Message of His Holiness BENEDICT XVI for the beginning of the General Chapter XXVI
To the Very Reverend Fr PASCUAL CHAVEZ VILLANUEVA SDB, Rector Major of the Salesians of Don Bosco
l. I am particularly pleased to send my heartfelt greetings to you and to those taking part in the XXVI General Chapter, which is an occasion of grace in the life of the Congregation now present in all the continents. In it you are being called to bring together the wealth and the variety of experiences, of cultures and of the expectations of the Salesians involved in a multiplicity of apostolic activities, and ready and willing to make their service to the Church ever more effective. The charism of Don Bosco is a gift of the Spirit for all the People of God, but only by docile listening and openness to the action of God is it possible to interpret it and in these times of ours, to make it relevant and fruitful. The Holy Spirit who at Pentecost came down on the newborn Church, continues, like the wind, to blow where he wills, as a fire to melt the ice of selfishness, as a spring to water what is dry. Pouring out on the Chapter Members the abundance of his gifts he will enter the hearts of the Confreres. He will make them burn with his love, He will enflame them with the desire for holiness, urge them to open themselves to conversion and strengthen them in their apostolic daring.
2. The Sons of Don Bosco belong to the large host of those disciples Christ has consecrated to himself by his Spirit through a special act of love. He has reserved them for himself; for this reason the primacy of God and of his work ought to shine out in the witness they give. When someone gives up everything in order to follow the Lord, when he gives to him what is most dear, facing up to every sacrifice, then it should not come as a surprise if, as happened to the divine Master, he becomes a “sign of contradiction”, because the consecrated person’s way of thinking and of living leads to him often finding himself at odds with the thinking of the world. In reality this is reassuring, because it shows that his way of life is an alternative to the culture of the day and can perform, in its regard, a role that in some ways is prophetic. However, to achieve this, it is necessary to be on one’s guard against the possible influences of secularism, to defend oneself and so be able to continue with determination, along the path already begun, overcoming the “liberal model” of consecrated life, leading a life totally focused on the primacy of the love of God and of one’s neighbour.
3. The theme chosen for this General Chapter is the same plan of spiritual and apostolic life that Don Bosco made his own: “Da mihi animas, cetera tolle”. Within it is to be found the whole personality of the great saint: a deep spirituality, creative initiative, apostolic zeal, untiring work, pastoral daring and, above all, the consecrating of himself without reserve to God and to the young. He was a saint with one great passion: “the glory of God and the salvation of souls.” It is vitally important that every Salesian continually draws inspiration from Don Bosco: that he knows him, studies him, loves him, imitates him, prays to him, makes his own his apostolic passion, which spring from the heart of Christ. This passion is the ability to give oneself, to be full of zeal for souls, to suffer for love, to accept with serenity and joy the daily demands and the renunciations of the apostolic life. The motto “Da mihi animas, cetera tolle” expresses in synthesis the mystical and ascetical dimension of the Salesian. There cannot be a passionate mystical dimension without a solid asceticism to support it; and vice versa no one is ready to pay a high and demanding price unless he has discovered a fascinating and priceless treasure. In a time of fragmentation and fragility like our own, it is necessary to overcome the dissipation of energy in hyperactivity and cultivate the unity of a spiritual life through the acquisition of a profound sense of the mystical dimension and a sound asceticism. This nourishes apostolic commitment and guarantees an effective ministry. It is in this that progress along the path of holiness for every Salesian should consist, and on it that the formation of new vocations to Salesian consecrated life should concentrate. Lectio divina and the Eucharist, lived each day, are light and strength for the spiritual life of the consecrated Salesian. He ought to give sustenance to his day by listening to and meditating on the Word of God, while also helping young people and the lay faithful to appreciate its value in their daily lives, and then making the necessary effort to translate what the Word says into witness. “The Eucharist draws us into Jesus' act of self-oblation. More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos, we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving.” (Encyclical Deus caritas est 13). Leading a simple, poor, modest, basic, and austere life: this will help Salesians to strengthen the response to their vocation, in the face of the risks and dangers of mediocrity and a bourgeois style of life; and it will also bring them closer to those in need and to the marginalised.
4. Following the example of their beloved Founder, Salesians need to be consumed with apostolic passion. The universal Church and the particular Churches of which they form part expect from them a presence characterised by apostolic drive, and by a daring evangelising zeal. The post-synodal Apostolic Exhortations regarding evangelisation in the various continents, can be a stimulus for them and offer guidance in carrying out an inculturated evangelisation, in the different contexts. The recent Doctrinal Note on some aspects of evangelisation can help them to examine further how to communicate to everyone and especially the poorest young people the riches of the gifts of the Gospel. May evangelisation be the main and priority frontier of their mission today. It presents many tasks, urgent challenges, vast fields of activity, but its fundamental purpose is that of proposing that everyone should live their human life as Jesus lived it. In multi-religious situations and in secularised ones, it is necessary to find new ways of making Jesus known, especially to the young, so that they may discover his perennial fascination. Therefore at the centre of their apostolic activity should be the proclamation of Jesus Christ and of his Gospel, together with the call to conversion, to the acceptance of the faith, to their taking their place in the Church; then from this will come faith journeys and forms of catechesis, liturgical life and the witness of charitable work. Their charism places them in the privileged position of being able to give due weight to the role of education in the field of the evangelisation of the young. Without education, in fact, there is no deep and lasting evangelisation; there is no growth or process of maturity; there is no change of mentality or of culture. Young people have within them a deep desire for a full life, for genuine love, for constructive freedom; but often, sadly, they are betrayed in their expectations which are not fulfilled. It is essential to help young people to make good use of the qualities they have within them, such as energy and positive desires; to give them projects full of humanity and gospel values; to encourage them to take their place in society actively, through their work, their involvement and their commitment to the common good. This requires that whoever is guiding them opens up wider educational horizons, while paying attention to the new forms of youth poverty, to higher education, to immigration; in addition it means giving attention to the family and to its involvement. On this issue, which is so important, I gave special attention in the Letter on the educational emergency that I recently addressed to the faithful of Rome, and which now I should really like to give to all Salesians.
5. From the beginning, the Salesian Congregation has been committed to evangelisation in different parts of the world: from Patagonia and Latin America to Asia and Oceania, to Africa and Madagascar. At a time when in Europe vocations are declining in number and the challenges of evangelisation are increasing, the Salesian Congregation needs to devote its attention to strengthening the proclamation of the Christian message, the presence of the Church and Don Bosco’s charism in this continent. Just as Europe has been generous in sending numbers of missionaries to the whole world, so now may the whole Congregation by making a special appeal to those Regions rich in vocations, be responsive in its regard. To continue throughout time the mission among the young, the Holy Spirit guided Don Bosco to create various apostolic groups animated by the same spirit and sharing the same commitment. The tasks of evangelisation and education in fact require large numbers to make their contribution, and to know how to work in synergy. For this reason the Salesians have involved in their work many lay people, families and the young people themselves, raising up among them apostolic vocations that keep the charism of Don Bosco alive and fruitful. To these young people, the attractive fascination of the consecrated life, the radical choice of the following of Christ obedient, poor and chaste, the primacy of God and of the Spirit, fraternal life in community, the devoting of oneself totally to the mission should be proposed. Young people are open to demanding challenges, but they need witnesses and guides who know how to accompany them in the discovery and the acceptance of such a gift. In this context I know that the Congregation is giving particular attention to the vocation of the Salesian Brother, without which it would lose the characteristic feature that Don Bosco wanted it to have. Certainly it is not an easy vocation to discern and to accept; it emerges more easily where apostolic lay vocations are presented to the young and where they see a joyful and enthusiastic witness to religious consecration. May the example and the intercession of Blessed Artemides Zatti and the other venerated Brothers who have spent their lives for the Kingdom of God obtain also in these days for the Salesian Family the gift of such vocations.
6. I am very pleased to be able to take this opportunity to express very grateful thanks to the Salesian Congregation for the work of research and formation undertaken at the Salesian Pontifical University, where some among my present closest and most appreciated collaborators were formed, and have also been teachers. It has an identity that comes from the charism of Don Bosco and offers an original and specific contribution to the whole Church. Unique among the Pontifical Universities it has a Faculty of Education and a Department of Youth Ministry and Catechetics supported by the input of other Faculties. With a view to a course of studies that profits from the diversity of cultures and is attentive to the multiplicity of contexts, it is to be hoped that there may be an increase there in the number of teachers coming from around the whole Congregation. In the educational emergency that exists in many parts of the world, the Church needs the contribution of scholars who will undertake in-depth studies into the methodology of pedagogical and formation procedures, the evangelisation of young people and their moral education, drawing up together responses to the challenges presented by post-modernism, by the process of interculturation and by social communication, while at the same time seeking to help families. Don Bosco’s preventive system and the Salesian educational tradition will surely lead the Congregation to propose a Christian pedagogy for today, inspired by the specific charism that is its own. Education is one of the key issues in the anthropological question of today, to the solution of which the Salesian Pontifical University, I am sure, will not fail to make a very valuable contribution.
7. Dear Rector Major, the task facing the Salesian Congregation is one that is difficult but exciting. Each member of your large religious Family in fact is called to make Don Bosco present among the young people of our day. In 2015 you will be celebrating the bicentenary of his birth, and with the decisions you make in this General Chapter you will already be beginning the preparation for the celebrations of such an important jubilee event. May it be a spur for you to be ever more “credible signs of the love of God for the young” so that the young may indeed be the hope of the Church and of society. May the Virgin Mary, to whom Don Bosco taught you to pray as Mother of the Church and Help of Christians sustain you in your resolutions. “It is she who has done everything,” Don Bosco said at the end of his life, referring to Mary. Once again She will be the one to be your guide and teacher. She will help you to communicate “Don Bosco’s charism.” She will be for your Congregation and for the whole Salesian Family, for the educators and especially for the young, the Mother and Star of Hope. While offering for your attention these reflections of mine, I renew the expression of my gratitude for the service you render the Church, and while I assure you of my constant prayer, with all my heart I impart, to you Rector Major, to the participants in the Chapter Assembly and to the whole Salesian Family a special Apostolic Blessing.
From the Vatican, 1 March 2008
Address of Cardinal Franc Rodé, C.M.
Prefect of the Congregation for the Institutes of
Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life
Da mihi animas, cetera tolle
1. This is the motto Don Bosco chose as a young priest and it accompanied him throughout his life. It is the plan of life of Don Bosco and of every Salesian, [Cf. C. n. 4.] the title that you have chosen for the celebration of the 26th General Chapter of the Salesian Society of Saint John Bosco. In this Chapter meeting which brings you all together from different countries and cultures, one can see the abundance and the beauty of the Lord’s gifts. For each and every one of you, and for all your Salesian confreres around the world, I give thanks to the Giver of all that is good, Who in His infinite goodness has given to the Church the great Family of Saint John Bosco. My greetings and my thanks for the vital commitment of all the Salesians in the Church and in the world cannot fail to go to the Rector Major, the successor of Don Bosco, Fr Pascual Chávez Villanueva, for his commitment not only to the numerous Salesian Family but to all Consecrated Life.
2. The General Chapter is sign of unity in diversity, it is a meeting of brothers, it is a moment of communal reflection, so as to remain faithful to the Gospel, to the charism of the Founder and to the times. [Cf. C. n. 146] It is the ideal moment to open wide your eyes and hearts and to begin to look, to recognise and appreciate; it is the appropriate time discern along what path it is that the Lord is sending you; to move on from discouragement to hope, to the re-discovery of the presence of the Lord in your midst, in his Word and in the Bread of eternal life Its celebration is a living memorial of the path already taken, the realisation in today’s world, of the dream of little John Bosco, so as to plan for the future with living hope and complete trust in the Lord’s work.
3. In the face of a complex world and its crises, the Christian faith is exposed to all the questions and debates about God, about his entering into history in the person of Jesus, about the nature of man and the meaning of life and of death. The Church too is under scrutiny: in some circles its role and its influence in the world are trivialised and questioned. Consecrated life is marked by signs of crisis, especially in North America and in Europe: reduction in numbers, uncertainty about its identity, the temptation to give up and to discouragement. Returning to the origins, to the centrality of Jesus Christ, to the spirit of the Founders can help us to respond with trust, creativity and courage to these many varied challenges.
4. In these days each one of you is called to renew your fundamental option for Christ, thought through again with a clear and precise conscience as a community, according to the gospel project of the Constitutions: your special covenant with the Lord; a loving encounter that colours and guides your whole life; the total gift of yourselves to God and to the young; the meaning of your life consecrated by the power of the Spirit.
After having considered, in past years, Salesian identity, [GC22] the mission, [GC23] sharing with lay people [GC24] and the community, [GC25] during this Chapter assembly your attention will be focused on charismatic identity and on apostolic passion. It is a return to the heart of your vocation in the Church to the purest spirit of the Founder.
Don Bosco ritorna, you will repeat in these days. Mindful of the words that the Holy Father John Paul II wrote to you in his Letter Iuvenum Patris: «Don Bosco ritorna is a traditional hymn of the Salesian Family: it expresses the fervent hope and desire of a return of Don Bosco and of a return to Don Bosco, so as to be educators able to preserve our fidelity of old, and at the same time be attentive, as he was himself, to the thousand and one needs of today’s youth, so as to find in his legacy the starting point for a present-day response to their difficulties and expectations.» [John Paul II, Letter Iuvenum Patris for the Centenary of the death of Saint John Bosco, Rome 31 January 1988, n. 13.]
Returning to Don Bosco and starting afresh from Don Bosco so as to re-awaken the heart.
You are setting out therefore to return to the sources of Salesian spirituality, of the Salesian charism, to the heart of your call, which finds its living source in the very heart of Christ with «the preoccupation of the Good Shepherd who wins hearts by gentleness and self-giving.» [Cf. C. Art. 11].
5. There are different ways of speaking about spirituality. Certainly to be avoided is that which leads to spiritualism, almost as a retreat into a world of the spirit in which everything is considered perfect and rarefied; instead, it is necessary to preserve its original characteristic of life according to the Spirit and its being firmly rooted in everyday life, with its struggles and its tensions, its efforts and its difficulties, in this way reflecting the nature of all spiritual journeys – personal and ecclesial – rich in life and mystery.
Only in this way will it be possible to avoid those exhausted ways of talking about the Christian life that nowadays seem to be almost worn out by being too generic or too rhetorical. The use of extravagant language shows how difficult it is nowadays to speak about spiritual matters properly in ways that are not afraid of mentioning the uncertainties in life nor of referring to its mystery. Modesty and temperance of speech might restore to our language the possibility of communicating the great beauty of a life lived from the perspective of the Gospel.
6. From his earliest days Don Bosco let himself be guided by a single desire: to consecrate his whole life for the benefit of the young. His work is not an expression of hyper-activity, the happy and open character of the acrobat of the Becchi is a very real, conscious and willing consecration, a mission for the holistic salvation of youth.
Da mihi animas, cœtera tolle. The aim of Don Bosco’s education of prevention – a fully realised personal, social and religious life – is made clear in the expression “the salvation of souls”: a yearning for holiness. It was an “everyday” holiness that Don Bosco proposed to his boys and his first collaborators.
A “holiness” that is not the goal offered only to the “good boy”, to some kind of aristocratic élite, but to all the boys of Valdocco: «it is God’s will that we all become saints; it is quite easy to do so; there is a great reward prepared in heaven for whoever becomes holy.» [Bosco G., Life of the boy Dominic Savio written by the priest John Bosco, p. 50, OE XI p. 200.] In the atmosphere of holiness at Valdocco, his strong and generous proposals become credible. He «knew how to propose holiness as the practical objective of his pedagogy” – recalled the Servant of God John Paul II, in proclaiming him “Father and Teacher of Youth”. [IP, n. 5.] «I want especially to consider in Don Bosco the fact that he realized his personal holiness through an educative commitment lived with zeal and an apostolic heart, and that at the same time he knew how to propose holiness as the practical objective of his pedagogy.».[Ib.] It is here that one needs to look for that «prophetic message which he has left to his followers and to the Church ».[Ib. n. 8]
7. «An interchange between “education” and “holiness” is indeed the characteristic aspect of his personality: he was a “holy educator,” he drew his inspiration from a “holy model” - Francis de Sales -, he was the disciple of a “holy spiritual director” - Joseph Cafasso, and he was able to form from among his boys a “holy pupil” Dominic Savio». [Ib. n. 5.] And we can continue this list with Blessed Laura Vicuña and Blessed Zephyrinus Namuncurá, the last in time on 11 November 2007, to be set before the Salesian Family as an example of holiness. This prophetic message left you by the Founder offers the original feature of your charismatic identity, of your apostolic consecration, of your method of education based on reason, religion and loving kindness. [cf. “The Preventive System,” in “Regulations for the houses of the Society of St. Francis of Sales,” in John Bosco “Pedagogical and spiritual Writings,” 166.]
There is an urgent need to recover the true features of holiness. For each Salesian, for each young person who approaches you. To continue to be, as was Don Bosco, holy teachers of holy young people, masters of youth spirituality. [IP, n. 16] To carry out the plan of life that your Founder left you: «to be in the Church signs and bearers of the love of God for young people especially those who are poor. » [Cf. C. art. 2.]
8. Article 3 of your Constitutions says that you «live as disciples of the Lord,» and that you offer yourselves totally to God «to follow Christ and work with him in building up the Kingdom.» [C.. art. 3.]
In view of this offering the Father consecrates you with the gift of His Spirit and sends you out to be apostles of the young.[Ib] The gift of the Spirit ought to fill your hearts with His gentle power to enable you to be totally faithful to your life as disciples. The secret to success lies in knowing how to constantly reinforce the links of your covenant with God. +. As persons consecrated to the Father you are called to reproduce in the Church and in the world, through the evangelical counsels, «the characteristic features of Jesus — the chaste, poor and obedient one,» [VC, n. 1.] nourishing your faith, your sequela Christi, your loving conformity to the Lord Jesus so as to be able to communicate this lived experience in a educative relationship. All the rest can provide the supports, the methods and the means in the always difficult task of communicating the faith especially to the young, but these are small matters in comparison with the absolutely essential requirement for someone embarked on this enterprise: the possession of faith and of a vital love, one that is incarnated, and sustained by a sound formation.
This is your profound nature, your vocation, your total fulfilment. The evangelical counsels are the basis of this relationship, a constant attitude towards the Other. «There is no other way of living that is worthy of man than in self giving.» [John Paul II, Message for Vocations Day 2003. ]
9. Don Bosco was born less than thirty years after the French Revolution. Throughout the previous century (the “age of enlightenment”) the faith was subjected to attack in the name of a reason that was divinised, that set out to fight against everything that it called «superstition». In the XIXth century the attack became tied up, sometimes quite closely with social and national questions.
Don Bosco’s times therefore are those of the beginnings of industrialisation, of the Risorgimento, of the period of restoration and revolution. Turin of the Risorgimento is a city expanding rapidly as a result of the huge number of immigrants coming from the Piedmontese countryside, and the world of youth is in the grip of very serious problems: illiteracy, unemployment, moral decline and religious assistance in short supply. “I’m sixteen … and I don’t know anything”: so Bartholomew Garelli, the first of Don Bosco’s boys introduced himself. «To this first pupil some others were added,” - Don Bosco himself narrates -. “During that winter I concentrated my efforts in helping grown-ups who needed special catechism.» [Bosco G., Memoirs of the Oratory p. 190 adapted by Bosco T., 1985.]
And so the Oratory began: with youngsters seeking work. Don Bosco gave them a home, a faithful friend, instruction and protection, ensuring fair and just work contracts; he created vocational training schools, work-shops. He gave similar help to the students. He set the boys on the path to obtaining a place in the world, helping them to acquire skills and professional competence; he guided them in the Christian life, seeing to their religious formation, to their reception of the sacraments and a filial love for Mary.
10. This undertaking continues to be relevant today. If at one time there were just the play ground, the church, the work-shop and the school, today we can see various kinds of educational institutions, schools, literacy centres, community homes for children and young people in difficulty, preventative centres for drug addiction, advice centres, humanitarian projects for street children, refugee camps with large numbers of children and youngsters, reception centres for immigrants… And always with eyes and hearts alert for those places and situations where poverty and disadvantage need a surplus of compassion, friendship, love and protection.
In these days when the globalisation of the media and of the economy is accompanied by an wider increase in poverty and marginalisation which particularly afflicts the younger generations, the Church recognises with great concern the urgent need to overcome, especially in the field of education, the drama of a deep split between the Gospel and culture, that leads to undervaluing and side-lining Christ’s message of salvation. Today, more than in the past, we are in need of a prophetic outlook on these new times, so complicated and difficult, and above all of the daring of the saints, with a large and generous heart.
“I’m sixteen … and I don’t know anything.” This is the cry that we hear repeated by so many young people we meet on our way, who seem to be living, especially in these years, with a listlessness and indifference not only with regard to the faith, but above all as regards a love whose real significance is being sought, or its having been lost, is viewed with nostalgia, while, in quite a contradictory fashion, it is reduced to some brief sentiment or emotion.
We are faced with the era of emptiness [G.Lipovetsky, L’era del vuoto. Saggi sull’individualismo contemporaneo, 1995.] on account of contemporary individualism. «It seems to me,” the Holy Father said to questions from young people in the diocese of Rome, “that the great challenge of our time is secularization: that is, a way of living and presenting the world as "si Deus non daretur", in other words, as if God did not exist.[…] This seems to me to be the first essential element: that God be once again present in our lives, that we do not live as though we were autonomous, authorized to invent what freedom and life are. We must realize that we are creatures, aware that there is a God who has created us and that living in accordance with his will is not dependence but a gift of love that makes us alive.» [Benedict XVI, Conversation with young people, during the Meeting with the Youth of the Diocese of Rome, in preparation for the XXI World Youth Day, Rome, Thursday 6 April 2006.].
11. It is necessary to be able to speak the truth, without being afraid to, even when it is inconvenient. As the Holy Father does constantly. On this subject Romano Guardini wrote: «One who speaks should say what something is, how he sees it and understands it. Therefore he should also express with his words what he feels within him. It may be difficult in some circumstances, it may lead to annoyance, harm and danger; but our conscience reminds us that the truth has its obligations; that it has something of the absolute about it, that it has nobility. You cannot say about it: You can tell the truth when you like, or to achieve a particular aim; but: When you speak, you must tell the truth; you must not minimise nor alter it. You must always, simply tell the truth, even when the situation would incline you to remain silent, or when you could easily avoid answering a question» [R. Guardini, Le virtù, Brescia, 1972, p. 21] There is an imperative therefore from which one neither can nor should escape: to demonstrate that the truth must take its rightful and proper place not only in our preaching and catechesis, but above all in peoples’ lives so that they may come to a life that really makes sense.
The ministry that you carry out places you first of all in the position of transmitting the faith. This, we all know, is not primarily a question of abstract subject matter, but of a way of life that flows from the decision to place oneself at the sequela of Christ and to accept his word as a promise and as personal fulfilment.
«Priests… cannot be ministers of Christ unless they are witnesses and dispensers of a life other than this earthly one. But they cannot be of service to men if they remain strangers to the life and conditions of men. Their ministry itself by a special title forbids them to be conformed to the world. Yet at the same time this ministry requires that they live in this world among men and that as good shepherds they know their sheep … it is their task (therefore), in the light of Christ to strive to deal with contemporary problems ». [PO, nn. 3. 4 .]
12. Again, our young people are living in a state of profound loneliness. It often arises from their not being listened to, accepted for what they are or rejected; the different kinds of betrayal that life can present, by friendship, by love, in the family or with their peers, very clearly bring to light the profound sense of loneliness in which many of them are immersed.
I am convinced that our young people want from us a witness of total selflessness and sincere forgiveness. They want to be loved for what they are, but on this account we should not forget that for us, to love is to seek tirelessly and with great patience their good.
The Council wrote in Gaudium et spes : «A man is more precious for what he “is” than for what he “has”». [GS, n. 35.] The cultural context in which we are living undoubtedly gives a mistaken primacy to doing and having over being. The response to the questions of the young is not that of finding practical techniques or initiatives: we would be heading for failure. If we want to do something for the young, it is necessary above all to be people with large hearts, because as Don Bosco once again said, education is a matter of the heart.
This, however, requires on our part the effort to know how to really cultivate once again interpersonal relationships and the guidance of our young people, which is the best means for a vital transmission of the faith. Unless there is a one-to-one relationship the faith is not transmitted. We can call it spiritual direction or something else, but the tradition of the Church assures us of the fact that it is only through an interpersonal relationship that treats the person as an individual, that the transmission of the faith takes place. Precisely for this reason it is essential for you to once again think through your «to be in the Church, signs and bearers of the love of God for young people especially those who are poor. » [C. art. 2]
«It is not enough to love ».The ideal of Salesian holiness is «to make oneself loved». [BM XVII, 85-94]
«Strive to make people love you » is the advice Don Bosco gave Don Rua when he sent him to Mirabello, in 1863. «Since I cannot always be at your side…I speak as a loving father who opens his heart to a most dear son»; he gave him various pieces of advice in which stands out that of making himself loved. [BM VII, 316-7] Don Bosco insists: «it is not enough to love », it is necessary to know how to make «oneself loved.»
«The greatest art is the art of love,” – William of Saint Thierry taught. “Nature itself and God the artificer of nature have kept its teaching to themselves. Because love, which is given life by the Creator of nature, if its natural purity is not sullied by foreign affections, teaches itself: but only to those who let themselves be taught by it or to be taught by God. Love, in fact, is a power of the soul, which leads it, as though by a natural inclination to the place and to the end which is proper to it ». [William of Saint Thierry, Nature and greatness of love, 1,1-2, Magnano 1990]
The art of love, love for the truth, is learned from the way of life of Christ chaste, poor and obedient, humble and temperate, directed to charity. Consecrated life becomes in this way confessio Trinitatis, signum fraternitatis, servitium caritatis, [cf. Vita consecrata ] a luminous prophetic witness, an epiphany of the way of life of Jesus, an incisive presence within the Church and a paradoxical and attractive prophecy in a bewildered and confused world
13. «The ecclesiastical awareness of our Founder,” – wrote the Rector Major of the Society, Fr Egidio Viganò, in 1985 – “was concretely expressed from a pedagogical point of view in some strong and practical rules of conduct as far as faith was concerned. He expressed them in all simplicity in three great attitudes which gradually took on the name of “devotions”: to Jesus Christ the Saviour and Redeemer, present in the central action of the Church, the Eucharist; to Mary, Model and Mother of the Church, seen in history as the Help of Christians; and to the Pope, Peter’s Successor, placed at the head of the College of Bishops for the pastoral service of the whole Church.» [Letter of the Rector Major, in AGC n. 315]
«No effort should be spared,” - Don Bosco wrote - “when the Church and the Papacy are at stake.» [cf. C. art. 13.] Love for Christ, for Mary, for the Church and for the Pope. May your sentire cum ecclesia not only be the concrete task in the life of each Salesian and of the Superiors of the Society, but also witness to the ecclesial dimension of your faith and your commitment in educating the young people in the same way.
14. In invoking the blessing of the Lord on you and on your General Chapter and on your tasks in the coming days, I take up the words of Benedict XVI in the encyclical letter Spe salvi : «Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route. The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives. They are lights of hope. Certainly, Jesus Christ is the true light, the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history. But to reach him we also need lights close by—people who shine with his light and so guide us along our way.» [SpS, n. 49.] May Mary, Mother of the Church and Help of Christians, [C. art. 8.]5 Don Bosco, all the many Salesian saints and blesseds be your guiding stars and make you beacons of hope for the whole human race and especially for the young.
Rome, 3 March 2003
Address of the Rector Major
Fr Pascual Chávez Villanueva
at the opening of the GC26
«I am longing to see you so that I can convey to you some spiritual gift that will be a lasting strength, or rather that we may be strengthened together through our mutual faith, yours and mine » (Rm 1, 11-12)
1. Greeting to the Guests
Your Eminence, Cardinal Franc Rodé, Prefect of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life,
Your Eminence, Cardinal Raffaele Farina, Librarian and Archivist of the Holy Roman Church,
Your Eminence, Cardinal Miguel Obando Bravo,
Your Eminence, Cardinal Joseph Zen,
Your Grace, Archbishop Angelo Amato, Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
Your Grace, Archbishop Gianfranco Gardin, Secretary of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life,
Your Lordship Bishop Gino Reali, Bishop of Porto and Santa Rufina,
Your Grace, Archbishop Francesco Brugnaro, Archbishop of Camerino, Past Pupil and Cooperator,
Your Lordships the Salesian Bishops, Bishop Carlo Chenis, Archbishop Zef Gashi, Archbishop Stanislav Hocevar, Archbishop Calogero La Piana, Archbishop Basile Mvé, Bishop Pierre Pican, Bishop Peter Stump, Bishop Luc Van Looy, Bishop Adrian van Luyn, Bishop Rosario Vella,
Reverend Sister Enrica Rosanna, Undersecretary of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life,
Reverend Mother Antonia Colombo, Superior General of the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians,
Sisters and Brothers, Official Representatives of the various Groups of the Salesian Family,
Reverend Father Pietro Trabucco, Secretary General of the Union of Superiors General,
Reverend Father Mario Toso, Rector of the Salesian Pontifical University.
In the name of the whole Chapter Assembly, I heartily thank you for your presence on this occasion, specially significant for the Society of Saint Francis of Sales, and I want to say how gratifying to all of us is your participation, honouring the opening of our XXVI General Chapter and encouraging us in our work.
2. Welcome to the Chapter Members
My Dear Confreres, Members of the Chapter, Provincials and Superiors of Vice Provinces, Provincial Delegates, invited Observers, who have come from all parts of the world to take part in this important assembly of our beloved Congregation.
To all of you I want to give a welcome from the heart of Don Bosco. Feel yourselves at home and make yourselves at home! Don Bosco’s house is your house. The Generalate too is Don Bosco’s house, just as was that at Valdocco, where in a spirit of prayer and contemplation we wanted to make a start at the very beginning of this Assembly; just as was the little house at the Becchi, on the front of which is the inscription with Don Bosco’s words: “This is my house.”
The “starting afresh from Don Bosco”, the central theme of the Chapter, is an invitation addressed to the whole Congregation. It has taken us to the places where our beloved Father and Founder, docile to the voice and to the action of the Holy Spirit, began and developed that charism, of which we are heirs, guarantors, witnesses and communicators. The Becchi and Valdocco are the cradle of our charismatic experience. There is our identity, because there we were all born, as the psalmist full of joy thinking of the city of God sings: “all shall be her children; in you all find their home.” (Psalm 86).
Our DNA is the same as that of our Father Don Bosco, whose genes are the passion for the salvation of the young, confidence in the value of a high standard of education, the capacity to involve many people to the extent of creating a vast movement of people capable of sharing, by the mission to youth, the mysticism of “da mihi animas” and the asceticism of “cetera tolle”. Together with you I express the most fervent hope that our Chapter may be a launching pad for the starting afresh from Don Bosco to arrive at 2015, when with joy and gratitude we shall celebrate the second centenary of his birth.
3. Il Capitolo Generale
I wanted to begin this opening address with the quotation from Saint Paul to the Romans, because to me it seems to express what is in my heart and what I am expecting from this assembly. If it is true that any General Chapter is an event that goes far beyond the formal implementation of what the Constitutions prescribe, with greater reason I think the GC26 needs to be so. It will be a Pentecostal event, that will have the Holy Spirit as its main protagonist. It will unfold between memory and prophecy, between gratitude faithful to the origins and unconditional openness to the newness of God. And all of us will play our full part, with our responsibilities and our expectations, with a wealth of experience, ready to listen, to discern, to accept the will of God for the Congregation.
Bringing us together is God Himself, Who continually and at all times calls and sends his prophets, so that there may be life in abundance for all. The calls of God require generosity, total dedication and readiness also for suffering in order “to give life”; life does not come to birth without “the pangs of birth.” God does not issue an invitation to consolidate situations of stagnation or even death, but sends His Spirit to give fresh life and vitality, to transform people and through them to renew the face of the earth.
I cannot but recall at this point the penetrating vision of Ezekiel about the people of God in exile, deprived of King, Temple and Law. On the dry bones, on this dead people, God sends the Spirit and behold sinews reappear and flesh grows. He covers these bodies with skin and breathes on them his breath of life (cf. Ezek 37, 8seq). Certainly the new life that God wants to offer the world can meet with a psychological and spiritual resistance to “being born from above” ( Jn 3 3), as with Nicodemus. On the contrary, what is being asked of us is the readiness demonstrated by Abram who allows himself to the guided by the God of the promise (cf. Gen 12, 1-3); he does not cling even to the long-awaited son and is ready to give up Isaac, not hesitating to sacrifice him rather than lose his God. Again in terms of this total availability, the perfect model of unlimited openness is the Virgin Mary, ready to set aside her own plans to take up that of God (cf. Lk 1, 35ss).
The GC26 opens onto something new and without precedent. The need to return to the origins is urging us on. We are being called to find inspiration in the apostolic passion of Don Bosco himself. We are being invited to draw on the living streams of the charism, and at the same time to open ourselves with daring and creativity to new ways of expressing it nowadays. For us it is like discovering new facets of the same diamond, our charism, that will allow us to respond better to the circumstances of the young, to understand and serve their new forms of poverty, to provide new opportunities for their human development and their education, for their journey of faith and for their fullness of life. It is important, dear Chapter members, that each one of us enters deeply into harmony with God who is calling us “today” so that the inspiration and the strength of His Spirit are not grieved in our hearts, silenced on our lips, deformed in our thinking (cf. Eph 4, 30). All of this means that the effort we are called upon to make is to open as wide as possible our “spiritual” receptivity, to discover deep within ourselves the will of God for the Congregation and always to conform our thoughts and our words to the Word of God. May the words that each one of us will feel called upon to pronounce, bear as little as possible the weight of the flesh, since «that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit» ( Jn 3, 6). [Cf. V. Bosco, Il Capitolo: momento di profezia per tenere il passo di Dio, Elle Di Ci, Torino 1980, p 8.]
4. Atteggiamenti di piena partecipazione al CG26
How then are we to live the Chapter experience constructively? What kind of commitment should each Chapter member make? With what attitudes are we to participate in the General Chapter?
Cultivating the prophetic spirit
The awareness of being called together by God reawakens in us the sense of our being dependent on Him and the acceptance deep down of the mission He has entrusted to us. This demands from us a constant, humble, obedient listening attitude. Unlike being at a congress or a convention, where often a dialectical atmosphere prevails, we are here to spend time in discernment and discussion about the life of the Congregation, about our charism, which is a great gift from God for the Church and for the young.
We cannot take the role of spectators. That would change the event into a simple fact of history; nothing would remain of it apart from some vague memory, incapable of creating the genuine transforming dynamics that change history. This is precisely the task of the prophet: moved by the Spirit of Christ and a bearer of the Word of God, he is capable of changing history. For this to become our experience, the GC26 requires from us our total involvement. We are all being called to play our part in this event with a sense of responsibility, recognising its vital importance, and each day renewing in ourselves deep interest and openness to the journey that the Spirit is leading us to make.
The Chapter will be significant and fruitful if it moves on from being a simple “event”, that takes place in time and space, to being a profound “experience” which, above all, touches our very being. And it will, if in carrying out the Chapter, we are able to find God. From that moment, regeneration and rebirth will begin; and then we shall be able to communicate to all the confreres in the Congregation «that which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands » (1Jn 1, 1).
Personal development and service to the Congregation, which come into play in the Chapter experience, go hand in hand. Often one hears it said that taking part in a General Chapter is an intense experience of ongoing formation; and this is true. Nevertheless, personally, I prefer to speak of a charismatic experience in the deepest sense of the term, that is to say, of an experience of the Spirit, and in terms of an assembly, of a truly communitarian Pentecost.
It is not only a question of not disappointing the confreres, but of not throwing away an “acceptable time,” a “kairós”, and thus not disappointing God and the young, the two poles that shape our identity, around which our life revolves, and our service to whom justifies our existence.
Precisely because the Chapter is not a congress, but a time of discernment, it needs to be lived with the right attitude, which requires preparation, serious reflection, calm and profound prayer, a personal contribution, a consciousness of one’s own conformity and listening to God and to each other.
From this perspective, the days of Salesian spirituality lived at the Becchi and in Turin, and the Retreat, and the two days for the presentation of the Congregation according to the Sectors and the Regions have contributed to creating the spiritual atmosphere. The ideal atmosphere in which God works his marvels and directs history - also that of our Congregation - is charity: “Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est”.
The Spirit acts, breathes his breath of life and scatters his flames of fire wherever there is a community gathered in the name of Christ and united in love. It is the communion of hearts that brings us together around the same apostolic project - that of Don Bosco, and makes unity possible in a variety of different contexts, cultures and languages.
Walking with the God of history
The situation in the world and in the Church today demands that we walk with the God of history. We cannot give up our vocation of being, as consecrated persons, the cutting edge in the Kingdom of God, the watchmen in the world and the sensors of history. Our vocation to be “signs and bearers of the love of God” (C. 2) urges us to become what the Lord expects from all of his disciples: “salt of the earth and light of the world” (cf. Mt 5, 14). Notice the two images used by Jesus to describe and identify his disciples. Both are very eloquent and they are telling us that taking up the call to follow Christ is not so much a matter of “doing” as of “being,” that it is more a question of identity than of efficiency, more a problem of a significant presence than of grandiose enterprises.
Here too, what matters is not so much the renewal of the Congregation or its future, as the passion for Jesus and the Kingdom of God. This is our hope. It is here that the vitality, credibility and fruitfulness of our Institute are to be found. In fact, being open to the questions, the demands, the stimuli and the challenges posed by modern man, in our case those by the young, frees us from every form of hardening of the arteries, becoming tone deaf, stalling, conforming to middle-class values, and sets us on our way “in step with God.” So we will avoid looking back and becoming pillars of salt, or deluding ourselves with pointless sprints to the front, that are not in conformity with God’s will. An aspect typical of Don Bosco and of the Congregation has always been a sensitivity to history, and today, more than ever we cannot neglect it. It makes us attentive to the needs of the Church and of the world. It will make us “go” and “go out” in search of the young. This needs to be translated into a Chapter document capable of setting the hearts of the confreres on fire. A text like that will become a navigational chart for the years ahead. This is why it is important to read “the signs of the times,” some of which I wanted to indicate in the AGC 394 in the letter convoking the GC26.
Building on the rock
In my circular letter entitled “You are my God, my happiness lies in you alone” (Psalm 16, 2), published in the AGC 382, I spoke about a liberal kind of consecrated life that has already run its course and has no future. Efforts at renewal were made and attempts to grow, but not exactly according to the logic of a life that is consecrated first of all to God. Many experiences confirm the suspicion that attempts were being made to build the house on sand and not on rock. Any attempt to re-found consecrated life that does not take us back to Jesus Christ, the foundation of our life (cf. 1Cor 3, 11), and does not make us more faithful to Don Bosco, our founder, is destined to fail.
There is no doubt that consecrated life is going through a time even more difficult than that immediately after the Council, in spite of all the efforts made at renewal. In the face of this situation the temptation can arise of a simple return to the past, where security and tranquillity may be recovered, at the cost of shutting our eyes to the new signs of the times, that are urging us to respond with stronger identity, visibility and credibility.
The solution is not in forms of restoration; in fact one cannot remove from consecrated life the prophetic force that has always distinguished it and makes it dynamic and counter-cultural. As I have already said several times, what is at stake during the next six years is not the survival but the prophetic witness of our Congregation. We should not therefore cultivate an “institutional tenacity,” trying to prolong life at all costs; rather we need to seek, with humility, with constancy and with joy, to be signs of the presence of God and of his love for mankind. Only in this way can we be a force that draws and attracts.
Well then, in order to be a prophetic presence in the Church and in the world, consecrated life needs to avoid the temptation of conforming to the secularised, hedonistic and consumer mentality of this world and allow itself to be guided by the Spirit, who raised it up as a special form of the following and imitation of Christ. In this way we can know and accept the will of God for us, at this time in history, and carry it out in our lives with joy, conviction and enthusiasm. «Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. » (Rm 12, 2). We cannot forget that the Christian life, and with greater reason consecrated life, has no other vocation and mission than being «salt of the earth » and «light of the world.»
We are salt of the earth when we live the spirit of the beatitudes, when we build our lives starting from the sermon on the mount, when we live an alternative life-style. It is a matter of being people who, faced with a society that pursues success, the ephemeral, the temporary, money, enjoyment, power, revenge, conflict, war, choose peace, forgiveness, mercy, selflessness, a spirit of sacrifice, beginning within the family circle or the community and spreading out into society.
Jesus warns us, however, that salt can lose its taste, that his disciples may not be genuine. He says what the disastrous effects of this are: «It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.» Either we are disciples with a clear evangelical identity, and therefore significant and useful for the world, or we are to be thrown away and scorned, we are the unhappy ones, we are nothing. Christianity, the faith, the gospels, consecrated life have a social significance and a public responsibility because they are a vocation and a mission, and they cannot be understood and lived as “for private use.”
This is the meaning of the exhortation with which Jesus concludes his words: «Let your light so shine before men.» Jesus wants his disciples to make of the sermon on the mount a programme of life. Meekness, poverty, generosity, mercy, forgiveness, abandonment to God, trust, love for others are therefore the gospel works that must be made to shine out, the ones that make us become “salt” and “light,” those which help us to create the alternative society that will not allow humanity to go completely to the bad.
We, dear confreres, are called to be hope, to be light and salt; we are called to a mission to society and the world, a mission that can be summed up in one word: holiness! Being light and salt means being saints. Article 25 of the Constitutions presents profession as the path to holiness. After speaking about confreres, who, living to the full the gospel project, become for us a stimulus on the path of holiness, it concludes like this: «The witness of such holiness, achieved within the Salesian mission reveals the unique worth of the beatitudes and is the most precious gift we can offer to the young.»
John Paul II told us: « it would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity… The time has come to re-propose wholeheartedly to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living» [John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 31 and cf. Starting afresh from Christ n. 46 ] which is precisely holiness. Paraphrasing Don Bosco, I would say that being saints is fascinating because holiness is radiance, spiritual growth, splendour, brilliant light, interior joy, calm, purity, love taken to the limit.
If it is true that consecrated life is «a divine gift, which the Church has received from her Lord, » «a tree planted by God in the Church,» «a particular gift that helps the saving mission of the Church ,» and which «belongs inseparably to the life and holiness of the Church » (LG 43 e 44), it follows that the celebration of a Chapter is a Church event in the genuine meaning of the word. It is a veritable “kairós,” in which God works to lead the Church to become ever more the spouse of Christ, in all her glory, without spot or wrinkle.
5. The theme and the aim of the GC26
In a language study following the decision regarding the theme for the GC26, Fr Julian Fox wrote that the word that occurred with the greatest frequency in the writings of the Rector Major starting from the presentation of the GC25 Documents was “passion”, usually linked to “da mihi animas.” [The reference is essentially to a sentence in n. 20 of GC25: «Every community is made up of men, living in society, who express the gospel ardour of “da mihi animas, cetera tolle” with the optimism of faith, with the dynamic creativity of hope and the kindness and total self-giving of charity.» Each community expresses the Gospel-based passion of the ‘da mihi animas’. So while the RM doesn’t actually mention the term ‘passion’ as the very first thing he wrote to the whole Congregation by way of the introduction to the GC25 documents, he is introducing a document that does, and he soon takes up the twin terms ‘passion’ and ‘da mihi animas’ in subsequent letters anyway. We can say that they were there from the beginning of his consciousness as Rector Major. (J. Fox, 06.04.2006). ] His conclusion is that it is Don Bosco’s “da mihi animas” that provides the subject matter and the meaning of the word “passion”, frequently used by me in my writings; in other words the word “passion” describes the meaning of “da mihi animas” very well.
This language becomes more marked starting from the International Congress on Consecrated Life, held in Rome at the end of November 2004, which in fact had as its theme “Passion for Christ, passion for Humanity.” As a member of the Executive Committee and of the Theological Commission of the USG, I had the opportunity to contribute to the choice of this theme, which was meant to underline the centrality of “passion” in the witness of consecrated life nowadays.
In Salesian tradition and in the wider context of consecrated life, this choice aimed at bringing us consecrated persons to cultivate a powerful drawing force, an extreme energy - that precisely of desire. The profound connection between “passion” and “Da mihi animas” belongs to our genetic makeup - not on the formal level but the essential. In this, which is a charismatic gift of our founder, the “passion” deeply connects us to God and to the young. The choice of the theme “Da mihi animas, cetera tolle” therefore, was with the desire to go to the roots of our charism, to the “fundamental” spiritual and apostolic choice made by Don Bosco, that he himself left as a programme of life to Salesians (cf. C. 4). This motto, in fact, sums up our charismatic identity and our mission.
Da mihi animas expresses a mission desired, sought and accepted. The mission is a gift of God; it is He who wants to be among the young through us, because He Himself wants to save them, to give them the fullness of life; the mission therefore is to be desired, because it is born in the heart of God the Saviour and not in our will. What is more, the mission is a gift to be sought; the missionary of the young is not the master neither of his vocation nor of those to whom he is sent; the mission is carried out in the first place in communion with the Lord of the harvest; this implies a profound relationship with God, the absolute prerequisite of every mission. Then again, the mission is a gift to be accepted; this requires identification with the charism and attention given to vocational fidelity through initial formation and ongoing formation; it will be this fidelity that will protect us from estrangement from God and from the young.
Cetera tolle represents the interior disposition and the ascetical effort to embrace the mission. It is a decision to be detached from anything that takes us away from God. This demands from us: a personal and community life that is more simple and poor; then the consequent institutional reorganisation of the work, that helps us to overcome the danger of being managers of works rather than evangelisers of the young; giving attention to the new forms of poverty of the young and of those we work for in general; opening up to the new frontiers of evangelisation and to an profoundly renewed apostolic commitment.
The aim of the GC26 is that of touching the heart of the Salesian, so that every confrere is “a new Don Bosco”, his interpreter today! We have described this goal saying that the GC26 is intended to «reawaken the heart of the Salesian with the passion of ‘Da mihi animas’ ». We are sure to reach the goal if each Salesian identifies himself with Don Bosco, taking him in his own life as “father and model” (C. 21). To do this we need to renew the attention we give to the Constitutions and our love for them, drawing from them all their charismatic force.
In this regard I should like to point out to you in particular the second chapter of the Constitutions that deals with the “Salesian spirit”. We recall what Don Bosco left us, written in his Spiritual Testament: “If you have loved me in the past, continue to love me in the future by the exact observance of our Constitutions.” [Cf. “From the spiritual testament of Saint John Bosco”, Writings of Don Bosco, in “Constitutions and Regulations,” ed. 2003, p. 269. ] And Don Rua tells us: «When the Venerable D. Bosco sent his first sons to America, he wanted the photograph to show him in the middle of them in the act of handing Don Giovanni Cagliero, leader of the expedition, the book of our Constitutions. How much D. Bosco was saying with that gesture! … I should like to accompany you myself, comfort you, console you, protect you. But what I cannot do this little book will do. Take care of it like a most precious treasure. » [Circular Letter of 1 December 1909, in lettere circolari di don michele rua ai salesiani, Direzione Generale delle Opere Salesiane, Torino 1965, p. 498 ] And finally Don Rinaldi used to say: “All of Don Bosco is to be found in it.
6. Charismatic identity and apostolic passion
The theme of the GC 26 “Da mihi animas, cetera tolle” has as a sub-title the expression “charismatic identity and apostolic passion.” At the end of the day, the profound renewal that the Congregation needs at this historic hour and towards which this General Chapter is directed, depends on the inseparable union of these two elements. As I see it, the classic dilemma between “charismatic identity and social relevance” has to be overcome right from the start. In fact, this is not a problem at all: in fact it is not a question of two independent factors, and opposing the one to the other can lead to ideological positions which distort consecrated life, becoming the cause of useless tension and fruitless efforts, and producing a sense of failure. I therefore ask myself: where can you find the Salesian identity, that which would guarantee the social relevance of the Congregation, demonstrated in the “Salesian phenomenon,” as Paul VI called it, the fruit of its incredible vocational growth and its expansion world-wide?
We are today experiencing what is happening to the Church. She «is constantly faced with two sacred imperatives that keep her in an irresolvable tension. On the one hand she is tied to the living memory, to the theoretical assimilation and to the historical response to the revelation of God in Christ, which is the origin and foundation of her existence. On the other she is tied to and sent out for the generous communication of the salvation offered by God to all mankind, which she carries out through evangelisation, the celebration of the sacraments, a living witness and the generous collaboration of each of her members. Care of the identity and the exercise of the mission are equally sacred. When fidelity to the origins and preoccupation about the identity are disproportionate or excessive, the Church is turned into a sect and succumbs to fundamentalism. When preoccupation about her relevance to society and to the common causes of humanity is carried to the extreme, in which her own original sources are forgotten, then the Church is on the brink of collapse and, in the end, of insignificance.» [O. González de Cardenal, Ratzinger y Juan Pablo II. La Iglesia entre dos milenios, Ed. Sígueme, Salamanca 2005, pp. 224 ss.]
Here then are the two constitutive elements of the Church and, hence of the Congregation: her identity, that consists in being disciples of Jesus Christ, and her mission, which is concerned with working for the salvation of mankind, in our case of the young. The obsessive preoccupation with identity leads to fundamentalism and so relevance is lost. Anxiety about social relevance in carrying out the mission, at any price and at the cost of the loss of the identity, on the other hand, leads to the loss of the sense of “being Church.”
This means that the fidelity of the Church, and a fortiori that of the Congregation, depends on the inseparable union of these two factors: charismatic identity and social relevance. Often considering these two elements as antagonists or simply separating them, “either identity or relevance”, we can fall into a false understanding of consecrated life, thinking that if there is great emphasis on the identity of faith and of the charism, social commitment can suffer and consequently there can be little significance to our lives. We are forgetting that “ faith apart from works is barren” ( James 2,20). It is not a matter of alternatives but of their integration!
Speaking about the renewal of consecrated life in n. 2 of the Decree Perfectae Caritatis the Second Vatican Council proposed this basic guidance: “The appropriate renewal of religious life involves two simultaneous processes, a continuous return to the sources of all Christian life, and to the original inspiration behind a given community and an adjustment of the community to the changed conditions of the times.” There are three aspects to this programme of renewal: 1) a continuous return to the sources of all Christian life; 2) a continuous return to the original inspiration behind a given community; 3) an adjustment of the community to the changed conditions of the times. However, there is first of all a criterion that becomes normative, that is to say, the three requirements for reform go together: simul. There can be no appropriate renewal with only one element taken into account. Perhaps this has been the mistake of some failed attempts at the reform of consecrated life. In the period immediately after the Council, while some emphasised the original inspiration behind the community through a strong identity, others opted for an adjustment to the new situation of the contemporary world with a stronger social commitment. In this way both polarisations remained unfruitful and without any effective convincing force.
On several occasions I have shared with others the deep impression that a visit to the Mother House of the Sisters of Charity in Calcutta made on me, precisely on account of the particular conviction that Mother Teresa had been able to transmit to her Sisters: the more you devote yourself to working for those no one cares about, the poorest and the most needy, the more you need to express the different approach, the fundamental reason for this preoccupation, that is Christ Crucified. The only way in which the witness of consecrated life becomes clear is when it is capable of revealing that Deus caritas est Mother Teresa wrote: “A more profound prayer leads you to a more vibrant faith, a more vibrant faith to a more expansive love, a more expansive love to a more selfless self-giving, and more selfless self-giving to lasting peace.”
Identification with contemporary society, without a profound identification with Jesus Christ, loses its symbolic capacity and its inspirational force. Only this inspiration can make possible the different approach of which society has need. Mere identification with a social group or with a particular political programme, even one with a strong impact on society, is no longer eloquent nor credible. There are other institutions and organisations in today’s world for this purpose.
See what Don Bosco managed to do in an extraordinary way. Our Constitutions in article 21 present this is masterly fashion, speaking about Don Bosco as father and teacher and offering him to us as our model. Three reasons are given:
a) He succeeded in his own life in achieving a splendid blending of nature and grace:
- deeply human - deeply a man of God
- rich in the qualities of his people - filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit
- he was open to the realities of this earth - he lived as seeing him who is invisible
- with firmness and constancy
- in the midst of difficulties and fatigue
- with the sensitivity of a generous heart
he took no step, he said no word, he took up no task that was not directed to the saving of the young.
- totally consecrated to God and fully dedicated to the young
he educated by evangelising and he evangelised by educating
Here then the grace of unity.
Today the Congregation is in need of this conversion, which at one and the same time will help us recover our charismatic identity and apostolic passion. Our commitment to the salvation of the young, especially the poorest, necessarily flows from our charismatic identification.
In Don Bosco holiness shines out in his works, it is true; but the works are only the expression of his life of faith. Union with God is living his own life in God; it is being in His presence; it is participation in the divine life that is within us. Don Bosco made God’s revelation and his Love the reason for his life, according to the logic of the theological virtues: with a faith that becomes a fascinating sign for the young, with a hope that was an enlightening word for them, with a charity that became gestures of love in their regard.
My Dear Confreres, members of the Chapter, on 3 April 2002 I was elected Rector Major by the GC25 and on the following days the Vicar and the other Councillors for Sectors and Regions were elected with the task of animating and governing the Congregation for the six year period 2002-2008. During these six years we have tried to carry out this role to the full, putting our very best efforts into it.
Fr Luc Van Looy, after less than a year was called by the Holy Father to the episcopal ministry as Bishop of the Diocese of Ghent in Belgium. This obliged us to appoint a new Vicar, Fr Adriano Bregolin, and consequently a new Regional for Italy and the Middle East in the person of Fr Pier Fausto Frisoli. One of us, Fr Valentín De Pablo, died while carrying out the Extraordinary Visitation of the AFO Vice Province. Two Councillors Fr Antonio Domenech and Fr Helvécio Baruffi have been sorely tried by sickness. And finally on 23 January Fr Tarcisio Scaramussa, Councillor for Social Communication, was appointed Bishop by the Holy Father, who entrusted to him the demanding role of Auxiliary in the Archdiocese of Sao Paulo.
While I thank each one of the Councillors for their closeness to me, and for their loyal, generous and expert collaboration in the different roles entrusted to them, today it is time once again to let the Chapter Assembly, which represents the highest expression of authority in the life of the Congregation, speak. To all of you then, dear Confreres the floor, but also an invitation to open your hearts to the Spirit, the great Master of the interior life that He may guide us towards the truth and the fullness of life.
I conclude, entrusting this Pentecostal event of our Congregation to the Madonna, to Mary Help of Christians. She has always been present in our history and she will not be lacking in her presence and her help on this occasion. As in the Upper Room, Mary, well-versed in matters of the Spirit, will teach us to let ourselves be guided by Him «to discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect » (Rm 12, 2b).
Rome, 26 February 2008.
Fr Pascual Chávez Villanueva
Address of homage of the Rector Major
to the Holy Father
on the occasion of the Papal Audience
Most Holy Father,
We feel great joy and consider it a wonderful gift of God to be able to meet Your Holiness on the occasion of our 26th General Chapter. I am happy to be able to present to you the members of the new General Council elected last week, and all the other Provincials and the respective Delegates from the 96 Circumscriptions into which our Salesian Society is divided. Also among those present are some who were invited as observers. In all there are 233 members, representing the almost 16,000 Salesians present in 129 countries in the world.
The joy that the meeting with the Holy Father evokes in us is the fruit and expression of our Charism. In fact our Father Don Bosco used to say: “No effort should be spared when the Church and the Papacy are at stake." (BM V, 383). He had a vision rooted in the certainty of the living presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church, in the conviction that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth, in the knowledge that Our Blessed Lady is the Help of Christians. In accordance with these principles he promoted and undertook initiatives, took decisions and accepted difficult tasks, always making the wishes of the Holy Father a fundamental point of reference for his activity and his spirituality. This way of thinking is alive in us, Most Holy Father, and with this, in addition to expressing our closeness and attachment to the person of the Pope, we intend to express our Love and our total dedication to the service of the Church.
The Chapter that we are celebrating has focused out attention on an important key charismatic feature of our Salesian Congregation: “Da mihi animas, cetera tolle”. This short prayer is the motto that Don Bosco chose, from the very beginning, for his apostolate among the young. With it he intended to express at one and the same time, his total dedication to God, a great apostolic passion, and complete readiness for every renunciation, so as to bring his mission to its fulfilment.
During this General Chapter we wanted to examine ourselves in relation to this total dedication of our Holy Founder to God in young people. We have proposed that we should return to Don Bosco and start afresh from him, with the desire to study him, love him, imitate him and pray to him, applying ourselves to gaining a better knowledge of his history and that of the origins of the Congregation; and all of this so as to “return among the young”, in order to listen to their appeals, and in the light of today’s culture, to take upon ourselves their worries and their expectations.
We strongly feel the relevance of the Charism of education which we are called upon to bear, Most Holy Father, and we intend to live it intensely for the benefit of youth as an original contribution, and one we make to the evangelising mission of the Church.
The celebration of a General Chapter is always a time for stock-taking and we are happy to be able to see that our Confreres are working with fidelity and effectiveness in so many parts of the world. Thirty years ago the Rector Major, Fr Egidio Viganò began “Project Africa”. As a result of a extensive programme of missionary twinning schemes, it has been possible to so multiply our presence that it now reaches 42 countries on the continent. Today the Confreres in Africa are more than 1,200 and the majority of them are local vocations. In Latin America we continue to work in the field of education with great commitment. Great attention is always given to the poorest young people on the outskirts of the cities, on the streets and also in the least developed areas of the continent. In Asia and Oceania, where the Catholic religion, in percentage terms, is scarcely present, we have witnessed a great flowering of vocations, and evangelisation is being carried out with enthusiasm and great fruit, especially among the tribal peoples. This is so in India, in Indonesia, in Vietnam, in Timor, and as far as the Islands of Fiji and Samoa. A dream we still have in our hearts is to be able to devote ourselves also to the young people of mainland China, and so bring to fulfilment the missionary dream of Don Bosco. When it pleases the Lord to open these doors too, it will be a time of great rejoicing for all the Church and also for our Congregation.
We are aware, Your Holiness, that the “missio ad gentes” is a vocation that is also calling us to a renewed commitment to the continent of Europe, as well as to the more developed areas of the continents of North-America and Australia. Don Bosco is urging us to seek new ways of reaching out to these young people, who very often do not show signs of material poverty, but are certainly suffering from a great spiritual poverty; they are looking for answers but they do not have sincere friends; they are hungry for life and yet have lost the sense of life. Because of all this, the General Chapter is working towards the formulation of a “European Project”, aimed at re-dimensioning our Salesian presence for greater impact and effectiveness in this continent. That is, seeking a new form of evangelisation in order to respond to the spiritual and moral needs of these young people, who to us appear as wanderers without guides and without destination.
Most Holy Father, while we renew our feelings of filial gratitude, we assure you of our constant prayers for your intentions for the Church and for the world, and with joy we await from you those proposals that can most clearly indicate the way ahead for our Congregation during the next six years, in which we shall be making the immediate preparations for the celebration of the bicentenary of the birth of Don Bosco (1815-2015).
We remain always you devoted sons and now ask you to bless us.
Rome, March 31, 2008
Fr Pascual Chávez Villanueva
Address of His Holiness BENEDICT XVI
in the Audience to the Chapter Members
on 31 March 2008
Dear Members of the General Chapter of the Salesian Congregation,
I am pleased to meet you today as your Chapter is now reaching its conclusion. I first of all thank Fr Pascual Chávez Villanueva, Rector Major, for the sentiments he has expressed on behalf of you all, confirming the Congregation's will to work with the Church and for the Church always, in full harmony with the Successor of Peter. I thank him too for the generous service he has carried out in the past six years and offer him my good wishes for his recent renewal in office. I also greet the members of the new General Council who will help the Rector Major in his task of animation and in the governance of your whole Congregation.
In the Message I addressed to the Rector Major at the beginning of the Chapter, and through him to you, the Chapter Members, I expressed certain expectations that the Church has of you Salesians and I also offered several ideas for the progress of your Congregation. Today, I intend to take up again and examine some of these recommendations in the light of the work you are doing. Your 26th Chapter is being celebrated in a period of great social, economic and political change, of heightened ethical, cultural and environmental problems and unresolved conflicts between races and nations. Moreover, in our time, communication between peoples is more intense, there are new opportunities for knowledge and dialogue and a livelier exchange on the spiritual values that give meaning to life. In particular, the appeals young people make to us and especially their questions about the fundamental problems are linked to their intense longing for a full life, authentic love and constructive freedom. They are situations that test the Church and her ability to proclaim Christ's Gospel today with its promise full of hope. I therefore warmly hope that the entire Salesian Congregation, thanks to the results of your General Chapter, may live with renewed dynamism and fervour the mission for which, through the maternal intervention of Mary, Help of Christians, the Holy Spirit brought it into being in the Church. I want today to encourage you and all Salesians to continue on the path of this mission in full fidelity to your original charism, already in the context of the upcoming second centenary of Don Bosco's birth.
With the theme "Give me souls, take away all else", your General Chapter's aim was to revive apostolic zeal in every Salesian and throughout the Congregation. This will help give Salesians a better defined profile so that they may become increasingly aware of their identity as people consecrated "for the glory of God" and increasingly on fire with pastoral zeal "for the salvation of souls". Don Bosco wanted the choice of consecrated life to guarantee the continuity of his charism in the Church. Today too, the Salesian movement can only grow in fidelity to its charism if a strong and vital nucleus of consecrated people continues to form its core. Thus, in order to strengthen the identity of the Congregation as a whole your first commitment consists in reinforcing the vocation of each Salesian so that he may live in full fidelity to his call to the consecrated life. The entire Congregation must strive to be ceaselessly "a living memorial of Jesus' way of living and acting as the Incarnate Word in relation to the Father and in relation to the brethren" ( Vita Consecrata, n. 22). May Christ be the centre of your lives! It is necessary to let oneself be seized by him and to start out afresh from him always. May everything else be counted "as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus" and as "refuse, in order that I may gain Christ" (Phil 3: 8). It is here that ardent love for the Lord Jesus is born, the aspiration to identify oneself with him, assuming his sentiments and way of life, trusting abandonment in the Father and dedication to the evangelizing mission that must characterize every Salesian: he must feel chosen to follow the obedient, poor and chaste Christ in conformity with Don Bosco's teaching and example.
The secularization process gaining ground in contemporary culture unfortunately does not spare even communities of consecrated life. For this reason it is necessary to watch over forms and lifestyles that risk weakening Gospel witness as well as rendering pastoral action ineffective and the vocational response fragile. I therefore ask you to help your confreres preserve and revive their faithfulness to the call. Jesus' prayer to the Father before his Passion, asking that he keep in his name all the disciples that he had given him and that none of them be lost (cf. Jn 17: 11-12), is particularly appropriate for vocations of special consecration. "The spiritual life must therefore have first place in the programme" of your Congregation (Vita Consecrata, n. 93). May the Word of God and the Liturgy be sources of Salesian spirituality! In particular, may lectio divina, practised daily by every Salesian, and the Eucharist celebrated every day in the community, nourish and support Salesian spirituality! From this will be born the authentic spirituality of apostolic dedication and ecclesial communion. The flourishing of your Congregation will be guaranteed by fidelity to the Gospel lived sine glossa and to your Rule of Life, particularly an austere way of life and Gospel poverty practised consistently, with faithful love for the Church and the generous gift of yourselves to youth, especially the neediest and most disadvantaged. Don Bosco is a shining example of a life marked by apostolic zeal, lived at the service of the Church in the Congregation and in the Salesian Family. At the school of St Joseph Cafasso, your Founder learned to make his own the motto "Give me souls, take away all else", as the synthesis of a model of pastoral action inspired by the figure and spirituality of St Francis de Sales. This model fits into the horizon of the absolute primacy of God's love, a love that succeeds in shaping passionate personalities eager to contribute to Christ's mission to set the whole earth ablaze with the fire of his love (cf. Lk 12: 49). Besides the ardour of God's love, another characteristic of the Salesian model is awareness of the inestimable value of "souls". This perception by contrast generates an acute sense of sin and its devastating consequences in time and in eternity. The apostle is called to cooperate with the Saviour's redeeming action in order that no one be lost. "Saving souls", precisely as St Peter said, was thus Don Bosco's raison d'être. His immediate successor, Bl. Michele Rua, summed up the life of your beloved Father and Founder in these words: "He did not give way, he did not speak, did not turn his hand to any task that did not aim at the salvation of young people…. He truly had only their souls at heart".
This is what Bl. Michele Rua said of Don Bosco. Today, it is also urgently necessary to nourish this passion in every Salesian's heart. Thus, he will not hesitate to venture daringly into the most difficult milieus of evangelizing action for young people, especially for those who are materially and spiritually the poorest. He will have the patience and courage even to propose to young people that they live in total dedication in consecrated life. He will have an open mind in order to identify the new needs of young people and listen to their prayers for help, possibly leaving to others areas that have already been consolidated by pastoral interventions. For this reason the Salesian will face the totalizing demands of the mission with a simple, poor and austere life, sharing the living conditions of the poorest of the poor, and will have the joy of giving more to those who have received less in their lives. May his apostolic enthusiasm become so contagious that others also catch it. The Salesian thus becomes a champion of what the apostolate means, helping first of all young people to know and love the Lord Jesus, to let themselves be fascinated by him, to cultivate evangelizing commitment, to love their own peers, to be apostles to other young people like St Dominic Savio, Bl. Laura Vicuña and Bl. Zepherin Namuncurà and the five young Blessed Martyrs of the Oratory of Poznan. Dear Salesians, may you be committed to forming lay people with apostolic hearts, inviting them all to walk in the holiness of life that develops courageous disciples and authentic apostles.
In the Message I addressed to the Rector Major at the beginning of your General Chapter, I wished to present in spirit to all Salesians the Letter I recently sent to the faithful of Rome concerning the anxiety about what I called a great educational emergency. "Educating has never been an easy undertaking and seems to be becoming increasingly difficult today; thus, many parents and teachers are tempted to give up their task and do not even succeed in understanding what the mission entrusted to them truly is. Indeed, too many uncertainties, too many doubts are circulating in our society and our culture, too many distorted images are transmitted by the media. It thus becomes difficult to propose to the new generations something valid and reliable, rules of conduct and worthwhile objectives to which to devote one's life" (Address at the Presentation of a Letter on "The Urgent Task of Education", 23 February 2008). Actually, the most serious aspect of the educational crisis is the sense of discouragement that overcomes many educators, parents and teachers in particular as they face the difficulties of their task today. I therefore wrote in the Letter cited: "The soul of education, as of the whole of life, can only be a dependable hope. Today, our hope is threatened on many sides and we even risk becoming, like the ancient pagans, people "having no hope and without God in the world', as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians of Ephesus (Eph 2: 12). "What may be the deepest difficulty for a true educational endeavour consists precisely in this: the fact that at the root of the crisis of education lies a crisis of trust in life", which is basically nothing other than distrust in the God who called us to life. In the education of youth it is extremely important that the family play an active role. Families frequently have difficulty in facing the challenges of education; they are often unable to make their own contribution or are absent. The special tenderness and commitment to young people that are characteristic of Don Bosco's charism must be expressed in an equal commitment to the involvement and formation of families. Your youth ministry, therefore, must be decisively open to family ministry. Caring for families does not mean taking people away from work for young people; on the contrary, it means making it more permanent and effective. I thus encourage you to deepen the forms of this commitment on which you have set out; this will prove advantageous to the education and evangelization of the young. In the face of these multiple tasks, your Congregation must assure its members in particular a sound formation. The Church urgently needs people with a solid and profound faith, an up-dated cultural training, genuine human sensitivity and a strong pastoral sense. She needs consecrated people who devote their lives to being on these boundaries. Only in this way will it be possible to evangelize effectively, proclaiming the God of Jesus Christ and thus the joy of life. Your Congregation must therefore devote itself to this formative commitment as one of its priorities. It must continue to take great pains in training its members without being satisfied with mediocrity, overcoming the difficulties of vocational weakness, encouraging solid spiritual guidance and guaranteeing educational and pastoral quality in continuing formation.
I conclude by thanking God for the presence of your charism at the service of the Church. I encourage you in achieving the goals that your General Chapter will propose to the entire Congregation. I assure you of my prayers for the implementation of what the Spirit will suggest to you for the good of youth, families and all the lay people involved in the spirit and mission of Don Bosco. With these sentiments and as a pledge of abundant heavenly gifts, I now impart my Apostolic Blessing to you all.
Vatican City, Clementine Hall,
31 March 2008
Address of the Rector Major
Fr Pascual Chávez Villanueva
At the closing of the GC26
The GC 26:
a navigation chart for the jubilee of 2015
Under the banner of “Da mihi animas, cetera tolle”
My dear Confreres,
Today we bring to an end this Salesian Pentecost. Yes indeed ! This is what the 26th General Chapter was meant to be: a Pentecost, a moment of particular openness to the Spirit of the Lord. The words which Pope Benedict XVI sent us in his message for the opening of our assembly still resonate in our hearts: « The charism of Don Bosco is a gift of the Spirit for all the People of God, but only by docile listening and openness to the action of God is it possible to interpret it and in these times of ours, to make it relevant and fruitful. … Pouring out on the Chapter Members the abundance of his gifts he will enter the hearts of the Confreres. He will make them burn with his love, He will inflame them with the desire for holiness, urge them to open themselves to conversion and strengthen them in their apostolic daring» [To the Very Reverend Don Pascual Chávez Villanueva, Rector Major of the Salesians of Don Bosco. From the Vatican, 1 March 2008, n. 1 ] .
1.The Chapter event: a short chronicle
In fact, this was exactly how we wanted to live the Chapter: under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, so that it would be Him to help us to understand better, to bring up-to-date, and to make fruitful the charism of our Founder and Father. During these days we have experienced the action of the Spirit, who inflamed our hearts to make us eloquent and courageous witnesses of the Lord Jesus, to bring to the young the good news of His resurrection and to propose to them the joyful experience of meeting Him.
The days spent in the Salesian holy places (Saint Francis of Assisi, Valdocco, Colle Don Bosco, the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians, the Sanctuary of the Consolata) were splendid, greatly appreciated by everyone for the opportunity to be in direct contact with the cradle – charismatic, spiritual and apostolic – of our Congregation. For some it was the first time that they had the joy of visiting “our Salesian holy places” for others it was the first time they had listened to a presentation of Don Bosco, not so much based on family anecdotes nor on historical curiosities needing clarification but rather as a spiritual and charismatic experience to live through again. Certainly, those days were for everyone a practical way – and I really hope –a first step “to start afresh from Don Bosco”.
The fruits must be very plentiful: the desire to go more deeply into the spiritual inheritance that has been handed on to us, the commitment to make Don Bosco and our Salesian history better known, the desire to prepare formation personnel in Salesianity and, finally, the desire to make better use of these places linked to our charism.
The presentation of the state of the Congregation, by means of the audiovisual Report of the Departments and of the Regions, was an expression of the intention to do more than just distribute a book with the Report of the Rector Major. The specific aim was to provide the Chapter members with precise information about the state of the Congregation, to foster an overall view and a sense of shared responsibility. The Congregation belongs to all of us and we are all co-responsible for its growth, for its resources, for its challenges.
The Retreat was experienced as a real exercise of the Spirit, overcoming the temptation to reduce the spiritual presentation to a collection of study topics or a theological-spiritual updating course. These days of retreat helped to create an atmosphere of faith that is absolutely indispensable for making the Chapter an experience of listening to God, of docility to the Spirit, of fidelity to Christ. To me they seemed to be exemplary – also because it is not usual to find this atmosphere in the experience of other Retreats – the silence, the prolonged personal prayer in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the celebration of the sacrament of Reconciliation. It should also be mentioned that the Retreat talks also gave us elements of important insights for a greater theological understanding of the charism, the mission and Salesian spirituality. As they were developed the topics offered us significant keys for interpretation so as to learn to be men of hope, playing their part in the marvellous plan of God for the salvation of the world with the mystica of “Da mihi animas”, which makes the love of God the drawing force, and with the ascetica of “cetera tolle”, which leads us to commit our lives even to our last breath. An important element from this perspective was the clarification of the mission, which does not consist so much in doing things as in becoming signs of the love of God. It is precisely this Love that is the only force capable of freeing in each one of us our greatest potentialities. We know that we have to live all this under the banner of selfless giving and of grace. Only in this way does one achieve that special gift of God, the “grace of unity”, by which everything is consecration and everything is mission As regards those to whom we are sent, we heard how Don Bosco felt himself charismatically “touched” by the danger that could put at risk the happiness of the young, in time and in eternity (“salvation”): the abandonment in which they could find themselves as regards God and others, an abandonment caused by their poverty, sometimes tragic. For all this Don Bosco is our father, teacher and model. At the school of Mary the Immaculate Help of Christians, he wanted his religious identity to reflect the fact that he had put as the foundations of his life the absolute primacy of God, desire for continuous union with Him, in order to correspond fully to his will ( obedience ), as the expression of a total love ( chastity ) in stripping himself and giving up all that might impede his complete dedication to the mission ( poverty ).
Now I should like to go over with you the stages of this journey of Grace that our General Chapter has been.
The first week of the Chapter (3-8 March) was dedicated to the ordinary juridical procedures (presentation and approval of the Regulations of the GC26, the election of the Chairmen), and especially the study of the Report of the Rector Major by the different Regions. These, reflecting on the Report, identified the great challenges that emerge from the state of the Congregation, and, subsequently, the guidelines for the future to be offered to the Rector Major and his Council in view of the planning of the animation and government for the six-year period 2008 – 2014. The study of the Report was a fundamental element in examining further the theme of the Chapter, taking into account the fact that more than ever this Chapter set for itself the task not so much of the drawing up of a document, as the renewal of the life of the Congregation with the pressing appeal to “start afresh from Don Bosco”. Taking into account just where we are enables us to discover better the path for “a return to Don Bosco”, the elements to be recovered in order to start from him with renewed vigour.
The second week (10-15 March) was totally given over to the study of the first three key issues. The questions considered by the Juridical Commission were also presented, especially those which dealt with the configuration of the General Council. In fact it was necessary to arrive at the elections having replied to the requests of the Provinces or of individual confreres. As regards the study of the key issues, the “Working Document” was particularly appreciated as the starting point for the reflections of the Chapter. This, on the one hand, gives clear proof of the good work carried out by the Pre-capitular Commission, and on the other also underlines the validity of the contribution offered to the GC26 by the various Provincial Chapters. I am happy about that because as I wrote in the letter convoking the Chapter, as a process of reflection the Chapter actually began in the Provinces, with the study of the topics proposed and the start of a process of renewal. Thus the Commissions worked on a text that was now Capitular and no longer Pre-Capitular, a document from which to start and not just an aid. The contributions offered by the Commissions enriched and perfected it. It was a matter of being more precise and making changes that were not merely linguistic but meant especially to respond in a better way to the situation according to the variety of the social, cultural, political and religious context in which the Congregation is operating. This was the task of the Assembly which rightly became the true author of the chapter document.
The third week (17-20 March) concentrated more directly on the work in the Assembly, discussing the work done by the Commissions. It was the time also when there was an opportunity for the expression of the thoughts and concerns of individual Chapter members who wanted to help to throw light on the topic, to put into words the different sensitivities and views, to lead, from various points of view, to a vote on the document that would be more aware, more personal and more responsible. It should be mentioned particularly that often in the contributions made the major preoccupations emerged. Thus for example, speaking about the urgent need to evangelise, it was pointed out that this needed to be understood and practised in the way that we as Salesians evangelise; and this both as regards those who are our priority objective (the young), and as regards reference to the different ways of evangelising. Speaking about the need for vocation ministry, this must be done with the same conviction that Don Bosco had to help the young to discover God’s dream about their lives and encourage them to at least give God a chance. Vocations – as I said myself in the opening address – are not a mission, but the fruit of the mission, when it is done well. If we add to this the fact that there are huge crowds of young people living in extremely precarious situations struggling to survive, or others who, while not experiencing problems of material poverty, are living aimless lives, or even wasting the priceless gift with life choices that are not satisfying or that become paths of self-destruction, we cannot but work to help vocations come to maturity. Speaking about evangelical poverty, we see in it an invitation from the Lord to make our own his beatitude, living free from the preoccupations of earthly goods, overcoming the temptation to become rich, taking on a style of life that is sober, simple, that frees our hearts and minds from so many things that become an obstacle to our total dedication to the mission, making us less credible. Wealth is a real danger: it makes men short-sighted when it comes to values that last (see the rich fool, Lk 12,13-21), hard-hearted with regard to the poor (see the parable of the poor man Lazarus and the rich glutton, Lk 16,19-31), idolaters at the service of Mammon (see the words of Jesus on the use of money, Lk 16,9-13). It is a question of one of the more disconcerting topics, but also of a choice that has a great liberating power for us and for others. And again: in speaking about the new frontiers we need to do so not as activists for human rights, nor as well-intentioned co-workers of NGO, but as consecrated educators, who are trying to respond to the needs of the young, without prejudice to the works we have and which perform a significant service. Therefore I repeat here what I said in the “Overall view and prophetic look ahead” in my initial Report: it is important that the works respond to the needs of the young, with new presences, where they are necessary, or a new form of presence where we are already but need to renew ourselves.[Cf. La Società di San Francesco di Sales nel sessennio 2002-2008. Relazione del Rettor Maggiore don Pascual Chávez Villanueva, p. 290]
The fourth week (24-29 March) was spent in an atmosphere of discernment for the election of the Rector Major, his Vicar and the Councillors. It was a matter of one of the principal objectives and at the same time one of the most delicate tasks of the General Chapter. Guided by Father José Maria Arnaiz, as capitulars we managed to enter into that spiritual atmosphere that made us aware, free and responsible in order to express our opinion through a personal vote. In general, all the elections took place with tranquillity even if in the assessment made at the end the need was seen to facilitate a greater knowledge of the expectations regarding each Department or Region and to define better the profile of the Councillor to be elected with more information about the names of possible candidates. There is no doubt that in the composition of the General Council many factors come into play: above all the feelings of those whose names are presented as candidates, and therefore cultural sensitivity in carrying out the process, in addition to the legitimate desire to try to achieve a form of representation of the whole Congregation. Nevertheless, the high level of convergence reached in the election of the Rector Major and of all the Councillors was a sign of the unity of the Congregation in the diversity of the elements that make it up.
This unity in diversity had its special expression in the evening after the election of the Rector Major with a celebration and concert. The sustained applause given to the Councillors who had finished their period of service (Fr Antonio Domenech, Fr Gianni Mazzali, Fr Francis Alencherry, Bishop Tarcisio Scaramussa, Fr Albert Van Hecke, Fr Filiberto Rodríguez, Fr Joaquim D’Souza, as well as the Councillors who had died while carrying out their work, Fr Valentín de Pablo and Fr Helvécio Baruffi) was a sign of gratitude for their service undertaken on behalf of the Congregation, in animating a Sector or a Region. Still with regard to the elections one cannot fail to underline a very significant novelty which was the election of the first Salesian Brother as a member of the General Council.
The fifth week (31 March – 5 April) began with the visit to the Vatican and the Audience with the Holy Father. The visit to St Peter’s Basilica, where we were welcomed by Cardinal Angelo Comastri, Archpriest of the Basilica, gave us the grace to renew our profession of faith in front of the urn containing the relics of the Apostle Peter and to pray before the statue of Don Bosco, asking for the courage to be able to cry out with him “Da mihi animas, cetera tolle”. Then the meeting with Pope Benedict XVI was one of the culminating events of the GC26, in harmony with the ecclesial and spiritual vision of Don Bosco. The words of the Holy Father to the Capitulars were received as being enlightening and programmatic guidelines. In the following days the Commissions and the Assembly took up again the study of the first draft produced by the Drafting Group. In this way the work undertaken during Holy Week before the week of the elections was continued, studying the five key issues in commissions and in the assembly. There was also a vote on several issues presented by the Juridical Commission. The week ended with a visit to the Catacombs of Saint Callixtus, where we wanted to go to remember with gratitude the Rector Majors in particular, the last three, Fr Luigi Ricceri, Fr Egidio Viganò and Fr Juan Edmundo Vecchi, stopping in prayer before the place where they are buried, after the celebration of mass and lunch. In my personal prayer I wanted to thank the Lord for the gift to the Congregation of each one of them. Asking the help and the intercession of these predecessors of mine, I also asked for all the Confreres the grace to know how to go to the sources of our own identity (“return to Don Bosco”) to find a path for the future (“starting afresh from Don Bosco”). Our future path of fidelity starts from fidelity to those who have gone before us.
I won’t hide from you that I often asked myself: «But is this really a Pentecostal experience? Is the Spirit really acting through us to renew the Congregation warming the hearts of the confreres?» I believe the answer is yes. The Holy Spirit doesn’t change the external circumstances of life but the inner; He has the power to renew people and to transform the earth. He has acted primarily in each one of us, bringing us together, involving us in a shared project, making us responsible for drawing up all that makes possible a freshness of identity of visibility and of credibility in our life and in our mission.
As regards the work done by the Juridical Commission this examined each of the proposals that arrived from Provincial Chapters, from individual confreres, from the General Council and from Capitulars. All this so as to give a clear presentation to the Assembly which then had to express its opinion. Reading the history of the Congregation, we become aware of the impact the various General Chapters had for the configuration of the structures of animation and government at the various levels (local, province and world). Certainly to arrive at some changes in the structures several General Chapters were needed; and this not because of tardiness or the lack of courage in introducing significant changes, but rather because it was not always possible to have a complete vision of what was entailed in these decisions. A return also in this General Chapter to a reflection on some aspects of the current configuration of the General Chapter means that there is a need for a serious study with alternative solutions, that can present a proposal that is really innovative and valid in its entirety. From all this there emerged a first directive approved by the Chapter Assembly: that of carrying out in the course of the six-year period an assessment of the central Government of the Congregation (its composition and functioning), in such a way that the service it gives can be more effective and closer to the confreres.
2. A ‘prophetic’ reading: towards an “understanding” of what happened
The Chapter has produced a document, with five work schemes, that are interdependent, on the major topics already indicated in the letter of convocation: “the return to Don Bosco so as to start afresh from him”; “the need for evangelisation”, “the need for vocation ministry”, “evangelical poverty” and “the new frontiers”. These work schemes were intended to make the motto “Da mihi animas, cetera tolle” more concrete, applying the outline scheme already known from the GC25 (God’s Call, Situation, Course of action) and enriched with some criteria for assessment, which assist with the goals to be reached: the mentality to be brought to maturity and the structures to be changed.
I think that the final document really is good and constructive, taking account of the variety of contexts and situations in which the Congregation is to be found incarnating the charism of Don Bosco. It is now up to each Region and Province to work on putting into context the major courses of action with the subsequent procedures so that they respond better to the actual situations and concrete challenges. I am sure that all the Confreres will find stimulating pages that will help to give dynamism to their lives and to carry out well the Salesian mission. Perhaps overall it may not seem very radical; and yet I am convinced that if taken to heart, it will give rise to enthusiasm and above all, enable everyone to renew themselves spiritually and recover their apostolic zeal.
The document presupposes a good knowledge of the situation in society and that of the Congregation and expresses the desire to bring about there a transformation. The Holy Father in his address to the GC26, on 31 March reminded us of this: «Your 26th Chapter is being celebrated in a period of great social, economic and political change, of heightened ethical, cultural and environmental problems and unresolved conflicts between races and nations. Moreover, in our time, communication between peoples is more intense, there are new opportunities for knowledge and dialogue and a livelier exchange on the spiritual values that give meaning to life. In particular, the appeals young people make to us and especially their questions about the fundamental problems are linked to their intense longing for a full life, authentic love and constructive freedom. They are situations that test the Church and her ability to proclaim Christ's Gospel today with its promise full of hope.» [ L’Osservatore Romano. Monday-Tuesday 31 March-1 April 2008, p. 8].
In fact, one cannot speak about evangelisation or vocations, about simplicity of life and new frontiers without having in mind the scenario of where we are living and working and the challenges that Salesian life and its mission are facing.
We have had before our minds the faces and the urgent demands of the most needy youngsters, those to whom our mission is addressed. We have chosen them as “the objects of our predilection”, precisely because predilection for the poor “is implicit in the Christological faith in the God who became poor for us, so as to enrich us with his poverty” [Benedict XVI, Address at the opening of the Vª General Conference of the Bishops of Latin-America and the Caribbean, n. 3. Aparecida – Brazil. 13 May 2007.]. Such faith was that practised by Don Bosco and passed on in Salesian tradition (cf. C. 11).
What therefore are the keys to interpreting the document?
- The first: Warming the heart of the confreres , starting afresh from Christ and from Don Bosco. It is not a question of producing a superficial feeling or passing enthusiasm. What is involved is the laborious and urgent task of a conversion, of a return to the desert – as it was for Israel –, in order to meet there one’s first love, the one who enchanted us and filled our life with a promise and a future (cf. Hos 2,16-25). We need to encounter the Lord who comes to speak to us heart to heart, who helps us to rediscover our best energies, those that flow from the heart; who comes to give joy and enchantment once again to our lives and help us to deepen our motivations, to strengthen our convictions, to spur us on to follow a path marked by fidelity to the covenant, giving order to our personal, community and institutional lives according to the values of the Gospel and according the Don Bosco’s charism.
There comes to mind the story of that “good and dutiful” monk, who went to his Abbot to ask for a piece of advice to improve his life, according to the stories told by the Fathers of the desert:
Once upon a time - it is told - Abbà Lot went to find Abbà Joseph and said to him:
Abbà, as far as I can, I follow a little rule, I practise all the small fasts, I pray and meditate a little, I keep myself calm, as far as I can, I keep my thoughts pure. What else should I do?
Then the old monk stood up, raised his hands to heaven and his fingers became ten torches of fire. And he said:
- Why don’t you change into fire?. [Quoted by José María Arnaiz, ¡Que ardan nuestros corazones! Devolver el encanto a la vida consagrada. Publicaciones Claretianas. Madrid, 2007, p. 34 ]
This is the aim to be reached with this Chapter: transform ourselves into fire! The story takes us straight back to the eloquent and meaningful scene of Pentecost: «Something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit » (Acts 2,3-4a). “Warming the heart” means nothing else but transforming oneself into fire, having lungs full of the Holy Spirit.
All this is in harmony with the motto of the Congress on Consecrated Life (November 2004), in which we wanted to interpret and to live our religious life, starting from a great passion for Christ and a great passion for Humanity.
In the light of these two great passions the main priorities are:
- Spirituality. This means a very special commitment so that the Word of God and the Eucharist may really be the centre of the life of the consecrated person and of his community. We are convinced that the consecrated person ought to be the sign and the living memorial of the transcendent dimension that exists in the heart of every human being.
- The community. We are aware that the witness of communion, open to all those who are in need, is fundamental in our world and becomes not only support for the fidelity of religious, but also the witness to a form of life that is an alternative to the prevailing model, which often tends to leads us towards forms of individualism.
- The mission, to be realised and lived above all on the missionary frontiers such as exclusion, poverty, secularisation, reflection, formation and education at all levels.
It seems to us that these are the “places” where the consecrated ought to be present in order to express the missionary dimension of the Church. However, the mission also includes the “passion” – understood as suffering or confinement to bed – of so many religious who continue to pray for the Church and for the workers in the harvest, and the “passion” as with the martyrdom of so many religious imprisoned and killed because of the Kingdom. They represent the best expression of the Gospel.
If we want to feel our hearts burn and to inflame those of the confreres with passion, we need to follow the same path as the disciples of Emmaus. In the homily I gave the day after my re-election I said “More than a physical road it is a mystagogical process, of a genuine spiritual journey, valid above all today because it shows us our situation: disenchanted people, with a knowledge of Jesus but without an experience of faith, who know the Scriptures but haven’t discovered the Word. Therefore Jerusalem and the apostolic community are left behind and they are back where they started. The road to Emmaus is a pathway that leads from the Scripture to the Word, from the Word to the person of Christ in the Eucharist, and from there back to the community to stay there. There we can see our faith confirmed as we meet the brethren: «Yes it is true. The Lord has risen and appeared to Simon!”
- The second interpretative key is a Missionary spirit or the urgent need to evangelise, not driven by an eagerness to proselytise, but by the passion for the salvation of others, by the joy of sharing the experience of the fullness of life in Jesus.
During the Chapter one of the key issues and at the same time a transversal theme was precisely that of the urgent need to evangelise. The Apostle Paul expressed with a sort of existential imperative: «Woe to me if I did not preach the Gospel!» (1Cor 9,16b). This intense missionary sense embodies perfectly the command that Jesus gave his disciples: “You will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth” (At 1,8). Don Bosco made his own this pressing demand of Jesus and immediately after the approval of the Constitutions (1874), on 11 November 1875, he sent the first missionary expedition to Latin America.
The GC26 invites us to be in harmony with what was the original inspiration of Don Bosco, the missionary dimension of his life, but also of his charism. All this represents a fundamental point of the spiritual testament that he left us. The Chapter just concluded offers us the opportunity to understand better what response we are called upon to give today.
The urgent need for a missionary spirit today is a particularly live issue because in the first place the whole world is once again “mission territory”; in the second place because nowadays, there is a different way of understanding the concept of the missionary spirit, of carrying out the “missio ad gentes”. In fact it is undertaken while respecting the different cultural settings, in dialogue with the other Christians confessions and the different religions, and committing ourselves to human development and being the leaven in culture (cf. EN 19). But where did Don Bosco’s missionary spirit come from? What were the reasons for his tremendous missionary zeal?
In my opinion there are three major elements that ought to be for all of us a point of reference.
The first is that of being obedient to the command of the Lord Jesus who, at the moment of the Ascension, before leaving this world to ascend to the Father, said to us: «you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth » (Acts 1,8). In this way he gave us the whole world as the field for evangelisation and this until the end of time. For us Salesians, as for all believers in general, the first reason to be evangelisers therefore is in obedience to the mandate of the Lord Jesus.
The second element of the missionary dimension of Don Bosco is the conviction of the value as leaven and its transforming function that the Gospel has, its capacity to ferment all cultures. In the ‘magna carta’ of evangelisation the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi of 1975, Paul VI wrote that the Gospel can be inculturated in all cultures, that is to say, it can be expressed differently according to the cultures, without it becoming identified with any one of them. Not even with the Jewish culture in which Jesus was born, in the sense that no culture conforms fully with the novelty of the Gospel. Therefore all cultures are called upon to let themselves be purified and elevated. No genuine evangelisation exists that does not touch the soul of culture, that collection of values to which a person’s basis for decision-making makes reference. Every culture is important, because it represents the context in which people are born, grow up, learn to establish relationships, to face up to life, but one also has to recognise that every culture has its limitations and needs the light of the Gospel. Then again, nowadays when we speak about the urgent need to evangelise, we are not thinking only of Oceania, of Asia, of Africa, of Latin America but also of Europe, which more than ever needs the Gospel and the Salesian charism.
The third element, one that is very specifically part of Don Bosco’s charism, is his predilection for the young, aware that in the policies of governments and in society in general, in spite of all the declarations, they do not count, and it would appear they need to be resigned to being mere consumers of products, experiences and sensations. But this does not correspond to the Gospel, to the practice and of thinking Jesus, who when asked «Who is the most important?», replied by calling a nearby child to him and put him in the centre. Putting the young at the centre of our missionary focus! This is one of the more specific elements of the rich spiritual patrimony that Don Bosco has left us. And the task that is being entrusted to us is that of taking it to all the cultures where we go and work and where often the young do not count. The greatness of Don Bosco was precisely this: having made the young protagonists, not only in their education, but also in his pedagogical and spiritual experience. Don Bosco, as a priest opening up new paths, believed in the young, and he spent himself totally with his apostolic genius to ensure that they had the opportunity to develop all aspects of their personalities and potential for good, to have their rights respected, to make them responsible (especially the better ones) for the continuation of his work down through history.
In the Chapter, after having re-emphasised the urgent need to evangelise, we have recalled that we Salesians carry out this mission according to the pedagogical charism that is our own. “Don Bosco’s pastoral work can never be reduced to just catechism or liturgy, but covers all forms of practical pedagogical/cultural elements associated with the young. (…) It is a matter of that evangelical charity that takes practical form in freeing and fostering the young who are abandoned or gone astray” [Cf. ASC 290, 4.2 ].
If an education that does not open up the young person to God and to man’s eternal destiny is not Salesian, neither is an evangelisation that does not focus on the formation of persons mature in all directions, or does not know how to adapt itself to nor respect the evolving condition of the youngster, the adolescent, the young person.
It is true that in some secularised situations the Church encounters particular difficulties in evangelising the new generations. And even though obviously surveys and statistics are not the last word, and there is need to consider different kinds of religious practice, that can also include forms of deep spirituality, one cannot deny that in various countries there are signs of a progressive de-Christianisation. It can be seen that both religious practice and profound convictions are weaker among the young. “It is a question of the strata of the population that is more sensitive to cultural fashions and certainly more effected by the surrounding secularisation” [LLUIS OVIEDO TORRO’, “La religiosidad de los jóvenes”, Razón y Fe, giugno 2004, p.447 ]. There seems to be a divorce between the new generations of young people and the Church. Religious ignorance and prejudices that every day are uncritically manifested by some of the media have produced in them the image of a conservative Church-institution, that opposes modern culture, especially in the field of sexual morality. It therefore becomes normal for many of them to undervalue or relativise all the religious ideas that are being offered them.
Another particularly serious dramatic situation is the break that has taken place in the chain in transmitting the faith from one generation to the next. The natural and traditional places (the family, the school, the parish) are seen to be ineffective in the transmission of the faith. Therefore, the religious ignorance of the younger generations grows, and so, among the young, the “silent drifting away from the Church” continues. “Religious beliefs are being tainted by pluralism and less and less follow church teachings: therefore gradually there is a fall in levels of religious practice: the sacraments and prayer” [LLUIS OVIEDO TORRO’, o.c., p. 449. ].
It is not easy to determine the image that young people have of God, but certainly the Christian God has lost his central position in comparison with a God of the media that leads to people from the worlds of sport, music and the cinema being divinised. The young person feels a passion for freedom and doesn’t cross the threshold of the church. There are so many young people who think that the Church is an obstacle to their personal freedom.
Faced with this situation we can ask ourselves: what sort of education are church and school institutions offering? Why has the question of religion been eliminated from young peoples’ world? Youngsters, adolescents, young people are by nature generous and become enthusiastic about those causes that are worth the trouble. Why then has Christ ceased to be significant to them?
If she wishes to remain faithful to her mission as the universal sacrament of salvation, the Church needs to learn the languages used by men and women of every time, ethnic background and place. And we Salesians, in a special way need to learn and to use young peoples’ language. There is no doubt that in the Church nowadays, but also within our own institutions there exists a “serious language problem.”. Basically it is a question of a communication problem, of the inculturation of the Gospel in social and cultural situations; a problem of education to the faith for the new generations. Here then a challenge and a task for us today: to be educators capable of communicating with young people and of transmitting to them the great treasure of faith in Jesus Christ.
In the transmission of the faith and of values, Salesian education always starts from the concrete situation of each individual, from his/her human and religious experience, from his/her worries and anxieties, from his/her joys and hopes, giving special attention to experience and witness. It takes care of the pedagogy of Christian initiation, in such a way that Christ is accepted more as a friend who saves and makes us children of God than as a law-maker, who loads us down with dogmas, precepts or rites. The positive and festive aspects of every religious experience are highlighted, faithful to Don Bosco in his dream at nine years of age: “Start right away to teach them the ugliness of sin and the value of virtue” [G. Bosco, Memoirs of the Oratory Don Bosco Publications, New Rochelle 1989, page 18]
“Evangelising by educating” means for us knowing how to present the best news (the person of Jesus) adapting ourselves to and respecting the evolving condition of the youngster, the adolescent, the young person. The young person is looking for happiness, the joy of life, and being generous, is capable of making sacrifices to achieve them, if we really manage to show him/her a convincing path and if we offer ourselves as competent companions on the journey. The youngsters were convinced that Don Bosco loved them and wanted their happiness here on earth and for eternity. And so they accepted the pathway that he put before them: friendship with Jesus, the Way the Truth and the Life. Don Bosco teaches us be at one and the same time educators and evangelisers (“the grace of unity”). As evangelisers we know and seek the aim: to bring the young people to Christ. As educators we have to know how to start from the concrete situation of the young person and succeed in finding the appropriate method to accompany him/her in the process of reaching maturity. If as pastors it would be a disgrace to give up the aim, as educators it would be a failure were we not to succeed in finding the appropriate way to motivate them to undertake the journey and to accompany them in a credible manner.
- The third key to interpretation is the topic of the “New frontiers” as the natural place for consecrated life and as call to become present in those poor places with the greatest needs, from both the religious and the cultural, environmental and social points of view. Aware that the mission is the reason for our being Salesians and that the needs and the expectations of the young determine our works, in the General Chapter one of the topics that was the subject of considerable discussion was precisely that of the “new frontiers”, where the young are waiting for us. It is a question of frontiers not only geographical but also economic, social, cultural and religious. Here we have to act with the criterion that guided Don Bosco’s decisions, that is to say, “giving more to those who have least.”
I am happy 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. This situation no longer represents a special sector, identified with some special work or animated by some confrere or other particularly motivated. Attention given to the least, to the poorest, to the most disadvantaged is becoming an “institutional sensitivity” that little by little, involves many works in the Provinces. Social works have multiplied, net-working is beginning and we are operating in synergy with other agencies that work in the same field. It is as though we have begun to “go outside the walls”, going around the city and listening to the cry and the pleading for help from the young. For us all this means renewing our predilection for the poorest, for those most abandoned and for those who find themselves in a situation of psychosocial danger: youngsters who are lost, ill-treated, victims of violence and abuse. With Don Bosco’s own heart we feel that we have to find new ways of opposing the evil that afflicts so many young people. We also feel that we have a duty to stem the present cultural and social trend, especially through what is our specific treasure: having an educational system that is capable of changing the hearts of the young and of transforming society. We cannot give as ‘charity’ what they have a right to as ‘justice’. In this year in which the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights is celebrated, we need to move forward and locate all our educational project in the area of children’s rights as I indicated in the Strenna for 2008.
Recalling Don Bosco’s experience
According to what Don Bosco himself wrote in the “Memoirs of the Oratory”, the experience that shook him and led him to a new way of being a priest was the contact he had with the youngsters in the Turin prison. He speaks about it in these words: “I saw large numbers of young lads aged from 12 to 18 ; fine healthy youngsters, alert of mind, but seeing them idle there, infested with lice, lacking food for body and soul horrified me.” [G. Bosco, Memoirs of the Oratory Don Bosco Publications New Rochelle 1989, pag. 182]
Here then the first element to notice: Don Bosco looked, listened and knew how to take in the social situation, interpret its significance and draw the necessary conclusions. From this experience there arose in Don Bosco an immense compassion for those youngsters. Being in contact with them he felt a great need to offer them a welcoming place and an education that met their needs: "On such occasions I found out how quite a few were brought back to that place; it was because they were abandoned to their own resources. Who knows I thought to myself, if these youngsters had a friend outside who would take care of them, help them, teach them religion on feast days… Who knows but they could be steered away from ruin, or at least the number of those who return to prison could be lessened.? I talked this over with Fr Cafasso. With his encouragement and inspiration I began to work out in my mind how to put the idea into practice "[ ibidem ].
And so we find the second element to be recognised in the experience of our Father Don Bosco: a pastoral creativity, that led him to produce imaginatively and with generosity appropriate responses to the new challenges. All of this meant that he personally carried the burden of creating those structures that could make a better and different world possible for those youngsters.
It is in this way that Don Bosco thinks above all about preventing these negative experiences, welcoming the boys who arrive in the city of Turin looking for work, the orphans, or those whose parents couldn’t take care of them, or didn’t want to, those who are wandering about the city without any friendly contacts and without any practical possibility of a decent life. He offers them an opportunity for education focused on preparation for work, that helps them to recover confidence in themselves and a sense of their own worth. He offers a positive environment of joy and friendship in which they acquire almost by contagion moral and religious values. He offers instruction in religion that is simple, suited to their age and one especially nourished by a positive atmosphere of joy and guided by the great ideal of holiness.
Well aware of the importance of the education of the young and of the people in order to transform society, Don Bosco made himself the promoter of new social projects of prevention and of assistance. One can think of his dealings with the world of work, of contracts with employers, of free time, of the promotion of popular education and culture. Even if Don Bosco did not speak explicitly about the rights of the boys– it wasn’t part of the culture of the time – he worked trying to give them dignity and to help them find their place in society in such as way as to be able to face up to life successfully (“empowerment”).
Here finally the third element, in my view very significant, that characterised Don Bosco’s experience. He perceived that it was not enough to relieve the situation of disadvantage and abandonment in which his boys were living (palliative action). He felt himself more and more clearly being led in the direction of making a cultural change (transforming action), through a place and a style of education that would be able to involve many people who identified with him and with his mission. All this meant not only the launching of an Institute (the Valdocco Oratory), but also the stage of the development of that special intuition that led Don Bosco to begin a vast movement for the salvation of youth: the Salesian Family (cf. C. 5). The needs were many. Thus in the first place he tried to get his mother’s collaboration, then that of some diocesan priests. With his best boys he began the Society of St Francis of Sales, then he founded the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians and started the Association of the Cooperators. His mind was a continuous “dream for the benefit of the young”. His heart was a continuous “expression of the love of God for the young”.
Let us, as Salesians, continue to cultivate in our hearts this passion for the poorest, for the abandoned, for the least. 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: street children, teenage soldiers, child labourers, youngsters exploited by the accursed sexual tourism, the people displaced on account of war, the immigrants, the victims of alcohol and drugs, those sick with HIV/AIDS, youngsters deprived of any religious sense… As I said before, we can see that nowadays our sensitivity to these things has grown and thanks be to God, continues to improve. Today the work of the pioneers has been taken over by the Institution, and above all a mentality is being acquired that allows us to locate ourselves anywhere with this interpretative key making the option on behalf of those most excluded and the marginalised. It is a grace to hear that in the Congregation this way of thinking is increasing: “giving most to those who have received the least.”
While in developing countries the faces of youngsters marked by material poverty stand out, in developed countries the thing which marks them out is the loss of meaning to life, giving in to consumerism, hedonism, indifference, drug dependence. The responses necessarily need to be differentiated. In the light of these major issues that can and should change our lives and apostolic activities, the need we have to be converted to what is essential, to a life that is poor, sober and simple becomes more evident and compelling, to a life that will be the expression of our total detachment from all that can get in the way of our committing ourselves to the very limit to those the Lord has entrusted to us.
3. Decisions taken and a start made to put them into practice: prospects for animation and government.
The issues mentioned above were given a first expression in the various parts of the document. In fact, the main decisions of the GC26 regarding the spiritual rebirth and apostolic zeal have been presented in the “Guidelines” for each of the topics. They offer us guidelines to adopt so as to pass from paper to life. In fact they cannot be simply declarations of intent, but need to become real programmes for life, for animation and government, for educative pastoral work.
For the topic “Starting afresh from Don Bosco”, we have decided on:
Return to Don Bosco
Be committed to loving, studying, imitating, praying to Don Bosco and making him known so as to start afresh from him.
Return to the young
Return to the young, especially the poorest of them with the heart of Don Bosco.
Charismatic identity and apostolic passion
Rediscover the significance of the Da mihi animas cetera tolle as a programme of spiritual and pastoral life.
For the topic “Urgent need for evangelisation”, we have decided:
An evangelised and evangelising community
Put encounter with Christ in the Word and the Eucharist at the centre of our communities, in order to be authentic disciples and credible apostles.
Centrality of the proposal of Jesus Christ
Propose to the young with joy and courage that they live their lives in the way Jesus Christ lived his.
Education and evangelisation
See to a more effective integration in each setting of education and evangelisation following the logic of the Preventive System.
Evangelisation in various contexts
Inculturate the process of evangelisation in order to give a response to challenges in regional contexts
For the topic “Need for Vocation Ministry”, we have decided:
Witness as the first vocational invitation
Witness with courage and joy to the beauty of a consecrated life, dedicated totally to God in the mission to the youn.
Instil in young people an apostolic involvement on behalf of the Kingdom of God with the passion of Da mihi animas cetera tolle and encourage their formation
Accompaniment of candidates to the Salesian consecrated life
Make explicit the invitation to Salesian consecrated life and foster new forms of vocational accompaniment and aspirantate/candidacy.
The two forms of the Salesian consecrated vocation
Encourage the complementarity and specific nature of the two forms of the one Salesian vocation and take up a renewed commitment on behalf of the Salesian Brother vocation
For the topic “Evangelical Poverty”, we have decided:
Personal and community witness
Give credible and courageous witness to evangelical poverty, lived personally and as a community in the spirit of Da mihi animas cetera tolle
Solidarity with the poor
Develop a culture of solidarity with the poor in the local context.
Responsible management of resources in a spirit of solidarity
Manage resources in a responsible, transparent way, consistent with the purposes of the mission, putting the necessary checks and balances in place at local, provincial and world level.
For the topic “New frontiers”, we have decided:
Main priority: poor young people
Guideline 15 (cfr. Guideline 13)
Put courageous choices into place on behalf of poor young people and those at risk.
Other priorities: family, social communication, Europe
Give privileged attention to the family in youth ministry; improve the educative presence in the media world; re-launch the Salesian charism in Europe.
New models for managing works
Review the management model of works for a more effective educative and evangelising presence.
Mentioning the course of action from the GC26 in this closing address has the purpose of emphasising the importance of their being taken up and ‘inculturated’ on the part of the Regions and of the individual Provinces. They will be the “practical message” of the GC26, which needs to be studied and translated, at pastoral level in the different contexts, identifying criteria for assessment and the elements of evaluation.
I will now say something about “Project Europe”.
Today, more than ever, we become aware that our presence in Europe needs to be re-thought. This consideration as I already said in the address to the Holy Father on the occasion of the Audience he granted to the members of the GC26 – is “aimed at re-dimensioning our Salesian presence for greater impact and effectiveness in this continent. That is, seeking a new form of evangelisation in order to respond to the spiritual and moral needs of these young people, who to us appear as wanderers without guides and without destination.”
It is a question therefore of rejuvenating with Salesian personnel those Provinces most in need to make the Salesian charism more significant and fruitful in today’s Europe. I intend to make clear therefore that:
- This is a project of the Congregation;
- It will involve all the Regions and Provinces in sending personnel;
- To strengthen the communities, called upon to be intercultural and to make Don Bosco present among the young, especially the poorest, the abandoned and those at risk;
- The whole process will be entrusted to the coordination of the three Departments for the Mission.
This project will obviously demand structural changes in the communities of the Old Continent. “New wine in new wine-skins”. It is not therefore a work of the simple “maintenance of structures”, but a new project to express a new presence beside today’s young people. We are moving with the heart of Don Bosco, rich in his passion for God and for the young, in order to collaborate in the social construction of a New Europe, so that it may really have “a soul”, so that it may find again its strong spiritual and cultural roots, so that at the level of society it may make room for and give equal opportunities to educational and cultural proposals, without discrimination or decisions regarding social exclusion.
Among the priorities I indicate the most important:
- Creating new presences for young people,
- Encouraging dynamic and innovative initiatives,
- Fostering vocations.
All this should help the Salesians who are working in this context to achieve a way of thinking that is more and more European, strengthening the synergy among Provinces in the different sectors and re-enforcing collaboration at Regional level.
4. Towards the bicentenary of the birth of Don Bosco: the Congregation returning to Don Bosco in order to start afresh from him
What would Don Bosco do today? We don’t know! But we know what he did yesterday and therefore we can know what to do in order to act like him today. It is a question of knowledge and imitation.
We have insisted in this Chapter that it is absolutely indispensable to contemplate Don Bosco, to love him, to know him and to imitate him, so as to discover his most profound and compelling motivations, those from which he drew the energy that made him work tirelessly for the young; his most firm and personal convictions, that led him to never draw back, that rather made him attractive and convincing; his well-defined and clear aims, that made him go ahead, with just one reason to live: to see the boys happy here and in eternity.
Don Bosco felt the drama of a people that was distancing itself from the faith and he felt above all the drama of youth, specially loved by Jesus, abandoned and betrayed in its ideals and in its aspirations by the men of politics, of finance, and even of the Church. I ask myself whether this situation is not, in many ways, similar to what we have identified in our General Chapter.
Well then, in the face of this kind of situation Don Bosco re-acted energetically, finding new ways to oppose evil. Against the negative forces in society he resisted, denouncing the double-standards and the danger of the situation, “challenging” – in his own way, one understands – the powerful forces of his time. This is what it means to have a pastoral mind and heart.
Tuned in to these needs he tried to respond with the possibilities offered him by the historical-cultural conditions and by the economic situation of the time, and that in spite of some of the opposition from the ecclesiastical world, from the authorities and the faithful. In this way he founded oratories, schools of various types, work-shops of arts and trades, newspapers and magazines, printing shops and publishing houses, religious, cultural, recreational and social associations for young people; he built churches, promoted the missions “ad gentes”, activities of support for emigrants; he founded two religious Congregations, and a lay Association which continued his work.
He succeeded thanks also to his outstanding gifts as a born communicator, in spite of his lack of financial resources (always insufficient for his undertakings), his modest cultural and intellectual background (at a time when there was a need for a high profile response) and being the heir to a theology and a view of society with severe limitations (and therefore inadequate to respond to the process of secularisation and to the profound social revolutions in progress). Always urged on by great faith in difficult circumstances, he sought and obtained help from everyone, Catholics and anticlericals, rich and poor, powerful and wealthy men and women, members of the nobility, of the middle class, of the higher and lower members of the clergy.
Nevertheless the historical importance of Don Bosco, rather than in the manifold «works» and in certain relatively original methodological elements– the famous “preventive system of Don Bosco” –is to be found in the intellectual and emotional perception of the problem of “abandoned” youth with its moral and social implications:
- In the intuition of the presence, first in Turin, in Italy, and then in the world of a strong sensitivity in civil society and then in the world of “politics” to the problem of the education of youth and its understanding by part of the sensitive sections of public opinion;
- In the idea that he launched of the duty to intervene on a large scale in Catholic and civil society, as the response that was necessary for the life of the Church and for the maintenance of social public order;
- And in the ability to communicate this idea to large numbers of co-workers, of benefactors and of admirers.
Neither a politician nor a sociologist nor a trades unionist ‘before its time’, simply a priest-educator, Don Bosco started from the idea that education could do a great deal, in any situation, if it were undertaken with the greatest good will, commitment and the ability to adapt. He set out to change consciences, to form them to human decency, to civil and political responsibility, and from this perspective he tried to "change " society through education.
He transformed the firm values in which he believed - and which he defended against all comers– into social fact, into practical gestures, without any retreat into the spiritual or ecclesiastical order, understood as a place or experience exempt from the problems of the world or of life. Rather, sure in his vocation as a priest educator he was fully engaged in daily activity that was not without horizons but rather the incarnation of values and ideals; it was not a hiding place from nor a rejection of open discussion but a sincere consideration of a much broader and diversified situation; it was not a world limited to a few needs to be satisfied and the place for the repetition in an almost mechanical manner of traditional attitudes; it was not the rejection of every tension, of demanding sacrifice of risk or of struggle. He had for himself and for the Salesians the freedom and the pride of autonomy. Nor did he want to link the fate of his work to the unforeseeable variations of political regimes.
The noted French theologian Marie-Dominique Chenu, O.P., in the eighties of the last century, replying to a question from a journalist who asked him for the names of some saints who had a message that was relevant for the new times, stated without hesitation: “I should like to recall first of all the one who anticipated the Council by a century: Don Bosco. Prophetically speaking he is already a man who is a model of holiness for his work that is a break away from the style of thinking and of believing of his contemporaries.” He was a model for many; not a few follow his example and become in their turn “Don Bosco of Bergamo, of Bologna, of Messina and so on”. Obviously the “secret” of his “success” each one can find in one of the various facets of his complex personality: a most able manager of educational works, a farsighted organiser of national and international enterprises, a most skilful educator, a great teacher, etc. This is the model that we have and we are called upon to reproduce as faithfully as possible!
Dear confreres, we have celebrated the GC26 in the liturgical season of Lent and Easter. In this way the Lord invited us to recognise our need for an Easter experience, if we want to achieve the spiritual rebirth and the renewal of our apostolic zeal we so much desire. There can be no life without death. There is no mystica of “Da mihi animas” without the ascetica of “cetera tolle”.
I should like to conclude referring again to a particular experience of Don Bosco. In summer 1846 he fell sick and was in danger of death. After some weeks he got over the sickness and while convalescing was able to return to the Oratory supporting himself with a stick. The boys seeing this got him to sit down in an armchair, lifted him up and carried him in triumph as far as the courtyard. In the chapel, after prayers of thanksgiving, Don Bosco spoke the most solemn and demanding words of his life: «Dear sons. I owe my life to you. But you can be sure of this : from now on I shall spend my whole life for you ». [cf. BM II, 386] Don Bosco, inspired by the Holy Spirit, in a certain sense made a novel vow: the vow of apostolic love, of the handing over of his life for the young, one that he will observe every moment of his life. This then is what is meant by “Da mihi animas, cetera tolle”, which was the inspirational motto of our General Chapter. This then the programme for the future for the spiritual rebirth and the apostolic zeal with which we want to arrive at the bicentenary of his birth.
I hope that we, and with us all those who identify themselves with the values of Salesian Spirituality and the Salesian Educational System may be able to love the young and commit ourselves as Don Bosco did in carrying out the Salesian mission. It is my hope that the young may find in each one of us (as the boys at the Oratory found in Don Bosco at Valdocco) people ready to walk beside them, to build with them and for them a educational presence that is attractive and significant, able to provide openings and ways of being involved to the extent that it will be able to bring about cultural change.
An Icon that perfectly illustrates this historic moment for the Congregation is the episode of the handing on of the “cloak and of the spirit” from Elijah to Elisha, his disciple (2 Kings 2,1-15). Elijah tried several times to send Elisha away, first at Galgal and then at Bethel and at Jericho, perhaps with the desire to be alone at the time of his death. But Elisha wanted to be his principal spiritual heir and stayed with him. How I would really like every confrere, with regard to Don Bosco, to make his own the desire of Elisha to receive two thirds of the spirit of Elijah. Having become the spiritual heir of Elijah, Elisha takes up his cloak and puts on with it the spirit of the master too. Elisha repeats in identical fashion the last miracle of Elijah and that makes the disciples of the prophets certain that indeed “the spirit of Elijah” had come to rest on Elisha.
In this regard the words of Paul VI come to my mind when at the beatification of Don Rua, he said that his beatification represented a confirmation of his quality as successor of Don Bosco, as his disciple, of his capacity in taking up and transmitting the spirit of the Father. Like Don Rua, so as to draw on the inheritance of Don Bosco, let us allow God, through our total availability, to work in us as he worked in him. Here I am then, dear Confreres, handing over to you the fruits of the GC26, in which you have been protagonists. I am giving you a document yes, one that will be our navigation chart for the six-year period 2008-2014, but above all I hand on to you the spirit of the GC26. It was meant to be an intense Pentecostal experience for the profound renewal of our life and mission. It represents therefore for all Salesians the launch pad for the Congregation on the way to the great Salesian Jubilee of 2015.
May the Spirit breathe with His strength on the Congregation so that it may have the courage to ask with Don Bosco once again and always,: “Da mihi animas, cetera tolle”.
Rome, 12 April 2008