We Must Be Able to Attract Youth, Salesian Says

Interview with Father Pascual Chávez Villanueva, New Superior

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ROME, APRIL 15, 2002 (ZENIT.orgAvvenire).- Mexican Father Pascual Chávez Villanueva, recently elected the rector major of the Salesians, says the greatest challenge facing the congregation is to be faithful to its identity “to attract youth.”

Q: Let´s talk about the General Chapter, which opened in February and is continuing for a few more days. What were the main topics?

Father Chávez: The chapter reflection focused on two groups of topics. The first regards government structures, in order to make them more flexible and coordinated for better service to provinces and inspectorates. The second: the community, because much depends on it for the life of brothers, the evangelical visibility we should transmit, the ability to involve forces that cooperate in the area of evangelization, and to offer better quality.

Q: Are you worried about the numerical decline of vocations?

Father Chávez: It is not that worrying yet. Countries like Italy, France, Spain, Ireland are suffering a marked decline; however, in others, such as India, there is a notable impulse. In Europe, Poland is very energetic. Latin America confirms its numbers, so the situation is not as dramatic as it would be if the congregation were only based on Europe.

At the same time, we must not lose sight of what is happening; hence, we must be vigilant.

Q: Do you agree with those who say that the response to the decline in vocations is quality formation?

Father Chávez: The effort made over the past six years has been to update formation, to try to respond to the needs of the culturally new youth who joins the Salesian ranks. His sensitivity is different from ours; he is a child of the times. Formation should have a human foundation, also a means of greater personalization to guarantee more solidity and vocational consistency. The solution is certainly not quantity but quality.

Q: Sociological studies indicate that today´s youths have greater difficulty in committing themselves to ultimate options. What is your opinion?

Father Chávez: On one side, we can say that youths have very intense values, different from those of my generation, for example, but strong. However, they have weaknesses, such as the lack of decision to make ultimate choices in the long term or forever, as our perpetual profession is for us.

However, it is not such a generalized situation, because there are groups that follow itineraries of human and spiritual growth, of ecclesial commitment. Thus, we have very strong Salesians in our ranks.

Q: The chapter decided to restrict the rector major´s term of office to two terms. Why?

Father Chávez: It was a proposal put forward already six years ago. At that time, the chapter failed to approve it by one vote. A longer term is not excluded because an appeal can always be made to the Holy See for a repeal. However, in general we think that the rector major´s service is so intense that 12 years are sufficient to offer a quality service to the congregation, which in any case always needs alternation, novelty, renewal.

Q: What is the congregation´s greatest challenge today?

Father Chávez: It is in line with the pastoral program of “Novo Millennio Ineunte”: the primacy of God. The Pope asks us to contemplate Christ, to seek a mystical experience that will allow us to go beyond adherence and lead to profound existential involvement, to begin again from Christ and look at the world, but based on the confidence of Christian hope.

The challenge is to be Salesians with a profound identity, to offer it to our youths and be able to attract them, to fascinate them by our vocation.

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