Challenges of the Salesian Family

Interview With Father P. Chávez, Rector Major

ROME, MAY 8, 2006 ( The response to new poverties — emotional, cultural and religious — is one of the characteristics of the Salesian Family, explains St. John Bosco’s ninth successor.

In this interview, Mexican-born Father Pascual Chávez Villanueva addresses the way in which Salesians now live the charism bequeathed by their founder.

Q: In general, one does not speak of the Salesian congregation but of the “Salesian Family.” Who makes up this family and what is their relationship within it?

Father Chávez: Indeed, Don Bosco, more than a founder of a masculine congregation, a feminine institute and a lay association, was the founder of a very great apostolic spiritual movement, which we call the Salesian Family.

To the three original groups of Salesians, Daughters of Mary Help of Christians and Cooperators, have been added, as the fruit of the wealth of the Salesian charism, many more groups that explain facets of the same charism and enrich it.

Today the Salesian Family, which I like to compare to a tree, has 24 officially recognized branches and has many more that, without belonging officially, are in the process of growth and consolidation in view of their full acceptance or identification with Don Bosco’s Family.

In it the rector major, specifically in his capacity as successor of Don Bosco, is the father and center of unity, so that, while respecting the autonomy of each branch, the point of charismatic reference is always the rector major. It is expressed this way in their different life projects: constitutions, rules and statutes.

Q: When reference is made to the “Salesian charism in the Church,” what does it mean? What does it refer to, specifically?

Father Chávez: Don Bosco’s spiritual and apostolic experience, recognized by the Church first through the approval of the constitutions, and authenticated by his canonization, is a gift of the Spirit for the Church.

This means that the Salesian charism is the peculiar way of life of the Salesians, fruit of consecration to the Lord through religious profession, which is expressed through the mission in favor of youths, especially the most poor and abandoned and [those] in psycho-social risk, carried out by the communities with their own pedagogy and spirituality, that is, the Preventive System.

In its quality of “charism” it is a gift of the Spirit and, as such, is at the service of the Church, of her life and her mission.

This charism may be lived by consecrated and lay persons, priests and lay people, adults and young people, but it is always characterized by its inspiration in Don Bosco, in his great convictions, by the passion of the “Da mihi animas” [Give me souls], which was Don Bosco’s program, by devotion to Mary Help of Christians.

Q: As rector major of the Salesians, we imagine you have a wide-ranging global vision of our world of today, particularly in relation to the situation of youths. What are the needs and urgencies that you detect in our world of today, especially in the so-called young planet?

Father Chávez: There is no doubt that, given that it is a congregation present in 130 countries worldwide, the rector major has the privilege of acquiring a very wide and global vision of the world in general and of the “young planet” in particular.

The needs and urgencies of our world are synthesized, it seems to me, in the four words with which John Paul II addressed, for the last time, the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See: peace, bread, life and freedom. They are fundamental rights of the human person and of nations, which no government can fail to accept.

Peace is not simply the absence of wars and conflicts but the creation of those social conditions that make possible nations’ harmonious sustained growth.

We must be convinced that war does no more than cause destruction and death, slow down the economies of countries and delay the establishment of democracy. Wars are of interest only to arms traffickers.

Bread is the right of every person to indispensable nutrition to be able to ensure his growth and the development of all his human potential, which is strongly compromised when hunger leads to underdevelopment of the faculties and, often, to death.

It is unacceptable that, having the capacity to produce food for humanity, there are millions of people who die of hunger and thirst every year.

Life means the defense of human life from the moment of conception until death, but also the very quality of life that depends on satisfactory basics, above all, the meaning of life. No one is unaware today that life is threatened from the first until the last moment and that its meaning is increasingly obscured.

Freedom, one of the essential dimensions of the human person, is what most assures the possibility of man or woman to self-determination and to live his or her personal and social history responsibly. To speak of freedom is to speak of all its expressions: social, psychological and religious.

In regard to the “young planet,” the first thing I would say is that only concrete youths exist, in the reality of their social, political, economic and cultural conditions and contexts. Therefore, it is difficult, not to say impossible, to speak of their needs and urgencies.

For some it will be what is indispensable to survive, for others the family, or education, or employment or the meaning of life.

However, with Don Bosco I say that all youths have an enormous need to be happy and that they ask — at times without knowing how — that someone accompany them on the path of life and teach them the formula to be happy for ever, here and in eternity.

Q: What contribution does the congregation and Salesian Family make to these needs and urgencies?

Father Chávez: The congregation — and the whole Salesian Family — carries out its mission in three great areas of activity: human promotion, education and evangelization. Through this diversified presence we seek to be attentive and to respond in the measure of our possibilities to the needs of humanity.

Human promotion is expressed in all the works and activities which range from hospitals, hospices, soup kitchens and cooperatives, to the recovery of drug addicts, care of street children and victims of sexual tourism.

Education occupies the greater part of our presence through thousands of schools, professional formation centers, agriculture schools, university centers, oratories and youth centers.

Evangelization and catechesis are always the objective and reason of our pastoral activity, so they are present not only in parishes, shrines, churches, chaplaincies, spirituality centers and missions but also in the activities and works of promotion and education.

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