Fr EGIDIO VIGANÒ:
A MESSAGE OF HOPE
My dear Confreres,:
On 23rd June last our Rector Major Fr Egidio Viganò, 7th successor of Don Bosco, went home to God. Heassed away at the Generalate, assisted by his brothers Frs Angelo and Francesco, strengthened by therayer and affection of confreres and sisters, and surrounded by marks of esteem on theart of many friends. The Holy Father had telephoned himersonally on therevious day with words of comfort and his blessing.
The funeral ceremonies highlighted the gratitude of confreres and members of the Salesian Family to Fr Viganò for his tireless service of guidance and animation. They showed very clearly the esteem he had enjoyed in both civil and ecclesial environments for his theological reparation and his willingness to give his collaboration.
They bore witness especially to the communion the Congregation has been able to create in the world through its communities and works. Fax messages, telegrams and letters of condolence and comments on the ersonality and work of Fr Viganò poured in from all over the world, from both loftyersonalities and simpleeople of low estate.
I take this opportunity to send my sincere thanks torovincials, salesian communities and individual confreres who have sent messages of adherence andarticipation.
There have been commemorative functions in numerouslaces where the Salesians are working, with both ecclesial and local authorities resent and large numbers of the faithful. Ofarticular significance was the one on 30 June at Sondrio, where Fr Viganò was born. At this the Vicar General wasresent with several members of the General Council.
The legacy left to us, in continuity with those of former Rector Majors and General Chapters, constitutes an invaluable family treasure. Speakers and writers have followed one another in emphasizing its most outstanding aspects. Friends and the Press have recalled his contribution to theastoral reflection that has followed Vatican II and the educative enterprises which inspired it. It would beremature at this stage to make a more exhaustive assessment, even for meditationurposes. That will be done in the obituary letter now inreparation. And it will also be of use to us for the report on the State of the Congregation to be submitted to the coming General Chapter.
It would seem more appropriate at theresent moment to let you know the content of the lastages written by Fr Egidio. During his illness he frequently spoke of his desire to leave to the confreres a meditation on suffering as a unique moment ofastoral charity. On Good Friday he had dictated a message in which he said: "Dear members of the Salesian Family throughout the world, I feel united to you in a special way on this sacred day of mystery and sacrifice. I have now been in hospital for some weeks and never before had I felt the experience of Good Friday as aarticular day of Don Bosco's charism. To be immersed in the love of Christ, to be crushed by sufferings of the flesh: I do not think there could be a more appropriate moment for being with the young, for animating confreres and sisters, for intensifying the Salesian Family. What I can offer you is very small but I offer it in todays context of mission and suffering. I thank you for your manyrayers and I offer each of you with brotherly affection my good wishes for Easter blessings. Let us ask Don Rua to let us feel his own 'going halves' with Don Bosco. In the victorious Christ."
It was now a question of developing this message, with the tone and worth impressed byersonal experience.
We encouraged him, in the awareness of the value that such mature reflection would have in therevailing circumstances. The days he spent in the UPS Infirmary, when it seemed that some degree of recovery was takinglace, seemed ideal for collating the notes madereviously. He began to develop them and give definitive shape to his letter and message.
But his strength did not stand up to the strain. The same symptoms returned once more, with a consequent further general weakening which made it impossible for him to deal fully with the topic.
On his table we found six handwrittenages. They do not form even a firstoint, but are only indications to be developed. In them there appear ideas that were dear to him: Jesus the Good Shepherd who gives his life for his flock, and so is raised up again by God,astoral charity, the grace of unity, "da mihi animas", salesian contemplation.
It has seemed to me and to the other members of the Council that, though only in embryo, theseages constitute a kind of testament sui generis, clearly understandable and of value for those who have known Fr Egidio directly or through the letters he has written.
Continue to recommend him to the Lord.
Fr Juan E. Vecchi
The following are theages written by Fr Egidio Viganò, a true message of hope and a stimulus toastoral charity amid suffering andain.
My dear Confreres,
I imagine you are all very busy inreparations for the coming GC24; it will mark another leap forward in the vitality of Don Bosco's charism. Let us concentrate ourrayer, our sacrifices and our reflections for a growth in fidelity to our origins and to the times in which we live. In recent months I have experienced at first hand what new elements are brought into our lives by sickness and the approach of old age. It is a kind of inculturation in suffering which opens up a new vision, enetrating and unavoidable, of the identity of our vocation and the more vital aspects of our specific charism.
To throw some salesian light on thisarticular experience I have been reading once again what we know of the last four years of the life of Don Bosco: his old age accompanied by so much suffering from 1884 to the beginning of 1888, or between the ages of 69 and 72. When he reached 70 his weakness and general degeneration were such that a doctor exclaimed: "He looks like a man of 100". I found myself contemplating a "Founder" who insisted on fulfilling his lofty responsibilities as the bearer of a concrete charism that had been entrusted to him. When Pope Leo XIII suggested that he find a successor, hereferred to have a Vicar with the right of succession, continuing to attend in this way from the depths of his suffering to various vital aspects of the life of the Congregation.
The description of his state of health is impressive: from his eyesight to his legs, from his lungs to the failure of various vital organs. Nevertheless he did not go into hospital for treatment, but rather showed a spiritual courage and even recklessness in undertaking exhausting journeys, despite the orders of doctors and the resistance of confreres. He went first to France (March '84), then to Rome (April-May), then the long journey to Barcelona (April-May '86), then to Milan (September '86), and finally to Rome for the consecration of the Church of the Sacred Heart.
What is most striking about this manner of facing up to suffering is, without any doubt, the giving of himself for the care of the vast work that had been started. At first sight it seems that he was worried about financial matters (for the building of the Sacred Heart in Rome, for the missionary undertakings, for the needs of theoor youngsters in his works, his concern not to leave his successor burdened with debts), and indeed these were urgentroblems; but there were other things of quite a different nature that were worrying him: the business of the Congregation's privileges, the authenticity of the Preventive System (cf. the famous Letter from Rome), the missionary commitment, fidelity to the Pope and defence of his magisterium, the spiritual testament to be left for the confreres, and the dreams of the future of the Congregation. He remained always the head and heart of his work; the responsibility of "Founder" was always in the forefront of his mind, confirmed by the Calvary he was enduring: the light of the cross on the authenticity of the charism.
For my ownart, as I meditated on such exceptional testimony of our dear Father and Founder, I thought it well to concentrate our reflections and direct our thoughts to a central theme of our spirit which needs to be studied at greater depth, especially after the celebration of the recent Synod on the Consecrated Life.
On his way back from the long journey to Barcelona, Don Bosco stopped at the seminary of Grenoble, and in welcoming him the Superior of the seminary said, among other things: "No one knows better than you do the great sanctifyingower of suffering". And Don Bosco shrewdly replied: "No, Monsignor Rector; it is not suffering that sanctifies butatience!"
In this expression lies a spiritual depth which reveals the identity of the true salesian spirit, centred onastoral charity. Contemplative in action is certainly a fine expression, but it does not express the totality of the secret of Don Bosco's spirit. In him during his sickness the motto he had chosen to identify its secret was radiantly clear: da mihi animas, or in other words the gift of himself for the salvation of the young which gives life to the whole of existence: that of activity and that ofatience. Therein lies the true vibration of the salesian soul, as Don Rinaldi has written. In thehysical helplessness of our Father we see clearly andowerfully his unceasing and exhaustive attitude of da mihi animas: "For you I study, for you I work, for you I live, for you I am ready even to give my life"1. Rightly did Don Rua say: "He took no step, he said no word, he took up no task that was not directed to the saving of the young... Truly the only concern of his heart was for souls"2.
His remark about the importance ofatience leads us to single out the true meaning ofastoral charity.
And here we musterforce refer our reflection to the mystery of Christ himself, to his heart and to the events of his life.
Rather than speak ofastoral charity, as a subject for abstract reflection, we want to address ourselves to the existential witness of Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd, i.e. as the livingresentation of a historic fact which is at the origin of the whole Christian vocation and which we musterceive and understand more deeply for the most radical identifying of our spirit.
It is a reflection of an explicitly Christian kind which does not begin from mere concepts, sublime though they be, but from the realism of history:ersons, events and hard facts.
Let us never forget that the Christian faith has its basis in history; it links us with a lived reality that existed before conceptual elaborations and even before sacramental structures themselves.
To understandastoral charity we must feel in the firstlace the heartbeats of the Good Shepherd in his earthly existence, just as to understand the Eucharist we must first refer back to the historical events of Calvary.
And here our reflections make a qualitative leap of lofty realism. The explanation of conceptual considerations and of the objective significance of the whole sacramental order must be found clearly and objectively inreexisting historical reality.
The Synod on the Consecrated Life has offered us alatform for making this rewarding leap.In fact if the Consecrated Life is constitutive of the nature of Church, we must refer back to the mystery of Christ in himself to explain its origin and identity.
We can synthesize such a consideration by declaring with certainty that Jesus Christ is the founder of the Consecrated Life and the originator of the Pastoral Dimension of the New Covenant. The two aspects in him are inseparable and are expressed in the most intense grace of union that canossibly be imagined.
Let us recall what John Paul II says in his apostolic exhortation Pastores dabo vobis: "'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me'(Lk 4,18). The Spirit is not simply 'upon' the Messiah, but he 'fills' him,enetrating everyart of him and reaching to the very depths of all that he is and does. Indeed the Spirit is therinciple of the 'consecration' and 'mission' of the Messiah: 'because he has anointed me and sent me toreach good news to theoor...' (Lk 4,18). Through the Spirit Jesus belongs totally and exclusively to God and shares in the infinite holiness of God, who calls him, chooses him and sends him forth. In this way the Spirit of the Lord is revealed as the source of holiness and of the call to holiness"3.
And here we find the key revelation of whatastoral charity is in itsrimary origin, the fundamental vocation of Jesus to be the Good Shepherd: He is risen as the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep.4
"The essential content of thisastoral charity is the gift of self, the total gift of self to the Church".5
In the heart of Jesus we find that consecration is organically and vitally bound up withastoral activity.
In hisublic ministry he was concerned to form a band of committed ersons for the Kingdom, choosing the Twelve for their service ofastoral charity, and giving them aower of animation and influence for an increase in vigour of the grace of unity between consecration and mission.
It is important to emphasize that between consecration and apostolic ministry there is, in the historical reality existingrior to sacramental structure, a vital sense by which there is no consecratederson who is not in union with the apostolic ministry and, viceversa, apostolic ministry is fully at the service of the consecrated.
If during the Synod the Bishops in speaking of consecratedersons, several times repeated de re nostra agitur, so those who are consecrated, when speaking of the apostolic ministry, must repeat with joyful conviction de re nostra agitur.