Thursday, March 27, 2008

Da mihi animas: Credibility and witness

Fr. Fidel asked me to write an article about the 2008 strenna of the rector major. Roughly speaking, a strenna is a battle cry issued by the rector major to the entire family, but more than an empty catchphrase, it leads the members of the Salesian family to unify their efforts into achieving tasks or overcoming challenges in connection with the mission. Yeah, this one is verbose but that's how I understood what strenna means.

Anyway, below is this year's strenna:

Let us educate with the heart of Don Bosco to develop to their full potential the lives of young people, especially the poorest and most disadvantaged, promoting their rights.

I'd like to write something about the strenna. Perhaps, in the next entry, I could share the article, but in this entry, let me share with you something that I bumped into with while I was researching about the article.

When the rector major visited the Philippines five years ago, he wrote the following observations:

In my opinion the most outstanding of our works in this Province are the Technological Training Centres run by the confreres in both town and rural areas, aimed by preference at caring for youngsters who have dropped out from systematic and institutional education. There is a firm commitment to give effect to a decision made in the last Provincial Chapter to strengthen the rural professional formation centres, in view of the fact that the Philippines continues to be fundamentally an agricultural country, with 75% of its young people living outside the towns. I found that we are working consistently for street-children, with three significant foundations. In particular I would point to the work at Tondo, a real slum, one of the poorest and most densely populated parts of Manila where the Salesians are a sign of hope and life. I must confess that I was deeply moved at seeing the determination of these people to live, and their ability to believe in their own future, in the knowledge that they are loved and accompanied by the Salesians and the Salesian Sisters. (emphasis mine)

In this Province (FIS) too, our work in favour of street-children and abandoned people is very significant.

Visiting the oratory of Pasil, in one of the poorest parts of Cebu, I noticed how fruitful is the work done by our confreres among the youngsters, and how well developed is the religious sense among the people, even though there is still need for much to be done in the way of social advancement. The work is very similar to that at Tondo. Seeing our confreres working in such places and what they do for young people reminds us of our humble origins and ensures the success which is the fruit of fidelity. I can tell you that being among them made me feel proud to be a Salesian!

I haven't been to Tondo; hence, I cannot say something about it. But I've been to Pasil. Although I've not been assigned there (I was dying to!) I heard for myself so many splendid stories about how Salesian work has been greatly felt in that setting. How rascals and tattoed people, both young and old, were converted to serve the parish and the community. It's more than inspiring especially because I saw the setting myself. And therefore, I can share with the affirming tenor of the rector major how he approved of these Salesian works.

Interestingly, he did not mention about the "posh" academic settings in the Philippines where Salesians have also been working for years. Maybe the rector major was writing in a limited time and space, but I got his message. Don Bosco worked for the poor then. And the Salesians who are working for the poor now continue to reincarnate the saintly priest by the name of Don Bosco.

His positive comment should continually serve as a pat on the back on those Salesians who have been assigned to the "poorer" settings, those who have laboriously working, with their apostolic zeal, in these settings.

The second part of the letter, you will read below, is, I read it, a soft scolding, a mandate, given to the concerned Salesians. Please do the reading yourself:

The massive presence of youngsters in our works and their openness to suggestions of a religious nature is gratifying from one aspect, but it makes you wonder why vocations are so scarce at present. This year there are only five novices between China and the Philippines: Manila has 1, Cebu 2, and China 2. I think this should make us think very deeply. The first consideration that comes spontaneously to mind is that there is perhaps the lack of a more competent and productive follow-up of the numerous groups of young people that we look after in our environments with a true spirit of sacrifice, or that we are not putting proposals to them in a clear, decisive and convincing manner. What is needed is not only presence among youngsters but also credibility and witness, an educative environment that breathes salesianity, a professional approach to management but even more so to the mystique and spirituality of “Da mihi animas”; in other words communities are needed whose members love the young and are signs of Christ’s love for them.

What do you think?