Strenna 2020: Presentation of the Theme

“Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven”
(Matt 6:10)


Note: While I was presenting the commentary on the 2019 Strenna to the Salesian Family in Valdocco (Turin), some were already asking for the draft of the 2020 Strenna, so that they could have it for the beginning of the educational-pastoral year in some parts of the world.

I do this with joy, while insisting that this is only an outline, a draft with the essential points that I will develop when I prepare a meditated, interiorized, and calm reflection, one that is, as far as possible, profound and understandable at the same time.

I would like the strenna to continue to help us have a central thread in the pastoral guidance of the New Year in every part of the world.  I bless you all.

After the meeting of the World Council of the Salesian Family in Turin in May, I decided to propose for the 2020 Strenna a theme that, in a paired form, embodies the essence of our Salesian education.  We received it from Don Bosco himself:  to help our boys, girls, and young people be “good Christians and upright citizens.”  We need to deepen more and more our identity as evangelizers and educators of the Faith.

There’s a growing fragility, and sometimes inability, in being apostles and missionaries to the young.  At the same time, there’s the risk of not educating our young people to a strong sense of citizenship, social justice, and Gospel values that lead them to make their own a life program based on service to others, commitment to public life, personal honesty, an “allergy” to all types of corruption, sensitivity to the world of immigrants, to creation, and to the “common home” that has been given to us, the commitment to protect the defenseless—those who have no say and who are discarded.

I wonder:  if we can’t educate to these values, what are we doing?  What kind of evangelization are we carrying out in Jesus’ name?

Therefore, this educational commitment is today an expression of Jesus’ words:  “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven” (Matt 6:10).  This is and will continue to be Don Bosco’s true “politics of the Our Father.”

INTRO. What do we mean by Don Bosco’s “politics of the Our Father”?

Since the reference to Don Bosco is so direct and touches on one of the most sensitive themes in his history “within” the social-political-ecclesial context in which he lived, I think it’s important to pay attention to what our sources say on this subject.  It’s necessary to have a clear idea of what involvement in the polis of his time was like for Don Bosco:  his great “yeses” and his most firm “noes,” which certainly can’t be transferred unchanged into our context.

This year’s strenna allows us to reconstruct what Don Bosco thought and how he acted among the young, with the intention of preparing them for the society in which they found themselves.  Theirs was a society subject to dizzying changes in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, where poverty for many reached extreme levels:  immense social and economic inequality, the growth of the phenomenon of begging, the abandonment of “migrant” children, and so on—all in 19th-century Italy.

From the Biographical Memoirs, the expression “the politics of the Our Father” which Don Bosco used when he met with Pope Pius IX in 1867 has become well known.  As soon as Don Bosco was in the presence of Pius IX, the Pope asked him with a smile,

“What politics would you adopt to overcome so many difficulties [concerning episcopal appointments for Piedmont]?”

“My politics,” Don Bosco answered, “are the same as yours, Your Holiness—the politics embodied in the Pater Noster. When we say it, we daily pray that God’s kingdom may come upon this earth and spread over it, that it may become ever more effective, powerful and glorious.  Thy kingdom come!  This is what really matters.”[1]

In any case, this conviction, which we must understand in its depth and fullness (as we will do in the development of the text of strenna), is also illumined by other thoughts of Don Bosco’s like the following:

Truly we do not engage in politics with our work.  We respect constituted authority, we observe the laws that have to be observed, we pay taxes and we keep on going, asking only that they let us do good for poor youth and save souls.  If you want, we also play politics but in an entirely innocent way, indeed to the advantage of any Government.  Politics can be defined as the art and science of governing the State well.  Now the work of the Oratory in Italy, France, Spain, America, in every country where it has been established, working especially to offer relief to those most needy young people, tends to lesson [sic] the number of vagabonds and unruly types.  It tends to decrease the number of young wrongdoers and thieves.  It tends to empty out prisons.  In a word it tends to form upright citizens who, far from causing grief to public authorities, help them to keep order, calm and peace in society.  This is our politics.  This is the only thing we have been concerned about up till now and which will be our concern in the future.  It’s precisely this approach that has allowed Don Bosco to do good firstly to you and then to so many other young people of every age and place.[2]

  1. These are the same “politics” that pushed Don Bosco to give effective answers to new and persistent emergencies for the good of his children.

  Living in the Faith of the Lord with the guidance of the Spirit

There’s a passage from the letter to the Ephesians that expresses the beauty and greatness of the love to which we are called; a horizon that must never fail, whatever the context to which we are sent. Nothing can take away the dignity and divine greatness that lies within and before every human life as its destiny. The fact that it’s Paul who says this, who had before him a world still all pagan, makes these words even more encouraging:

For this reason, I kneel before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  And I pray that you, rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:14-19)

  Living by listening to God, who speaks to us; living what is announced, with the need to evangelize and offer the first proclamation and catechesis

“This Society’s origins are found in the simple catechetical instructions conducted by Father John Bosco….”[3]  This brings us back to our origins and roots.  From Don Bosco we learned the evangelizing passion to bring every child, every young person to the encounter with Jesus.  That is why we can never stop being evangelizers of the young, knowing that “evangelization aims at a process of growth which entails taking seriously each person and God’s plan for his or her life” (EG 160).

Our being educators and evangelizers of young people requires, on our part, above all, from personal experience, that we can say to young people with words, gestures, and actions that God loves them, that “for him, you have worth; you aren’t insignificant.  You are important to him” (CV 115).

  True Christians and educators today with Salesian spirituality

  • Emphasizing the spirituality of God in daily life
  • with a way of living Salesian spirituality where the atmosphere of friendship between the educator and the young is a great help for personal growth.  In the tradition of St. Francis de Sales, growing in faith, even with the help of a guide, will be impossible if there’s no true friendship, that is, communication, mutual influence; a friendship that becomes truly spiritual.
  • The relationship between Salesian formator and young people “must be marked by the greatest cordiality….  Familiarity inspires love, and love inspires confidence.  This is what opens hearts, and young people reveal everything without fear … because they are certain that they are loved.”[4]

  Good Christians in the challenge of non-Christian environments

  • The witness of Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, our confrere who was a prisoner in Yemen for 557 days, attests to how his spiritual interiority and faith kept him “healthy in mind and spirit” in an extreme human situation, where he gave witness, even in silence, by how he lived.
  • To be able to live a dialogue and a witness that are prophetic.

  Good Christians in the challenge of post-believing or post-Christian environments

  • A challenge that is, above all, a precious gift we have to offer the Church and that the Church and the world ask of us.  Perhaps no charismatic family in the Church is more involved with such a vast number of people, the majority of whom are young, who aren’t Christian, belonging to other faiths or no longer believers.
  • This puts us on a missionary path unique in its potential for witness and evangelization.  The Church asks us not only to take steps but to be forerunners in the Church on this front, where the whole future of young people is played out.

  A faith lived together, and in a going-out of ourselves

  • The spiritual dimension of all Salesian pastoral activity must be lived and presented adequately and without dichotomies.  It has much to empty itself of, to commit itself to, so as to see and live our fatherhood in the world, with others, as a witness of human brotherhood, which is the evangelical reason for treating others (of every age, race, culture, and religion) in the awareness of being children of the same God. To call and treat others as brothers and sisters is to recognize God as Father, and to recognize God as Father means to see others as brothers and sisters.
  • In this synthesis we identify the basis of all Christian spirituality that is committed to making the world a place of encounter with God and making the encounter with him an opportunity to build a better world.
  • Pope Francis helps us in this when he states:  “When an encounter with God is called an ‘ecstasy,’ it’s because it takes us out of ourselves, lifts us up, and overwhelms us with God’s love and beauty.  Yet we can also experience ecstasy when we recognize in others their hidden beauty, their dignity, and their grandeur as images of God and children of the Father.  The Holy Spirit wants to make us come out of ourselves, to embrace others with love, and to seek their good.  That is why it’s always better to live the faith together and to show our love by living in community and sharing with other young people our affection, our time, our faith, and our troubles.  The Church offers many different possibilities for living our faith in community, for everything is easier when we do it together.” (CV 164)
  • This is a real invitation to live with ever greater intensity the ecclesiology of communion, where the GIFT that each one is and has in his or her state of life is discovered and valued to the utmost only when it’s “given” to others, put at their service, in a going-out of oneself that begins first of all by reaching out to those who are closest.

  The young are waiting for us in the “house of life.”

  • The expectations of the young are more and more pressing and dramatic if we look at them broadly.  Surely, we can say that the youth population in the world has never been as numerous as it is today, and proportionately has never been as “poor and needy,” on account of the numbers and perhaps also for their living conditions.
  • They remains, nevertheless, “the most delicate and precious portion” of society, as Don Bosco defined it.  So, it’s a field wide open for the Salesian Family’s attention, but they must help us see it.
  • I believe that there’s a risk in various Salesian quarters of remaining easily “within our walls,” satisfying ourselves with attending to those who enter our doors.
  • For this reason, a great cry from young people is that of going out to face the “real” problems they have:  the meaning of life, the lack of opportunities, formation, job placement, etc.

  To educate ourselves and our young people in citizenship and social commitment.

  • As comes out in the documents of the synods (all three of them), there’s a justice and a citizenship of which the young are becoming prophets, which goes beyond that of the countries to which they belong.  There’s a justice greater than the one expressed by national juridical systems and our governments.  There’s a citizenship of the world, as a common home and the home of the future, which undoubtedly belongs more to the new generations than to ours.
  • We need to be educated to be courageous in this demanding vision of justice (Laudato si’, Evangelii gaudium, etc.) which aims at sustainable development (the sustainable development goals of the United Nations and various global compacts, in particular the recent one on migration that some nations shamefully did not sign).
  • We should also make ourselves heard against more short-sighted visions centered on narrower interests in certain categories–for example, the ecological sensitivity of the youngest and many governments’ being closed to consideration of these issues.
  • Today there’s a lack of credible leaders in the world, which compels us to question how we go about educating.

  Educate ourselves and our young people in political commitment and service.

  • Here I believe there’s so much ground to recover, as Church, as Salesian Congregation, and as Salesian Family. Although this is an appeal that comes up again and again more or less strongly in every document (from synods to general chapters), in fact, the “social doctrine of the Church,” which is like the “magna carta” of this commitment, is somewhat like a Cinderella as regards our educational and pastoral action.
  • There are young people in our houses and also young men and women religious of our Salesian Family who wonder whether the ultimate goal of our works should really be to “produce” graduates with the best qualifications for a very competitive society, without ever questioning the socio-economic model that lies behind all this.
  • It’s also the point where the diversity in Don Bosco’s approaches will be better perceived:  precisely in order to be faithful to his spirit, today we must use expressions almost the opposite of his.  The Our Father asks us to teach young people, not only as individuals, but as a group, to become more the protagonists of the common good, even in explicitly administrative and political fields.
  • We must understand well what we mean by political service and how a Christian can’t back down.
  • It will be a “long battle,” especially with us, consecrated men and women, who haven’t grown up with this mentality, but it’s a cry of the world and of today’s young people.
  • One light is the reality of volunteer work, as a gradual and pedagogical path for a greater commitment to the transformation of society.

  To educate ourselves and our young people in honesty and keep ourselves free from corruption.

  • The potential of the Salesian Family in this field is truly enormous, as is the reality of the Salesian Cooperators and past pupils in the “world,” through their presence in politics and other influential areas.
  • It’s a strong call to our internal consistency, especially in our relationship with the laity.
  • It will also be an opportunity to take steps to create or make more visible a culture of social ethics.

  Sensitive and co-responsible in a world on the move, a world of migration.

  • Young migrants were the first beneficiaries of Don Bosco’s Oratory.
  • Most of this migration of peoples, never before so great in history, is made up of young people.  Isn’t this a direct appeal to the Salesian Family, which is so widespread in every continent?  Shouldn’t we become SPECIALISTS in this field (by investing in “higher education,” as is done for technology or philosophy)?
  • If we aren’t the ones to “create culture” on this open front of human life that will expand more and more in the future, who else?  Who in the Church must be more prophetic on this front?  Perhaps the Carthusians?
  • It seems to me that it isn’t madness to think of our Salesian Youth Movement as a movement for young people on the move.

  Taking care of our common home as young people ask of us (Laudato si’, 13)

  • The commitment to our common home (the vision of ecology proposed by Laudato si’) isn’t an extra commitment:  it’s a horizon that questions the whole of our culture, faith, lifestyle, mission—of our education and evangelization.  There isn’t much to invent because in this (both in ecology and the rights of minors) the direction to follow has already been clearly marked out for a long time by the magisterium of the Church and is now strongly marked by Pope Francis.  How do we let ourselves be converted?
  • Integral ecology also speaks to us of an integral educational program (in its human and spiritual values).

  In the defense of human rights and especially the rights of minors.

  • The purpose for which we have been raised as Salesian Family by the Holy Spirit through Don Bosco is to give our whole life to minors, to the young, to the boys and girls of the world, giving priority above all to the most defenseless, the neediest, the most fragile, the poorest.
  • For this reason, we must be experts in the defense of all human rights, especially the rights of minors, and ask for forgiveness to the point of tears when we haven’t done so.  We can’t be accomplices of any abuse, meaning by this the abuse of “economic, conscience, or sexual power”–as was defined at the Synod on Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment (DF 30).

The presence of Mary in Don Bosco’s educational system has a fundamental importance that we can’t overlook or neglect.

Don Bosco presented her to his children as the Immaculate, as the simple and sweet woman who joyfully lives the plan that God has for her.  He also presented her as the Help of Christians, as a loving Mother, concerned that all her sons and daughters fully live the dream that God has for each of them.

In the perspective of an education that helps boys, girls, and young people, and all of us as educators and evangelizers of the Salesian Family, Mary’s presence has a dimension not only devotional but also “political”:  she is the Mother who helps her sons and daughters to live fully their commitment to God and to the created world.  This is the “politics of the Our Father.”

May our Mother Help of Christians intercede for all of us.

Rome, July 24, 2019

Father Angel Fernandez Artime, S.D.B.
Rector Major

            [1] Giovanni Battista Lemoyne, SDB, The Biographical Memoirs of St. John Bosco, trans. Diego Borgatello, SDB, VIII (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Salesiana, 1973), 259-260.
            [2] Giovanni Bosco, “Address to the Past Pupils,” in Salesian Historical Institute, Salesian Sources 1. Don Bosco and His Work: Collected works (Rome: LAS, 2014), pp. 120-121.
            [3] Giovanni Battista Lemoyne, SDB, The Biographical Memoirs of St. John Bosco, trans. Diego Borgatello, SDB, IX (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Salesiana, 1975), 35.
            [4] Giovanni Bosco, “Due lettere da Roma, 10 maggio 1884,” in Pietro Braido, ed., Don Bosco educatore (Rome: LAS, 1992), pp. 376-377.

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