I had been looking forward to the ``Post Chapter Reflections`` in the context of the General Chapter ending prematurely due to the Corona outbreak and the Chapter entrusting to the General Council the tasks of integrating the Provincial Chapter reflections and proposing guidelines and directives. I am glad the Rector Major has presented these within five months of the Chapter closing.
The document covers very important aspects of the renewal of Salesian life and there are some statements that deserve special attention. These I believe will deepen Salesian identity and formation.
However, my overriding feeling after going through the document is that it does not break any new ground. I had been enthused and energized by the 6-year priorities that the newly elected Rector Major had proposed at the end of GC27. I had then felt that those proposals, if carried out, would be truly transformational. I am much less enthused and energized by the current document, although it has some very much needed directives.
Since the topic of the General Chapter was discussed by the Provincial Chapters under three themes (1. Priority of the Mission with the youth; 2. Profile of the Salesian today; 3. Shared mission between Salesians and laity), I was hoping that the post-Chapter reflections would be under these headings with a brief synopsis of the contributions from the provincial chapters. Unfortunately it is not so. The Rector Major presents 8 sections in general, dealing with various aspects of our life and mission, without any specific reference to the three themes. I also wish that these 8 sections had been prioritised in terms of importance or urgency.
Although there are some specific directives, the proposals made are mostly generic and repetition of what we already know and are already found in existing sources. I feel the document on the whole could have been more crisp and brief and the proposals fewer and more precise. Eliminating what are only exhortations would have contributed to this. When proposals and directives are precise and few, there is greater likelihood that these will be implemented. Here I recall that the Moderator of the GC28 had asked Provincial Chapters to be very brief and precise in their contributions and had even restricted the space within which to make these contributions - one page!
I like now to share my impressions and highlight some of the positives in THE RECTOR MAJOR`S ACTION PROGRAMME
1. SALESIAN OF DON BOSCO FOREVER
In this first section the Rector Major prioritises ``the sequela Christi, the following of Christ, as the foundation of our identity and formation as consecrated disciple, and not ``new projects, nor in strategic plans.``
The rector major here outlines ``the traits of our charismatic identity as consecrated individuals that make us prophetic signs: a happy life with its roots in the Gospel, a strong faith anchored in God; a communion that makes our community life attractive, a prophetic attitude in the face of injustice and evil, and an outlook of hope along with the desire for conversion.`` This list provides food for a good examination of conscience.
2. In a Congregation where the ``DA MIHI ANIMAS CETERA TOLLE`` Is URGENT
In this section the Rector Major repeats a theme we have heard again and again: ``it is necessary and urgent that our Congregation live, breathe and continue on its path, endeavouring to make the ``Da mihi animas, cetera tolle`` a reality through proclamation of the Gospel on behalf of our young people and for our own good.``
However he gives a new focus to education to faith as an expression of the ``Da mihi animas...`` calling for commitment on the part of the entire congregation ``over these six years to taking appropriate decisions to qualify the Salesian presence in evangelisation and education to the faith.``
3. LIVING THE ``SALESIAN SACRAMENT`` OF PRESENCE
Here the Rector Major quotes from Pope Francis`s message to the Chapter: ``Even before things that need to be done, the Salesian is a living reminder of a presence in which availability, listening, joy and dedication are the essential features which give rise to processes. The gratuitousness of presence saves the Congregation from any activist obsession and from any kind of technical and functional reductionism. The first call is to be a joyful and gratuitous presence among young people.``
Referring to the Young People`s Letter to GC 28 and the Chapter reflection on it in First Nucleus, No 5, the Rector Major writes: ``They ask us for time and we give them space; they ask us for relationships and we provide them with services; they ask us for fraternal life and we offer them structures; they ask us for friendship and we provide activities for them. All this commits us to rediscovering the riches and potential of the `family spirit```
He further adds: ``Allow me to remind you that presence today also touches on the digital world, a new real areopagus for us, a habitat for today`s young people. Here too we need to be present with a clear Salesian identity, with the desire to bring the proclamation of the good news, and simply with the joy and simplicity of disciples of the Lord``
This priority to be given to presence characterized by ``availability, listening, joy and dedication`` over action, and the need to be present with the young in the digital world, I believe, is a necessary corrective to the current overemphasis on performance and traditional ways of accompaniment.
4. FORMATION FOR BEING SALESIAN PASTORS TODAY
This is a section that I found very relevant and meaningful. The rector Major presents formation as a ``handicraft.`` He states emphatically that ``there is no more room for `mass-production.`` He continues: ``The craftsperson speaks about unique works of art, art that is handmade, one-to-one.`` This individual formation is going to be a big challenge.
He also refers to the role women have to play in formation. Here he quotes from Pope Francis`s message to GC28: ``Without a real, effective and affective presence of women, your works would lack the courage and the ability to transform presence into hospitality, into a home.`` I believe the presence of women in the formation team will have a transformative impact on formation. It will also help to change the biases, prejudices and fears that many Salesians have in regard to women.
However, I am deeply disappointed that there is not a single reference to the affective dimension of life and its implication for formation. In the current problems facing the Church as a whole, and the congregation in particular in regard to failures in the affective dimension, this lack of reference, I believe is a serious lacuna. Documents from the General Council issued between GC27 and GC 28 had given significant importance to the affective dimension in formation. I wish this importance was reflected in the 6-year plan on formation.
5. ABSOLUTE PRIORITY FOR THE YOUNG, THE POOREST AND MOST ABANDONED AND DEFENCELESS
In this section the Rector Major makes a clarion call to the Salesians to return to heart of our charism. ``Dear confreres,`` he writes, ``it would be the death-knell of our Congregation if we were to distance ourselves from the poorest.`` The Rector Major concretely spells out what this involves: ``It is a question of asking us for a radical, preferential, personal, institutional and structural option for the most needy, poor and excluded young people, an option that must show up in a special way, in the defence of boys, girls and young people who have been exploited and are victims of any kind of abuse: from sexual abuse to any other kind of exploitation; from abuse caused by any kind of violence; from the abuse of manifest and clear injustice to any kind of abuse of power. I believe that this challenge is a great commitment that every Salesian must carry in his heart.``
Here the Rector Major gives a clear specific directive: ``In every Salesian presence in the world and in every province, the necessary decisions must be taken so that the poorest children and young people in the places where we are present are never excluded from any Salesian house.``
If we are to carry out this preferential option, and the directive, I believe we will have to take some courageous decisions on the focus of our mission and in regard to formation, as well our style of functioning.
The Rector Major also gives the following directive: ``In every Salesian Province and Salesian house there will be a code of ethics for the care, prevention and defence of the minors entrusted to us, with the commitment to protect them from any kind of abuse, wherever it comes from.`` We have been talking for ages in our Provinces about his need for code of ethics, and despite a law passed by the Indian government that asks for policies and procedures in place in all institutions, very little has been done to have these in place. It is time we woke up.
(Here I recall that when a proposal was made in the GC27, for a clear statement from the Chapter on the Abuse of Minors, it was rejected through a special intervention by the President of the Chapter. This despite the then Provincial of Australia making an impassioned request for one, as he had to face the Royal Commission immediately on returning to his province on allegation of sexual abuse by one of his confreres. A policy statement from the Congregation, he had said, would be of great help to him and very necessary need of the times. For me personally that intervention had been deeply disappointing and troubling. I am glad that there has been a rethink and a sense of urgency on the topic.)
6. TOGETHER WITH LAY PEOPLE IN THE MISSION AND IN FORMATION
In this section the Rector Major writes: ``We must examine ourselves in the light of this perspective and verify the extent the journey of the Congregation, of every Province and of every confrere is moving in this direction that expresses our charismatic identity so well.`` ``This,`` he writes, ``demands from us in many cases a decisive change of perspective. ...It is essential to take further steps in common and joint formation, especially in those aspects that relate to knowing and living our shared charism.``
This is an area to which the Rector Major had given great attention in the 6-year plan he had proposed after GC 27 and which he had presented as a major imperative to maintain the Salesian identity. The Rector Major concedes that there are cultural differences and exigencies in regard to this which has slowed down implementation. Though some progress has been made, much more needs to be done, he writes. Here he emphasises ``in a particular and firm way that the shared mission with lay people`` ought to give ``priority to having members of the Salesian Family in our presences.``
In this context the Rector Major writes: ``I do not hide from you, dear confreres, that I am concerned about the tendency of some of our young confreres who yearn, I would almost dare say vehemently, to finish their formative stages in order to see themselves with authority, positions and responsibilities before the laity. It is a tendency that runs totally contrary to the path we wish to undertake as a Congregation.`` He recommends as part of the formation process, ``The experience of working with and under the direction of lay people during practical training.``
7. IT IS THE TIME FOR GENEROSITY IN THE CONGREGATION
In this section the Rector Major emphases the need for giving up parochial thinking - ``to face reality with a renewed mentality which allows us to `cross borders``` and being generous at the service of the entire congregation. He calls on ``the availability of the confreres and the generous response of the provinces`` in this regard and encouraged the formation of ``international and intercultural communities`` for a further push to our missionary enterprise. In this context he mentions the coming centenary of the first Missionary expedition to the North East of India. (The formation of international and intercultural communities is something that GC27 had already proposed.``
This idea of giving up parochial thinking and willingness to cross borders is especially relevant in the context of growing exclusionary and ethnocentric mentality both in the Congregation and the world.
8. ACCOMPANYING THE YOUNG TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE,
This section is a response to Pope Francis`s ``Laudato si`` and his message to the Chapter, as well as the requests from the young people to the Congregation.
In this section, the Rector Major makes the following proposal. ``Listening to the worldwide cry of so many young people today, WE SALESIANS COMMIT ourselves to BEING CREDIBLE WITNESSES, personally and as a community, of CONVERSION in caring for Creation and Ecological Spirituality.``
This is followed by a directive: ``Every province in the world will respond, through the Provincial Delegate for Youth Ministry, to the request to make our schools, education centres, university campuses, oratories, parishes, educational models of care for the environment and for nature. As a Salesian option in education we must include action on behalf of creation: care for nature, climate and sustainable development.``
The Rector Major also proposes that the ``Congregation undertake to achieve 100% of renewable energy for all provinces around the world before 2032.``
These proposals and directives challenge Salesians become partners in a growing global movement, dear to the heart of young people and to Pope Francis. These also challenge us to change the priorities in our educational and pastoral mission. However, in the context of non-availability of renewal energy and dependence on fossil fuels in many parts of the world, the 2032 target appears to me to be unrealizable. I wonder why 2032? What is its significance?
The Rector Major concludes ``this road map for the journey over these six years`` inviting the Congregation to rely on Hope and the Holy Spirit.
The document is issued on the 205th anniversary of Don Bosco`s birth. A thought that came to me as I finished reading this ``roadmap`` is: What would be the roadmap Don Bosco would place before the Congregation, in the context of today`s global realities, if he were alive today?
Jose Parappully SDB
16 August 2020
My offering to the Salesians and to Don Bosco on his Birth Anniversary.