Salesian Family

GFS 2014: Testimony and questions to the Rector Major

Luisa Bertiato

Question Luisa Bertiato wants to ask the Rector Major.

Good afternoon, Fr Pascual Chávez and you my brothers and sisters in the Salesian Family!
My name is Luisa Bertiato and I was born at Mestre on 2 April 1981, the same day as Dominic Savio’s birthday. My parents are Gianni and Sandra, both Salesian Cooperators. I am the eldest of 4 children, the others being Francesco, 31, Maria, 27, and Angela, 23.

I have a degree in Education and Social Work: I am a teacher and social worker. I work for a private Foundation which mainly looks after children whose parents have died and who were doctors, pharmacists and veterinarians had contributed to the Foundation. Specifically though I look after students from  0 to 30 years of age in the north-east part of Italy known as Triveneto: there are about 600 of these students. It is a very Salesian kind of work even though in a secular field.

I look after these students both for the bureaucratic aspects of contract and yearly contribution, and helping them choose their high school or  university. I try to support them in difficult times and in relationships with family, teachers or friends. I do try to give particular attention to families with differently-abled children or when a parent is widowed and left with small children: for example I often call around by phone during the quieter times of the year when I can find some time to talk to these more vulnerable families. They find that even a simple phone call provides relief and give them a chance to air their difficulties. Twice a year I visit the provinces in Triveneto to meet up with families in loco: it is really nice when the kids come looking for me even if just to say hello, or to talk something over or to say thanks for the help and advice… I often see myself as a big sister they can count on and confide in, part of a larger family that goes beyond blood relationships. And it is not hard thinking of that since I have a clear example before me which is the Salesian Family!

I have been part of Cooperator gatherings since when my brother and I at 1-2 years of age were running along the corridors at Astori di Mogliano or walking through the fields in Colesin to Cencenighe while our parents were attending meetings. Our Salesian of reference, my ‘Don Bosco’, was dad’s former French teacher, Fr Bruno Martelossi, wh9m dad had known since my grandfather had a serious accident at work and he was sent with his two other 2 brothers to boarding school with the Salesians at Castello di Godego.
Fr Bruno and Fr Gianni (Filippin) were the first Salesian priests I met as a child. I was always struck by their availability, the affection that showed through especially in their actions and the Salesian environment I experienced as a child was very attractive for me…so much so that even then I was thinking that I’d want to be a Cooperator when I grew up (even though most children at a very young age want to follow in their parents’ footsteps).

Then later, because dad was always on the move for work reasons, the family moved too… and besides the fact the the family was growing, after the birth of my sister Maria, it meant they could spend less time with the Cooperators either because of distance or because our tribe of 6 had to be looked after.

 My passion for young people and leadership was so strong that at 15 I became an ACR leader in in the Parish at Prozzolo di Camponogara (VE) (- I was in Third year at school, after Confirmation, but they said I was too young :o). But I used enjoy more being the leader than being led! There was no Salesian house or oratory in the area we lived in near enough to be part of the action there so I decided to bring ‘Salesianity’ to the activities for young people whom I could reach in the parish and the vicariate we belonged to.
I did my junior secondary schooling at the FMA “Don Bosco” school in Padua.

I began senior secondary school at Marchesi di Padova and finished the final years at Tiziano in Belluno.
At Belluno we came across the Salesians again: as I indicated earlier, moving 6 people around was difficult e and so being part of the Cooperators was not easy for my parents. At Belluno there was a Salesian parish and school where they were able to be part of things once more and I began attending catechism even though it was not the parish we belonged to. For years I took part in the Youth Festival at Belluno and when I was 17 and 18 I did a leadership course organised by the SYM and then put it all into practice in the parish!

In 2000 I began university at Padua where I enrolled in the Education Faculty. In 2004 I then began a second degree in Politics and Social Work which I finished in 2007.
During the holidays leading up to Easter, on 27 February 2001, I went looking for Fr Bruno at his invitation because he was curious to know of my experience as a volunteer at World Youth Day during the Jubilee Year in Rome the summer before.
I hoped to begin my preparations to be a Cooperator; instead Fr Bruno spoke to me about a group of young people who would be visiting the places of St Francis de Sales and the Don Bosco places around Turin – organised by the Province.
That summer my adventures with the Past Pupils began! First in France and then Turin, then Lourdes and Barcelona the next summer, Then Vice president of the Mestre union in 2003, 2007 Provincial Vice President and finally National Youth Vice President from 2009 until now.

From 2002 to 2013 I was Youth Vice President first locally (2003-2007) then nationally (2009-2013): it has been an enriching experience because I have been able to experience the greatness of the Salesian charism in various places around our region and in Italy and the joy young people I have met experience at home and in the oratories they attend…, but I have also found some difficulties in the association when it is too focused on structures rather than mission… and that makes it hard for some young people to see themselves as part of the association, where their absence becomes a cause and effect of ageing in the association. Just the same, it never fails to show its filial love for Don Bosco!

I found myself visiting all Italy (and not only Italy!) accompanied and supported (and sometimes just put up with ;o) by the then national delegate, Fr Enrico Peretti: we worked at creating greater awareness of the role of the Past Pupils and doing practical things! I grew, and have gained much experience especially in organising and discussion... but I have not put aside thinking of becoming a Salesian Cooperator one day...
Until 24 January 2011, after the experience of the Spirituality Days, at the invitation of the Vice Provincial, Fr Jean Rebellato, I have been part of the evening meetings of Salesian Cooperators in Padua... which has led me to 31 January 2013, the day I will make my promise!
I could not imagine my life without the Salesian style, and my work as a social worker also shows that (something I love doing and that I can do with and for the young people): I have been part of Catholic Action, active in the Padua Diocese,with the Jesuits... but it is only in Salesian houses that I really feel at home! From the Salesian house at Mestre to the Salesian house in Santo Domingo or Santiago in Chile,, or from Belgium to Slovakia!
I am very proud of being a daughter of Don Bosco and I get emotional when I think that I belong to the Salesian Movement that I feel such a keen part of as a member of the great Salesian Family!
 How can the Salesian Family help the Past Pupils to “regenerate” overcoming bueaucratisation in structures and being more focused on ‘acting as family’?
Starting directly from life’s experience, dear Fr Pascual, what concrete suggestions, maybe with some little useful anecdotes, could you give the Salesian Family to overcome conflicts and differences the various SF groups feel and that sometimes make it hard to live and share together ?

Address by Paolo and Marina Surrentino

Our names are Marina and Paolo, husband and wife since 2002, Salesian Cooperators from Latina.
We work with a volunteer association in the area where we live, involved with youth problems especially minors in difficulty, by running an after-school programme, leadership in a family house.

We feel that our married life, amidst all our personal limitations and daily grind, is always being accompanied by the Lord’s blessings.

Missionary vocation: God’s plan?

As a couple we took on a Salesian missionary experience in Syria in 2005 and in Haiti for 4 months in 2010, immediately after the earthquake.

When we returned from the mission in Haiti we were convinced that the Lord was asking us to start a new life. So we began looking for concrete ways we could start out again and in a definitive way, as a missionary family. But the situation was rather complicated.

Shortly afterwards Marina had to stop completely, and literally, due to a hernia. In this STOP we saw God’s will and again we asked ourselves what his plan for us might be. Convinced that our way forward was international mission, but suffering from the fact that we had had no children, we did not want to try the path of adoption.

It had to be the Lord who would decide on that, so in July 2011 we did make a request to National Adoption. Knowing the circumstances of National Adoption in Italy, we were certain that our request would be buried under a mountain of other requests and that we could be at peace and start out again.

Poor and Abandoned Youth: from Facebook to our home

But in November 2011, continuing with our voluntary work in a family house, we were deeply touched by an unforeseen experience. One of the boys, nearly 18 years of age, ran away and nothing more was heard of him. He was a Gypsy boy, but born in Italy, and when he was 7 he saw his father die a violent death. He was placed in a family house away from all his cultural and social traditions. He saw his younger brothers taken from him, adopted, and saw that his mother took less and less interest in him.

We had the “fortune” of finding him through the much-feared FACEBOOK and with authorisation from Social Services and help from our association, PONTIRETI onlus, we suggested to him that he come to our place and set himself up there where we could be with him and help him be self-sufficient in all respects. When we took him in he was actually an illegal resident before the Italian State: a foreigner, a minor, reported for running away, and all he had was a birth certificate and with nobody else ready to help him gain legal certification!
Da allora Roberto è ancora con noi nella nostra casa, ha conseguito un diploma di scuola superiore e, contrariamente a quanto predetto dai servi sociali, perfettamente integrato negli affetti e nel tessuto sociale della città.Since then Roberto is still with us at home, has completed his high school certificate and contrary to what social services predicted, has fitted in perfectly to the social life of the city.

“God’s plans never coincide with human ones”: Mum and Dada

Meanwhile the adoption request had not been buried and had gone as far as the final discussion with an honorary judge. As we had imagined, in this discussion it was already clearly stated that, having Roberto at home was already a difficult and complicating factor, and it would be difficult for the Court to make a decision in favour of our family and disturb the precarious balance  by giving us yet another minor at risk.

When we came away from this meeting we were further convinced that our mission had become one of dedicating ourselves unconditionally to Roberto.

When we called our spiritual director, his words stuck in our memory: “God’s plans never coincide with human ones”.

It happened that a week later the Court called us and made an offer! So on 8 June 2012, our tenth wedding anniversary, Angelo arrived by name and in fact. He was 12.

Even this event was not a painless ‘birth’; the various people and specialists we had met before going ahead with Angelo had strongly advised us not to go ahead, but in our hearts as Salesian Cooperators Salesian Fr Attilio Strà’s words rang loudly: “If we Salesians don’t concern ourselves with these kids, who will?”. Despite our limitations, lack of certainty and financial difficulties, for our part we were aware and certain that if Angelo was a gift from the Lord we needed to count on his infallible help and take him into our home unreservedly!

And so, for a year and a half now, Angelo has been with us, fits in nicely at school, has friends, takes part in all the activities and, in the next few days in fact, will become an official part of our family! This is the reality where God has called us to live - as Mum and Dad.

Question for the Rector Major:

As Salesian Cooperator spouses, we have experienced that our family has been called to live the dimension of the Domestic Church as a Domestic Oratory: acceptance, openness to life, education to faith, encounter in love. But just like in the playground at the Oratory, we also have to face up to daily challenges: work, personal and shared needs, arguments. These are challenges that bring deep joy but also real, deep discouragement, sadness and feelings of being useless. They are challenges that risk robbing time and opportunity from spiritual direction, formation and spirituality as a married couple. We are aware that without this latter it becomes difficult for our faith to mature and for us to love unconditionally and freely as did Don Bosco and Mama Margaret. Without this it is always difficult, despite all the love in our hearts, to help these children live, wounded as they are in body and soul by adults incapable of love; it is difficult to make them aware they are loved by us but even more so by their heavenly Father.

In concrete terms how can we find balance and harmonise the various dimensions of growing up for these youngsters, as spouses, parents, Salesian Cooperators, educators, in a society which has pushed the transcendent dimension even further away, the dimension of true human maturity?

Question Renato Cursi wants to ask the Rector Major.

Dear Fr Pascual:

What I’d like to share with you is a reflection on my Christian life as a young Salesian Cooperator, a leader in the Salesian Youth Movement at the oratory at Borgo Ragazzi Don Bosco in Rome and in the national coordination of the Movement in Italy.

Jesus and Don Bosco have been, respectively and in due proportion, two beacons in my life since I was a child, for their own merits but also because of the wonderful family I was born into and grew up in. I still recall the enthusiasm with which I read the illustrated stories of John Bosco and Dominic Savio when I was young.

In these 25 years of “already and not yet” I have felt accompanied along a journey which has been full of joy and also difficult, constant ascesis, heading for the high mountain of God but also towards brothers and sisters and the depths of the human heart. For 10 years Salesian spirituality has been the paradigm I have referred to on this graced road.

I recognise three gifts in particular I have received from this spirituality: the central role of the Sacraments, the importance of the everyday for the life of the soul, and the proposal of youthful holiness.

I feel that all these things have given me a new heart and new eyes.

Today, listening to and observing young people I meet in the oratory and the Salesian Youth Movement, this new heart and these new eyes seem to be telling me that there is a renewed need for us to be offered strong, radical choices for our Christian and Salesian lives, ones that can make daily life a place where there is no mediocre routine, but a place of sanctification.

The greater glory of God and the salvation of souls. These alone should be the aims of our Christian and Salesian lives. But what I want to ask you, Fr Pascual is this: what are the strong and radical choices that can be offered and that first of all we can witness to so we can convince for lukewarm or indifferent youth of the central place of these aims?

Is it the radical nature of poverty? Is it thinking about being missionaries without reserve? What other radical views of the Gospel are there?