Rome, June 2012
Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Salesian Family,
After focusing attention on the history of Don Bosco and having sought to come to a better understanding of his life as a whole, marked by a predilection for the young, Strenna 2013 aims to come to a better understanding of what he proposed in educational terms. In practice we would like to get closer to Don Bosco the educator. So it is a case of understanding and updating the Preventive System.
In this task too, our approach is not just an intellectual one. A deeper study of Salesian pedagogy is certainly necessary, on the one hand, so it can be updated according to the sensitivity and demands of our time. Today in fact the social, economic, cultural, political and religious contexts in which we find ourselves living out our vocation and carrying out the Salesian mission have altered profoundly. On the other hand, to be faithful to our Father's charism, it is equally necessary to make the content and approach of what he offered in educative and pastoral terms our own. In the context of today's society we are called to be holy educators like he was, giving our lives as he did, working with and for the young.
REDISCOVERING THE PREVENTIVE SYSTEM
In rethinking Don Bosco's pedagogical experience we are called to faithfully give it life again today. For a correct updating of the Preventive System today, more than thinking straight off of programmes, formulas, or repeating generic "slogans" to fit all seasons, our efforts should be instead to gain an historical appreciation of Don Bosco's approach. In practice this means analysing how diverse his work was for the young, the populace, the Church, for society, religious life, and also how diverse was his way of educating young people at his first Festive Oratory, in the junior seminary at Valdocco, Salesian and non-Salesian clerics, missionaries. One could observe how already in the first Oratory at the Pinardi house certain important insights were present that would afterwards acquire a deeper value as part of a complex human and Christian synthesis:
a. flexible structure, which mediated between Church, urban society and the youthful bracket of the population;
b. respect and appreciation for the popular setting;
c. religion as a basis for education, following the teaching of Catholic pedagogy was passed on to him at the Ecclesiastical College (the Convitto);
d. the dynamic interplay between religious formation and human development, catechism and education;
e. the belief that education is the essential instrument for enlightening the mind;
f. education, like catechesis, developed in all kinds of ways compatible with the limitations of time and resources;
g. keeping busy while appreciating free time;
h. loving-kindness as an educative style, and more generally as a Christian lifestyle.
Once we have a correct understanding of the past, we need to translate the Preventive System's major insights and virtues for today. We need to modernise its principles, concepts, original guidelines, reinterpreting its major underlying ideas, and key methodological guidelines both theoretically and practically. And all this needs to be to the advantage of the formation of the 'new' youth of the 21st Century called to experience and deal with a vast, totally new range of circumstances and problems in times which have changed decisively, and which the human sciences themselves are now critically reflecting upon.
I want to suggest three perspectives in particular, analysing the first of them at some depth.
1. Relaunching the “upright citizen” and “good Christian”
In a world that has changed profoundly with respect to that of the 19th century, practising charity with narrow, local, pragmatic criteria which overlook the broader dimensions of the common good, or of reaching out nationally and globally, would be a serious lacuna in the social and theological order. Conceiving of charity just as alms-giving or emergency aid means risking our operating within the ambit of a “false samaritanism”.
What it demands therefore is deep reflection, especially at the speculative level. This must extend consideration of all content relative to the theme of human, youthful, popular development, at the same time giving attention to various skilled and pertinent philosophical, anthropological, theological, scientific, historical, methodological considerations. This reflection then has to be made concrete at the level of operational experience and reflection on the part of individuals and communities.
We should proceed in the direction of an up to date reaffirmation of Don Bosco's "social, political and educational" options. This does not mean fostering an ideological activism tied to certain party-political choices, but forming to a social and political sensitivity which leads to investing ones life in the good of the social body, pledging our life as mission, with constant reference to inalienable human and Christian values. Put another way, reconsidering the social quality of education should motivate us to create explicit experiences of social commitment in the broadest sense.
Let's ask ourselves: is the Congregation, the Salesian Family, are our provinces, groups and Houses doing everything possible in this direction? Is their solidarity with the young merely an act of affection, a gesture of giving, or is it also a competent contribution, a rational, adequate and pertinent response to the needs of the young and weakest social classes?
And we should say similar things when relaunching the “good Christian”. Don Bosco, “on fire” with zeal for souls, understood the ambiguity and danger of the situation, tackled its assumptions, found new ways of opposing evil even with the scarce resources (cultural, financial…) that he had. He was attempting to reveal the human vocation, the truth about the human individual, so that it could be lived with awareness. And it is precisely here that believers can offer their most valuable contribution.
But how do we focus anew on Don Bosco's “good Christian”? How do we safeguard the total human and Christian nature of the project today through initiatives which are formally or prevalently religious and pastoral, against the danger of old and new forms of fundamentalism and exclusivity? How do we transform traditional education, whose context was “a mono-religious society”, into an open and at the same time critical education in the face of contemporary pluralism? How do we educate to living autonomously and at the same time actively part of a pluri-religious, pluri-cultural, pluri-ethnic world? Faced with the current eclipse of a traditional pedagogy of obedience, appropriate to a certain kind of ecclesiology, how do we promote a pedagogy of freedom and responsibility extended to building responsible individuals capable of free and mature decisions, open to interpersonal communication, actively part of social structures, with a constructively critical, rather than conformist attitude?
2. Returning to the young with greater preparedness
It was amongst the young that Don Bosco worked out his style of life, his pastoral and pedagogical legacy, his system, his spirituality. Salesian mission is consecration, “predilection” for the young and such predilection, in its initial state we realise, is God's gift, but it is up to our intelligence and heart to develop and perfect it.
Fidelity to our mission then, to have force, must be put in contact with the crux of culture today, with the matrices of today's mentality and behaviour. We are faced with truly huge challenges demanding serious analysis, pertinent critical observation, in-depth cultural comparison, a capacity to partake of the circumstances psychologically and existentially. So, just to limit ourselves to a few questions:
a- Who exactly are the young to whom we personally and in community “consecrate” our life?
b- How professional are we pastorally, at the level of theoretical reflection on educational programmes and at the level of pastoral practice?
c- Responsibility for education today has to be collective, a group effort, participative. So what is our particular “hook” into the “network of relationships” in the area and beyond it where we live with our young people?
d- If the Church finds itself unequipped today, faced with the young, might it not also be the case for Salesians and the Salesian Family today?
3. Education of the heart
In recent decades perhaps the new generations of Salesians feel at a little bit of a loss faced with the older formulations of the Preventive System: is it because they do not know how to apply it today, or because they unconsciously imagine it as a “paternalistic rapport” with the young? On the contrary, when we look at Don Bosco seen in his lived reality, we discover in him an instinctive and brilliant surmounting of a paternalism in education which was instilled largely by the pedagogy of the preceding centuries (1500-1700).
We might ask ourselves: do the young and adults today enter, or can they enter into the heart of the Salesian educator? What do they find there? A technocrat, an able but empty communicator, or a rich, complete humanity, one enlivened by the grace of Jesus Christ, in the Mystical Body, etc.?
Beginning from our understanding of Don Bosco's pedagogy, the major points of reference and the tasks of Strenna 2013 are as follows.
- The ‘Gospel of joy’, which characterises all of Don Bosco's history and is the soul of his many activities. Don Bosco intercepted the desire for happiness in young people and listed their joy of living in language like cheerfulness, the playground and festivity; but he never ceased to point towards God as the source of real joy.
- The pedagogy of kindness. Don Bosco's loving-kindness is, without doubt a characteristic trait of his pedagogical approach which we maintain to be valid today too, whether in contexts that are still Christian or in those where young people belong to other religions. However it cannot be reduced just to a pedagogical principle, but needs to be recognised as an essential element of our spirituality.
- The Preventive System. This represents the essence of Don Bosco's pedagogical wisdom and constitutes the prophetic message he has left his heirs and the entire Church. It is a spiritual and educative experience based on reason, religion and loving-kindness.
- Education is a thing of the heart. “Don Bosco's pedagogy”, Fr Peter Braido wrote, “can be identified with all his activity; and all of that with his personality; and all of Don Bosco is gathered up, finally, in his heart”. Here lies his greatness and the secret of his success as an educator. “By saying that his heart was entirely given to the young means saying that his entire personality, intelligence, heart, will, physical strength, all his being was directed to doing good for them, fostering their all-round growth, desiring their eternal salvation”.
- The formation of the upright citizen and good Christian. Forming “good Christians and upright citizens” is the intention which Don Bosco expressed so often to indicate everything the young need in order to fully experience and live their lives as human beings and as Christians. So the presence of education in social life takes in all of this reality: educational sensitivity, educational policies, the quality of education in social life, culture.
- Salesian humanism. Don Bosco knew how to “appreciate everything that was positive and rooted in human existence, in created realities, in historical events. This led him to recognise authentic values in the world, especially if they were pleasing to the young; to be part of the flow of culture and human development in his own time, encouraging what was good and refusing to lament what was not ; to wisely seek the cooperation of many others, convinced that each had gifts to be discovered, recognised and appreciated; to believe in the power of education in supporting the growth of the young and encouraging them to become upright citizens and good Christians; to always trusting in God's Providence, whom he perceived and loved as Father”.
- Preventive System and human rights. The Congregation has no other reason for existence other than for the complete salvation of the young. This mission of ours, the Gospel and our charism today also require us to run the way of human rights; this is a way involving new languages that we cannot overlook. The preventive system and human rights interact, enrich one another. The preventive system offers human rights a unique and innovative approach with respect to the movement for protection and promotion of human rights. And likewise human rights offer the preventive system new frontiers and opportunities for social and cultural impact as an effective response to the “drama of modern humanity, the rupture between education and society, the gap between schooling and citizenship”.
- For a profound understanding and implementation and the crucial matters indicated above it is useful to read: The Preventive System in the education of the young, the Letter from Rome, the Lives of Dominic Savio, Michael Magone, Francis Besucco, all written by Don Bosco and that well illustrate both his educational experience and his pedagogical options.
Fr Pascual Chávez V., SDB