“Significance, re-dimensioning, re-location”
Rome, 27 November 2010
INTRODUCTION. WHY RE-DESIGN?
Opening the work of the second meeting of the Provinces of Europe, on 28 November 2008, the Rector Major recalled the observation of the 26th General Chapter on the new frontiers of the Congregation:
“In order to face up to the needs of the call and the challenges which come from the situation, and to carry out the consequent guidelines for action, it is necessary to change our mentality and to modify our structures” (GC 26, 104);
and made the following comment: “The two objectives of personal conversion and the transformation of the Salesian presence ought to be achieved at the same time but in this order.” This then is the starting point for this talk.
Why re-design? How to re-design? What does re-design mean? If it is wise always to ask the why and the meaning of things, it is even more so when these questions are not academic, precede important decisions, with weighty consequences for the life of the confreres, the continuation of the local communities, the situation of the young, and which can even influence the future of a worldwide institution.
After GC 20 people began to speak about the need to re-dimension the works, then to renew the existing ones and to start something new, then to re-locate, and then to re-signify. The title of this talk is an invitation to re-design the presences. Are they all synonyms? Terms which can be inter-changed at will? I would say not, because each one of them introduces nuances and different meanings. In the Constitutions and General Regulations these precise terms do not appear, and yet, - as we shall see - they are clearly indicated.
Why re-design? To start the process of reflection, I will give some reasons, above all internal reasons. Ageing and the reduction in the number of personnel present us with problems which cannot be put to one side: “From where do we withdraw?” But even an abundance of personnel raises the question: “Where should we locate ourselves?”
Then I identify some social reasons, such as, for example, the changing youth scene, changes in civil laws, the starting up in the same areas of new educational works, the de-population of some districts, the arrival of immigrants, etc.
Finally we can think about the ecclesial and charismatic reasons: the teaching of the universal Church and of the particular Church, the guidelines of the Congregation, the letters of the Rector Major, including those sent to individual Provinces after an Extraordinary Visitation.
Finally at the basis of any kind of reasoning we can put the anthropological fact of the historical nature of the human being, and the theological fact of the unceasing action of the Holy Spirit who “renews the face of the earth,” as we say every morning at the beginning of meditation in common.
This general reflection becomes urgent and pressing if we look at Europe. GC 26 described the situation lucidly:
“In recent decades we have witnessed a gradual weakening of the Salesian presence in some nations in Europe. The worrying decrease in vocations has meant confrères are doing their best to maintain presences and activities by involving lay people in the management and animation of these works, redefining boundaries of Provinces in order to set up joint projects to respond better to the challenges of education and evangelisation. We see the un- sustainability of this kind of effort without a courageous project on the part of the whole Congregation.” (GC 26, 102).
These are words which leave no room for any equivocation about the urgent need to do something, not so much about the if as about the how to re-design.
While the Constitutions and the Regulations speak more often (22 times) of works , the term presence, as a synonym for activity or work, occurs only twice, on both occasions in the General Regulations . Are they synonyms? What do we mean when we speak about presence? What is the connection between the presence and the works?
Presence refers to something more than just being present. And what is this more? It is the specific charism of an Institute. In order to have continuity, to be established in time, to have visibility and a particular expression, it needs to be incarnated in a work, in concrete, visible, recognisable works. The intuitions of the founder do not survive without a successive stage of institutionalisation, of regulation, of stabilisation in works.
If this is true, it cannot be taken for granted, however, that simply by existing a religious work makes the charism present, nor that the vitality of the charism is to be measured by the ongoing continuation of the works. The works can continue by the force of inertia, progressively losing the capacity to be pro-positive and significant; they can glow with their past glory, like stars which are still visible, but which ran out of their energy a long time ago; they can have a great history to relate, but no longer have anything to say in the social and ecclesial scenario of today.
The relationship between the presence of the charism and the work is well expressed in the letter-dream written from Rome in May 1884. At Valdocco there was certainly a work, known and esteemed by everyone in Turin, flourishing with hundreds of boys and dozens of Salesians, but at that time the presence of the charism in its fundamental elements had grown faint. On the contrary, many years earlier, at the entrance to the cemetery of St Peter in Chains or at the Dora Mills or in the fields of Valdocco there was no work yet, but there was certainly a “presence” of life, of charismatic energy. We are moved when we think of the hidden and heroic Salesian presences of the confreres in Eastern Europe, when it was not possible to express themselves in works.
The title, therefore, refers to the need to re-design the presences, and hence the presence of the Salesian charism, rather than to make an attempt to ensure the “survival” of the works at all costs.
What are the characteristic features of a presence? It ought to contain within itself all the fundamental aspects of consecrated life, above all the consecrated individuals themselves “the tone of their lives, what they believe in and what makes them tick, the choices they make when faced with the alternatives which our culture presents, what they set out to be and what they manage to communicate. Around the founder individuals always stand out, who are capable of being followers and of being creative. This point needs to be made in order to avoid the risk of thinking about the presences, in the process of their being re-designed, only in terms of institutions, works and structures” .
In the second place, “presence implies the life of the community: its style of relationships, its ability to offer a welcome, to facilitate participation and co-involvement in the local context, its closeness to the people, the expressions of its option for God which the people can recognise. The community, in fact, presents itself as a sign of fraternity, of ecclesial communion, of the presence of God in the human Family.”
In the third place, the image which the presence gives, “depends on the type of service which it sets out to offer, on the mentality with which it does so, its collocation within a cultural and social context, the means employed” .
But the individual presence is not an isolated one, it is linked to other presences with the same charism, and therefore, “linked together they project a combined image, they become the expression of a form of consecrated life. We are living in times of intense communication.. Images and messages are spread, compared, combined. Projects complement each other. In order to make an impact, synergy, operating ‘in network’ is recommended. Nowadays therefore, it is indispensible to consider the presence ‘an outreach’ of a Province within its area, of the Institute itself or even broader still and perhaps of consecrated life taken as a whole, at least as regards some of the positions taken up. This opens up all sorts of possibilities.”
2. 1 The Constitutions and the General Regulations
The starting point for all our reflections has to be the Constitutions and the General Regulations. Before considering the specific issue in hand, I think it useful to recall art. 19 of the Constitutions. This identifies in creativity and in flexibility the characteristic features of the Salesian spirit. These are the two spiritual and mental pre-requisites, even before any operative ones, and are at the basis of what we are considering:
“The Salesian is called to be a realist and to be attentive to the signs of the times, convinced that the Lord manifests his will also through the demands of time and place. Hence his spirit of initiative and apostolic creativity: ‘in those things which are for the benefit of young people in danger or which serve to win souls for God, I push ahead even to the extent of recklessness.’
Timely response to these needs requires him to keep abreast of new trends and meet them with the well-balanced creativity of the Founder; periodically he evaluates his work.”
In the short section Criteria for Salesian activity which comprises 4 articles (from 40 to 43) those criteria are indicated which ought to inspire the concrete implementation of our mission in the various activities and works. The experience of Valdocco which was at one and the same time: a home, a parish, a school and a playground is still the “lasting criterion for discernment and renewal in all our activities and works.” (art 40), that which makes each of them an authentic presence of the charism.
In order to gives our activities and works the features impressed by Don Bosco, article 41 indicates the 3 fundamental criteria. The title is explicit: Inspirational criteria for our activity and works. They are easily identified in the three sections of the article.
Attention to the actual needs of those for whom we are working
“Our apostolic activity is carried out in a variety of ways, which depend in the first place upon the actual needs of those for whom we are working.”
The educational and pastoral purpose
“We give practical expression to the redeeming love of Christ by organizing activities and works of an educational and pastoral nature designed to meet the needs of the neighbourhood and of the Church. Sensitive to the signs of the times and with initiative and continual flexibility we evaluate these activities, renew them and create new ones.”
The possibility of direct contact with the young especially the poorest ones
“The education and evangelization of many young people, especially among the very poor, means that we have to go to them where they are to be found, and provide adequate forms of service in the context of their own life style.”
The article makes many points. It provides the evidence to suggest that activities and works have a value as the means. They are not the end, to the maintenance of which means, resources have to be sacrificed. They are a means to respond to the actual needs of those for whom we are working. Therefore “our works and activities have to be continually rethought in relation to our beneficiaries and their needs. No work is of absolute value in itself.”
The need for a clear identity is expressed very forcefully in the second paragraph. The Commentary on the Constitutions quotes the SGC verbatim: “The main criterion to be followed in deciding whether a work should continue or be closed down is the possibility or otherwise of carrying out real pastoral activity there” (GC 20, 398).
This identity is required by the nature of our mission which is part of the salvific mission of the Church, is carried out within the Church, in communion with other charisms, and in response to the specific needs of the particular Churches.
In the same paragraph we find valuable suggestions for our (re)search. If the works can have a plurality of forms, determined in the first place by the actual needs of those for whom we are working, and do not have an absolute value, we evaluate these activities, renew them and create new ones: this is precisely what we are being called to do through the assessment of the significance, the re-dimensioning, the re-location. This requires a sensitivity to the signs of the times, a spirit of initiative and constant adaptability: typical attitudes of the Salesian spirit, as we have seen (cf. C. 19).
In the final paragraph in fact, we find clearly expressed a third fundamental criterion: the possibility of direct contact with the young, physical proximity (we have to go to them where they are to be found) and similar ways of thinking ( and provide adequate forms of service in the context of their own life style). If a work taken in its entirety does not permit this direct contact, or if the burden of its management keeps us far removed from those for whom it is intended that work has lost its Salesian significance.
The “adequate forms of service,” quoted at the end, reminds us of the beginning of the article (“a variety of ways”), which means that our works are at the service of the young and of their needs and not viceversa.
The section concludes with two articles (C. 42 and 43) in which this variety of ways is exemplified. It includes both the structure physically recognisable and identifiable (oratories, schools, hostels, parishes, missionary residences, etc.), and the vast operation, without any walls, of social communication, the modern agorà in which a variety of messages circulate and where, more and more, the young meet each other and communicate.
This list of activities and works, while long, is not exhaustive, because we dedicate ourselves also to every other kind of work which has as its scope the salvation of the young. This beautiful “closure” which echoes Don Rua’s testimony about Don Bosco (C. 21), indicates that the activities and works, in short, ought to be presences, multiform and vital presences of Don Bosco and of his apostolic passion.
That the works are not something fixed and unchangeable in time is clearly evident from other more “technical” articles. I give then here briefly.
C 77,3 “Our choice of works and of their location is made in response to the needs of those in want”
C 165 “The Provincial must have the consent of his council in the following cases:
§5 seeking from the Rector Major and his council authorization to open and close houses, to modify the scope of existing works, and to undertake works out of the ordinary;”
C 181,2 “The rector must have the consent of his council for:
§2 - 2. proposing to the provincial new experiments and substantial changes in the nature of the work;
R 167, 3 “In addition to what is prescribed in art. 171 of the Constitutions, it belongs to the Provincial Chapter:
§3 to suggest ideas and criteria for the planning and reorganisation of the works of the Province.
2.2 The General Chapters 24, 25, 26
The last three General Chapters touched on the subject of the Salesian presences, each one starting from a different perspective: that of communion and sharing in the charism and in the mission by Salesians and lay people, that of the Salesian community and that of the evangelising mission.
The GC 24 makes a fundamental contribution to the question of how and why re-design the presences. The answer is clear. Because the scenario has radically changed, so too have the subjects. It acknowledges that the mission is not carried out solely by the Salesian community but that a vast movement of people take part in it. Quoting the report of the Vicar of the Rector Major given at the opening of the working sessions, the GC 24 describes very clearly this new situation:
“As an operative model this is recognised everywhere to some extent as valid and as the only practicable model in present conditions, i.e: ‘the Salesians as the animating nucleus, the involvement of the laity and shared responsibility with them and the drawing up of a possible plan, adapted to the needs of those for whom we are working, to the forces available and to the local context.
But the effective role of the Salesians in such a scenario varies greatly. In many works they do succeed in forming the nucleus referred to; in others they are already becoming an accompanying presence which constitutes a guarantee; in others they provide support and guidance but in a less direct manner.’” (GC 24, 39).
Re-designing the presences in the Province, or setting in motion operations of re-dimensioning or of re-location of the works are operations to be undertaken while taking into account this new model of the management of the works which presumes – as an essential condition – the co-involvement, co-responsibility, communication, and the formation of lay people.
Without the systematic assumption of these tasks, there is the very real danger that the Salesians will no longer be those who inspire and animate a shared project, but become the proprietors of buildings and those who allocate work in businesses of an educational nature. In this case there would no longer be any real communion and sharing between Salesians and lay people in the spirit and in the mission, but simply a rotation of lay people with Salesians and their progressive side-lining, with tasks that were insignificant and not influential.
Then the GC 24, in the third part and under the title ‘Some particular new situations,’ deals with the situation, quite possible and on the increase, of activities and works entirely managed by lay people within the Salesian Provincial Plan. It indicates the criteria on the basis of which such works can be considered as belonging to the Provincial Plan (criterion of identity, of communion and of significance) and precisely identifies the respective responsibilities of the Province and of the lay people in the conduct of such works. These are delicate issues and for this reason the Chapter refers to the need to consider also the legal aspects of such operations including attending to the necessary Statutes and formal agreements to regulate reciprocal relationships (GC 24, 180-182).
The GC 25 looks at presences from the point of view of the Salesian community. If it is true that “the mission sets the tenor of our whole life” (C. 3) it does not absorb the other two “inseparable elements of our consecration,” that is “our fraternal community and the practice of the evangelical counsels” (ibid). The community is not a secondary element, functional, organisational or even reduced to being the place of residence of the individual pastoral workers. GC25 clearly made the point that, in terms of the fruitfulness of the mission, not insignificant is the quality of the fraternal life of the community, its evangelical witness, its ability to welcome and to be present among the young, the possibilities for its own formation. In the working guidelines, GC 25 makes an explicit contribution to the theme of significance which I will fully take up again later on.
The GC 26, in chapter V on New Frontiers, deals in an explicit manner with the subject of the New model for managing works. In the part dedicated to God’s call it says that:
“the new needs of the young demand personal detachment from roles, situations and bonds which threaten real readiness to change, and also demand the apostolic courage which disposes us to rethink initiatives and works in order to respond better to their questions.” (n. 100)
Reference is made to a new model for managing works, and the conditions which make it possible are set out:
“A new model for managing works requires that we guarantee the consistency in number and quality of the community; real shared responsibility amongst confrères and lay people; availability of the Rector for his primary duty; the fostering of new kinds of more flexible presence; common planning with the Salesian Family and networking with other educative organisations and agencies in harmony with the local Church and society.” (ibid.).
On these conditions it will be possible:
“to give life to “new presences”, that is, to hitherto unknown projects in response to emerging needs, or the renewal of existing works and proposals which can make them “new forms of presences”, that is, more effectively oriented towards the mission” (ibid.).
The analysis of the situation recognises that: “some Provinces have achieved good results by forming, involving and sharing responsibility with the laity,” but this attention has not yet been adequately taken up in all our presences:
“Sometimes we come across an organisational model which has not known how to renew itself according to the needs of the times: a mentality persists which has been inherited from a traditional style of management in our Houses. This shows up, for example, in the rigid way in which activities are set up, in insufficient attention paid to the rhythms of life of young people, in the slowness with which we relocate or reorganise our houses or works, in the difficulty in sharing responsibility with lay people in decision-making roles. (n. 103).
The progressive expansion of some works has led to their being:
“so big as to be difficult to manage and no longer capable of responding to the new forms of poverty with the ease and urgency they demand.” (ibid.).
As it is easy to see, the analysis is precise and clearly describes the real situation. From it flows a specific guideline: “Review the management model of works for a more effective educative and evangelising presence” (n. 112).
With these words, it is clearly recognised that the effectiveness of the mission is influenced not only by the quality of the people involved or by the pastoral method employed but also by the “structural” conditions of the work. These can help or hinder the mission. From this flow some tasks, all of them the responsibility of the Province. It should:
- reinforce the consistency in number and quality of the Salesian community and help it to identify what is its main responsibility in animating the work;
- identify the interventions needed to set in motion “new presences” or to renew existing ones so they are better oriented towards the mission;
- rethink the distribution of responsibilities in individual communities, assess the functioning of the councils at various levels so the Rector can carry out his primary duty;
- reflect on the complexity of the works and identify more flexible forms of presence through the Overall Provincial Plan;
- ask for and make good use of the contribution of the Salesian Family in view of common planning of its presence in the neighbourhood;
- encourage networking with members of the Salesian Family, the Church and society. (n. 113).
The list of proposed interventions is clear and well-structured. Also in the implementation of another guideline - no 15 (Put courageous choices into place on behalf of poor young people and those at risk) the Province was invited to decide with courage:
“where it is necessary, to re-locate and to re-dimension its works so that they may serve poor young people and ordinary folk” (n. 107).
Finally, one of the deliberations of the GC 26 regards explicitly the relationship between community and work. On the basis of this:
“the Provincial, having the consent of his Council, and within the Provincial Structural Plan, be given the faculty,
- to identify which works or sectors of works, while retaining their reference to a local community can be entrusted to the management of lay people,
The motivations which precede this deliberation are interesting:
The 26th General Chapter recognises that at present in the Congregation there is a plurality of models in managing works:
In this pluriform scenario, however, it is necessary to hold firm to and consider non-negotiable one condition:
“the need to ensure the qualitative and quantitative consistency of the communities, to guarantee the living and working together which ‘is for us Salesians a fundamental requirement and a sure way of fulfilling our vocation. (C. 49)” (n.120.).
After this long examination of the texts of the Constitutions and the official teaching of the Congregation in recent years, we have all the elements we need to make a summary.
3.1 Operative Criteria for significance: making the presences new.
The terms significant, significance are derived from signum facere, that is to say to leave a trace, to impact. A Salesian presence is significant, if it does not remain indifferent to the surrounding area, if it makes an effective impact, if it has its own distinguishing identity, a visibility which makes it identifiable and accessible, a credibility which makes it effective.
But on what factors does this quality depend? Using what effective means does it make already existing presences new?
The GC25 in the final guideline gives a structured reply. It enumerates seven criteria:
“In the elaboration and revision of the Organic Provincial Plan, the Provincial and his Council, with the help of a working team, will evaluate the effectiveness of the mission of the individual works with reference to the following points:
To take up again briefly each of these elements. The first in importance is undoubtedly the individual Salesian. The one who makes the difference is a Salesian of good quality, calm, well-prepared, motivated, balanced. The allotting of disproportionate or premature tasks, to fill a role at all costs, is sometimes paid for at a high price. The reduction in the forces available or the uncontrolled increase in the works or in their complexity can create real problems or a permanent state of emergency which crushes people and upsets that delicate balance between the apostolic mission, the fraternal community, the practice of the evangelical counsels (cf. C. 3) in which our consecration consists. The interior life needs time and care. The work also has to leave room for the growth of the individual, for his spiritual life, for study and updating, for fraternal life.
The second point is precisely the quality of fraternal life. A sufficient number of confreres, apostolic commitments commensurate with the forces actually available, well-thought- out styles of organisation which foster the co-responsibility of the lay people, timetables consistent with the fundamental obligations of our consecrated life, a shared community plan of life, the actual availability of confreres suited to roles of direction are some of the “variables” which influence in a significant manner fraternal life and make a community into a welcoming “home” for each confrere and for whoever comes in contact with it.
The third element is the possibility of direct contact with the young, especially the poor ones. In order to be Salesian the presence ought to have a clear youthful connotation, it ought to be structured in such a way as to allow the meeting of the young with the Salesians. In addition, being close to and helping the poorest are nowadays the eloquent signs which speak directly of the gospel, make us more credible and authentic in living our vocation and carrying out our mission, they attract many people and move them to act in solidarity.
The fourth is the educative and pastoral quality which, de facto, we succeed in ensuring in our works; not the quality we would like to have, or say we have, or plan to have, but that which can really be perceived and verified. It is easy in this regard to confuse good intentions with effective results. It refers to the core business of our mission (the “business” not in money but in souls as Dominic Savio clearly understood), that is to say the capacity to put into practice that “pedagogy of the faith” (in both the subjective and objective sense) which is the preventive system.
This fourth element, therefore, links the Salesian significance of a presence not only to its location or incorporation, not only to the pleasant atmosphere existing among the confreres and with the lay people, but to the force of its educative and evangelising impact in a given local area, to the soundness and effectiveness of those educational and faith-development procedures it has deliberately organised.
In other words, there is the invitation to verify whether the community knows how, with the eyes of the gospel to read, accept and respond to the profound needs of the young who come to it and of the society which surrounds it. It may continue indefinitely to take upon itself services (even of an educational and pastoral nature), deceiving itself into thinking it is being effective (since the requests made to it for such services do not decrease in number), but it fact it has little or no impact on what is its proprium that is being more evangelical.
Fr Vecchi astutely observed: “It is not only what we do in material terms that is important, but what we provoke and awaken in others, what we point out in order to raise questions, what we throw light on, what we bring to peoples’ attention, the challenges we throw down. It has been said that consecrated life should not only respond to challenges, but issue new ones itself: to the ‘closed’ vision, to the desire to possess, to the seeking after immediate pleasure. It is interesting to read the signs of the times, but what is needed is to write new ones. One has to enter into dialogue with the current mentality but also to introduce it to elements which are not found in its way of thinking.”
A fifth factor which can contribute to the “making new” of a community is the recovery of its intrinsic vocational vitality. I am not referring directly to fertility, but to a healthy existence which keeps a balance in the community between the vital elements: community prayer and apostolic dedication, fraternity and the ability to welcome the young and share some time together, the witness of a life which is obedient, poor and chaste, and being close to the problems of the people. This I believe convinces, attracts, pro-vokes and makes an explicit invitation credible.
The sixth criterion regards the ability to draw together other forces, so that the Salesian community can become a centre of communion and of participation. We are significant when those wanting to get involved find in our community a point of reference, support and acceptance. In this sense the Salesian community can really become the animating nucleus of a much wider educative pastoral community. It is from this point of view that its quantitative consistency in terms of the mission, which always needs to be linked with the qualitative, can be well understood. Confreres, even though reduced in numbers, who are very capable in co-involvement and animation, will certainly be more effective and pro-positive than a community which is numerous, but closed-in on itself and lacking in apostolic zeal, which limits its field of action according to its own forces and its own internal capacity.
The final element of significance indicated by the GC 25 regards the impact on and the incorporation of our presence in the local society and church. Some communities have become focal points for social, cultural and religious initiatives. They send out messages. They are in dialogue with their surroundings, with the educational institutions and with the local church, they promote or take part in educative and pastoral net-works.
3.2 Operative Criteria for re-dimensioning: reducing or simplifying the presence.
Re-dimensioning has been the buzz word for at least 39 years, since, that is to say, the Special General Chapter proposed it as a task:
“Provincial Chapters and Provincial and local Councils should study the current situation regarding their services to the Church and to the young, in order, as soon as possible, to undertake a courageous re-dimensioning of the works, both as regards their number and complexity and as regards their specific purpose and their location.” (GC 20, 398).
Fr Ricceri touched on the matter in various letters containing his teaching, and had already come to describe re-dimensioning in 1966, as “a question of life and death for the Congregation”:
“It is clear that before moving on to increase already existing activities in number and size we should all of us feel a preoccupation for the man, the religious, the Salesian, the one who plays the leading part in this whirlwind drama. If we do not, we could start undertakings impressive enough to those looking on from outside, but we would only succeed in extinguishing the man, the religious, the Salesian. (…)
We do not feel it right to put greater burdens on the backs of so many confreres who feel the fresh and pure springs of their priesthood and their religious consecration drying up within them. The apostolate is a delicate spiritual work. It cannot be effective if one’s soul is tired out.”
Since then, much has been done, by free choice and also of necessity. The strongest stimulus has certainly come from the reduction in the number of confreres and from their gradually getting older; but also changes in the local circumstances, following – for example – people moving out of an area, or the population ageing, or the starting up of new social services and works of assistance. In other cases the church situation has changed, with the original reasons for our being in a diocese no longer applying. Elsewhere it has been civil laws or the lack of economic sustainability which have forced us to make the decisions. I don’t think there has been a single Province in Europe in the last few decades which has not seen its own circumstances change significantly.
The criteria indicated for judging the significance of a presence are also valid for deciding where to stay and where to leave, when it is no longer possible to ensure properly the Salesian quality of our presence.
This delicate operation needs to be well understood and well managed. I mention some things to be noted.
a) Re-designing, therefore re-dimensioning
Re-dimensioning while necessary is not in itself the solution to the problems. Indeed, if it is not done well, it can aggravate the problems, producing in the confreres and in the lay people sharing responsibility the syndrome of the widow of Zarepta, a sense of lack of self confidence, the feeling that the end is inevitably approaching.
Unilateral insistence on the need for re-dimensioning without the contemporaneous and previous drawing up of a plan for the re-launching of the charism in the Province, reflecting confidence and hope in the future, induces depressing effects in the whole community of the Province. The closing of a work is a painful experience for many people especially for those confreres who have spent their energies there and have contributed to its development. Without a future horizon to head for with confidence, without a “promised land,” without a Province “pro-ject” which clearly indicates how the sacrifices and the closures are necessary in order to concentrate forces, so as to re-launch the charism and make Salesian life liveable and significant, the re-dimensioning will not produce the effect of making new energies available. On the contrary, it will make available confreres who are disillusioned and already disenchanted.
In some cases, in fact, the re-dimensioning, called for and hoped for as “the” solution, can instead legitimise a “minimalist” mentality of consecrated life, that of someone who has lost zeal, generosity, passion and calls for a reduction in the field of work. It is the “desire for ease and comfort” denounced by Don Bosco as a disturbing and undeniable sign that the Congregation has run its course. In some cases it has to be admitted that the significance of the work has not diminished, but rather the readiness for the sacrifices necessary to maintain its significance.
In other cases again, insistence on re-dimensioning could indicate resistance in accepting the management model of the works proposed by the Congregation, and more widely, the vision of the church presented in the council and post-council period. The Church, the mystery of communion, the dignity and the responsibility of the Christifideles Laici, the new vision of the Salesian community as the animating nucleus of the educative pastoral community (EPC), mark a significant change in the identification of the subjects of the mission. To restrict it only to the efforts of the consecrated, in a neo-clerical vision, can be a closing of one’s eyes to the resources present in the educative pastoral community (“young people and adults, parents and educators” C. 47), and in the local area. More and more one is moving on from a self-sufficient Institutional pastoral ministry to an integrated ecclesial pastoral ministry, with a plurality of forces in communion with each other.
An opening up to net-working across a much wider area, made possible through digital communication, is then a further possibility full of potential, but as yet almost completely unexplored. Discussing, making contacts, sharing projects, capitalising on experiences, in real time, by confreres and lay people from different Provinces, is nowadays a possibility.
b) Re-dimensioning within an overall view of the Province
It is not required that each single work exhausts the totality of the Salesian mission, but that the works of the Province, taken together, express in a coherent and integrated way our vocation as educators and evangelisers of the young, without any particular unbalanced emphasis in one direction: reception centres for disadvantaged young people (through affective, family deprivation) or in danger of social exclusion (immigrants, drop outs) and youth spirituality houses, schools, oratories and youth centres, parishes in working-class areas with a large youth presence and vocational training centres. The overall mix ought to be well-balanced and eloquent.
It is not easy, nor painless to construct the overall future picture of the Province. It produces understandable emotional reactions from the confreres of those communities destined for closure, from civil and ecclesiastical institutions and above all from the people. Such reactions certainly indicate the affection in which the community is held and the “capital” of esteem built up over the years (often decades) by generations of Salesians. But it cannot be the determining factor in making the decisions.
c) Sharing with the community
If the re-dimensioning is perceived by the confreres as a “top-level operation,” the Provincial’s and his Council, it is probable that the effects will not be very positive. The sharing of the criteria, even before the identification of the works to be closed, can lead to a greater availability on the part of confreres. Accurate information about aspects of the Province, (both those on which it is intended to concentrate forces, and those from which it is intended to withdraw), is an irreplaceable element for the success of any re-dimensioning plan.
The Provincial Council, the Newsletter, and the Provincial web site, Rectors’ meetings, the Provincial Assemblies and the assemblies of the local communities are the natural places for the investigation, for communication and for sharing. Knowledge of the objective facts, a realistic projection of some future possibilities, practical suggestions regarding potential expansion in some areas, the range of possible decisions and the evaluation of each of them, clear and sincere explanations of the reasons for pursuing one solution or another, can change an “operation from on high” (decided by a few and accompanied by the ill-feeling of many), into a great “collective enterprise” of re-launching and of the revitalisation of the charism.
The secret of the most successful experiences in the Congregation, it seems to me, is to be found in their having called upon to define their objectives all those who then had to work together to achieve them. The broader the base of consultation, of awareness, of sharing, the broader will be the agreement.
Certainly, much depends on the spirit with which the Provincial organises the process and on the “tone” (“in major” or “in minor” key) with which he communicates what he wants to say. Neither the mindset of those impoverished nobles who console themselves with the memory of former splendours and are not aware that their inheritance has disappeared, nor the shipwreck syndrome by which everything is already lost, are constructive attitudes.
Re-dimensioning is also closure, but it is above all redirecting the mission into dimensions which are acceptable, possible, realistic. It is a positive operation of the regeneration of life, which needs to be accompanied by faith in the unceasing presence of the Holy Spirit (“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life”), in the maternal intervention of Mary (cf. C. 1), by a sense of hope for the future, by the conviction of the need for the Salesian charism in our own times.
d) Long-term sustainability
If, as we have seen, re-dimensioning is not an objective, but a consequence of the desire to concentrate forces on certain more significant and fruitful fronts, this positive project needs to be sustainable in the future. Unrealistic proposals, projects which are too large and complex or tied to variables which don’t depend on us or are uncertain, (legislative or financial, for example), presences which, though courageous and significant, are linked to the skills and abilities of an individual confrere are not signs of courage and of enterprise but of recklessness and imprudence.
In a world always looking for “total quality,” knowing how to do some things, consistent with our own identity and mission, and to do them well, even though reduced in numbers, is more rewarding than an ambitious and ineffectual all-inclusive approach which wastes its efforts over a too wide and unbalanced front. Long-term sustainability also implies long-term stability. Projects started but not well supported, frequent moving around of the confreres, constant changes of aims, lead to poor results and confusion for the people concerned.
e) Attention to human resources
This certainly refers to the number of confreres available but not only to that. In fact, very often insisting on the quantitative data (average age, confreres according to age group, etc.) is depressing and does not help with the constructive process.
On the contrary, some qualitative data (state of health, spiritual freshness and apostolic zeal in spite of age, preparation, abilities which have stood the test of time, etc.) are equally relevant, indeed even decisive. The re-launching of a Province therefore is linked not only to re-dimensioning and re-launching the works, but even more to the re-launching of the deepest motivations and the enthusiasm of the confreres. Once again the decisive element is the quality of the human resources, present and future.
Acting on the basis of the works while neglecting the people is a mistake. On the other hand, managing the human resources well is the decisive element. The position (marginal or strategic) in which a confrere is placed within a work can make all the difference; even the presence or lack of it. Not without its influence is the existence, or not, of a system of identifying best practice nor the ability to appreciate the potential of each confrere, with special attention being paid to his background and aptitudes.
This requirement brings with it the need to give special attention to formation in order to have men prepared for the task and capable of responding to the needs. Article 10 of the General Regulations expressly requires this from us, precisely in reference to the mission:
“To maintain and to provide for the ordered development of its various pastoral and educative activities each Province is to draw up a programme for the training and updating of personnel for the different sectors, due regard being paid to the aptitudes and inclinations of the confreres and the needs of the works.”
3.3 Operative Criteria for relocation. “Opening new presences, activities or works.”
The fundamental criteria have already been provided, and in particular the three mentioned in article 41 of the Constitutions: the actual needs of those for whom we are working especially the very poor, the possibility of carrying out our mission in its totality, the possibility of direct contact with the world of the young and with them.
If these are the criteria, the 26th General Chapter clearly indicated that the principal priority for the Congregation in the next few years will be giving attention to poor young people. To this it devotes 3 guidelines, and each one is preceded by extensive reflections on God’s call and on the current situation. A part of the address of the Rector Major, at the closing of the GC 26, was dedicated to the subject of the new frontiers, described as “the third key to the interpretation” of the Chapter itself. After re-tracing Don Bosco’s own experience, Fr Chavez acknowledges that:
“for a number of years now in the Congregation there has been growing a sensitivity and concern, reflection and commitment for the world of the side-lining and hardship of young people. (…)
The more I know the Congregation, spread across the five continents, the more I become aware of how as Salesians we have tried to be faithful to this fundamental criterion of being close to and practising solidarity with those most in need, taking to heart those youth situations that society does not want to know about.”
It is difficult not to recognise in this insistence on the part of the Chapter members and of the Rector Major the voice of the Spirit. Returning to the original inspiration of Don Bosco means for each Salesian drawing pure water from the fountain. Making our own his chosen priorities and his apostolic passion makes us what we ought to be: Salesians of Don Bosco; it gives us a clear identity and a recognisable face, makes our mission eagerly awaited and the vocational proposal coherent and possible to pursue. The Spiritual Testament of our Father is explicit in this regard: “The world will always welcome us as long as all our concern is for the under-developed peoples, for poor children, for those members of society most in danger. This is our real wealth which no one will envy and no one will take from us.”
Paying attention to the least, to those most disadvantaged can become for each confrere a great means in order to re-discover “the affection of youth” (cf. Jer 2,2). As for Don Bosco, the young can become the masters, the guardians, the revitalisers of our heart and restore to us a mature and fruitful fatherhood.
But giving attention to the poorest can also significantly renew the face of a Province as it becomes “an “institutional sensitivity” that little by little, involves many of the works” and not only “a special sector, identified with some special work or animated by some confrere or other particularly motivated.”
I think that this is also the best way to give credibility once again to consecrated life in those contexts in which it has been most heavily under attack: to make the facts speak for themselves again, replying with the evidence of the works and the coherence of life. Also in our European context, in which the welfare system ensures that many social and assistance services are covered, there is no shortage of young people affected by the old and new forms of poverty. For these, the Salesian always retains intact an irreplaceable quality, the generous free-gift of himself.
In the phase of re-planning the presences of a Province, I believe that – especially in Europe – one cannot avoid paying explicit attention to the second priority indicated by the GC 26: the family. The reference to it as “originally responsible for education and the first place for evangelisation” tells us that the most valuable contribution we can make nowadays to youth ministry will be through an explicit family ministry.
Finally among the new activities and the works to which we are to open ourselves is the vast “playground” which is the world of the media and of social communication; in ignoring its existence, its languages, its educative and pastoral potential we would be condemning ourselves to be cut off from our times, within structures and works, entering which, it would seem as though time had stopped.
In the film Des hommes et de Dieux, what is striking is not so much the heroic death of the Trappist monks in Algeria, as their heroic life: apparently ordinary, and yet extraordinary. They live by the work of their own hands, they cultivate their garden and sell the honey at the market, they take care of the sick and help anyone in need, they are completely part of the life of the small village of Thibirine, sharing the joys and the sorrows of the people, like them they live poorly, they are celibate but reflect a profound sense of fatherliness, they obey their superior but with patience they share the more important decisions. They are what they are supposed to be: men of God, dedicated to praising him and to the prayer of intercession. They are credible because they are genuine.
While they discuss among themselves whether to go away or to stay, fully aware that they could become the target of an armed Islamic group, the Abbot and a monk are talking about it in one of the families of the village. They are uncertain, they don’t know what to do: “We feel,” the Abbot says, “like birds on a branch.” “No,” a woman in the house replies. “We are the birds and you are our branch.”
That is a good description of our task: to re-design our presences in the Provinces of Europe, so as to be sound branches, which are there, in spite of the winds and the storms, to welcome and give reliable support, especially to someone who comes to rest after a flight and looks to the future.
During the two year period 2011-2012 the Provincial with his Council, within the Provincial Structural Plan, will produce a Plan for the re-designing of the presences of the Province, identifying which presences to make significant and how to do so, selecting the presences to be re-dimensioned or simplified, finding new needs and new frontiers to which to respond with new presences, activities or works.
To this end it will be important to study further and eventually adapt to the circumstances of the Province the various specific criteria of significance, re-dimensioning and re-location. The Provincial will decide on the best ways of involving the Province. When he has this Plan ready he will send it to the Rector Major and to the Regional Councillor.
While there is a strong case for using some other terms in English – e.g. re-structuring, re-organising, re-drawing, re-shaping, redefining boundaries (GC26 102)…
the present ones – including redesigning - have been used (retained) for two main reasons:
1) They are generally the ones used in the “official” translations - starting from the Acts of the Superior Council [January 1966 N. 244] containing the Acts of the XIX General Chapter, up to the Acts of the General Council [May 2008 N. 401] containing the documents of the 26th General Chapter.
2) Their retention may make it easier to follow the nuances (as mentioned in the current document) of the original Italian words as they have been used up to the present.
Italian Terminology with English translation used
Ridisegnare, ricollocazione, ridimensionare, ridenire i confini
Redesign, re-location, re-dimensioning, redefining boundaries
Modificare, ripensare, rinnovare, ricollocare e ridimensionare, ridenire i confini
Modify, rethink, renewal, relocate or reorganise, re-locate and re-dimension, redefining boundaries
Ridimensionare, rinnovare, ricollocare, risignificare,.
re-dimensioning,renew, re-locate, re-signify