ROME, FEB. 28, 2002 ( Youths today need holy teachers who can help them make sense of a fragmented world, the vicar general of the Salesians said at the opening of the congregation´s General Chapter.

One of the main items on the agenda of the meeting which opened Monday is to elect a successor to the rector major, Father Juan Edmundo Vecchi, who recently died.

The vicar general, Father Luc Van Looy, in his address said the world of youth changes quickly.

"Faith does not find easy citizenship among youths," he said. "The person of Christ and his message are either absent or little known, the sense of sin has dimmed, and justification of one´s acts and positions is guided by one´s own way of thinking and feeling."

"This makes more difficult the role of the educator who wishes to communicate the principal values of life," Father Van Looy noted.

Youth must be offered an "integral proposal, ... models that unify in a consistent and shared way all that is separated and fragmented in society," the vicar general said. "Our communities must continue to make the effort to show that fraternal unity and the sharing of common goals is possible."

According to Father Van Looy, the world today needs "holy persons, able to light the vocational flame in youths."

The Salesian vicar acknowledged that some educators seem "tired of struggling, of working without seeing any results, of addressing a disoriented world."

"Some Brothers think of their work more as professional work than apostolic," he said. "Expressions of spiritual life and prayer do not always correspond with what youths seek."

The Salesians, with more than 17,000 religious and 1,850 houses, constitute one of the Church´s most important congregations dedicated to education.

The vicar general said the congregation is "in the vanguard of evangelization, in contact with other religions, in ecumenical situations, in territories of the greatest economic, human and cultural poverty."

In the Middle East, the Salesians are beginning projects in Kuwait and Iraq, he said. In Asia and Australia, they are expanding with houses in Nepal and Japan, the Solomon Islands, Pakistan and the Fiji Islands. Salesians´ work in Asia is contributing to interreligious dialogue, the vicar added.

In Africa, the Salesians have new communities in Malawi, Namibia, the Island of Mauritius, and Zimbabwe. The Holy See has entrusted a new apostolic prefecture in Gambela, Ethiopia, to Don Bosco´s sons.

Father Van Looy´s suggested that the Salesians should "reflect on the effect of our action when the works become too big and complex, given the limited number of Salesian religious."

"One must ask oneself, in such conditions, to what point we succeed in communicating the spirit of Don Bosco to the lay collaborators and to what point we succeed in effectively making our recipients solid and honest citizens and persons committed to the criteria of the good Christian," Father Van Looy concluded.