The 2019 Provincial Chapter took place June 16-21 in the little town of Three Rivers, CA near the entrance to Sequoia National Park. Twenty-four delegates and invited guests answered the general question of General Chapter 28, “What Kind of Salesians [are needed] for the Youth of Today?” At the conclusion of the Provincial Chapter a delegate and substitute were chosen to attend General Chapter 28 in 2020 that will be held in Turin for the first time in 60 years!
This general question, “What Kind…?” was divided into three topics: 1) Priority of the Salesian Mission among today’s youth; 2) Profile of the Salesian among today’s youth; and 3) Evaluation of the Salesians’ relationship with the laity. From September to May, the ten Salesian communities studied earnestly these three topics using questions gleaned from the Convocation letter of the Rector Major, Fr. Angel Fernandez Artime. The Rector Major insisted that the topics be studied with an age-old methodology of SEE, JUDGE, and ACT, couched in contemporary terms as Listening, Interpreting, and Choosing.
Three topic committees that had been formed gathered the data sent in from the communities, divided it into manageable portions according to listening, interpreting, and choosing, analyzed the data, and made strategic choices for our province.
Topic One looked primarily at the needs of young people in the light of the present general cultural and Church situation. They found that young people seek accompaniment and support from Salesians to be true protagonists in the world in which they live. This world in which they live is profoundly affected by the digital revolution, climate change, increasing violence, and exploding migration around the world. Many young people have committed themselves to these pressing world issues and have created remarkable hope-filled projects and given imaginative answers to these pressing needs. They ask the Salesians to support their efforts, mentor them in the Salesian way by planning, reflection, and evaluation and by a team or system approach to ministry.
The committee concluded: “We are called to network with existing neighborhood civil and ecclesial organizations, which are ministering to the young, especially the poorer, at risk and marginalized in today’s society. In light of present realities in the province, there is need for a deeper involvement with youth culture today by initiating a process of restructuring and re-signifying the works. We need to form fraternal communities living a life centered on social justice and genuine care of the members for one another. Finally, we must renew our vocation ministry, increase our ministry to immigrants, enhance the development efforts of the province, and raise the consciousness of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si.” This conclusion called for all to follow our two province documents, the Organic Plan and Pastoral Plan that deal with a planning mentality, help and assistance to the poor, create a youth-centered culture, and adhere to a plans already in existence.
Topic Two dealt with the profile of the Salesian modeled after Don Bosco and based on a formation that takes into account consecrated life as sent to the young, in community, following Christ.
Despite the problems of aging and the dwindling number of Salesians and resistance to change, and dealing with a society that is more interested in career choices than vocation commitment, there is a deep commitment to be Salesians modeled after Don Bosco as men of holy and wholesome relationships, capable of interpreting life through the eyes of faith, adept at critical thinking and discernment skills, sustained by constant union with God, contemplative yet able to welcome young people where they are, sensing their struggles and dreams, and joyfully accompanying them to be “good Christians and honest citizens.”
Still, this is not enough. There must be a change in mentality to a shared mission and charism, to on-going formation, to trying new approaches to go beyond the status quo or mere maintenance of our works. Formation of the province and the individual Salesian in the province is necessary. It begins with the cultivation of the love of learning in initial formation and continues throughout a Salesian’s life. His ongoing formation must make reference to provincial and general chapter deliberations. All the elements of formation must include the integrated dimensions of the human, spiritual, intellectual, and the pastoral.
This process and change in mentality must be backed up by the creation of effective formation teams by identifying Salesians for training and through life witness and the support of the whole community of formation. Our formation houses must be adequately staffed and show how Salesian priests and Salesian coadjutors, can live and work together.
Topic Three might seem as an add-on to mission priorities and the Salesian formed for Mission, but the partnership of the Salesians with the laity is essential for the vitality of the Salesian Mission. The laity since Vatican II have taken their rightful place in the mission of the Church, and so too in the Salesian Mission.
There are some obstacles to partnering with the laity: reluctance of some Salesians to work effectively with the laity, especially when a lay person is in charge; deep-seated clericalism, the prevailing structure of parish ministry, and the abuse scandal that does not want to go away.
Listening and interpreting the signs of our times, our specific choices to move forward are the following: delegates and coordinators in our province must meet regularly with province leadership; laity who share in the Salesian mission must be formed in the Salesian mission and spirit together with Salesians; this also means a province-wide sharing of resources, personnel, and even calendars.
Following upon the acceptance of the revised Salesian School Standards and Benchmarks, the chapter called for a revision of the 1995 standards for parish and youth centers.
When all the topics were successfully voted upon, the last task of the 2019 Provincial Chapter was to elect a delegate and his substitute to General Chapter 28. Br. Al Vu was elected as delegate, as he was in 2014, and Fr. Joseph Nguyen, novice master, was elected his substitute.