The celebration of Don Bosco’s Salesian Family has begun in Rome. Until January 22, some 370 of its members are in the Eternal City for the Days of Spirituality. “Perfect attunement of affection and contents with Pope Francis” is the spirit with which the Major Rector, Father Angel Fernandez Artime gives the 2017 Gift to the world. The message of the tenth successor of Saint John Bosco is, above all, a “Salesian comment” of the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, which brings together, with concrete suggestions, the Salesian realities of 132 countries.
Father Eusebio Munoz, delegate of the Major Rector, introduces us to Father Angel to know directly from his words the meaning of this annual special event.
ZENIT: Father Angel, you and the Mother General of the Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians, attend this international meeting every year. What meaning does it assume in 2017?
Father Fernandez: There are many meetings during the year but the Days of Spirituality are truly special — an occasion to come together as a Religious Family of the Church. It is a great joy to see again representatives from five Continents and, this year also, we remind ourselves that we are not a family for ourselves, but to go to encounter others. The theme chosen, in fact, is: We Are a Family! Every House <Is a> School of Life and Love.
ZENIT: In your trips you also meet and come close to suffering families. How do you react to the news of marriages in crisis or disintegrated families?
Father Fernandez: The answer I stimulate in all of us Salesians is empathy to these sufferings. From the reading of the Gift the importance of this word emerges, so that it can really be translated into understanding of all those who live in the pain of the crisis of bonds.
In the face of a great or small problem, encouragement must not be lacking, because, if we get rid of the problem, we are not aware of the more important values that can be recovered. The problem must be accompanied in the light of faith. But be careful: accompaniment must never be lacking, as a true attitude of service to families. This is the way we wish to follow with families, but also with younger ones on the way to marriage.
ZENIT: As Pastor of many boys and girls, you have stressed the importance of understanding, of empathy and of closeness. How is all this possible in a flock that is so extensive as is that of the Salesian Family?
Father Fernandez: These three elements that you have mentioned are methodological, but first of all we focus on him who keeps us always united: the Founder, Saint John Bosco. Don Bosco is a gift that draws to unity everywhere, even where humanly one could imagine that a break would occur. Because, as a Religious Family, in the diversity among so many persons we reaffirm the importance of Faith, which is the center of all action. In the 162 years of the Congregation’s history, communion has never been lacking, because it is nourished by the Holy Spirit, who has entrusted us all to the Saint of Valdocco.
ZENIT: Assessing the celebrations of the Bicentenary of the Founder’s birth, what fruits are maturing in the Congregation?
Father Fernandez: Among the very numerous meetings, I’m thinking of that of Turin, with 5,000 young people, or of that of Buenos Aires, in the Eucharistic Celebration with 12,000 youngsters. I don’t hide my having yielded to emotion during the trip to Ghana to visit the new Don Bosco House, which houses 38 young people, between boys and girls of the street. The new realities that have emerged in India are also a stupendous, unexpected fruit.