Friday 27 June 2014

Rector Major Grand Chancellor

Just learnt today that the Rector Major of the Salesians is the Grand Chancellor not only of the Salesian Pontifical University but also of the Auxilium Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (Pontificia Facoltà di Scienze dell'Educazione, Rome) - the reason being that, under current legislation, only bishops and superior generals of male religious institutes can be Grand Chancellors. Not an easy pill to swallow, I guess. And a very well kept secret. 

Sunday 22 June 2014

Camus and Christ

On Albert Camus, now hardly mentioned, it would appear, in our philosophates: "a century on from his birth, study of his work shows a man fascinated by Christ and impressed by sacrifice and solidarity." Julius Purcell, "Stranger than Fiction," The Tablet (2 November 2013) 15-16. 

Thursday 19 June 2014

Formazione dei formatori - l'esperienza di Maurizio Verlezza

“Questa obbedienza è sbagliata, ma tu non sbagli ad obbedire”
Il dono di 6 anni vissuti nella formazione

Maurizio Verlezza, SDB
Direttore, comunità San Tarcisio, Roma 

0.     Introduzione
“Questa obbedienza è sbagliata, ma tu non sbagli ad obbedire”. Sono le parole che mi ha rivolto il vescovo di Latina, Mons. Giuseppe Petrocchi, quando sono andato a comunicargli la mia nuova obbedienza come direttore del postnoviziato di San Tarcisio. Allora ero parroco della Cattedrale di Latina ed avevo collaborato tanto con lui nella pastorale della diocesi.
Personalmente condividevo in pieno il pensiero del vescovo: sentivo che questa obbedienza era sbagliataa, per i tanti motivi che ho provato a comunicare a tutti i miei superiori: dal Rettor Maggiore, al suo Vicario, al consigliere per la Formazione. Ma nessuno sembrava ascoltare le mie ragioni.

1.     “Questa obbedienza è sbagliata…”
L’errore che io intravvedevo nella scelta mi sembrava abbastanza palese. Ero solo al secondo anno di attività pastorale nella parrocchia di San Marco a Latina, come direttore-parroco. Avevo appena iniziato, dopo lo studio della situazione giovanile, un Progetto Educativo Pastorale. La comunità parrocchiale era fortemente disorientata: in dieci anni aveva vissuto l’avvicendamento di cinque parroci, con tutto quello che questo comporta per il cammino di una Comunità Educativa Pastorale.
Mi sentivo inadeguato e impreparato al compito che mi veniva assegnato. Non avevo nessuna preparazione specifica in campo formativo. Il momento delicato che vive la formazione dei salesiani di don Bosco, con le diverse defezioni dei giovani consacrati, mi convinceva ancora di più che ci sarebbero volute persone con un altro tipo di esperienza.
Tutte le difficoltà portate nei vari colloqui non venivano ascoltate. Alla fine ho presentato anche le mie debolezze più personali e la mia partecipazione al Movimento dei Focolari, che da qualche superiore era stata definita “una doppia appartenenza”.
Anche quest’ultima difficoltà non è stata accolta e quindi ho obbedito con la convinzione nell’anima che quell’obbedienza era sbagliata.
Arrivato a San Tarcisio trovavo continue conferme alla mie convinzioni: l’equipe dei formatori era tutta rinnovata, nessuna consegna fatta, nessun programma ricevuto e la percezione che la comunità che mi veniva affidata aveva vissuto serie problematiche negli anni precedenti. Mi ritornava il pensiero: questa obbedienza è sbagliata!

2.     “Ma tu non sbagli ad obbedire…”
Da subito mi sono affidato alla Divina Provvidenza: con la preghiera personale, con l’aiuto di diversi monasteri di clausura e con il gemellaggio con i nostri confratelli ammalati presenti nelle nostre infermerie ispettoriali salesiane.
Poi ho chiesto aiuto a persone competenti ed esperte nell’ambito della formazione sia all’interno della Congregazione salesiana, sia nelle altre congregazioni, grazie ai tanti religiosi conosciuti in questi anni, grazie al Movimento dei Focolari.
Mi sono, poi, informato sui percorsi formativi che potevano essere alla mia portata. Grazie a Mons Vincenzo Zani, Segretario delle Congregazione dell’Educazione Cattolica, mi son iscritto al corso per Formatori dell’Università Gregoriana di Roma.
Con grande meraviglia mi sono ritrovato nel corso con religiosi di diverse congregazioni, tutti più giovani di me. Mi era stato anche comunicato che con me avrebbero fatto un’eccezione, vista la mia età. Nel mio corso erano presenti i futuri maestri di noviziato, i futuri direttori di postnoviziato e di teologato. Inoltre ho scoperto che potevo accedere al corso solo dopo aver superato un esame di ammissione che avrebbe verificato la duttilità al cambiamento della mia personalità.
Il percorso formativo si basa sulla capacità del futuro formatore di integrare, attraverso un percorso di accompagnamento personale, la dimensioni affettive psicologiche con quella spirituale. Si diventa accompagnatori solo quando si è iniziato un serio processo di accompagnamento che dura tutta la vita.
Per tre anni sono stato accompagnato da un sacerdote psicologo che mi ha incontrato due volte la settimana. Con lui ho fatto un grande viaggio nella mia vita interiore alla ricerca delle mie ricchezze umane-spirituali e delle  mie inconsistenze vocazionali. I tre anni mi hanno aiutato a fare un percorso di conoscenza di me stesso e del dialogo profondo che avevo instaurato con Dio. Un percorso di grande umiltà, dove si riesce a comprendere che il cammino di conversione dura tutta una vita e che solo quando riconosciamo tutti i nostri dinamismi interiori, con la grazia di Dio, riusciamo a dare una risposta a Dio più consapevole.
Questo percorso di colloqui per la crescita vocazionale sono la struttura centrale di tutto l’itinerario formativo che prevede corso estivi molto intensi con esami da fare alla fine di ogni corso.
Tante volte ho ringraziato Dio per il dono che mi ha fatto in questi anni grazie al corso per formatori, che ho condiviso in buona parte con la mia comunità.

3.     Alcune convinzioni per la formazione   

3.1.  La formazione dei formatori
Se è vero che il luogo per eccellenza della formazione è la relazione educativa tra formatori e formandi, diventa strategica la formazione dei formatori. Si tratta di abilitare i religiosi impegnati nel servizio della formazione all’accompagnamento personale  e comunitario dei giovani salesiani.
Grazie al confronto con altri formatori mi sono reso conto quanto sia importante la scelta, la formazione e l’accompagnamento dei formatori.
Tra le tante urgenze che hanno i religiosi chiamati al governo, questa mi è apparsa davvero fondamentale: formare e accompagnare i formatori.
Ho capito dall'esperienza perché l'autorità ecclesiale  insista sempre più sulla formazione dei formatori Ugualmente sulla comunione nella comunità di formazione, in primis tra i formatori: concorre a sviluppare la visione e l'esperienza della Chiesa-comunione.


3.2.         La comunione dei formatori  
Come in una famiglia i figli hanno bisogno, oltre all’amore paterno e materno, dell’amore sponsale, di vedere la comunione d’amore in cui vivono i genitori, così qualsiasi azione formativa ha bisogno della comunione dei formatori.
Nell’esperienza vissuta a San Tarcisio, in questi sei anni, siamo riusciti, cercando di superare le resistenze che vivono in ciascuno di noi, ad incontrarci tutte le settimane per cercare di vivere il processo formativo nella comunione.
Nella classica tradizione salesiana, è stato molto bello potersi confrontare, pur se con ruoli differenti, sul cammino dei giovani salesiani. Guardare al cammino già svolto, a quello intrapreso, ai punti di forza e ai punti di debolezza presenti nel giovane salesiano. Fondamentali sono state anche le scelte pedagogiche e i richiami concertati insieme.
Per la comunione con formatori, particolarmente interessanti sono stati i giorni dedicati alla programmazione d’inizio anno e a quelli di verifica alla fine anno dell’equipe formativa. Tre volte nell’anno l’equipe dei formatori si apre a tutti i confratelli di professione perpetua che vivono nella comunità di San Tarcisio. Sono stati, quest’ultimi, momenti in cui abbiamo ricevuto l’apporto di tutti i confratelli presenti in comunità.
Altra scelta fondamentale, nel cammino formativo, è stata quella di ascoltare i giovani confratelli, nelle verifiche mensili e nel colloquio con i singoli formatori.

 
3.3.         La supervisione dei formatori
Dopo diversi tentativi cercati insieme per poter vincere il rischio dell’autoreferenzialità, sempre presente nella vita della formazione, abbiamo chiesto l’aiuto di don Giuseppe Roggia per progettare, accompagnare e verificare il cammino formativo del postnoviziato.
L’esperienza vissuta con i coniugi Gillini-Zattoni e con Becciu-Colasanti ci ha aiutato ad intraprendere la strada di una supervisione esterna che ci aiutasse a verificare il nostro percorso formativo, all’interno della Ratio dei salesiani di Don Bosco. La revisione comprende il discernimento sul cammino che comunità e persone stanno percorrendo: l'armonia tra gli aspetti della formazione, la completezza del cammino formativo, la sua apertura sulla missione e sul futuro come può emergere dall'ascolto reciproco, dei singoli e ai giovani a cui siamo inviati.
   

4.   Conclusione
Se è vero che scopo della formazione iniziale è imparare ad imparare come conformarsi a Cristo, ad avere gli stessi sentimenti di Cristo Gesù, allora tutto quello che viene fatto di investimento di personale salesiano non andrà perduto. Quella della qualità della formazione è una scelta di futuro per tanti giovani bisognosi del mondo.

Nella mondo e in modo particolare nelle nostre comunità apostoliche, c’è una grande sete di comunione, sia per far risplendere nella società la bellezza della vita consacrata, sia per essere per i giovani “una casa che accoglie, un cortile per incontrarsi, una scuola che avvia alla vita, una chiesa che evangelizza”.

Monday 16 June 2014

Formation of formators - Maurizio Verlezza's experience

“This obedience is wrong, but you cannot be wrong if you obey”
The gift of six years of service in formation

Maurizio Verlezza, SDB, Rector, Postnovitiate House, San Tarcisio, Rome

Introduction

“This obedience is wrong, but you cannot be wrong if you obey.” This is what Msgr Giuseppe Petrocchi, bishop of Latina said to me when I went to tell him of my new obedience as rector of the postnovitiate at San Tarcisio [Rome]. I was, at the time, parish priest of his Cathedral church, and I had worked with him a lot in the pastoral ministry of the diocese.

I felt exactly the same way as the bishop. I felt that this obedience was wrong, and I had tried to communicate to my superiors, from the Rector Major and his Vicar down to the councillor for formation. But no one seemed to be willing to listen to my reasons.

1.    “This obedience is wrong…”

My reasons for feeling the way I did seemed quite clear to me. As far as my ministry was concerned, I was only in my second year as rector and parish priest of St Mark’s, Latina. I had just launched a Pastoral-Educative Project after a study of the youth situation. The parish community had seen five parish priests in ten years, and I had naturally found it quite disoriented. 

On the other hand, I felt quite inadequate and unprepared for the task that was being assigned to me. I had no specific preparation whatsoever in the field of formation. Given the delicate situation that the salesian congregation was living through, with so many young salesians leaving, I was even more convinced that what was needed was someone with another kind of experience.

I brought up all these difficulties in various chats with my superiors, but to no avail. I even shared my personal difficulties and weaknesses, and the fact that I belonged to the Focolare Movement, which one of our superiors had proscribed as a “double belonging.” Even this last difficulty did not seem to matter, and so I obeyed, convinced deep down, however, that this obedience was mistaken.

At San Tarcisio, I found that my fears were being confirmed: the team of formators had been completely overhauled, there had been no proper handing over, no program received, and I had in addition the feeling that the community assigned to me had gone through serious problems in the preceding years. The thought kept coming back to me: this obedience is wrong!

2.    “But you cannot be wrong if you obey….”

I soon put myself into the hands of divine providence, however, with the help of personal prayer, various cloistered monasteries, and sick confreres in the various infirmaries of the province.

Next I asked help from experts in the field of formation, both within the congregation and outside. I was able to do this thanks to the many religious I had come to know through the Focolare Movement.

I also inquired about formation courses that I could take advantage of. Thanks to Msgr. Vincenzo Zani, Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, I thought of enrolling in the course for formators at the Gregorian University in Rome.

To my great surprise I found myself in a course with religious from different congregations, all much younger than me. I had been told that an exception was being made for me: normally people of my age [above 40] were not admitted. In my course there were future novice masters and rectors of postnovitiates and of theologates. I also discovered that I could qualify for the course only after an admission test to verify that my personality was open to modification and change. The course was based upon the capacity of the future formator to integrate, by means of personal accompaniment, the affective-psychological and
spiritual dimensions. One becomes capable of accompanying others only when one has oneself begun a serious process of personal accompaniment that should extend over a lifetime.

For three years I was accompanied by a priest psychologist who met me twice a week. With his help I engaged in a wonderful journey into my inner life, in search of my human and spiritual riches as well as my vocational inconsistencies. These three years helped me set out on a journey of knowledge of myself and of my dialogue with God. This is a journey calling for deep humility, where one begins to understand that the process of conversion extends over a lifetime, and that it is only when, with the help of God, we recognize our inner dynamisms, are we in a position to respond more explicitly and deliberately to God.

This kind of accompaniment is the central part of a formative journey that includes also intensive summer courses with examinations.

I have thanked God often for the gift of this course for formators, a good part of which I have shared with my community.

3.    Some convictions about formation

3.1  The formation of formators

If it is true that the locus par excellence for formation is the educative relationship between formators and formees, the formation of formators becomes strategic. This is a question of preparing those religious involved in formation for the task of personal and community accompaniment of young salesians. Thanks to my continuous interaction with other formators, I became aware of the great importance of the selection, formation and accompaniment of formators.

Among the many urgent problems facing those who are called to govern, I am convinced that the formation and accompaniment of formators is of fundamental importance.

I understood from experience why church authorities are insisting so much on the formation of formators. The same is true as far as unity in the formation community is concerned, and most especially unity in the formation team itself. Without this, it is not possible to develop a vision and experience of church as communion.

3.2  Unity in the formation team

Just as children need not only the love of father and mother but also the witness of love between their parents, so also the formation process is in need of a clear witness of unity in the formation team.

In our life at San Tarcisio these last six years, we managed to overcome our internal resistance mechanisms and meet every week, trying to live the formation process in communion.

In the best of salesian traditions, it was good to be able to exchange observations about our young salesians, taking a look both at what had been achieved and what they had still to achieve, their strengths as well as their weaknesses. The pedagogical options we made and the coordination of formative interventions among ourselves were also of fundamental importance in this process.  

The days dedicated to planning at the beginning of the year and evaluation at the end were especially vital. The formation team would also meet thrice a year with all the perpetually professed confreres living in the community. These were moments when we experienced the support of all the confreres present in the community.

Another fundamental choice was that of listening to the young confreres during the monthly moments of community evaluation and in the chats with individual formators.

3.3  Supervision

The risk of self-centredness is always present in the sphere of formation. After trying out different ways, we finally asked Giuseppe Roggia [SDB] to help us plan, accompany and evaluate the formative process of the postnovitiate.

Our experience with some married couples – Gillini-Zattoni and Becciu-Colasanti – helped us launch into an external supervision that could help us evaluate our formation processes within the context of the Ratio of the Salesians of Don Bosco. The evaluation includes discernment about the journey of both community and individuals: the balance between the different aspects of formation, the completeness of the formative journey, its openness to the mission and to the future through the cultivation of the ability to listen to one another, to individuals, and to the young people to whom we are sent.

4.    Conclusion

If it is true that the aim of initial formation is to learn how to conform oneself to Christ, to put on the mind of Christ, then no investment in the formation of salesians can ever be considered a waste. Investing in the quality of formation is a choice that great consequences for the needy young people of the world.

In the world, and very specially in our apostolic communities, there is a great desire for communion. Such communion allows the beauty of consecrated life to shine forth in our society, and enables us to become for young people “a home that welcomes, a playground on which to meet, a school that prepares for life, a church that evangelizes.”

***



Sunday 15 June 2014

A radioactive reading of the Word

Consoling thought from Rossi de Gasperis: when reading the gospels, even we seem to remain empty, that emptiness might be the effect of a real presence of the Lord. We must allow the mystery to work in us, that it might imprint in us the sense, the truth, the beauty, the taste, the force of the Spirit that it contains. This is a prayer of faith, not a merely psychological operation. We must believe in the power of the mysteries of the Lord in the flesh and in history. Precisely because Jesus has been made Lord of the world and of history, the history of his flesh has become 'spiritually radioactive.' (RdG 2.2 119-20)

Allow myself, therefore, to be exposed to the mystery, exposed to the rays of this Sun that dawns from on high. The Rising Sun that dispels the darkness, that sets my feet on to the way of peace.

How many times this happens. There is no thought that I can share, and I am left somewhat - nonplussed. It is good to be reminded again that the Lord works. 

Friday 13 June 2014

A delightful evening

Extraordinary visit to the Vatican yesterday - because of the opportunity, as a council, to say a very informal hello to pope Benedict XVI, who was taking his evening walk outside his retirement monastery. We found him rather bent and frail, but with his memory completely intact. He remembered Ratisbonne very well, and the meeting that he participated in (1994), but did not know that the Salesians had moved in there, and was happy to know that we now have our theology house there.

It's another thing that he found it difficult to believe that I was Indian. But then popes are not infallible. John Paul II asked me whether I was from Kerala.

And then the evening on the terrace of our Salesian house in the Vatican: a place of extraordinary beauty, well-cared for, with the kind of olive trees and roses in flower that you see in certain Roman movies of a certain era, and an extraordinary and unique view of the Vatican city and of Rome: an Apostolic Palace that is now quite empty and shut down in its upper floors, a little party going on on another terrace, much lower than ours, perhaps part of the St Anna parish run by the Augustinians for people of the quartiere, and so on.

The Vatican City is quite a place: small from the outside, a whole world inside. Extraordinarily well kept gardens, very normal looking people seemingly taking evening walks, the gendarmeria, the occasional Swiss guard, including one outside St Martha's....

A great evening, also because of the warm hospitality of our salesian community at the Vatican, consisting of a few Italian confreres, one from Vietnam and one from Spain, and the very pleasant and simple presence of Cardinal Raffaele Farina and Bishop Mario Toso.

Sunday 1 June 2014

General Chapter 27: deep calling to deep

The documents of GC27 have gone to the press yesterday, and we each of us in the General Council received a pdf copy. I've just begun reading it this morning - the presentation by the Rector Major - and I must say I am impressed.

He begins by talking about CONVERSION, as something we cannot program, but which is a dialectic between two freedoms, God's and ours. A dialectic between two loves, the love of God which is poured into our hearts, and our loving response to that love. God's love, overwhelming, abundant, and always there; and my love, our love, much more hesitant, not always abundant, not always generous. But deep calls to deep, and this General Chapter is one more moment in God's love for us, calling us, calling me, to God.

I can't help thinking here of the whole dialectic between grace and freedom: the way grace first comes as total gift, but not often the insertion of the heart of flesh, instead, very often, just the desire to follow, the desire to change, the desire to move, sometimes vague, sometimes clearer, but there all the same. Attentiveness to the restless of our hearts: great way of being attentive to the workings of God's love in us. So to me, Salesian, the question: am I restless? Do I find myself restless as I read the documents of GC27? And if my answer is yes, that is grace working in me, that is God working in me, that is God loving me and calling me to respond to love.

That response can take many forms. For me, Salesian, one of the most important forms it takes is to make the decision to READ the documents of GC27, and to actually read them, read, reflecting, assimilate, be open to inspiration, to the invitation to change, big and small; to pray for the willingness to change, and for the change itself. 'Both the will and the work come from God.'

Summary for those who have no time to read: first point in conversion: read!

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