people were not of a religious nature. And yet God spoke directly to the heart of the boy to make him his witness and spokesman.
In this letter I want to recall your attention to the fact that we may be living a phase of special vocational possibilities, if only we can succeed in expressing our love for Jesus and in passing it on to others.
In the context of the Jubilee we have lived though two events which have made us think about the interior openness of young people to Jesus and to the force exerted on them by Christ and his plan.
The first in order of time was the Forum 2000 of the Salesian Youth Movement. While I was at Colle Don Bosco, a young man asked me a straight question: “Are there any vocations for the priesthood and consecrated life from the Salesian Youth Movement, and in particular from the animators?”
The Rector Major replied that vocations have certainly matured, but it is also true that this element of salesian youth spirituality has not been sufficiently cultivated from the proclamation to the suggestion, from the suggestion to the personal follow-up of those who show an aptitude, signs or early desires. In his message for the progress of the SYM in the year 2000, the Rector Major included this precise point. You can read it in this same issue of the Acts.
The second event was the World Day of Youth in Rome. In his homily during the celebration of the Eucharist the Pope exhorted the young people to think also about the possibility of giving themselves completely in the priestly ministry or the consecrated life: “May every community always have a priest to celebrate the Eucharist! I ask the Lord therefore to raise up among you many holy vocations to the priesthood”. And later he said: “May sharing in the Eucharist also lead to a new flourishing of vocations to the religious life. In this way the Church will have fresh and generous energies for the great task of the new evangelization”.
Individual conversations with young people have revealed how much they think about the radical following of Christ. But it often finds them unprepared to respond and, as has already been said so many times before, it finds them uncertain in the face of discovering the real possibilities that match their expectations for living out such a vocation for the whole of their lives.
It is true that the young people present in these two events do not represent all of the world’s youth, and not even all Catholic youth. They were young people who had been chosen, especially in the Forum 2000. But these are precisely the youngsters who are open to a committed vocational dialogue, and who have admitted that they have not always experienced such a dialogue.
Perhaps we are living in “new times”, in which an adaptation of pastoral work for vocations in terms of images, language and suggestions is essential.
It is not my purpose here to repeat the theological doctrine about vocation, nor to describe the sociological and religious conditions of certain areas in which difficulties seem to be concentrated. We have heard enough about such things. It has been rightly said that we must move on from proposals to practical suggestions.
There is a certain phenomenon which must make us think. In some of the so-called difficult areas there are found together communities, spirituality centres or ecclesial movements which are strongly attractive, and other works and communities which do not manage to give rise to any desire to join in an experience which the young people have right before their eyes.
Also in areas which are still fruitful there is a difference between the kind of young people who are attracted by our life and their behaviour once they have joined a community: it is a matter of authentic motivation, of Christian spiritual formation, of a project of life in Christ, of interiorized faith.
We must give serious thought to this point. Effectively vocations represent our main problem, which we share with other religious Institutes. There is an abundance of working groups in every continent: it is quite easy to pick them out and count them. The collaboration of lay people has also been developed to an increasing extent to respond to the urgent needs on many fronts. Animation techniques are widespread. But without persons who bear unalloyed witness to the charism, all this gets nowhere!
“Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest”. This expression of Jesus remains always true, and applies more than ever to our present moment in history.
The Lord is giving us a new opportunity, but at the same time is asking us for a purification, an emphasis on what is essential, an ability to get into living contact with Christ rather than be involved only in personal relationships or in providing services.
In harmony with the Church.
A congress took place in Rome from 5 to 10 May 1998 on vocational pastoral work in Europe. A working document had been circulated in advance which set out, as objectively as possible, the quantitative and qualitative situation of vocations, but also the vocational awareness of local Churches and the methods of pastoral work for the promoting of vocations which they had developed.
The resulting document dwelt naturally on the human, social and religious conditions of young people; but it also pointed to positive signs, the present resources, the seeds of a new season which would need wise cultivating by all communities, and especially by educators.
When the work was ended a final report was published, with many new ideas and a wealth of suggestions.
A similar work was carried out in America, and at the end of February the Congregation for Christian Education published a number of the review Seminarium concerning the situation of vocations in the future, for which the Rector Major of the Salesians was asked to contribute an article entitled “Youth pastoral work and vocational guidance”, a sign of how much our experience is appreciated.
For our part, we have devoted a great deal of study to the Ratio, which deals also with the prenovitiate and the criteria for discernment concerning admissions.
There is no point in dodging the issue: the vocational problem is a burning one! Nevertheless the general intention of the congresses is to “foster hope”. That is the tone of earlier documents; and that was also the feeling of the meetings. We have confidence that the Lord will continue to raise up prophets and men after his own heart.
The Union of Superiors General of Religious Orders and Congregations also decided to focus reflections on the possibilities and conditions for proposing a vocation nowadays and maturing candidates for the consecrated life, particularly in places where the religious dimension seems to be of very little social relevance, and to be left to personal consideration.
All this provides us with an overall view of the new conditions in which vocations are born and develop. In some places we are undergoing the trial of sterility, like that of Sarah or of Anna, mother of Samuel. But we cannot accept that we should decide we are going to become extinct and simply programme how our charismatic heritage can be passed to others, for example to lay people, and to abandon all hope of Christian life and the sequela Christi in the secular culture!
If Christ has been for us the meaning of our pilgrimage, if our experience with him has been a happy one, it is better to do what Abraham did, beg for a son who will maintain the succession and set about doing something to ensure it. It is necessary, it is said, not only to call but also to challenge, by once again presenting in their paradoxical reality the phases of a way of life conformed to the Gospel, such as the beatitudes, the cross, the freedom of self-realization in God.
Vocational guidance in our pastoral renewal.
For many years now the Congregation has been reflecting on the process of the education of young people to the faith. It has singled out in vocational guidance its fundamental and essential dimension. We want to help the young to face their own future in an attitude of availability and generosity, predispose them to listen to the voice of God, and accompany them in formulating their own plan of life.
In this vocational commitment we give priority to complementary things which are mutually supportive: the guidance offered to all young people within the educational program; the constant effort to discover and follow up with various and appropriate initiatives vocations of particular commitment in society and in the Church; special attention to vocations of service to the Church itself (vocations for dioceses and for other religious institutes) and of the world as a whole (missionary vocations, including those of the laity); a particular responsibility regarding the salesian charism in its many forms, through the discernment and fostering of the seeds of a salesian vocation, both consecrated and lay, present in young people.
We are convinced that we make a gift of a great treasure to the Church when we discover a good vocation. It does not matter whether the person concerned goes to a diocese, the missions or a religious house. It is always a resource placed at the disposal of the Church and the Kingdom.
The situation is not easy. The Congress “New vocations for a new Europe” listed some of the causes or roots of the difficulty: a complex and pluralist culture, without foundations, which tends to produce in young people a fragile identity; a culture of distraction, which risks drowning or nullifying questions about the meaning of life; a mentality which leads to the idea that life’s possibilities must be enjoyed without delay; the fleeting nature of ideas and commitments, which are unconcerned about any definite guiding principles. But it is in a context like this that the Gospel must be passed on and offered as a norm and way of life.
In these circumstances we try to live with an attitude of serene faith and hope, and without faultfinding. When Abraham was sad because he could not see how he was going to have any descendants, God invited him to go out of his small tent and place himself under the great tent of the Lord, the sky, and with that much vaster horizon interpret and believe in the story which God, faithful to his promises, was preparing for him.
This attitude of hope must also guide us in reading the signs of the times: the lack of vocations (an evil) can be seen as an invitation to purify our intentions, and recognize the need to concentrate our attention on what is essential in consecrated life and in our specific vocation in the Salesian Family.
When we pray to the Lord of the harvest, it is important that we are moved more by his Kingdom and the desire to do his will, than by the need or anxiety to have successors for each of our present works who will take our place in the many apostolic projects we are animating.
Meanwhile, among the young in the Salesian Family, and among people in general, we are spreading a vocational culture. This is an expression first used by the Pope, which we have later explored. It is a matter of promoting a form of life and the choice of personal options for the future according to a set of values such as generosity, acceptance of the mystery, availability for being called and involved, belief in oneself and one’s neighbour, and the courage to dream and desire on a grand scale. In addition there are educative proposals and experiences in line with the values proposed.
The concluding document of the Congress on Vocations in Europe declares that this culture is now becoming the first objective of vocational pastoral work, and perhaps of pastoral work in general.
A new approach.
Through this process of reflection and experiences which are now taking place, we recognize an availability in the young which is open to the experience of God, and we discover new elements which are important for the birth and growth of vocations.
In them we observe first of all the new subject to which our vocational discourse is addressed. It is the young adult, still an adolescent because of the lengthening in the years of compulsory schooling and because of the later age at which a decision is made about a state of life. For us it is important to include vocational elements at every age, but we have a particular place among the animators, volunteers, young collaborators, university students, and the older pupils in schools.
This innovation implies another which touches us very closely: talk about Christian life and vocational guidance for these young adults is something much more demanding and specific. They are not joining a team for work or service. If it is a matter of lay work, even though performed voluntarily, they know they have other similar openings and structures available. It is the vision and meaning of the particular kind of life which determines the direction they take. Only if they are attracted by Jesus and have understood what kind of life he is offering them do they decide to follow him.
It has been said that we are in an age of “religious barbarism”. There is a need to make young people aware of the great originality of Jesus Christ, the other and not only the enjoyment of short-term generosity. For the purpose of vocational appeal, religious anonymity of a group constituted in the name of Christ is quite useless. It is much better to declare openly by words and deeds, the choice we have made and the joy with which we live it.
In the Acts of the Apostles we read that while the community of the followers of Christ were giving new and specifically Christian signs, the Lord directed towards them day by day those who were being saved. The two things are necessary and complementary: the voice or grace of the Lord and the signs of the community.
Some constantly occurring points in the conversations I referred to earlier, and that are found as well in experiences of the provinces, can also help in reflecting on the vocational capacity of our communities. Here they are:
1. Vocation is an attraction. If the charism and the life of its bearers and representatives at the present day is not, so to speak, enticing, the conditions for raising up followers simply fail. It had already happened with Jesus himself. The apostles were bound to him by a quite extraordinary admiration; they had perceived the goodness which came forth from him and so they had asked: “Where are you staying?”. and they went to stay with him.
In the meeting of the Superiors General, various Institutes presented experiences of open and welcoming communities, new and bold mission frontiers, and experiences of consecrated life expressive of the primacy of God, which had stirred up the interest of young people.
I want to stress the genuine nature and community character of the experiences of God, particularly close to youngsters of a “religious” turn of mind at the present day, even if they have to understand the everyday nature of our relationship with the Father in the light of the event of the Incarnation, freeing themselves from the momentary fascination of the extraordinary.
2. The vocation is a call and a grace; it is not within our power to inspire it or cause it to be born. The initiative is God’s. This is a constant element in biblical vocations and is repeated by Jesus himself: “You did not choose me but I chose you”. It is necessary to pray and work, to accept and be grateful – even for a single vocation, to observe and discover. In this sense we are not complaining, and our heart is grateful to God for the more or less 500 young people who have this year entered our novitiates.
3. The vocation is a journey closely linked to a maturing in faith in a dialogue with God that lasts all through life. The basic condition for it to emerge is the development of every aspect of the Christian life: truth, good behaviour, prayer. Vocations of a “sociological” character have well nigh disappeared. A strong personalization of the faith and a life interiorly bound up with Christ are indispensable for the maturing of proposals in line with the Lord’s words. Do you remember the conversation of Jesus with the rich young man? To be honest and upright is not enough. It is a matter of grasping the mysterious dimensions of our existence.
4. Everyone experiences this call because God has a plan for every individual. Everyone needs to become aware of this. It is up to us to help each one to develop his vocation with a suitable program: for the lay life, for the priesthood, consecrated life, consecrated secular life. It is true nonetheless that accompaniment towards the priesthood and the consecrated life constitutes a special aspect, and we must not level everything down in a too general discussion on vocation.
5. A direct and explicit work is needed for vocations of particular consecration or service. They do not arise spontaneously, not even in religious environments. Models of ecclesial vocations are little known, even among young people who have been taught their religion. This is why Dioceses and our own Provinces organize animation programs. And we see that where such a service is functioning things go better, always supposing that the communities do not delegate to the service what they can and should be doing themselves. We must avoid falling into genericism by no longer distinguishing the different kinds of calls or appeals which Jesus himself has made.
6. Every community, and in them every member, must be deeply involved according to his possibilities in the discovery and helping of vocations. The effort of a “recruiter”, or delegate for the purpose, is totally insufficient and gives no guarantee as regards either quantity or authenticity.
Beyond its inadequacy for achieving the desired result, what is at stake is the continuity of the mission of the community and of the individual. Each community represents Don Bosco in the context in which it lives and works and is delegated to continue his charism and mission. It is a mere excuse to say that our mission can be passed on to lay people, or to programme our own extinction even for religious motives.
God will say what our fate shall be; but it is important that it be not influenced either by our own negligence or by mistaken choices, such as that of failing to put to young people forms of a deeply committed Christian life and the radical following of Christ.
7. Young people feel the need of a direct experience and contact with the realities involved in vocational choice. In this sense an important part is played by the environment in which the young person is committed: there models can be found, values can be tested, friendships made and especially responsibilities practised which are typical of ecclesial vocations. Our parishes, schools, oratories and volunteer groups must become communities where ministries at the service of a mission are experienced and an encounter with Christ is fostered.
8. Many vocations, as we have said, now mature at an age older than used to be the case, and that means a longer period of accompaniment. A vocation-based catechesis should really begin in childhood or adolescence; but the work must not be abandoned when the young people enter the university or similar environments. The average age of those entering the novitiate at present varies from 21 to 27 years.
As well as being longer, the accompaniment must also be more consistent as regards faith and Christian practice. It must correspond to the intellectual development of the young person, to the questions to which life and society give rise in his mind. Two Encyclicals of John Paul II – Veritatis Splendor and Fides et Ratio – give us an idea of the questions of ways of thinking and attitudes to life about which young people hear the most widely differing opinions, all put forward with the greatest assurance and in the name of the right of the individual to think and express himself.
There are situations where follow-up is necessary. It is clear, in fact, that ways of thinking and attitudes to life, if not enlightened and guided by the Gospel, are a hindrance to subsequent vocational decisions and block the road to be followed. For this reason in the concluding document of the congress on vocations in Europe there are many proposals for a decidedly Christian focus: to present Christ as a project for man, to invite him to the sequela, cultivate the primacy of the Spirit, foster evangelical radicalism as a prophecy, and provide spiritual direction.
9. The connection with a community setting is indispensable. No one has a vocation to solitude and isolation. And so even the local Churches are recommended to organize the community so that it is rich in ministries or services for the mission.
In recent years we too have been able to draw some useful conclusions, as we observe the percentage of young people who have been called who have had the experience of the salesian educative community, of the group, of a youth community, or of voluntary service. .
To contact with the educative community is at present being added the experience of life in the salesian community for young people who have already moved a certain distance along the way.
The criterion to be followed is: “Come and see”. For a short or longer time these young people take part in the prayer, planning and realization of work, and in the community life. It goes without saying that it is a matter of selected communities, which show themselves capable of providing this welcoming acceptance. But in several Provinces an effort is being made to increase their number. The ideal is that every community could be a setting for vocational experience.
10. In the journey of faith there are some experiences which are particularly revealing as regards the characteristics and demands of vocation, and which help vocations to mature more rapidly. We can include in these commitment in pastoral work, learning how to pray, further reflection on the faith, work in the volunteer movement, and retreats. In such experiences the religious dimension is felt more directly. They are called significant experiences precisely because of their intensity, and they should never be omitted from a vocational program.
11. In many cases an explicit invitation is needed. Today’s social environment does not encourage a religious vocation. Its relevance and social significance at the present day is limited; models to refer to for imagining how life will be in the distant future are confusing if not discouraging. To some extent the Church, considered as an institution, is presented as the heir to a past era of intellectual and moral servitude.
The young person may desire to make a commitment, but he is drawn naturally to movements and causes more popular at the present day: peace, ecology, the poor. It needs the strong attraction of Christ to point in a different direction. And here lies our test as pastors and educators of the young.
The young person, moreover, often fails to recognize that he has the requirements needed for a vocation of special service or consecration. The disciples felt themselves captivated by Jesus, but to understand that they could become his followers they had to hear the invitation: “Follow me!”
In conversations with our young confreres we find that for nearly all of them there was someone who made the proposal to them, who gave them a call. It makes us wonder how many of them would not have come without this providential invitation, and how many in fact have not joined us because no one gave them the call or even raised the question.
12. Accompaniment or spiritual direction becomes necessary. This had been already stated in the vocational congress of 1982, which recalled the words of Paul VI: “No vocation matures without a spiritual director who follows it up”.
But we can take the expression “spiritual director” not in its technical sense but with a broader meaning, referring to someone capable of doing the following-up – provided that this person knows the subject’s background and the demands of the spiritual life and is able to lead the young person towards new goals in the life of grace. And here perhaps we touch on another weak point: our ability to illustrate and be enthusiastic as we indicate stages and requirements, inviting the subject to reach out to more demanding goals, correcting what is not conformable to God and helping him to accept everything that makes space for God in life, with a periodic review of the progress made. We need spiritual guides who are not only understanding but positive in their approach and experts in the spiritual life.
All this was found also in the concluding document of the congress on vocations in Europe, to which I have already referred. The young person feels the need to match up many points of faith with the ideas and suggestions that come to him from his surroundings. He needs someone to talk to. He needs to clarify some aspects of Christian morality. He needs support and guidance. Especially, since he does not have the experience of the path of grace and the possibilities inherent in a life in Christ, he needs someone to open these horizons to him.
It is a recognized fact that around certain spiritual directors, certain centres of spirituality, and certain experiences of faith, candidates are appearing for the priestly, consecrated and committed lay lives.
We are in the same situation as everyone else. In some places we are living through the trial of sterility. But at least we have the advantage that we already work for young people. We carry out an activity in education which is tailor-made for a vocational approach. We have, in the educative communities, environments which can offer an exciting stimulus; and we can even extend the offers of involvement and apostolic work beyond our own foundations.
The SYM of the year 2000 should express itself in volunteer groups and in groups for prayer, reflection on the faith, and cultural development, all of which can be fertile fields for fostering vocations. If it is not our destiny to reap them, let us at least sow the seeds abundantly.
2. THE SALESIAN COMMUNITY: SETTING FOR VOCATIONAL EXPERIENCE AND PROPOSALS.
After this brief analysis of the vocations situation, which makes no pretence at being complete, and some general suggestions for pastoral work, let us now refer more directly to the theme which will be the object of our coming Chapter, to reflect on what elements of the community can become part of the vocational invitation.
When we think of the origin of our Congregation and Family, from which salesian expansion began, we find first of all a community, which was not only visible, but indeed quite unique, almost like a lantern in the darkness of night: Valdocco, the home of a novel community and a pastoral setting that was widely known, extensive and open. Among those making their way there through interest or curiosity were eminent persons of the civic and political world, fervent Christians and ecclesiastics who saw in it a religious revival, and bishops from round the world.
Such a community gave rise to a new culture, not in an academic sense but in that of a new style of relationship between youngsters and educators, between laity and priests, between artisans and students, a relationship which had its effect on the area and on the city itself. And if we can believe what was written at the time, it was a culture that caused raised eyebrows which eventually caused doubts to arise about Don Bosco’s mental health.
Furthermore there were new educational initiatives: well known examples include the hostel for boys going daily to work in the city, the teaching of arts and crafts, and the kind of life that was built up.
All this had as its root and raison d’