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Pina Bellocchi Angelo Santorsola Damas Salesianas

(Pina Bellocchi)

The purpose of our address is to recall together, and briefly, what the Common Mission Statement offered to all the Salesian Family some years ago, but also to revisit the document, highlighting some central points involved in putting it into action. None of us can ignore that our reality. While it has its bright spots, it also has a few dark ones.
Our meeting over these days is not, and does not aim to be a sterile celebration of being Family, nor is it a simple, even if nice fraternal gathering of the different Groups, but rather a moment of deeper reflection on what we are and what we can be, so we can leave here with some firm proposals for renewal. This is the only way we can be faithful to the Spirit who raised up the Salesian charism in the Church as a gift for the world.
We who belong to groups who in one way or another refer to Don Bosco, share the same spirituality coming from the same charism; a spiritual consanguinity, a complex of common elements which become a style of life, a way of looking at reality, a view on mission, the source of our communion.
The meaning of the word “spirituality” is:
“An attitude to life according to the demands of the Spirit which gives them prominence. Sensitivity to spiritual values. The complex of motives which describea religious idea or spiritual vision”.
It is certainly not the moment to study this area, so for now it is enough to remind ourselves, with art. 21 of the Common Mission Statement,  that any spirituality

  • comes from a charism,
  • gives a new vision of reality, with the ability to read not only what is apparent in it, but also the underlying factors,
  • fills believers with a strength that enables them to give themselves to others with boundless enthusiasm, in practical charity,
  • suggests criteria for a relationship with God, with creation,with history, with brothers and sisters
  • unifies the whole of existence, giving it a soul, a centre and a motivation. (Cf. The Common Mission Statement of the Salesian Family. Art. 21)

Reflecting on the reality, which at times we experience as a Salesian Family, I thought I might be able to identify some “temptations” we run the risk of falling into when we lose sight of our charism and the wealth of our apostolic spirituality. I would like to briefly focus on these.

    • the temptation “that the grass is greener on the other side”

It is not rare to find amongst members of the Salesian Family those who also enthusiastically embrace other charismatic paths which, though valid enough, are not the charism of Don Bosco. “The grass is greener....” and fresher!!
So you find people enthusiastic about Benedictine, Carmelite, Jesuit prayer groups,  or going into ecstasy about catechetical formation of a kind that charismatically speaking has little sense of belonging to us. It is almost as if the gift we recieved from God through Don Bosco does not have the same spiritual depth as that of others. And by following now one then the other of these, we end up being “internally divided” and losing the gift we received when we became part of the Salesian Family.

All spiritualities have their value and their function in the Church and the world, for sure, but it is also true that Salesian spirituality is no less valuable than the others; we just have to appreciate it more and live it out in its specific details and original sense. Salesian spirituality is not a “reductionist”, “superficial” spirituality: it is a strong and profound spirituality, one that shows us a way  to become holy, one which does not centre in on itself but puts us at the service of our brothers and sisters.

So let us overcome, then, the temptation to seek what is good, beautiful, enthusiastic, profound “outside” and instead try to be what we are called to be.

    • Thetemptation “to divide our attention”     

It could happen that, face with our anxiety to serve and the urgency of the mission, we throw ourselves headlong into work, forgetting how important it is to look after our prayer and union with God; or, viceversa, faced with an educational role that seems so difficult and demanding, we forget our role towards others and take refuge in a sterile spiritualism. This way we run the risk of dividing our attention and sliding off in one or other direction.

It is imperative for us to somehow unify fthe ull gift of self and union with God with practical charity in His name, an interior life with service of our brothers and sisters, contemplation with our task as educators, spirituality with the preventive system.

John Paul II, in his message to Chapter members in 1990, said:
“I would like to emphasise especially, as a fundamental element, the power of a vital synthesis which comes from pastoral charity. It is the result of the power of the Holy Spirit who ensure that vital inseparability between union with God and giving ourselves to our neighbour, between gospel interiroity and apostolic action, between the praying heart and the active hands. Those twogreat Saints, Francis of Sales and John Bosco, gave witness and flowering in the Church to this splendid “grace of unity”. a crack inthis opens up dangerous space for activism which becomes an insidious temptation for Institutes of apostolic life”. (Osservatore Romano 2.5.’90)

The “grace of unity” is one of the decisive keys for understanding, interpreting and harmoniously achieving the shape of Salesian spirituality and life.

No dichotomy, then, between interiority and mission, union with God and giving of ourselves to others: it is the same love of God that makes us a gift to others. This is how we can achieve the so-called “ecstasy of action”, that St Francis of Sales speaks of, without forgetting God for the world, the world for God.

Don Bosco himself is a mirror for us in which we can see the possibility of a synthesis, of harmonising things: he who was profoundly human, and also a man of God; open to the realities of this world, and at the same time caught up in God.  Whoever thought or thinks that Don Bosco had little formal prayer because he was taken up by work, we as the Salesian Family say that it is not true that Don Bosco had a 'light' prayer life to which he gave little time. His prayer was intense especially in the morning, where it lasted some time; besides from time to time he left aside some days given to complete silence and prayer as he had learned to do at the school of Don CAFASSO.

Don Bosco's synthesis is perfect and it can be compared to that of so many Saints who harmonised contemplation and action, like St Francis of Sales, Mother Teresa and so many others.

Fr Chavez reminds us: “In Don Bosco holiness shines out in his works, it is true; but his works are only the expression of his life of faith”. (Fr. Chavez, address at the beginning of GC26, p.117)

Whoever follows Don Bosco experiences God through the young and the poor. They are not just the beneficiaries of our activity: they are our vocation. To be “specialists of the young” is part of our being and means our heart is directed to them, their loro problems and needs, their hopes and desires. And all because that same heart is directed to Christ, filled with Him, to the point where it becomes our cause.

Don Bosco, said Fr Viganò, always contemplates God, inasmuch as God is the human being's beloved” (Cf. “D.Bosco, attualità di un magistero pedagogico”, LAS, Roma, 1987, Presentazion, p.12). And Fr Vecchi went on: “Unity is a grace included in the call to Salesian life, and brings with it, like all forms of life, a unified development” (Cf. AGC 354 p.38).

It is a journey we are called to make, overcoming the risk of a lack of balance towards either the secular or the spiritual pole.

It is a journey that requires balance and constant reharmonising.

It is a journey worth making, because it brings us to fidelity to the authentic charism of Don Bosco.

Our Father, drawing up the outline of spirituality for his sons, made reference to St Francis of Sales, who, as we said earlier,  opened up a new journey of spirituality in the Church: ecstasy of action and life, what we today, the Salesian Family, call everyday spirituality.
Pope John Paul II, for the ‘88 celebrations, in his letter Iuvenum Patris, n.5 spoke of Don Bosco as “the initiator of a true school of a new, attractive apostolic spiritaulity”.
Every Salesian, lay or religious, married or consecrated, contemplates God in the face of every human being, every young person awaiting a word of hope; he or she lives an ascetic spirit through laborious daily effort in the service of the little ones and the poor, and serves the Lord in simplicity through daily work done with diligence, competently, with availability and a spirit of sacrifice. The Salesian does not separate relationship with God from service of mankind.
Ours is a spirituality nurtured by prayer. It is simple, profound, filling every action, task and work with God. This means we should have time for prayer and contemplation; indeed, the more service given, the more we need to have moments alone with the Lord, and we are conscious that we encounter him amongst people too, maybe refereeing a game, or doing our job well, bringing joy, communion and a capacity for dialogue, ninto the little matters of each day.

He wants us Salesians to be contemplatives in action, able to unite a life of intense union with God with tireless effort for our brothers and sisters.

We are called, then, to live, in the simplicity of each day, a spirituality of synthesis, unity and not a dichotomy between prayer and service, dialogue with God and man.

As sons and daughters of Don Bosco we are called to take up our spirituality, which means being educators, and demonstrate the wealth and evangelising power of education. “Evangelise by educating and educate by evangelising ”: a proposal for living that says how for us the preventive system is not just a pedagogical tool, but also a spirituality.

Through our educational intervention we Salesians help the young, and not only them, to draw out of themselves the good they have within, to allow what they have not yet succeeded in expressing to shine forth, humanly and spiritually.

The etymology of the word education, is ex-ducere, or “lead”, "draw out", to encourage the development of the person's gifts rather than restricitng it to some kind of stereotyped thinking and behaviour. To educate is, then, for us, to make free, bring to light something that is hidden, make human beings more human, help them to be ever more aware of their spiritual dimension and vocation to holiness.

Only the person who loves can educate, because only love makes people free, the love that Salesians call pastoral charity, which knows how to listen to the needs of human beings and especially young people today, knows how to be patient, creative, dynamic.

When we speak of pastoral charity we don't refer simply to something “to do”: it is a “way of being” which permeates a person's existence, a participation in the love of God himself, being united with Him, losing oneself in Him, giving oneself with complete availability to build up the Kingdom.

“Pastoral charity” is not to be identified with altruism: rather is it an intrinsic change in one's existence; a way of being in total union with God, so much so that one feels always and fully available to act for him. The activity of “pastoral charity” is not separate from or following on from being, but reveals it, accompanies it. It does not come “after”, but is “within”, and is identified with its dynamic nature.
Taking part in God's love, is translated into, expressed in the gift of ourselves, in our passion for the young and the poor, to the point of self-sacrifice.

    • The temptation to be a “salt-shaker”

I don't know if you have ever heard anyone talk about this kind of temptation. “The experience of the salt-shaker” tells us that the salt kept in the bottle serves little purpose because in fact it is meant to be sprinkled and give taste. Shut up in the salt-shaker it is useless and does not achieve the purpose it has of its very nature.

We at times, can forget that ours is an apostolic, dynamic spirituality, one that urges us to “go beyond”, marked out by a relational capacity, yet we can fall into the temptation of closing ourselves up in a private existence.

It is easy to hear expression of the kind: “It's not up to me to save the world…I have already done enough, let others do somethingi…It's all useless, society is so different today…young people today are difficult, I will pray for them…”. But we are sons and duaghters of Don Bosco, who never gave up whatever he was faced with and was never paralysed by difficulties and effort. “I will spend myself for my boys until my last breath” (MB 18,258), he would say.

We Salesians are called to go out of ourselves and help the least, give those who do not have a voice a voice, be friends, borhters, fathers, mothers, for so many youngsters awaiting a word of hope, and all this in a particular style, with that well-known capacity for relationships.
Our whole life must be urged on and animated by Christ's charity, which is translated into loving-kindness, a demonstrated, practical love, a strong, robust love, supported by reason, attentive to individuals, able to give growth and hope, able torespond to deep questions of meaning, which lead to seeking and accepting the Lord of life.“Loving-kindess” is a keyword connoting our spirituality, Salesian life, which attracts and fascinates those around us, but which, at the same time, demands we overcome our selfishness, and be open to the needs of others, constant calmness at times of difficulty, trust in people which allows us to see beyond appearances, a deep joy visibleeven when our hearts are weeping, self-mastery, constant effort to overcome the rough edges of our personality. It is a style that leads to being ascetic.
We Salesians are not on the lookout for particular sacrifices and penances, but calmly accept every difficulty, misunderstanding, the daily problems we encounter, and offer them to the Lord. It is hard work to keep smiling, to always be welcoming, to always forgive and to take the first step towards others. It is hard work always being available, especially when we really want to think of ourselves and close ourselves up “in prviate”. It is hard work being optimistic especially when everything seems to be crashing down around us,… “Here we make holiness consist in being happy”, said Dominic Savio, and behind this sentence there is no simple and easygoing happiness of the child, but the real effort of one who has entrusted his life to God and finds his joy in Him and in commitment to building up his kingdom. This is how one becomes salt and taste for the world.

    1. The temptation to be the “writing desk”

Another dangerous temptation is to become sedentary by profession or choice, forgetting thos real youngsters around us every day who might be lost because no-one goes out looking for them. The temptation of being home-bodies, going from one meeting to the next, reflecting, reflecting, reflecting,… losing sight of the kids.
Ours is a spirituality that is and carries out mission.

The word 'mission', we know, comes from the Latin missio, “send”, missus “sent”.  It is God who sends, who has given the world and the Church the Salesian charism, from whom has come the spirituality that animates and marks us out, and asks us to be a sign of his love amongst men. He asks us to follow in the steps of Don Bosco: to give more to who has less in life.

It is a spirituality, then, in itself mission, because the same way of living our relationship with God, others, the world, history, becomes witness, proposal, proclamation for the world, for the young. We are sent especially, to “be”.

It is a spirituality that becomes mission since it urges us to act, to “pour out” on those around us, so many young people, the gifts of Don Bosco's charism; it urges us to give our lives for them, become “good shepherds” for those at risk of being lost today, following the “mercenaries” on abundant offer by society today.

The needs today are so many; it is enough to look around: we discover young people who need listening to, women who have been so hurt by life, youngsters deprived of any point of reference,… None of us, as Salesians, can remain aloof or, worse still, give up, feel impotent, in the face of evil. Don Bosco did not do so. He would have sought out new paths, invented something, got people involved. We cannot forget, as our Fr Chavez said, 
“that we have been sent to the young to proclaim the newness of life which Christ offers us, to promote and develop it by an education that frees the young and the poor from all kinds of oppression and marginalisation. Such situationsof marginalisation prevent them from seeking the truth, opening up to hope, living with meaning and happiness, constructing their own freedom”.

Today Don Bosco lives in each one of us. Each of us is Don Bosco alive. So let's get up, then, if by chance, tired and discouraged, we have sat oursleves down, if we have lost the desire to struggle for a better world. Let us go back to Don Bosco's creativity, find new ways, new languages to reach the heart of youngsters, let us join together, feel anxious about the salvation of the young, feel our Father's passion. Let us rediscover the joy of being who we are.

    • The temptation “of being a spinning top”

 Another temptation we can easily fall into is that of the spinning top: multiplying activities without any coordination between them, looking for instant success, heaping one initiative on another, spinning around ourselves, forgetting the One who sent us, who asks us to give our lives.

It is the kind of activism which is an end in itself, makes our work empty and risks emptying us out as people, Christians, apostles.

Young people seek, need not a manager, but credible witnesses who know how to offer values it is worth giving ones life for; they need someone who knows how to make God transparent, and only someone stepped in God can do this, someone enamoured of God, who breathes him every day, and is nurtured by his Word. 

    • The temptation of being “an ivory tower”

 It really is true: there is nothing easier than to close oneself up in one's own Group, like a medieval fortress. Each Group with its own programme, activities, and running along parallel lines. It is important to understand that the first and principal apostolic work to carry out is communion between Groups of the Family.

Dispersing apostolic forces and being closed up in individualism, besides diminishing apostolic and practical effectiveness, reduces Gospel witness.

One branch, alone, breaks easily, but a bunch of branches tied together is difficult to break.

In the Salesian Cooperator Regulations Don Bosco wrote:
"At all times it has been considered that union between good people was necessary in order to help one another to do good and to keep far away from evil. If a piece of string is taken by itself it is easily broken, but when three pieces are plaited together they are more difficult to break. When weak forces are Visunited they become fortior ,funiculustriplex difficile rumpitur”.

In a letter to John Cagliero (27 April 1876), he wrote:
“Once upon a time it was enough to gather togetehr for prayer, but today when there are so many perverse media around, especially dangerous for young people of both sexes, we need to come together in the field of action and get to work”.

And again in the Salesian Bulletin, January 1878, writing to Cooperators:
“We need to come together and also with the Congregation. Let's do so then for the same ends and using the same means to òursue them. Let's come together as one family in the bonds of fraternal charity”.

These reminders are very much appropriate now!

The same pastoral charity that “unifies” us inwardly and makes us contemplatives in action, is the source of intimate supernatural energy which keeps us together, which gives us our characteristic features, nurtures us, gives us enthusiasm, keeps us in communion in the one family, brings about the “grace of unity” of communion. (cf. ASC n. 304).

It is important to understand that to be faithful to the charism of Don Bosco it is not enough to bring about grace of unity between interiority and mission, but we also need to experience the grace of unity amongst the various components of the Salesian Family, who live the same gift of the Spirit in different ways. Only thus can we carry out Don Bosco's idea of a single family with different expressions of vocation: “Vis unita fortior”!
He never thought of any Group in separation, nor did any Group ever exist in such a state; he saw them always within a unified perspective, strong and rich, so as to involve all the Groups despite   their distinctive characteristics (art. COMMON IDENTITY CARD)

It is fundamental, then, for each of usi, that each of our Groups learn to see itself as part of a whole, as part of a great Salesian movement, and understand that walking and working in a team with others enriches the whole and obtains better results; it is important that each learn to recognise the richness of the charisms of the others, help other Groups to grow and build up communion made of respect for each one's specific nature, of collaboration, appreciation for others are and do.

    • The “do-it-yourself ” temptation

 To grow in communion we need to learn to think together, plan together, know how to read things around us, overcome the fear of meeting together, know how to organise ourselves in shared projects.
It is easy though to fall into the do-it-yourself “ temptation. It can happen that we are all ready to say “How wonderful it is to be the Salesian Family”,… all ready to meet for feast days, offical gatherings, celebrations, but find it hard to plan together, and intervene together.

Each Group certainly has its specifics, but these do not exhaust the charism, rather bring into light new and original aspects of it. No-one can claim “ownershipo” of the charism, rather we are its guardians!
The unifying energy of “Don Bosco's charism” has given rise to an original spiritual Family, varied and articulated, which can be more effective only if it works by uniting the forces of the various Groups.

Each one its own character, gifts, area of action, specific nature, but each can say to the other: “Without you we would no longer be us!”.

If one part is lacking, thought to be not so “necessary”, the body would be mutilated ... The body is not the head with other aprts added on: it is a whole, a unity!

We need to learn to think of the Salesian Family not as the sum of Groups who come together, as add-ons, but as a single reality varied in expression, which shares responsibilityfor living out a charism and carrying out a mission.

That is our charismatic fidelity in following in Don Bosco's footsteps!

Here and there in the world we find experiences di of action and formation carried out together: retreats, camps, recollections, leadership training, prayer, reflection days, conventions, …In some places we work together in our schools, oratories.

We may still need to work out that “working together” does not always mean working “side by side”, uniformly, doing the same thing, but rather knowing how to think together about the social and personal context of the young, knowing how to find likely strategies in order to achieve shared goals, knowing how to coordinate, through teamwork, mutual activity, common responsibility on the part of each; it means together building a culture of Salesian Family.

Each of us, then, each Group of the Salesian Family, must harmonise its activity as part of an overall project: each with its own role, each with its own specifics, competence, area.
Apostolic communion is to be understood as a strengthening and appreciation for each one's originality. The Groups are not identical, but their diversity enriches the Family. It is important, however, to network in order to be more effective.
The Salesian charism is very rich and is expressed, shown, in the specific nature of the various realities which make up the Family. The young have the right to be able to benefit from the specific service each Group can offer. Diverse interventions, but with common and coordianted objectives, can achieve better results.

From this arises the urgency of giving rise to, (where they still do not exist, or revitalise them where they do, the local organisation that helps coordinate Salesian forces: Salesian Family Advisory Councils (Consulta), both Provincial and local, the various teams and working commissions.
Each Group, besides, in its own planning, should foresee the possibility and concrete ways of collaborating and sharing responsibility between two or more Groups or all the Groups at work in the same area.

This does not mean, however, simply finding ways to collaborate amongst the various Salesian Family situations, trying to square the circle, so to speak, as happens sometimes - but I don't want to be naughty! - the problem of the ... “family with too many children”, leading to the question :  “Who on earth are this last lot to arrive!?”, but instead rethinking ourselves as a rich, unique family discovering better, with “wonder”, how  “new shoots” come about in the strong plant that is our charism.
 “TOGETHER” has to become our catchword:
- together to feel that educational concern for so many young people without a point of reference.
- together experiencing the preventive system, although in our various vocational ways.
- together growing in transforming the Salesian spirit into life, taking on Don Bosco's style.
- together being able to look for answers to situations in today's world.
- together becoming aware of being part of that great movement Don Bosco so desired.
- together sleeves rolled up, as Don Bosco wanted, creatively, with sacrifice and joy, being able to run the road of holiness the Lord has desired for us.
Only thus will we be faithful to what we hahve been called to be.
Ours is a strongly Marian spirituality. Many of the Groups in our Salesian Family refer to mary in the title they bear. Let us all look to her as the model of a woman who knew how to welcome the Saviour in her own being to bear him and proclaim him to the world with the tenderness of a Mother; like “SHE WHO HAS DONE EVERYTHING” and continues to be for us the Teacher of service and availability.
We turn to her to say:
Mother of our Salesian vocation,
- You were the point of unity and sign of communion amongst the first disciples, when discouragement reigned amongst them. Help us to renew the joy of our 'Yes' and commit ourselves, united, to bring hope;
- You bore within you the Lord of history. Help us to grow in passion for God and the world;
- You  went quickly to find your cousin Elizabeth. Help us to have “an open heart and willing feet  to go in search of the young;
- From that famous dream on you accompanied young John and changed him into a Father and Teacher.  Help us to be fruitful, fearless, creative, joyous, ready to give our lives until our last breath.

 Rome, 24 January 2009

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