LETTER OF RECTOR MAJOR - Fr. EGIDIO VIGANO'
1988: AN INVITATION TO A SPECIAL RENEWAL OF PROFESSION
Rome, 1 September 1986
Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
50 years of salesian life - Religious profession and the
turning point of the Council - The laborious search for identity - A further look at
the holiness of Don Bosco - The test of his spiritual School - The spirit of Don
Bosco in the perspective of 1988 - Kinds of reflection to promote - Objectives of salesian
sanctity - Conclusion.
My dear confreres,
I am writing
to you on the day which is the anniversary of my first religious profession.
50 years have gone by since that date! Just half of the 100 years we are preparing
to celebrate in 1988. I finished my novitiate two years after Don Bosco's canonization
and I am keeping the Golden Jubilee of my profession a couple of years before
the centenary celebrations of his death: a period of time sufficiently long
and significant to prompt some reflections on salesian experience.
for me the beginning of a concrete way of following Christ, of an apostolic
commitment in the Church, of predilection for the young, of a missionary inculturation
overseas and of a growing awareness of the salesian identity in a plurality
of cultures. It made possible a kind of unforeseen adventure impossible to
program which, when the half-century is looked at with the eyes of faith,
manifest the creative presence of the Spirit, a sharing in the saving mission
of the Son and the daily provision of the infinite mercy of the Father. Religious profession and the turning point of the Council
Half way through
these fifty years of my salesian life I was able to take part in the four
sessions of the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, the ecclesial event
of the present century, the visit of the Holy Spirit to the Church, thegreat
prophecy for the third millennium of Christianity.
During the four
years of this so extraordinary event I felt a rejuvenation of salesian profession.
At that time
the will became evident in the Church to make an energetic and decisive turn;
the machinery was creaking under the braking action of factors which had settled
on it like dust in the course of time. A static mentality had to be overcome,
one which was rather legalistic, which smacked of self-sufficiency, resting
on its laurels, imprisoned in out-of-date structures, over-centralized and
giving rise to dangerous reactions. This kind of climate was widespread and
there was urgent need for a breath of fresh air to renew it.
gave rise to a stimulating return to the sources. It asked for a more serious
fidelity to religious profession, inserted more deeply in the mystery of Christ,
in the sanctity and specific mission of the Founder, in his pastoral originality;
concerned about an apostolic sense of a greater relationship with the world
for the service and advancement of men and women, about creative and dynamic
activity, about the importance of the social dimension in our practice of
the evangelical counsels with new demands, about the relaunching of the laity
and a more integral awareness of Don Bosco's charism as a Movement of persons
and as a message of sanctity for the young and for ordinary people. The laborious search for identity
point caused by the Council involved our Congregation, like all other religious
institutes, in an intensive search for a definition of our own identity against
the background of the numerous changes in the emerging cultures.
To live the
salesian profession for nearly twenty years in this complex process of the
search for identity has meant a lengthy commitment to reflection and dialogue
lived in the active participation in no fewer than four General Chapters (19,
20, 21 and 22), which involved every confrere in the drawing up of the revised
text of the Constitutions and General Regulations.
And then the
fact that during this period obedience laid upon me the task of living the
salesian profession first in the role of Councilor General for Formation and
then as Rector Major, meant that I felt a still heavier sense of responsibility.
At the end of the last (22nd) General Chapter, one of the most genuine moments
of salesian joy I have ever felt was certainly that of renewing my profession
with the new text of the Constitutions, after solemnly entrusting the entire
Congregation to the Virgin Help of Christians, our solicitous Teacher and
What has been
emerging ever more clearly has been the figure of Don Bosco as our Founder
and Model: a gift for the Church and for us, raised up and fashioned by the
Spirit of the Lord with endowments and prophetic means of sanctity and activity
which transcend the culture of his own time and extend beyond geographical
boundaries and historical eras.
holiness of Don Bosco appeared ever more clearly as the ideal of salesian
profession, raised in the Church toapostolic consecration. A further look at the holiness of Don Bosco
After so many
years reflection it is possible to sum up in a few lines Don Bosco's ideal
of sanctity as an objective to be attained through our religious profession.
the fact that sanctity is at the same time one and multiform, 
we can detect in Don Bosco the presence
of basic qualities common to all, and at the same time traits of a style which
is all his own.
one, and consists for everyone in the convinced practice of faith, hope
and charity even at the cost of sacrifice; it is a symbiosis of mysticism
and asceticism which proclaims the fullness of life in the Spirit: a love
which carries the cross!
ismultiform in so far as each group, and even each individual, participates
in the life and mission of the Church in widely differing states and ways
of life, all of them expressions of the same Grace.
More than once
in the past I have written to you on the theme of our sanctity: in a circular
of December 1981 I reflected with you on how we couldReplant our holiness
in that of September
83 I put before youDon Bosco, Saint,
and in theGood Night on the day of my re-election just
before the 50th anniversary of the canonization of our Founder I linked this
six-year period with that aspect. 
Holiness is an inexhaustible
theme which we must keep constantly in mind. Let us therefore add some further
Don Bosco himself
condensed the mysticism and asceticism which marked his life style into two
mottoes characteristic of the salesian spirit; and he rendered concrete his
participation in the mission of the Church in the choice of a specific field
of work, lived with an original style and criteria.
Let us look
at these three points which provide a kind of synthesis of the spiritual experience
of our Father.
In the first
place the aspect ofmysticism (i.e. the life of faith, hope and charity)
is condensed in the motto da mihi animas
strengthened by radical
self-donation in the practice of the evangelical counsels. It implies a manner
of contemplating the Fathers loving kindness, of harkening to the saving
Word, and of sharing in his transforming Love, which produces in the heart
an uninterrupted union with God. It finds expression in the ecstasy of tireless
apostolic activity: the interior self donation which finds its outlet in the
mission. This mysticism is nourished by the daily meeting with Christ which
prevents us from losing sight of the pastoral dimension of our commitments.
ofascetics, which means self-control and a spirit of sacrifice, is expressed
by Don Bosco in the motto work and temperance,
too by the acts of self-denial inherent in the practice of the evangelical
counsels. It is a program which in the style of our Founder. It is easily
adaptable to cultural changes and received confirmation and deeper meaning
from the progress made in the anthropological sciences: the realism of self-donation
through love of ones neighbor according to the charity brought by Christ
into the world. To be true disciples of Christ it is indispensable to cultivate
a spirit of sacrifice, of guarding the heart and of self-sacrifice, which
helps us to avoid the insidious dismantling of religious discipline.
choice of a field of work for an active participation in the mission of
the Church, is that of a fruitful pastoral work for the young and the poor.
It calls for continual comparison with the situation of human society,
starting from thepoor and the little ones who are always there. Predilection
for the young defines the extension of this choice, which is characterized
by a style and manner of approach which Don Bosco called thepreventive system.
This is a way
of living together, of dialogue, of evangelization and advancement based on
three fundamental principles:
(reason), as an expression of a keen and well balanced intelligence, which
knows the workings of the human heart and social reality;
dimension (religion), as a convinced vision of transcendence, a fundamental
element in cultures and one indispensable in the formation of every individual;
a warm and
sincere affection (loving kindness), as an atmosphere of trust, dialogue
and familiar cohabitation with those to whom our activity is directed.
criterion for this choice and style is the experience of Don Bosco in the
Oratory at Valdocco. 
So many years
of salesian profession provide confirmation of the validity, beauty and up-to-date
nature of this kind of sanctity, which has made of Don Bosco one of the most
important Founders of spiritual Families in the Church. The test of his spiritual School
Don Bosco, who
lived at a time in the last century when Saints were flourishing in Piedmont,
had the merit of starting an authentic School of sanctity.
various apostolic works he began were of value in his time, the fact that
he successfully promoted a particular kind of holiness would be sufficient
by itself to make evident a remarkable spirituality which places him among
the great ones of the Church with a fertile sanctity capable of reincarnation
among other people in the course of future centuries.
To render holiness
an attractive and valid message for all those he was working for, Don Bosco
presented its essence in a simple and realistic fashion which he adapted to
the age, life situation and cultural circumstances of those concerned. Blessed
Michael Rua, St Mary Domenica Mazzarello, St Dominic Savio, to whom we may
also add in a certain sense Blessed Luigi Orione and Luigi Guanella, all felt
directly the influence of his kind of holiness. The program of youth spirituality
lived by St Dominic Savio is especially characteristic; Don Bosco himself
has provided a description and deeper study of it in a biography of his young
pupil, which has been fully commented with great insight by Fr Albert Caviglia.
The scheme of salesian sanctity appears with equal clarity from a study (from
the standpoint of the kind of spirituality) of the various other biographies
written by Don Bosco, and from the lives of our other saints and servants
Fr Philip Rinaldi
too is a direct witness to the personal influence of Don Bosco. I mention
him in particular because in this coming October the Congregation for the
Causes of the Saints will begin the examination to establish the heroicity
of his virtues; we trust that this may prove to be the first step towards
early recognition at a higher level.
The plan of
Don Bosco's evangelical school is not exhausted in the saints and servants
of God we have mentioned. There is another aspect, to which we have perhaps
not given proper attention but which has an important and special significance
as regards his typicalexperience of the Spirit. 
I refer to the first formation communities of the Congregation in which during
Don Bosco's last years and immediately after his death, his first disciples
caused salesian sanctity to flourish: the novitiate at Foglizzo and the post-novitiate
at Valsalice. In these houses worked Don Rua, Don Barberis, Don Bianchi and
Don Piscetta (to name only a few), and it is significant that in these communities
soon after the death of our dear Father were formed and worked (over a period
of not many years, even if they were not actual contemporaries) a good number
of our confreres who are now servants of God whose causes for beatification
and canonization have been introduced: the Venerable Andrew Beltrami, the
Venerable Prince Augusto Czartoryski, the servant of God Don Luigi Variara,
Blessed Luigi Versiglia, the servant of God Vincent Cimatti. Those two salesian
formation communities are indeed a fruitful extension of the authentic evangelical
School begun by Don Bosco.
proof of this is the fact that some of the above mentioned confreres felt
their first impulse towards sanctity in a meeting, sometimes a mere chance
encounter but a decisive one, with the person of the holy Founder: Don Beltrami,
then a student at Lanzo, read an essay to Don Bosco and received in reply
a Word which shaped his whole life; Bishop Versiglia had the same experience;
Prince Czartoryski was conquered by Don Bosco at a meeting in Paris; Don Variara
experienced a single glance of Don Bosco and remained struck by it for his
whole life; Don Cimatti in his mother's arms saw Don Bosco from afar and subsequently
gave life to his whole apostolate through the intuition of that meeting when
he was a small child.
There can be
no doubt that it was not mere chance that set these future beatified confreres
or servants of God on the path followed by Don Bosco.
All this is
a clear sign of how much the confreres felt the greatness and attractiveness
of Don Bosco's sanctity, and of how there came to be created in our Congregation
and Family a spiritual slant and impulse which is characteristic of its physiognomy.
Here lies the secret of those original bold missionary endeavors; from here
came the energy for the marvelous expansion of the Salesian Family in every
continent; here is the explanation for its adaptability to different cultures,
the fruit of an inborn instinct of universality.
That this force
of sanctity was natural to the lives of our great SDB and FMA missionaries
of the early days is demonstrated too by the surprising fact that in Patagonia
(the first objective of salesian missionary endeavor) the heights of youthful
sanctity were achieved by the Venerable Zeffirino Namuncura and Laura Vicua.
for the honors of the altars we may also recall as later witnesses to Don
Bosco's School of sanctity: Blessed Callixtus Caravario, martyred in China;
the many Spanish martyrs who bore witness to their faith during the dramatic
events of the civil war; Bishop Luigi Olivares, a zealous pastor of the common
people; Fr Rudolph Komorek, outstanding for his spirit of prayer and mortification;
Fr Joseph Quadrio, a teacher of theology and an expert on the mystery of the
Assumption; Bro. Simon Srugi, a fellow countryman of Jesus and a humble and
prophetic expression of ecumenism he had been a Melchite before becoming a
salesian and promoted a loving dialogue with Moslems; and Bro. Artemide Zatti,
the well-deserving samaritan of Patagonia, a land which at that time was just
opening up to civilization and which lacked any of the modern health services:
at Viedma he founded the first hospital in that city.
Among the Daughters
of Mary Help of Christians we may recall the Ven. Sister Teresa Vals Pantellini;
the servants of God Sisters Maddalena Morano, Carmen Moreno, Amparo Carbonell,
Eusebia Palomino, Maria Troncatti, Laura Meozzi and Maria Romero.
Of the Cooperators
we can mention the Ven. Dorotea Chopitea, a great benefactress; Cardinal Joseph
Guarino friend of Don Bosco and founder of a religious institute of women;
Alexandrina da Costa, wonderful in her suffering; Joseph Toniolo, a great
layman much committed in the social field.
And among the
Past Pupils there are the venerable engineer Albert Marvelli, a zealous animator
of oratory work and of Catholic Action; the heroic Brigadier Salvo D Acquisto
who offered his own life for the love of a fellow man; and Baron Antonio Petix,
a tireless apostle among the past pupils themselves.
These and our
other candidates for the altars, who together number more than a hundred, 
are only the tip of an iceberg manifesting
the living presence of the spirit of Don Bosco in the various groups of his
Family and among those to whom his apostolic presence is directed: a spirit
brimming over with vitality, which is versatile and fruitful, and which bears
witness to the existence of a special design of God in the gift of apostolic
sanctity he granted to Don Bosco as the Founder. The spirit of Don Bosco in the perspective of 1988
If the school
of salesian sanctity is the principal legacy of Don Bosco the Founder, the
centenary celebrations for the one hundredth anniversary of his death must
be marked especially by a commitment to a great concern and fidelity as regards
the relaunching of its evangelical content.
We are dealing
with something which is a gift of the Holy Spirit before becoming a program
of our own. But we know that the Spirit does not take back what he has given;
rather has he shown, through the event of the Council, that the gift has been
renewed and is up-to-date as a precious and valid prophecy for the emerging
culture of the present era. If we pray with this purpose in view and really
put our backs into our work, we shall see great results.
This is why
we intend to make of 1988 a year of reflection and resolutions on salesian
sanctity in the light of the great conciliar guidelines of Vatican II.
We can truly
say that the initiatives thought up so far by way of preparation do show that
that we are directing our efforts mainly in this sense. At Congregational
we have put ourselves, especially after the approval
of the new text of the Constitutions and Regulations, in a kind ofstate
of novitiate for an intense and lengthy work of ongoing formation. We want
in 1988 to make a solemn renewal of our religious profession as a living expression
of that apostolic consecration which the text of the Constitutions has taught
us, in the spirit of the Council, to know better, to appreciate and to witness
to with more authentic depth and prophetic application to the present day.
Only by intensifying our pastoral charity in this way shall we be able to
show the world the vitality of Don Bosco's charism. At the level
of the Salesian Family
we feel in stronger communion with the other Groups
which, like us, have renewed the basic texts of their identity in fidelity
to their origins and to the Council. We want to work together to relaunch
the overall project of the Founder, especially by involving a large number
of courageous lay people in the Association of Cooperators and that of the
Past Pupils. We intend to give animation to a vast spiritual and apostolic
Movement of persons which will be concerned with the problems of the young
and of the field of education. At the level
of young people,
those to whom our work is primarily directed, we
have already been committed for some time to a redefinition and promotion
of a youth spirituality which must be the soul and objective (to be attained
gradually in appropriate ways) of our various activities.
It is symptomatic
that through the interest and concern of the Archbishop of Turin, Cardinal
Anastasio Ballastrero, the Holy Father has proclaimed the year extending from
31 January 1988 to 31 January 1989 as a specialHoly Year of the Young in
the Archdiocese of Turin. The main arguments for study and reflection which
will characterize thisYear of grace for the young will be the prophetic
contents of Vatican II. Let us consider as our special task that of consigning
the Council to young people as they move towards the year 2000!
for gaining this extraordinary jubilee will be laid down very soon by the
Apostolic See and will be made known to all in good time. In the meantime
we can start thinking already about the atmosphere to be prepared, programs
to be drawn up, pilgrimages to be organized, and the sanctity to be made known
of a special Holy Year gives to the celebrations of 1988 a wider ecclesial
dimension. This is something we must keep in mind, extending our horizons
beyond the Salesian Family; we must interest the Bishops and faithful of the
local Churches in which we live and give our collaboration, and present the
figure of Don Bosco as that of a modem saint raised up by God as a providential
Friend of youth, and especially of those who are poor and needy. The prospect
is a thrilling one!Kinds of reflection to promote
I think it opportune
to suggest at this point, as a practical guideline for those who have the
task of animation in the provinces, some themes for reflection. These are
no more than an indication, and certainly not an exhaustive one, of certain
topics for analysis which can contribute to the creation of an apt climate
for the celebrations. Some of the following themes are more suitable for study
by the confreres, others can be extended to the Salesian Family, others are
more suited to our young people, and some can be considered by all. It is
to be hoped that these topics may serve to stir up the imagination and lead
to the formulation of others in the same line but more suited to local conditions,
with a view to the great objective to be attained.
Here then, by
way of example, is a list of themes:
The final report of the Extraordinary Synod of 1985.
The signs of the times and the prophecy of Vatican II.
The novelty and vital importance of the liturgy of the New Covenant.
The central position of the Eucharist and Penance in our pastoral work.
The letter of John Paul II to young people, 1985.
The present challenges to a youthful spirituality.
The new problems in the evangelization of cultures.
The urgent need of being able to insert thepreventive system into
The Oratory, our permanent criterion in youth pastoral work.
Christian education and civil society.
The sense of Church witnessed by Don Bosco.
Don Bosco's contribution to social tasks.
Salesian profession and apostolic consecration.
The practice of the evangelical counsels and the indispensability of
The up-to-date nature of Don Bosco as a model of holiness.
and others which are possible, should be developed as a response to the challenges
of various situations, drawing constantly on the abundant lights provided
by the Council.
will help in the assimilation of the great guidelines given by the Church's
magisterium and the directives of the Congregation for living our religious
profession at the present day, and help us also to be witnesses to the particular
message of the evangelical School of Don Bosco among the young and the poor
at the present day. Objectives of salesian sanctity
Italy a few writers have criticized Don Bosco's sanctity as being out of line
with modern culture; one of them has even spoken of ananti-hagiography
to re-establish a more authentic vision of the message of the Gospel of Christ.
Some of them speak and write of sanctity while ignoring the spirit with which
Don Bosco lived it, or else they confuse it with certain cultural attitudes
of his time. Others finally do not know or do not give serious attention to
the spiritual School which grew up around our Father and Founder.
I think that
even criticisms of this kind can be useful to us; in the first place they
will help us to avoid a certain hagiographical mythology and lead us to do
some deep rethinking of what constitutes the essence of holiness, which can
never be reduced to simple moralism and must be carefully distinguished from
the cultural coating of the time in which it is lived.
They will stimulate
us too to greater precision and clarity as regards the historical pluriformity
inherent in concrete ways of bearing witness to the gospel message, separating
the permanent elements from the characteristics proper to Don Boscos evangelical
way. With the help of the Holy Spirit and the motherly protection of the Help
of Christians, we have been able to dedicate ourselves seriously during these
twenty years of research to this delicate work. A convincing proof of this
is provided by the last three General Chapters and the renewed text of the
In a society
in continual process of secularization, where sanctity seems to have been
put on the fringe as a relic of past ages because it would have nothing further
of value to contribute to men of a more scientific and technical culture,
the coming events of the celebrations of 1988 invite us to a fundamental task:
to renew the salesian profession for the new times!
Such a task
involves three points:
a clear reconsideration of the evangelical essence of holiness;
the identification of the permanent essential qualities which characterize
Don Bosco's spirit;
a methodical facing up to the challenge of a constant inculturation
of the salesian charism.
to bring up to date the sanctity of Don Bosco comes to us from the Church
itself, from its Pastors, from Vatican II,
from the new generations
of innumerable youngsters who see in our religious professionthe most precious
gift we can offer to their hopes. 
* * *
the final Report of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops states explicitly that:
Saintly men and women have been the primary sources of renewal at times of
difficulty in the Church's history. We badly need saints today and should
pray to God for them. The institutes of consecrated life should be aware of
their special mission in the Church today and we (the Bishops) should encourage
them in that mission. 
This is an authoritative
appeal to deepen the real significance of our profession and bear witness
to it in its most intimate and fruitful aspect, apostolic sanctity. The Constitutions
remind us thatfidelity to the commitment made at our religious profession
is a response which we continually renew to the special Covenant that the
Lord has made with us. Our perseverance is founded entirely on the fidelity
of God who loved us first, and is nourished by the grace of his consecration.
It is sustained too by love for the young to whom we are sent, and is expressed
in gratitude to the Lord for the gifts that salesian life offers us. 
May Don Bosco
intercede for us at the centenary of his death so that we may all be able
to renew and bear witness to our religious profession according to the plan
of holiness set out in the salesian Constitutions!
I send you my
fraternal greetings and good wishes for an intense spiritual preparation for
1988. I pray for you all.
and affection in the Lord,
Don E. Viganò 
Elenco 1986, Vol. 2, pp. 194-196
Final Report II, A, 4