Saturday 26 November 2016

Project Europe

I have been struggling to prepare my intervention at the "Project Europe" meeting at the end of next week (2-4 Dec 2016) - which is really the meeting of the provincials of Europe. The struggle could indicate two things: either that what I want to say is not "ready" or "ripe," or that I am excessive concerned about impact.

I have some sort of text - already the second version. It begins from a vision of faith (the prophet Elijah taunting the prophets of Baal: cry out louder! perhaps he is sleeping, or perhaps he has "gone aside" - and Jesus reminding us that his Father is working and that he is working still). It goes on to recall some words that have meant much to me in these last two and a half years: mission as revelation; our identity as salesian consecrated persons; formation as permanent, as learning from experience, as an attitude of permanent discernment (recall Conrad Saldanha, and Bartolomé's comments on the Our Father: we are called to live as sons); communion. It goes on to draw out implications for formation, mostly following from Rupnik's comments on communion, but tying in well with the emphasis on mission as revelation and, ultimately, with the stress on our identity as consecrated persons, eschatological signs.
  • the era of functional religious life, of the para-statal church, is over. We are called to be theophany, and the question is how we can reveal God. GC27 hinted that we might be running the risk of functional religious life, taking refuge behind "responding to social needs and demands," running the risk of being one more NGO, too shy to speak about God, too hesitant to be seen for what we are. 
  • formation cannot be unwittingly based on the modern assumption that we are first individuals who must then construct community. We are not self-made men; we have been regenerated in baptism, and baptism creates communion. Formation begins from this fact, that we have been regenerated, that communion has been given, that we have been transformed. Formation begins from faith. We do not first find recruits and then teach them to pray. It is within the life of prayer that the question of vocation can arise and should arise. 
  • a new formation presupposes a new youth ministry, and a new vocation ministry. 
  • communion has certain practical implications: sense of congregation, qualification of personnel, knowledge of languages. Implied also are certain questions about culture: cultures are not absolute but relative. 
  • the key formation skill is the ability to listen. 

The other inspiration is from Pope Francis' new interpretation of Emmaus in his address to the Bishops of Brazil in 2013. in the two disciples who leave behind the "nakedness" of God in Jerusalem, Francis sees "the difficult mystery of people who leave the Church." "Perhaps the Church appeared too weak, perhaps too distant from their needs, perhaps too poor to respond to their concerns, perhaps too cold, perhaps too caught up with itself, perhaps a prisoner of its own rigid formulas," he suggests. "Perhaps the world seems to have made the Church a relic of the past, unfit for new questions; perhaps the Church could speak to people in their infancy but not to those come of age."

The question is, What are we to do? "We need a Church unafraid of going forth into the night. We need a Church capable of meeting them on their way. We need a Church capable of entering into their conversation. We need a Church able to dialogue with those disciples who, having left Jerusalem behind, are wandering aimlessly, alone, with their own disappointment, disillusioned by a Christianity now considered barren, fruitless soil, incapable of generating meaning."

Perhaps many of our young people in this continent fall into this category, of people who are disappointed and disillusioned by the Church. Or perhaps many of them simply belong to a generation that is truly post-Christian, in the sense of not having been touched in any significant way by Christ and his gospel.

"We need a Church capable of walking at people's side, of doing more than simply listening to them; a Church which accompanies them on the journey; a Church able to make sense of the 'night' contained in the flight of so many of our brothers and sisters from Jerusalem; a Church which realizes that the reasons why people leave also contain reasons why they can eventually return. But we need to know how to interpret, with courage, the larger picture. Jesus warmed the hearts of the disciples of Emmaus."

Are we capable of warming hearts? Are we capable of leading people back to Jerusalem, of bringing them home? "Jerusalem is where our roots are: Scripture, catechesis, sacraments, community, friendship with the Lord, Mary and the apostles... Are we still able to speak of these roots in a way that will revive a sense of wonder at their beauty?"

I would ask: are we at home in Jerusalem? When one is in love, it cannot fail to show. Are we in love? If we are, then we will be able "to speak of these roots in a way that will revive a sense of wonder at their beauty."

People leave because they are searching for something more lofty, more powerful, and faster. But what could be more lofty than the love revealed in Jerusalem? What could be more powerful than the strength hidden within the weakness of love, goodness, truth and beauty, as Francis says, and as Benedict XVI liked to say?

As for the "faster," Francis makes a comment that is by now typical: people want speed, but at the same time they have a desperate need for calmness, and even slowness. "Is the Church still able to move slowly: to take the time to listen, to have the patience to mend and reassemble? Or is the Church herself caught up in the frantic pursuit of efficiency?" (See EG 169 and perhaps AL.) The image of the slow Salesian, who knows how to waste time, to deviate from his path like the Good Samaritan, like Don Bosco who knew how to lose a train to catch a boy (see Teresio Bosco's wonderful take on Don Bosco and Micky Magone). If mission = work, we will have the superfast Salesian. If mission = revelation, perhaps the slow Salesian, slow like the Lord who wastes 30 years in silence before dedicating just 3 years to the "active life." Time is greater than space, and people - including our young people - need time.

Francis goes on to say, in this light: Formation is a priority. We need ministers and pastoral agents who are capable of warming people's hearts, of walking with them in the night, of dialoguing with their hopes and disappointments, of mending their brokenness.

What kind of formation will give us people capable of stepping into the night "without being overcome by the darkness and losing their bearings?" How can we "produce" Salesians who are able to listen to people's dreams "without being seduced and to share their disappointments without losing hope and becoming bitter; able to sympathize with the brokenness of others without losing their own strength and identity?"

The pope calls for "a solid human, cultural, effective, spiritual and doctrinal formation." He asks us to have the courage "to undertake a thorough review of the structures in place for formation."
"What is needed is the practical wisdom to set up lasting educational structures on the local, regional and national levels and to take them to heart as Bishops, without sparing energy, concern and personal interest. The present situation calls for quality formation at every level. Bishops may not delegate this task. You cannot delegate this task, but must embrace it as something fundamental for the journey of your Churches."
Our mission is the "casa e causa della formazione." among other things, our target group will determine our formation. If we think we are sent to a little flock, to those who feel already touched by the gospel and are searching for significant deepening of the faith, we will have one kind of youth ministry. If we think we are sent for the many who are leaving the Church or who have never been in any significant way part of the Church - and here we can think also of the many young refugees and migrants who are flocking to our continent - we will have another kind of youth ministry. My Salesian heart tells me that we are called to these latter groups.


Communion is central - and it is an enormous challenge at this moment in Europe. How we face this is going to be central to our life and work as Salesians.

In this context, we remember Aparecida, "the method of gathering diversity together" - "not so much a diversity of ideas in order to produce a document, but a variety of experiences of God, in order to set a vital process in motion." Once again Emmaus is exemplary: the disciples returned to Jerusalem, full of enthusiasm about their encounter with the Lord. "There they came to know other manifestations of the Lord and the experiences of their brothers and sisters." So a wonderful diversity, like the many-coloured coat of Joseph - but a diversity of experiences of the one Lord. The question of identity underlies it all.

The urgency of mission derives from its inner motivation - if I have met the Lord, if I have been touched, I will be driven, practically, to return to Jerusalem, and to go, from Jerusalem, to the ends of the earth. And formation: mission is about handing over a legacy, a baton, like in a relay race: "one needs to hand it over personally, to touch the one to whom one wants to give, to relay, this inheritance."

And regarding pastoral conversion: "pastoral care" is nothing other than the exercise of the Church's motherhood. We need a Church capable of rediscovering the maternal womb of mercy. "Without mercy we have little chance nowadays of becoming part of a world of 'wounded' persons in need of understanding, forgiveness, love."

And family: the essential cell of society and the Church. Subjects of evangelization.


So two sources of inspiration. 

I feel so much at home with the pope's invitation. Perhaps because I recognize that this has been my formation: a solid human, cultural, effective, spiritual and doctrinal formation. Pune and the efforts to rediscover Christ, to appropriate the faith - with all the riches that come from having wandered into the highways and byways of the world, through contemporaries as well as neighbours, through Nietzsche as well as Krishnamurti and Osho, to the discovery of the startling strangeness of grace, and Christ, and the church, and Don Bosco, and the riches of the congregation. 

So the pastoral task - to young people who are on the margins, at risk, rather than to an elite group. A salesian who is neither Herald nor Legionary but humble footsoldier, knowing that he is on a hospital in the battlefield, or else dealing with the orphans of war. 

Knowing that many of my confreres have a more abundant gift of parrhesia, of boldness, of comfort in being with young people. 
Knowing also that they will need to be slow Salesians, capable to listening, with a formation that has already helped them to know the birth pangs of this world in which we are living. 
Slow Salesians who have been touched marvellously by the Risen Christ, and who are driven, like Don Bosco, to a passioante offering of their lives, in contexts that are new. 

in all this, a new Youth Ministry that calls for LISTENING. 
and a new Formation that equally calls for LISTENING to the stories of our young candidates, our formees. 
a formation capable, by listening, of forming people who are in their turn able to listen, to themselves, to their own experience, to the voice of hte Spirit, and to the experience of young people, to see in them God, and to walk with them. 

a formation that presupposes communion. a communion that is a multi-coloured coat, that cuts both ways: Rome open to the provinces, the provicnes to rome. 

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