RM Resources

Evaluation of how project europe is being carried out and future directions (RM)





30 November - 2 December 2012



I.     Summary and brief evaluation of responses

1.      To what extent has Project Europe, in its three basic areas, known and accepted by confreres in the Province?

10.8 %: well. 51.8%: sufficiently. 29.6%: little. 3.7%: not at all.
So it would seem that in general terms PE has been successfully transmitted. Perhaps PE came upon Salesians a little suddenly. It is little known/accepted in four provinces.

2.      To what extent has Project Euroope inspired leadership/animation in the Province and governance choices by the Provincial and Provincial Council?

7.4%: very well. 37.0: well. 51.8: sufficiently. 3,2: little.
It would seem that provincial government has taken PE more seriously than the confreres.

3a.     What more effective processes have come to light for revitalising the charism in communities?

Provinces have responded according to their circumstances and how things are moving.  We note a unanimous convergence in recovery of knowledge and understanding of Don Bosco and his spirituality, greater care for community life including through community programming and the real need to form and accompany local Rectors, a return to a more explicit evangelisation of the young based on personal accompaniment, and care in creating a culture of vocation, a more convinced way of working with lay collaborators. All of this is part of the process of “endogenous revitalisation” or revitalisation from within.

3b.    What have been the clearest obstacles to revitalisation of the charism in communities?

It seems that the most outstanding obstacle is the individual Salesian who, other than just because of age or loss of vocational motivation, is unable to understand the cultural situation society is in or the style in which young people live today. Individualism or weak community animation/leadership is evident almost everywhere. The problem today is cultural.

4.      Which decisions have been taken by the Provincial and his Council for restructuring, shaping Salesian presence in the Province?

The majority of Provinces have set up a serious restructuring process, even if it is not such a courageous and profound one. Not all Salesians are aware of the problem as Provincial governing bodies perceive it to be. One hopes that the next GC will establish firm principles to help Provinces and Regions to situate themselves better in terms of service of the young people in their area.

5a.     What positive factors have been found in accepting 'missionary confreres?

Not all Provinces in Europe find themselves in the same situation. Those who have received “missionaries”, besides recognising the resulting internal reinvigoration, find difficulties in integrating confreres with different cultures and formation.

5b.    What critical factors have been encountered?

Linguistic and cultural immersion are essential requirements for missionaries coming to Europe; these requirements must be guaranteed before a missionary can get to work.

6a.     Where a Province has sent missionaries, what positive factors have been found?

There is a new circumstance to reflect on: from a Salesian Europe which used to send out missionaries 'ad gentes', to a Europe which receives and which will continue to receive missionaries 'ex gentes'.. We will need to prepare both the missionary who comes and the community which receives him.

6b.    What are the critical issues?

Even though the lack of vocations in Europe continues, we still need to be committed torevitalising the Salesian charism through a true vocation and missionary ministry amongst European Salesians, and not only young people.

II.    Future directions 

1.Social and ecclesial context

The Vatican Council II, where the Church discovered itself as 'mystery’ and no longer as a ‘perfect society’, as a servant in the world rather than lording it over the world, as 'sacrament of salvation enlightening the peoples with the light of Christ’, fully part of its joys and hopes, sorrows and agonies; and the Synod on New Evangelisation for the transmission of the Christian Faith, called to respond to the great needs of mankind today by communicating God's Love revealed in Christ Jesus; and the Year of Faith which invites us to go beyond the threshold to open up to an encounter with the Father and to a life inhabited by the Holy Spirit as children of God, disciples of the Lord Jesus and brothers involved in building up the Civilisation of Love - all these are a powerful encouragement for renewal of Christian life in general and our consecrated life in particular.

There is no doubt that by now the entire world has become mission territory – be it Europe or America, Africa or Asia, and Oceania, and that today we have to get involved in new scenarios of human existence, giving witness to VC and developing the mission of the Church.

The economic context, put to the test today by a series of earlier crises, has been the cause of migration, social tensions and forms of violence, and a renewed and more marked divide between the rich and the poor. The world political framework is profoundly changing due to the presence of new factors such as the Islamic world, and the emerging strength of some of Asia's large States. Scientific and technological research, while of benefit in so many respects, does not seem to know its natural limits nor does it have moral reference points; instead sometimes it feeds on illegitimate pretence, forgetting to dialogue with important values which lie at the basis of human ethics; indeed it almost presents itself as a kind of new religion. Finally we have the challenge of the world of social communication. On the one hand it offers access to so many kinds of information, gives greater possibility for understanding, exchange, solidarity, and favours an ever more global culture; on the other hand it fosters growing attention to the solitary needs of the human individual, thus causing a weakening and loss of the objective value of deeply human experiences, reduces ethics and politics to showy spectacle; all this risks favouring a culture of the ephemeral, the immediate, of appearances, without memory and without a future.[1]

Opening the Year of Faith, Benedict XVI said that “Over these decades a "spiritual desertification' has advanced. Emptiness has spread. But it is beginning from experience of this desert, this emptiness, that we can discover anew the joy of believing, its vital importance for us men and women.... And in the desert there is a need especially for people of faith who, through their lives, point the way to the Promised Land and thus keep hope alive.”[2] Is this not perhaps our mission and calling? Therefore we must learn to see God in everything and at the same time consider that all these challenges are also opportunities, crossroads for dialogue.

Vital (alive) and oral communication of the faith must never be imposed but should happen in a grand climate of freedom and proposal that makes room for interaction with every culture, for inter-religious dialogue between men and women of all creeds, ecumenism between Christians of different confessions, inculturation where we live. Therefore the first and most attractive and convincing expression of evangelisation is personal and community witness.

It is along these lines that Consecrated Life today is called to renew itself, allowing itself to be evangelised, and pastorally converted, in order for us to be joyful and convinced, creedible and effective bearers of the Good News.

2.We evangelise in the Faith

Consecrated Life has always stood out for its commitment to first proclamation; in the Church's “missio ad gentes” its contribution has been and still is a determining one. It has shown the same commitment to, and continually deepens its understanding of ordinary evangelisation, fostering acceptance of the Gospel and building up the Christian community by contributing to the renewal of ministry and dedicating itself to the various expressions in specialist fields like education, health, social welfare, social communication, charity to the poor and the marginalised, cultural, ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue.

Consecrated Life, which came about to represent Jesus' way of life and be testimony to the beauty of the Gospel lived radically, is called to spend itself for new evangelisation as well, that is, to re-propose the Gospel to those to whom it has been proclaimed but who live far from and indifferent to the Faith.

Its fundamental contribution in this field is joyful testimony of a life transformed by the Gospel; without a radical, happy, courageous witness we cannot give rise to a new attraction for the Gospel; only a passionate, beautiful and prophetic witness can become credible, visible and fruitful. Consecrated Life serves the Gospel by first following Jesus the Lord; this witness helps to give rise to the need for spirituality, the question of God, questions about the meaning of life; it demonstrates the prophecy of fraternity; it expresses the charity of God who is love by giving itself for the poor.

3.Future directions

In his address on Saturday 17 November 2012 to a group of Bishops from the Episcopal Conference of France during their "ad Limina Apostolorum" Visit, The Holy Father, Benedict XVI said some things that I maintain are especially important for our planning, and can help us better identify future directions for Project Europe, keeping firmly in mind the three areas outlined in 2008: 1. The endogenous (inward) revitalisation of the charism, 2. Restructuring works, 3. Sending missionaries.

I have to confess that I have seen with great satisfaction how Project Europe in general, as well as these three major areas, have been more and more shared by Orders, Congregations and Institutes of Consecrated Life in Europe[3]. I also see as very providential the fact that the Year of Faith, the Synod on New Evangelisation for the Transmission of the Christian Faith and the theme for GC 27 are a confirmation of Project Europe and reinforce the choices we have made and that must be put into practice with even greater conviction.

3.1 The Church-World relationship

While I was making an assessment of the recent Synod, which I had the grace of taking part in, I noted the presence of two major directions of thinking, reflecting two ecclesiologies: one represents those who think that after Vatican Council II the Church has aged, and maintain that the only thing to do is to renew it, like we renovate a house and modernise it; the other represents those who think society has changed deeply and so the way of being 'at home' has changed, therefore it becomes necessary to call in an architect to completely overhaul the internal design; this kind of person looks for the causes of this change in order to know how the Church has to be today. Faced with these two views I would say that the basic problem is the Church-World relationship.

And paradoxically we can find the answer in Vatican Council II itself which, as Benedict XVI reminds us in his address above to the French Bishops, "has been and continues to be an authentic sign of God for our times". He continues “That is particularly true in the area of dialogue between Church and the world, this world 'in which we live and act' (cf. Gaudium et spes, no. 40 § 1) and on which we need to spread the light that radiates from the divine life(Ibidem, § 2). The more the Church is aware of its being and its mission, the more it is able to love this world, look upon it trustingly, inspired by Jesus' gaze, without giving in to the temptation of discouragement or retreat. And "the Church by carrying out its mission already by this fact stimulates and gives its contribution to human and civil culture" (Ibidem, no. 58, 4), says the Council”

So because it looks at the world with God's way of looking at it and loves it with his heart, the faith cannot remain silent and must testify to the message of Christ "in such a way that all earthly activities of the faithful are pervaded by the light of the Gospel" (Gaudium et spes, no. 43 § 5).

A more convinced ecclesial effort is needed today in favour of a “new evangelisation” for rediscovering the joy of believing and rediscovering enthusiasm for communicating the faith. The faith in fact grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy. In the same address to the French Bishops the Pope adds: “How many times have we noticed that words of faith, simple and direct words filled with the sap of the Divine Word, touch hearts and minds better and bring more decisive enlightenment? So we should not have any fear of speaking with apostolic vigour of the mystery of God and of man, and tirelessly demonstrating the wealth of Christian teaching. There are words and realities in it, fundamental beliefs and ways of reasoning which are the only ones able to bring the hope which the world thirsts for.”

And he continues “In important social debates the voice of the Church must make itself heard constantly and with determination. … It is the harmony that exists between faith and reason that gives it a particular certainty:the message of Christ and his Church is not only a bearer of religious identity that deserves to be respected as such; it also contains a wisdom that allows it to examine in an upright way the concrete responses to pressing and sometimes agonising questions of our present time. By continuing to exercise as you do, the prophetic dimension of your episcopal ministry, your bring the essential word of truth to these debates, that makes hearts free and open to hope. This word, I am convinced, is expected. It always finds favourable acceptance when presented charitably, not as the result of our reflections but first of all as the word that God wants to address to every human being"”

Calling to mind the meeting he had had at Collège des Bernardins with intellectuals and men of culture, he says: “Believers or non-believers, they are aware of the immense challenges of our time in which the Christian message is an irreplaceable point of reference. It could be that other intellectual or philosophical traditions run out of steam, but the Church finds in its divine mission the certainty and courage to preach, in season and out of season, the universal call to salvation and the greatness of the divine plan for humanity, human responsibility, dignity and liberty and - despite the wounds of sin - its capacity to discern in conscience what is true and what is good, and its availability to divine grace. At the Collège des Bernardins I wanted to recall that monastic life, completely oriented to seeking God, the quaerere Deum, becomes a source of renewal and progress for culture … religious life, at the exclusive service of God's work, to which nothing else can be preferred (cf. Rule of St Benedict Rule of St Benedict), is a treasure. It offers a radical testimony to a world in which human existence, precisely when it fully becomes a following of Christ, fully realises the human calling to a blessed life. All of society and not only the Church, is profoundly enriched by such testimony. Offered in humility, gentleness and silence, it is the proof that in man there is more than just man.”

The faith, besides, must not only be confessed in life and words, but it must also be celebrated. Therefore the Pope says: “as the Council reminds us, the Church's liturgical action is also part of its contribution to the work of civilisation (cf. Gaudium et spes, no. 58, 4). The Liturgy is the celebration of the central event of human history, the redeeming sacrifice of Christ. Through this testimony the love with which God loves humankind testifies that human life has meaning and that a man's calling is to share the glorious life of the Trinity. Humanity needs this testimony. It needs to perceive, through liturgical celebrations, the awareness the Church has of God's lordship and man's dignity It has the right to be able to discern, beyond the limits the rites and ceremonies have, that Christ "is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, and in the person of the Minister" (cf. Sacrosanctum concilium, no. 7). Knowing the care that you give to your liturgical ceremonies, I encourage you to nurture the art of celebrating, helping your priests to do this, and working constantly at liturgical formation of seminarians and the faithful. Respect for the established norms expresses our love for and fidelity to the faith of the Church, the treasury of grace that it guards and transmits; the beauty of the celebrations, much more than innovation and subjective adjustments, is a lasting and effective work of evangelisation.”

At the end, speaking of catechesis, the Pope says: “You also know that there is no lack of challenges in this area: they may be difficulties bound up with transmitting the faith received, - family, social - or the faith personally accepted, as people come to adulthood, or again, difficulties resulting from a real break in transmission, when a number of generations have gone by where people are alienated from a living faith. There is also the enormous challenge of living in a society that does not always share Christ's teaching, and at times seeks to ridicule or ostracise the Church, wanting to restrict it to the private sphere. To deal with these huge challenges, the Church needs credible witnesses. Christian witness rooted in Christ and authentically lived in a coherent lifestyle, is multifarious, without any preconceived scheme. It comes from and is constantly renewed under the action of the Holy Spirit. To support this witness, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a very useful tool, because it shows the power and beauty of the faith. I encourage you to make it widely known, especially at a time when we are celebrating the twentieth year of its publication.”

It is not at all difficult to see how this challenge of the Church-World relationship is so strongly felt by us too, in our consecrated life and in carrying out the Salesian mission, and how these guidelines from the Holy Father can be truly enlightening and encouraging for our task as expressed by Project Europe.

3.2    The threefold basis of Project Europe

-          Revitalisation of the charism from within and personal conversion

From the outset of Project Europe we have said with conviction that in Europe the future of Consecrated Life in general, and Salesian life in particular, depends on the ability of each confrere to rediscover the value of the gift of religious life. It is amazing that some lay people who know Europe, how it evolved, know it today, and who know consecrated life, appreciate this vocation more than us and consider it a truly valid response to the current situation.

The revitalisation of the Salesian charism in Europe will be possible on condition that we take the need for personal conversion seriously, which leads us to climb the mountain of contemplation, to be the witnesses of the God revealed in Christ, and not only of his Goodness and Truth; that it make us witnesses of the Living God, because we have seen him and not because we have heard tell of him; that is expressed in warm welcome, always renewed, of Jesus' double command: “Come”, which invites us to be his disciples in the School of the Gospel, and “Go”, sending us out as his apostles.

There is no need to change the dimensions of Salesian consecrated life: experience of God, fraternal communion, apostolic mission. What must change is the quality with which we nurture spirituality in personal and community prayer, careful celebration of the Liturgy, project of personal life, our responsibility in living obedient, poor and chaste like Jesus; what must change is the quality of fraternal life, interpersonal relationships, family atmosphere, animation of the community, project of community life; finally, what must change is the quality of the educational and pastoral proposal, our apostolic passion and the energy with which we give ourselves to the service of the young, especially those who are poor and most in need. We are called then to change ourselves, and radically at that. This is what GC27 is an appeal to: we are in fact called to conversion so we can be witnesses to a radically lived Gospel.

-          Reshaping of works and pastoral conversion

For the first time at Aparecida (Brazil), in the 5th General Conference of CELAM, they spoke not only of the need for ‘personal conversion’, so they could better define the circumstance of the disciple of Jesus as someone who first submits himself to Jesus' lordship and his Word, to then become his zealous missionary, able to communicate the flame of charity and convinced that only in this lighting up of another's heart can evangelisation really grow, the presence of the Gospel that is not longer just word but real life. Here we begin to speak of the need for ‘pastoral conversion’, as a consequence and expression of ‘personal conversion’.

This helps us understand that reshaping, restructuring is not fundamentally an act of administration or jurisdiction, but a pastoral activity, because it means being present where we are at the moment but in a new way, responding more to the needs of those to whom we are sent and being present in areas where we have not been up until now and where our presence would be more relevant today.

I know we have already spoken about this a number of times, saying that it is not retreat or bringing down the curtain but a threefold and simultaneous process of giving new significance, re-dimensioning and re-positioning. Even though more than one province and more than one confrere might think or say that by now our presence in Europe, or at least in some countries, has run its course, we must know that a significant movement is under way, from a “welfare state”, where the State guarantees well-being, to the “welfare society” where we are all called to be involved to ensure that the State never again succeeds in guaranteeing, we might say, the common good.

To that we can add the awareness that the current economic crisis, a crisis without precedent, is not a dialectic crisis, typical of Capitalism, that has cyclic stages of decline and ‘boom’, but is an entropic crisis, because of the loss of meaning and direction. While a dilaectical crisis requires good technicians and can be resolved after a few years, following the mechanisms proper to Capitalism which foresees cyclical moments of falling and rising, an entropic crisis needs witnesses and educators, like St Benedict of Norcia, like St Francis of Assisi, like St Ignatius of Loyola, like Don Bosco.

Put in other words, we are more than ever needed in Europe today precisely because the problem is a cultural one; it can be resolved with an educational project that knows how to combine values and ideals, wisdom and knowledge, social commitment and active citizenship, in such a way as to be able to overcome the culture of greed in people, that is the passion to have things in unlimited form, and the separation between market and democratic structures, which means that decisions by government obey the laws of finance more than the common good.

This means an authentic pastoral conversion because it means ‘doing’ less and ‘acting’ more, dedicated less to transforming things and more to transforming people, having Charity in Truth triumph. We must then focus our presence and our best efforts where transformation of people is most urgent. Pastoral conversion implies, as a consequence, taking courageous decisions.

-          Sending and accepting missionaries

While it is different from Project Africa or Project China, for different reasons PE contemplates the sending and therefore the receiving of missionaries.

Over the years we have been working at Project Europe, the sending and receiving of missionaries from Provinces in Europe itself to provinces which are weaker or more in need of personnel, or from Provinces in other continents has been one of the more successful dimensions, while some real challenges remain regarding selection of confreres who come, their linguistic and cultural preparation, their ability to fit in, their reception and accompaniment by provincials and rectors of the provinces that receive them.

For a better awareness of this situation of sending and receiving, we held a meeting of Missionaries in Europe in November 2011 here at the Generalate and this served to bring us up to date with the situation in view of improving our choices. Here I have nothing else to say other than to congratulate the Provinces in Europe who have drawn up plans for reshaping and for the future and have made this dimension possible, and I thank confreres who have made themselves available for PE, and their provinces of origin. There has been a good movement of confreres which is having and will continue to have good results: you could look at the attachment that shows the current situation for sending missionaries. The presence of all Regional Councillors at this meeting could further help this commitment.

3.3    Teamwork - networking - laity

Today PE requires the development of these three fundamental bases, seeking a greater and more convinced interprovincial collaboration and a better form of communication for networking. We are not starting from zero, but in many areas and initiatives there is already collaboration: in the formation area (international formation communities, inter-province teams of formators and lecturers, formation of the laity, …), in the youth ministry area (SYM, schools, professional formation, marginalisation, DBI, …), in Social Communication (Salesian Bulletin, Publishers, radio and TV, websites…), the Missions (PDOs, ONGs…), the Salesian Family. Already in these areas of collaboration in Europe we need to move ahead with greater determination, getting to know one another better, overcoming fears, avoiding closing off and being rather precious.

Just the same all of this is not enough; today networking is needed; it goes beyond just information and collaboration, achieved more for external reasons sometimes than out of conviction of the value of this new way of looking at things; networking certainly requires better communication, but especially sharing of resources and knowledge.

In all of Project Europe it is essential that we take up once and for all the great choices made by GC24, which committed us to sharing our spirit and mission with the laity. We must give them what is theirs by right through their Christian vocation and not simply by giving us a hand, as if it were a ‘necessary evil’: evil because there are no SDBs and necessary because we have no other choice. No! They are called not only to be employees and collaborators, but to really share the mission.

We have this immense resource of lay people that we do not know how to appreciate; sometimes we feel they are a threat, thinking that if we involve them they become the owners. Let us not forget that Don Bosco felt that he needed everyone; this was his original idea of the Salesian Cooperators as people who shared his spirit and passion for the salvation of the young through education! Our role is to be the heart the soul of our presences, be the “animating core” of an ever greater educative and pastoral community. That requires a change of paradigm; this is what we must take up and foster today.

I hope that the Strenna for 2013, which invites us to contemplate Don Bosco as the educator, study his original experience at Valdocco, update his Preventive System, make his ability to become a Saint by his collaborators and his boys to be saints, becomes our own ability and will commit us to renewal and to interpreting his charism with dynamic fidelity, as a great gift for the young people of Europe today.

I entrust this rebirth of Salesian presence in Europe to Mary Help of Christians. May she guide us as she did with Don Bosco at the beginning of his work and its long history.

Rome, 30 November 2012

Fr Pascual Chávez V., sdb