A series of upcoming events such as the exposition of the Holy Shroud of Turin were presented Feb. 6, marking the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Saint John Bosco.
At a conference for the presentation of the events, ZENIT interviewed the Major Rector of the Salesians, Father Pascual Chavez, who commented on Pope Francis’ Salesian background and made a small evaluation of his own two six-year mandates as Superior General of the Salesians. We offer our readers his considerations as well as one of the answers of the Superior and of Monsignor Mario Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
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ZENIT: After two six-year mandates as Superior of the Salesians, what evaluation can you make?
Father Chavez: I always say that I was given a lovely task, that of embodying Don Bosco, which implies a great dignity because he is a very fascinating figure. It’s enough to give a biography of him to a young man to see how he is delighted with his likeableness and his very natural way of being, almost congenital in his relation with the boys. However, at the same time it is a great responsibility to be able to hand over the Congregation in a good state of health after 12 years. And I hope to be able to do this.
ZENIT: What is the situation of the Congregation in the world? Is it still growing?
Father Chavez: We have grown because now we are in 132 countries, although in Europe there is a decrease because of a problem of the society: there are no children for families, there are no children for the Church, there is a profound demographic problem which has its repercussion in social life, and from that point of view there is a contraction. Instead, the great vocational flowering today is to be found in Asia. In India alone we have 2,600 vocations, and we have Provinces, such as Vietnam, with more than 350. In Latin America, instead, I am more preoccupied by the situation, because it is identifying more with the European model, even more than with the North American model, and although the seminaries are full, this is not true of the Houses of Religious, and there is something here that we must study.
ZENIT: And now, with a Pope like Francis, who is also somewhat Salesian?
Father Chavez: The Pope is Latin American; he knows everything well. About his being somewhat of a Salesian, it is said that he is a Pope who has a Franciscan name, a habit like the Dominicans (because it is all white) and he is a Jesuit, and although we don’t dare to say he is Salesian, he himself has said that he was greatly influenced by us.
During the conference, ZENIT asked Father Pascual if it is just a coincidence to have a Pope like Francis on the second centenary of Don Bosco’s birth.
The Major Rector pointed out that “the 200 years of Don Bosco’s birth coincide happily with this pontificate. As you know, Francis was a pupil of ours. What is interesting is that he wasn’t only a pupil. His parents lived on the road that leads to Baldocco, near Turin. Then, when they emigrated to Argentina they arrived at a center of ours — Mary Help of Christians — in the neighborhood of Almagro, where a Salesian founded the San Lorenzo de Almagro Club, and he was there not only with the school of Bernal.”
“It is a happy coincidence,” said Father Pascual, “but above all he has come to give a breath of fresh air, not only to the Church but also to society. Because his is a new vision of the world, in which we must see the many elements of good that there are to put them in synergy to resolve the world’s problems, in order not to have only a myopic vision of some problems of a dogmatic or pastoral nature.
“Like Don Bosco who said that one must begin with the satisfaction of essential needs — of food and housing. It is no use to talk to them about God when they have empty stomachs, because it is also cynical to say that God is Father when things are this way. He has come to change the concept of Church, which he presented not as a transatlantic ship but as a fishermen’s boat in which there is a very warm welcome. It is a new way of understanding the exercise of priority.
“And that is why I say that he is a gift, not only for the Church but also for society. It makes sense that he is now one of the leaders. Even the Rolling Stones have put him on their cover. It is a happy coincidence but above all it is a gift of God.”
On replying to ZENIT, Monsignor Toso, who is also a Salesian, pointed out that “there is an attunement between the Salesian charism and Pope Francis’ sensibility,” as he says in his testimony which was published in L’Osservatore Romano, “in which he gives witness that he so imbibed the Salesian spirit that when he engaged in the apostolate in San Miguel, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, he was accused of Salesianizing the work of the Jesuits. There were neighborhoods without pastoral care and he was worried about the young people and about being a crypto-Salesian.”
“And it is interesting to see in this letter that he took up what is essential of the Salesian charism. He says that the Salesians welcomed him affectionately. And he commented in some parts of the letter, that with the Salesians he also learned to study systematically, and that these things configured a Catholic culture,” he concluded.