LETTER OF RECTOR MAJOR - Fr. EGIDIO VIGANO'
THE PROPHETIC STIMULUS OF THE EUROPEAN SYNOD
Rome, Ash Wednesday
4 March 1992
Introduction. - The European Bishops Synod. - Collapse of ideologies?
- Exhortation to apostolic breadth of vision. - New paths to follow.
- The unchangeable driving force. - The role of Religious and the leading
part played by the young. - Salesian involvement. - Conclusion.
My dear confreres
Lent is a time when we prepare ourselves more seriously for the contemplation
of the Easter mystery, in which is concentrated all our faith and from
which all the aspects of our mission take their rise. I hope that for
every community it may provide, through the efforts of the Rector and
every single confrere, an atmosphere for internal reflection and give
light and strength to the community's plan for the education of young
people to the faith. I hope too that in such an atmosphere special importance
will be given to my last circular on our special effort with regard
In the latest statistics of the Congregation, which refer to the year
1991, there is an item that gives cause for alarm: the number of novices
fell by 80 with respect to the previous year. Some reasons can be given
to explain the drop: two or three provinces, in fact, had suspended
their novitiate in view of a reorganization of the stages in their formation
process. But the fall remains a warning to us to intensify our common
efforts in the youth apostolate as envisaged by the GC23. We have an
urgent need for more numerous and qualified vocations because so many
young people need Don Bosco's charism and so many local Churches are
asking insistently for our help. Pressing requests are reaching us from
all five continents.
After the recent great changes in Eastern Europe we have already courageously
accepted new front-line commitments. The Apostolic Administrator of
Eastern Europe, Mgr Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, for example,' already has
a good number of confreres assigned to his area; and the Venice Province
is about to open a vocational training school in Moscow at the invitation
of the civil authorities.
The Apostolic Administrator of Siberia, Mgr Joseph Werth who resides
at Novosibirsk, is pressing us to help him and has already assigned
to us the town of Aidan (much further east). The Province of Bratislava
in Slovakia is responding generously to his invitation.
We are going to Albania too; the Apostolic See has asked us to open
various works: a vocational school at Tirana and a catechetical center
at Scutari. Some Italian provinces and that of Slovenia have already
accepted the responsibility for these.
And I do not give any further examples, because if we go on to the other
continents the requests run into hundreds, without any exaggeration.
But in addition to these new requests, there is also an urgent need
to renew the works we have already; for an authentic and effective evangelizing
thrust an injection of youthful and competent energy is needed. We follow
the example of Don Bosco who always pressed forward but without chancing
his arm: his philanthropic projects were always accompanied by trust
in divine Providence and nourished by a strong spirituality and a zealous
concern for the promoting of vocations, convinced as he always was of
the enlivening presence of the Holy Spirit.
But what makes the need for vocations so terribly urgent is the immensity
of ,the harvest waiting to be gathered in. Pastors pray and exhort;
they do not simply limit themselves to the pastoral structures of yesterday,
they do not confine their activity only to the sheepfold but look with
zealous eyes to today's world with its numerous and insistent challenges;
they look at them from the standpoint of pastors, not to foster discouragement
but to face up to them boldly and courageously.
Ever since Vatican II, in Synods and Bishops Conferences, in the journeys
of the Holy Father and in the indications of the teaching Church, the
Pope and the bishops have been speaking to us with a boldness that is
prophetic. They sense the breath of the Spirit which is prompting the
People of God to a new beginning as the third millennium of the faith
It is with this anxiety stemming from apostolic zeal that I want to
offer you some reflections on the recent European Bishops Synod; for
all of us they can throw light on the way to carry out the new evangelization,
even though we may be working in other continents.
Soon the Fourth General Assembly of the Latin-American Bishops will
take place in. Santo Domingo; soon too there will be the African Synod.
These and other similar ecclesial events are an incitement to us to
go forward with courage and wisdom along new paths.
The European Bishops Synod
The Synod was announced unexpectedly by the Pope at Velehrad in Moravia
on 22 April 1990, and took place at the Vatican from 28 November to
14 December 1991. Taking part were Bishops representing all the countries
of Europe; including Turkey. Present too as 'fraternal delegates' were
representatives of other Christian Churches and denominations, and a
certain number of invited people. The presence among the latter of the
Rector Major with other religious superiors is certainly for the whole
Salesian Family a gift which becomes also an appeal.
The event was intended and planned as a 'special Synod' of brief duration:
it was to consist of a week for the exchange of information between
east and west concerning experiences of faith in the last fifty years,
and a second week for drawing up stimulating guidelines and action criteria
designed to lead believers to a practical involvement in a new kind
of evangelization appropriate to the social and cultural situation of
the present day. It was not a Synod of the world's bishops, as was the
special Synod of 1985, twenty years after the ending of Vatican II,
nor was its purpose to tackle specific themes. It aimed at intensifying
communion between Eastern and Western Europe and proclaiming the common
intention to renew the manner of fulfilling the duty of evangelization
in a future that looked like being particularly challenging. It was
more a prophetic event than a blueprint for action.
The Synod's 'Final Declaration' specifically stated that it was a 'first
step' towards the dawn of the third millennium. 
At the foundation of the Synod's guidelines there is a careful consideration
of the significance of the extraordinary events that took place in Europe
in 1989. They must be considered by believers as a 'kairos', i.e. a
moment in the history of human development particularly enriched by
the presence of the Holy Spirit. This gives rise to pastoral reflections
for the assessment of the situations resulting from the new realities
and the identification of the urgent needs as regards evangelization:
as though the Lord himself were suggesting to the Pastors of the Church
the path that should be followed by the People of God.
And at the very outset we have a point that is of value everywhere:
the 'enlightened reading' of historical events of the present day and
context. It is not a question of interpreting them from a simple sociological
or political point of view but rather of a careful and communal reflection
of faith on the pastoral perspectives offered us by the future of the
humanity in which we are inserted. Without any doubt we can also make
use for this purpose of the objective contributions of the human sciences,
but we do not stop at their level. By faith we rise above them, in our
concern to discover in the vicissitudes and challenges of these particular
adults and young people of the present day the promptings God is offering
us for seeking in the Gospel an adequate reply for solving their many
Lack of attention to historical development, to what is taking place,
to the new situations and the emerging culture, would be a truly harmful
attitude that would clip our wings as regards our ability to take part
effectively in the new evangelization.
It would be both abstract and evading the issue to think of God as being
unconcerned with history. Vatican II has taught us, in fact, to allow
ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit, not only by interior reasoning
and conclusions (based even on the most erudite theology) but also -
and very practically by considering his presence in history in the daily
events which continually challenge us to find the response to them in
In the light of this first observation concerning the experience of
the Synod, I thought with satisfaction of our own GC23 which led us
to begin the journey of faith by making a serious pastoral assessment
of the youth reality and its contexts. When compared with that of the
Synod, our own assessment was limited to the small sector of the daily
apostolic work we have to carry out among youth; but that too must be
inserted in the great historical turnabout studied pastorally by the
Collapse of ideologies?
The Synod has spoken of the fall of communism as a system for the structuring
of society. The demolition of the Berlin wall, the new political situation
in the former Soviet Union and the countries under its influence, the
breakup of Yugoslavia, the fall of the regime in Albania, are all events
of great importance, unexpected and even unthinkable, that have now
become real and irreversible realities. They are surely the expression
.of the serious nature of the epoch-making changes through which we
are living, and the collapse of a mendacious ideology.
But this does not mean that ideologies are finished. There are others
in both western Europe and the world in general; but the collapse of
real socialism leaves so many consequences in the fields of culture,
economics, politics and religion, that they continue to be challenges
to the faith and call for the intervention of a new evangelization,
especially among young people.
The reaction brought about in the Pastors of the Church has not been
one of celebration at the collapse of former regimes - even though they
certainly thanked God for a kind of 'miracle' in history (we may recall
the expression of unspeakable amazement used by Mr Havel, the President
of Czechoslovakia) - but rather that of the need to consider more clearly
and concretely what the Church must do to carry out her specific mission
in the face of so many previously unknown problems. The Bishops did
not set out to provide responses by suggestions of a political, economic
or cultural kind (which do not belong to their ministry, even though
they are facing obligations which involve everyone), but with a religious
and pastoral concern to enlighten the minds and raise the hopes of Christ's
disciples and men of good will.
From the considered interpretation by the Pastors of the effects of
the downfall of communism there has come an observation which is very
significant for evangelization. The term 'anthropological catastrophe'
has been used to sum up the very serious negative consequences of what
has happened. The harm done to freedom, which has been alienated from
its true nature, has become very clear: the freedom of the individual,
of his conscience and creativity, the ideals to be pursued and the meaning
of life, have all been eroded. But it must be added at once that the
remedy for so serious a calamity is not to be sought simply in the kind
of freedom proclaimed by consumerism. Unfortunately in Europe, even
on this side of the Berlin wall, there were and still are ideological
deviations which damage man's freedom, and hence harm both individual
and society. It was the Synod's hope that the new evangelization would
bring it about that Christians would become in society true witnesses
to Christ who has set us free,
or in other words proclaimers of
the 'liberating' Gospel.
The collapse of the dominating ideology of eastern Europe has highlighted
the ideological deficiencies of the west.
Scholars have noted that in recent decades eastern Europe has witnessed
a progressive dissociation between Christian belief and observance,
with religious practices becoming 'weak' and rather subjective, following
personal criteria; while in central and eastern Europe, despite the
wonderful examples of fidelity to Christ and the Church by many believers,
a significant number of citizens have forgotten the faith and many indeed
have set themselves against it. In the newly liberated countries there
is an urgent need for cultural and ecclesial updating; they lack resources
and are fragile from a social and political point of view. In them there
is a mirage of consumerism, and dangerous nationalist movements are
The result is that at the end of the second millennium one can no longer
speak of 'Christian' Europe, but rather of 'pluralist' Europe with areas
of atheism, agnosticism, indifferentism, a strong presence of other
religions and serious internal divisions within Christianity itself.
And of course there are also some healthy Christian roots to be given
The Synod proclaimed without any ambiguity that in this context the
Church is called upon to dedicate herself urgently to the new evangelization,
which includes the task of providing a proper education to human freedom.
Anthropological errors stem not only from atheistic totalitarian systems;
they are also the result of a bad ideological use of certain scientific
data. It is important that the Gospel now occupy the space usurped by
these ideological intrusions.
- One of the tasks of the new evangelization is the wise. amalgamation
of three great sources of truth in the service of freedom: the anthropology
of the current reality, the application of the Gospel to the present
context, and the Church's social doctrine. Without the mutual compenetration
of these three aspects there can be no efficacious education to the
faith. The Synod has placed particular insistence on this theme, showing
that freedom is not in itself an absolute and individualistic value
but is directed to 'truth' and to 'communion'. The perfection of the
human person, in fact, is love: that love of charity which has its source
in the life of the Three who are One, and its supreme model in the mystery
of Christ. In lay western culture, on the other hand, we are witnessing
a deeply confusing 'debacle of love' (and hence also of 'freedom') because
of selfishness, strife, eroticism, injustice and lack of solidarity.
There is no loving freedom if self-donation in sacrifice and solidarity
is lacking. Experience teaches us that human efforts by themselves can
never succeed in creating an earthly paradise, either for individuals,
families, society or the world at large. And we must note here at once
that there will be no 'new evangelization' for Europe or any other continent
unless human progress in anthropology and sociology is permeated by
This is why the Synod appeals for the inculturation of the Gospel. Today's
evangelizers are called to develop a serious cultural preparation in
which the present human sciences will have a primary place. The 'new
evangelization' is in fact the 'evangelization of the new world'.
Exhortation to apostolic breadth of vision
Any ecclesial event is necessarily localized in character, but usually
carries with it consequences on a universal scale because it touches
the life of faith that belongs to all, even though it must necessarily
begin from a local experience.
This is true in a special way of the recent Synod, and its members were
fully aware of it. They were concerned, in fact, to avoid in their suggestions
anything that could give rise in any way to the least danger of 'Euro-centricity'.
They spoke explicitly of a future European unity open to a universal
solidarity: 'Europe', says the Declaration, 'has given the rest of the
world much in culture and technology which now constitutes the heritage
of world civilization. But the history of Europe has known many dark
moments, among which it is right to mention imperialism and the oppression
of many peoples together with the exploitation of their resources. In
fact a certain 'Euro-centricity', whose consequences can be noted at
the present day, is to be rejected.' 
Hence it is indispensable that the new evangelization should include
a strong sense of historical conversion, in view of a more solid society
which will be able to look beyond its own boundaries and interests.
The cry of Christ suffering comes to us very strongly today from many
parts of the world: 'we must respond to this call with concrete options
which will aim at an end to the arms trade, an opening of our markets,
a more even arrangement of international debt, and everything which
in those regions would foster cultural and economic growth as well as
democratic forms of life. Among other things Europe itself has drawn
great riches from the treasury of other races and cultures... All sorts
of needs and the great sufferings of the world remind us of God's eschatological
promises, which can never be fully realized in this world. Through real
solidarity and love we can, in the midst of a divided and tom humanity,
set things in motion and sow seeds for the future fulfillment of eternal
In this sense the Synod thought it well to high-light the missionary
generosity of Europe through the centuries, asking that it be continued
and intensified at the present day. The various interventions by representatives
from North and South America, from Africa, Asia and Australasia, present
in the assembly, gratefully confirmed this missionary thrust springing
from the genuine apostolic concern of so many European believers.
Moreover, the lesson of the Synod refers also to two other vital aspects
of the new evangelization which are of concern everywhere.
is that of an apostolic boldness of faith which does
not take fright nor draw back in the face of an enormous task that at
first sight seems impossible: that of evangelizing the building of a
united Europe; a hundred peoples locked in strife who must be brought
to live together and love each other in a single common homeland. When
we think of the innumerable religious, political, economic, cultural,
racial and historical problems inherent in such a plan, we may begin
to think that the fascinating goal is in fact an unattainable utopia.
And yet the directives of the Synod urge Christians to become leaders
in the project. Time will be needed, a thousand and one difficulties
will have to be overcome, the complexity of the operation will demand
help from science and technology; it will call for dialogue, perseverance
and reconciliation. The Church is well aware that such a project belongs
primarily to the temporal order, but she is not for this reason unconcerned
about it. Rather is she convinced that this is a particularly important
way for her new evangelization work. She wants to be faithful to Vatican
II which declared: 'The work of Christ's redemption concerns essentially
the salvation of men; it takes in also, however, the renewal of the
whole temporal order.' 
And 'far from depriving the temporal order of its autonomy, of
its specific ends, of its own laws and resources, or its importance
for human well-being, this design, on the contrary, increases its energy
and excellence, raising it at the same time to the level of man's integral
vocation here below.' 
And so apostolic boldness in evangelization has no fear about tackling
enormous tasks concerned with concrete life in the temporal order, because
it feels itself enlightened and supported in its specific religious
and pastoral mission by the power of the Holy Spirit.
And here I think it important to emphasize that the heart of the evangelizer
must cultivate in itself the ardor of theological hope as its daily
nourishment. The knowledge that he is called to collaborate at a moment
in history characterized by a more intense presence of the Holy Spirit
should lead him to rise above himself and his limitations, in the knowledge
that the Spirit is his driving force in a Church which 'saves' the man
of the present day, and which is sent to be the leaven as a 'sacrament'
in the epoch-making changes that are taking place, even though the manner
in which it is all happening is puzzling. The evangelizer's apostolic
breadth of vision is nourished always at the spring of hope. We could
say that the 'miracle' of which President Havel spoke can be multiplied
in the new pastoral work by the Christian hope of the evangelizers.
vital aspect of the new evangelization which is of
concern everywhere is the awareness that the changes we are witnessing
in today's world are signs, as the Council said, of an 'emerging culture'
which is becoming ever more universal.
A careful reading of the
introduction to the document 'Gaudium et spes' 
assures us that in every continent man is 'living today through
a new period of his history', marked by 'a real social and cultural
It is not a question of Europe alone, but of a new era in history which
is beginning for everyone. The cultures of different peoples must necessarily
take account of such deep transformations. 'A more universal form of
culture is gradually taking shape, and through it the unity of mankind
is being fostered and expressed in the measure that the particular characteristics
of each culture are preserved.' 
The new evangelization cannot prescind from this fact; it must help
to overcome the recurrent danger of deviations stemming from various
national, continental, racial and ideological prejudices which imprison
the dynamism of cultures, open of its nature to the future of all men,
in areas fenced off from universality and the future. Dangerous examples
of such short-sightedness can be found everywhere to some extent, brought
about for the most part more by uncontrolled feelings and partial projects
than by an understanding of faith.
The fact is that at the present day the simultaneous maturing of the
various signs of the times is taking place in Europe with ever greater
acceleration, with the result that the faith and the Gospel are meeting
with a collection of urgent challenges; if these are given an adequate
response by the Church they will provide a stimulus for all and also,
to some extent, a source of inspiration for pressing ahead. The new
evangelization will be characterized by an ability for inculturation
and an authentic missionary mentality concerned about the many new varieties
of the pagan Areopagus and by the bringing together of people of different
race, culture and religion. But the building of such a pluralist society
is an enterprise that needs God for its attainment.
The evangelization of a new Europe will not be the restoration of something
of yesterday, but a new beginning of faith in the living together of
people in a manner previously unknown: it will be a new kind of presence
of the Holy Spirit in the emerging culture so as to produce a hitherto
unfamiliar civilization of love.
This apostolic breadth of vision requires an open mentality, fostered
by a world vision and universal solidarity - qualities which find genuine
growth in the living mystery of Christ's Church. The education of young
people to the faith therefore means being able to form in them these
same values of a world vision and of solidarity with all peoples.
New paths to follow
In a circular letter I wrote some three years ago 
I spoke especially of the change of mentality that the new
evangelization presupposes in us. The European Synod has now put to
us some large scale problems that are emerging and which must be tackled
by new methods. They refer specifically to Europe, but they give light
in fact to everyone. They are challenges which spring from the new cultural
situation and which highlight some of the greatest difficulties for
those working in the pastoral sector.
In Europe at the present day there are many who know nothing at all
of the Gospel message; others, equally numerous, remain indifferent
to it or unbelievers even though they know it; more than a few are still
looking positively for a transcendent experience but think they can
find it in other religions; others too there are who explicitly reject
Christianity, being strongly imbued with a scientific anthropocentricism
which leads them to a growing conviction that they have now reached
a 'post-Christian' era; hence they consider the heritage of the Gospel
in its essential points and especially in its moral teaching to be pre-scientific
and out of date, and so to be eliminated. 
From this situation massive challenges arise for the Gospel if it be
read out of context. In reality the Word of God, even though it was
fully pronounced twenty centuries ago, addresses practical problems
of all generations. The attitudes mentioned above represent, in fact,
only the tip of the immense iceberg of the epoch-making changes.
In their examination of the context the Synodal Fathers have pointed
mainly to the following major problems:
- the materialistic standpoint
from which the at tempt is made
to interpret anthropology;
- the political secularism
to be placed at the foundation of
the new democratic and pluralistic city;
- the vast pagan contingent,
with so many of them unbaptized,
who are concerned only about their own immediate needs;
- the religious relativism
that is evident in the face
of the widely varying ideas of transcendence among different religions.
By this time Europe is indeed a continent that is pluricultural, plurinational,
pluriracial and plurireligious; can it possibly become the homeland
of a solid civilization? The Synod has responded with hope. Today's
Europe resembles an immense crucible or, if you like, a huge kiln for
the forging of a new kind of citizenship. Evangelization will have to
come up with new schemes for enlightening and responding to new challenges
that never arose in the past, and in particular to the four major problems
referred to above.
Let us look at some of the ways proposed to us as evangelizers of the
young for tackling the above themes.
- The materialistic standpoint,
widespread at the present day,
is not just a blunder of ignorant people; it is closely linked with
scientific and technical progress. It presents the model of a critical
and self-assured citizen, formally respectful of others but without
any convictions linked with transcendent principles. To the question:
what kind of individual is needed for the new culture?, he replies on
a 'rational' philosophical and scientific level which excludes from
anthropology any real recourse to God. The mentality is one of 'learned
ignorance', which seeks among other things to formulate an entirely
new system of ethics, to be translated when possible even into social
Man would be a purely earthly being, for whom the proclamation of the
Gospel would have no sense; neither would sin, redemption or immortality.
Put in these rapid and over-simplified terms, some might think it an
attitude easy to correct, but the reality is far different. The educator
to the faith is called upon to provide a competent response, and for
this he needs to attend to at least two demanding and complementary
aspects: in the first place he.. needs an adequate anthropological preparation,
so as to be on a par with today's scientific progress; and secondly
he needs the ability to show that faith is never really at odds with
reason and that the latter is essentially and historically open to the
transcendent: a competence therefore, and it is new from a cultural
point of view, about what man is in his critical maturing.
I think it important for us Salesians to emphasize this aspect. It implies
a serious reassessment, for instance, of the school, in line with the
deep renewal called for by Vatican II. The way of the school certainly
belongs to the new evangelization: it is the third symbol in our oratorian
criterion for renewal. 
How silly therefore to talk about withdrawing from schools so as to
do pastoral work at the present day! The school has a most urgent part
to play in evangelization. The Holy Father recently declared in the
First National Congress of the Italian Church on the Catholic School, 
that it is the place of culture for the purposes of education
and that it bears within itself great resources for the new evangelization.
The dialogue between faith and culture is fundamental: 'The Church expects
much from Catholic schools for her mission in the world in which the
cultural challenge is primary, most daring and most productive.' 
During the Synod emphasis was rightly laid on the importance that must
be given in the new evangelization to Catholic schools and universities,
in which cultural and scientific development grows in harmony with the
faith. The Synodal Declaration expressly declares that 'in nations recently
freed from communism there is an urgent need to establish Catholic universities
and schools.' 
Here therefore we have a new way, that of rethinking the school in line
with the demands of the Gospel in the prevailing context.
has a strong incidence on the democratic
dimension of the pluralistic society; and this is something with many
implications for the life of faith, especially of the lay faithful and
the young. As is noted in the encyclical 'Centesimus annus', there is
a tendency at the present day to consider agnosticism as the fundamental
philosophy and attitude for a democratic mentality; the believer, convinced
of a very definite vision of faith concerning man, would be considered
unreliable from a democratic point of view, since he would not accept
that truth is determined by the majority, or that it is subject to variation
according to different political trends.
In the face of such a judgment the new evangelization will have to give
particular importance to the teaching of the social doctrine of the
Church, which specifically enlightens democratic social life with the
integral truth regarding the individual and society.
In its light the vast horizon opens up of the true nature of the lay
state, intensely proclaimed by Vatican II and implying in evangelizing
activity a large-scale relaunching of the vocation and mission of the
lay faithful in the world. 'Laicism' is always prey to domination by
some ideology which distorts its ability to interpret the temporal order
correctly. There is an urgent need to present in a lucid and updated
manner a faith that can perceive in the whole of created reality the
autonomies intended and inserted by the Creator in the very nature of
Here therefore is a new way that we too can pursue in evangelization
with constancy and dedication: that of the 'lay-project' and of the
social dimension of charity to which the GC23 specifically invites us. 
The vast pagan contingent,
especially of young people, who know
nothing of Christ and his Church, is a challenge to the Christian community.
The customary pastoral mediations of parish life do not reach them;
they need specific interventions, thought up with missionary creativity
and suitable pedagogy. On this new frontier we Salesians must be able
to devise original ways of approaching the young and of rethinking the
way we can present the hierarchy of revealed values; this is something
that calls for a gradual pedagogical process and a great deal of pastoral
What the Pope said to us about 'prevention' should be considered in
this connection with particular attention: 'the art of positive education
by putting forward what is good through appropriate experiences which
call for the involvement of the pupil and are attractive because of
their splendor and lofty nature; the art of producing growth in the
young persons 'from within' by appealing to their inner freedom to oppose
external conditioning and formalism; the art of winning the heart of
young people so as to inculcate in them a joyful and satisfied attraction
to what is good, correcting deviations and preparing them for the future
by means of a solid character formation.' 
In connection with 'missionary' work among the young, this evidently
shows us a new way of relaunching the oratory criterion of Don Bosco.
The new evangelization requires us to be generous in 'refounding the
Oratory', which is precisely what the GC23 asked us to do.
begins from the positive fact of a certain
openness to the transcendent and the search for a religious experience,
but it can often open the way to religious experiences that are not
Christian. It must be kept in mind too that in Europe there are well-deserving
Christian churches that are non-Catholic and there is an ever increasing
number of immigrants belonging to great religions born in other continents;
at the present day also we are witnessing the spreading of various sects.
This is a hard and somewhat complex fact that compels us to incorporate
strongly in the new evangelization the demands of an ecumenical mentality
and the ability for religious dialogue.
The situation is
a delicate one and must be approached by a variety of commitments appropriate
to the religious groups concerned, and to be pursued with clear convictions
about our own Catholic identity.
In settling on new ways for evangelization we have a particular interest
in two aspects that the evangelizer must acquire and develop: to be
a sign and bearer of the faith with a clear ecumenical mentality, and
to cultivate an ability for dialogue so as to expound the mystery of
Christ together with its objective and central nature through a gradual
pedagogical process. This new way touches more directly on the formation
of the evangelizers or . their change of mentality.
Of these two aspects, the first (that of the ecumenical mentality) requires
us to make a careful revision of our study programs and the formation
of our confreres in matters concerning other Christian churches, the
great religions, and also as regards a knowledge of the more prominent
sects present in the area. This will be a help to a more realistic cultivation
of the identity of the evangelizer's own Catholic faith by appealing
to historical data, not so much to defend a thesis as to know the religious
thought of men with whom we live.
The second aspect (that of dialogue) takes us back to the preventive
system with its fostering of easy approach and exchange of views, of
respect and understanding for others even if one cannot always share
their opinions. Here it is important to keep alive in us all the spiritual
and methodological heritage contained in our symbolic name of 'Salesians':
it embraces affability, service, dialogue and patient exchange of views.
It makes us think, as Don Bosco wanted, of our Patron St Francis de
Sales and his extraordinary pastoral charity, especially in the difficult
mission of the Chablais.
We need urgently to acquire an ecumenical mentality that is capable
I think that the consideration of these four major problems, though
presented here in a very compressed form, can lead us to develop new
ways: to intensify the pastoral quality of the school, to dedicate ourselves
to the planning and realization of the lay project and the social dimension
of freedom, to relaunch the Oratory with initiatives in group activity,
and to form in ourselves a mentality for dialogue in respect of the
various religious experiences.
In this way the new evangelization will gain strength as a' dynamic
force in the complicated changing era which challenges us. Faith gives
us energy for the future and fosters our fidelity to the mission we
have received from God: it is not something passive nor a harking back
to the past, but a new beginning. It is something for which we have
to pay a price - but it is indispensable.
The unchangeable driving force
The Synod's Final Declaration contains a specific indication for ensuring
the authenticity of evangelization in a context that is so new and variegated.
'It is not enough', says the text, 'to spread 'Gospel values' like justice
and peace. Evangelization is truly Christian only if is preached the
person of Christ, who is their source and foundation, as well as being
the center of the whole Gospel message.'
It is a question of perceiving and bringing others to discover in Christ
the great modem challenge of a new choice of God; not the God of our
imagination, but the God who is objectively true in himself and in history;
not a religious elaboration from below but a divine revelation from
above of a historical kind; not the imperfect prophecy of a man, but
the human incarnation of God; not a repetition of hackneyed habit, but
an enthusiastic daily rediscovery.
A God who loves us, a God who creates us, a God who speaks to us, a
God who is solid with us in our sufferings and victory. Not therefore
an unknown God who is far away, but a God who is close to us as a Father,
a God who makes himself one of us, a God who comes to us individually
and forgives our sins, a God who rebuilds us from within and enables
us to overcome death itself, a God who does not take away our suffering
but brings it to fruition in a happiness that will never end. The Gospel
of Christ consists in proclaiming to every individual: God loves you,
God is with you, God saves you!
Here I would like to recall what we said when reflecting for the first
time on the new evangelization. We saw that we had to consider seriously
many cultural innovations accompanying cultural development; not to
do so would mean paralysis. But 'today as yesterday and as it will be
again tomorrow, the supreme novelty of Christianity remains alive, enthralling
and decisive: it is the death and resurrection of Christ, a novelty
which is at once historical and theological. It is not enough to recognize
the exceptional nature of this event in an abstract way; it must be
presented as the most important 'news' for the present day, something
which amazes and renews, which has a response for the most distressing
questions, which opens the life of every individual and all human history
to the transcendent; it is a matter of the mysterious eschatological
dimension (i.e. of the final end, already in some sense present) which
has its incidence on human cultures, enlightens them, judges and purifies
them, discerns them and can foster the values emerging from them. The
new evangelization bases everything on this supreme event: the novelty
par excellence! There has never been, nor will there ever be in the
future, a novelty greater than this one; it is the yardstick for the
measurement of all others; it never grows old; it is the perennially
greatest wonder of God's insertion in history; it is the new creation
anticipated in our old world. We have to be able to make this supreme
novelty visible and communicate it to others. ' 
This, therefore, is the Gospel; and there is no other! It cannot change
because not even God himself could devise an event greater than this;
it is for ever the supreme expression of his love for man. If we speak
of a new evangelization, said the Synod, 'it is precisely because the
Holy Spirit is always bringing forth the newness of the Word of God
and continually stirs men and women spiritually. Moreover, this evangelization
is new because it is not immutably linked to any particular civilization,
since the Gospel of Jesus Christ can shine forth in all cultures.' 
The role of Religious and the leading part played by the young.
The mission to evangelize is a task for all the People of God. From
the new kind of relationship between the Church and the world a requirement
emerges which is very important as regards the task of the lay faithful
in this connection. They are in the front line for meeting innovations
in the temporal order and in the emerging culture. But together with
them, and as their energizing principle, there is the consecrated life,
which is a strong reminder to all that the world cannot be transformed
and offered to the Father without the spirit of the beatitudes.
For this reason Religious have a strategic part to play in
the new evangelization. History shows us that to them was due in large
part the first evangelization of all five continents. Paul VI, in the
Apostolic Exhortation 'Evangelii nuntiandi', speaks of the 'immense
contribution' they made in the past and continue to make at the present
day: 'Thanks to their consecration they are eminently willing and free
to leave everything and to go and proclaim the Gospel even to the end
of the earth. They are enterprising and their apostolate is often marked
by an originality, by a genius that demands admiration. They are generous:
often they are found at the outposts of the mission, and they take the
greatest of risks for their health and their very lives. Truly the Church
owes them much.'  ,
The great problems of the present day have need of an urgent renewal
by Religious so that the testimony given by their identity and apostolate
may be of greater quality: 'Religious men and women and their communities
will be able to offer to all of Europe the witness of a life rooted
in the Gospel if the call to what is essential in consecrated life becomes
more deeply rooted in them.' 
That 'if gives us much food
for thought. The main objectives to be realized are: the primacy of
spirituality; the awareness of the ecclesial nature of the charisms
of the religious life; and the need for an overall pastoral project
drawing its inspiration from the document 'Mutuae relationes', which
is still relevant at the present day.
There you have the point! Those Religious who were the first evangelizers
of continents were full of the ardor of faith, apostles of the Church
and collaborators of the bishops. In our own brief history, we Salesians
can recall names like Cagliero, Fagnano, Milanesio, Lasagna, Costamagna,
Balzola, Evasio Rabagliati, Cimatti, Versiglia and Caravario, etc. Their
example is a call to us to renew the quality of our witness and activity.
The words of John Paul II have already become classical: 'new enthusiasm,
new methods, new expressions.'
In an interview on the topic 'What new evangelization?', the theologian
Max Thurian was asked whether there was some model of an evangelizer
who had a special fascination for him at the present day. Without any
hesitation he replied that he considered as a sublime model the saintly
Cure of Ars, who became among his people a convincing exponent of who
God is and of his infinite mercy. In the evangelizer there must be a
contact with Christ and an ability to. communicate his mystery to others
that permeates his entire personal existence: it is more a matter of
testimony than of reasoning.
Now if we Salesians were to ask ourselves to whom we should look for
a model for our own inspiration, I do not think there would be any doubt
about the reply - we must look to Don Bosco. Not indeed for a deeper
understanding of the cultural innovations of the present day, but rather
to reflect with him on those three elements indicated by the Pope for
the efficacy of the new evangelization. Don Bosco, the evangelizer of
the young, is our model and inspiration in each of the three elements:
zeal, method and expression.
- As regards zeal:
Don Bosco teaches us the intense pastoral
implication of 'Da mihi animas'; the primacy of the salesian spirit
must characterize our renewed zeal. This is a commitment we have taken
on in the period following the Council, and to neglect it would render
us incapable of educating to the faith.
- In method,
i.e. in the art of education, he is the model in
his pastoral practice, though at the same time we must give careful
attention to the challenges inherent in the 'new education'. 
The Holy Father addressed to us the letter 'Iuvenum Patris'
precisely to reassess this treasure of educative criteriology for the
- In ways of expression,
he inspires us by his tireless apostolic
creativity. Think, for instance, of his initiatives (all of them new
and original among the people of his day) in the fields of the use of
spare time, schools for the common people, entry to the world of work,
social communication, and confidence in group activity among youth.
New situations are continually arising at the present day which call
for creativity from evangelizers, moved by the same spiritual ardor
and the same criteria regarding method.
The GC23 has asked us to 'refound the Oratory', through a renewal in
active fidelity to these principles which shine so brilliantly in our
Founder. Drawing our inspiration from him, we want in all truth to be
leaders in the new evangelization.
The recent Synod goes on to make a special appeal to 'young men and
women to be leaders as evangelizers of the new generations.' 
We must commit ourselves to the spreading and animation of
this appeal, convinced that (in the words of 'Christifideles laici')
'youth must not simply be considered as an object of pastoral concern
for the Church: in fact, young people are and ought to be encouraged
to be active on behalf of the Church as leading characters in evangelization
and participants in the renewal of society.'
The deliberations of the GC23 need to be carefully studied in every
community so as to draw up plans for putting them effectively into practice.
I think it is one of the Rector Major's duties to invite confreres to
be in vibrant practical harmony with the Church's thinking, in her experiences
of the Holy Spirit and in her bold apostolic projects. The European
Synod of Bishops is an ecclesial event that should stir us deeply, the
confreres of Europe in the first place but later all those in the other
continents too, but in different ways. Something similar will happen
soon for the confreres of Latin America and then for those of Africa,
after their respective Bishops Synods, the results of which will touch
the whole Congregation. Each of these events is a moment of grace for
the universal Church, and hence for all our Congregation.
Meanwhile our European provinces (and they number no less than 40!)
are committed to a meeting at the Generalate next June of all the Provincials
with the Rector Major and General Council, to consider what steps can
be taken, in association with the other constituent groups of the Salesian
Family, to meet the Synod's indications. In August next at Colle Don
Bosco there will also be the 'Confronto-92' with young people from our
foundations all over Europe to launch them in the same direction. In
Rome we have already had meetings with some Provincials of Eastern Europe,
accompanied by the members of their councils, to see what can be done
in connection with the many problems that have arisen; there have also
been meetings with the delegates for youth pastoral work from the same
areas, who have the' urgent task of creating a whole new approach to
Summing up, you can see that in harmony with the Synod there is a widespread
desire to promote communion and participation, and this is a stimulus
above all to our pastoral work for the young. The fact that they have
started out on this road has given vital growth in these provinces to
the sense of Church and will prompt continual creative and promising
apostolic suggestions. But all provinces indeed should draw inspiration
from what the celebration of this Synod means for the universal Church.
Among its stimulating aspects we may emphasize the following:
- awareness of the historical importance of the period in which we are
living and its informed interpretation for the renewal of pastoral activity;
- education to a faith that will provide living energy for the individual,
the family and the society that has to be renewed;
- apostolic breadth of vision and hope rooted in the power of the Holy
Spirit for great apostolic commitments in the future;
- the true nature of the new evangelization and the urgent need for
it, with its centering on the mystery of Christ in the perspective of
the many paths to be followed:
- the evangelical interpretation of an anthropological turning-point
curbed by ideological deviations of various kinds which requires enlightenment
of the revealed truth for the benefit of human freedom;
- inculturation of the Gospel as a missionary dimension of education
to the faith: a new humanism to be purified and developed, in which
a proper promotion of women will clearly appear;
- the overcoming of all nationalism and 'continentalism' for a concrete
formation to universal solidarity;
- dedication to the formation of the laity which has a leading place
in the mission of the Church for the world;
- the exchange of gifts between different ecclesial experiences, with
the emergence of a living testimony of the mystery of the cross and
the vitally indispensable nature of Peter's ministry;
- the desirability that in the hearts of the evangelizers there may
be no separation between spirituality, liturgy and theology, as testimony
to a vital faith-synthesis;
- formation of conscience in the delicate field of moral conduct, etc.
All these aspects, and others as well, are to be found in the climate
of the interventions, dialogue and documents of the European Synod of
And so we do well to give proper value to this visit of the Holy Spirit
at a historic moment that brings people of different cultures ever closer
together towards a universal convergence in which the christian faith
is the light of truth and the energy for cohesion.
In the Synod there was frequent reference also to our Blessed Lady.
More than once there was a moving recognition of her motherly protection
during the dark years of terrible dictatorship. It was insistently stated
that the great events of '89 were due to her special intervention; her
role as Mother of the Church throughout history is permanently and mysteriously
efficacious; she is indeed the Help of Christians.
In connection with the new evangelization the Synod always thought of
her as being united with us in an attitude of prayer in the heart of
the Church as at Pentecost, to invoke the Holy Spirit with unswerving
trust; in this connection the statement of Paul VI was recalled: 'May
she shine forth as the Star of that constantly renewed evangelization
which the Church must promote.' 
And since all true apostles of the faith have need of continual self-evangelization
'through assiduous prayer and meditation on the Word of God and the
daily effort to put it into practice'
, the Synodal Fathers turned to her as the lofty model who
'teaches us to be open to the Word of God and embrace it with our whole
heart: 'she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart'
(Lk 2; 51). In this way, next to her Son, she accompanied the preaching
of the Gospel from the beginning.'
The members invoked Mary under the title of Hodegetria,
she shows everyone the way to reach Christ and to proceed unhesitatingly
towards the true faith.
It is with this trust, the fruit of a living hope, that we too have
recourse to her, convinced that all our commitment to the education
of young people to the faith finds in her the Teacher and Guide.
Don Bosco has taught us to love her and invoke her as our helper precisely
because of her permanent and always active motherhood of the Church
on its pilgrimage through the centuries.
We may well think that the recent Synod was a meaningful gift of the
Mother of the Church to set it more securely on the way towards the
goal of the third millennium.
Let us be grateful to her and feel ourselves invited by her to take
up courageously the arduous and complex task of being evangelizers of
young people at the present day.
My cordial greetings to all of you in the joy of the paschal mystery.
Affectionately in Don Bosco,
Don Egidio Viganò
Some facts about the Synod:
138 members: 29 bishops from the east, 38 from the west; 11 fraternal
delegates (representatives of 5 orthodox churches were absent: Russia,
Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece); 8 religious superiors; various
'auditores' and 'adiutores' and other invited persons, including the
President, Vice-president and Secretary of the European Conference of
Religious, and some others.
3 President delegates (Cardinals Lustiger, Klemp, Martinez Somalo)
1 Reporter: Card. Ruini, with 2 special secretaries: Mgr Vilk and Mgr
1 Secretary General: Mgr Schotte.
Indications of the Synodal Secretary, 12.4.91
Letter of Pope from Fatima, 13.5.91
Letter on relations with the Orthodox, 31.5.91
Pope's address to Preparatory Commission, 5.6.91
The 'Summary', 10.11.91
Two reports of Card. Ruini 'before and after the interventions in the
The Pope's addresses
The Final Declaration
15 general Congregations 125 verbal interventions 6 sessions of language
groups (12 groups) 5 auditions of those specially invited
A research carried out in 1981 in 9 western
countries (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Holland,
Ireland, Italy, Spain) resulted: Those believing in some way in God
' 75%; in the soul ' 58'; in sin ' 57%; in life after death ' 43%; in
the devil ' 25%; in reincarnation ' 21%. J. STOETZEL: I valori del
tempo presente. Un'inchiesta europea,
SEI, Turin 1984, ch.4
20-23 Nov. 1991
Oss. Romano (Eng.' edtn) 2.12.91
GC23 246; 203ff.
AGC 331, p. 11-12
Men and women Religious in Europe total 460,2000
at the present day, half the number for the whole world