Provincial Letter: August 27th, 2019

Dear Salesian Sisters and Brothers,

Yesterday, the Directors, Pastors and Delegates of the different province departments met for our biannual meeting.    Usually, we meet at the beginning of the scholastic/pastoral year and again in the Spring.   We meet to plan, nourish our spirits, and reconnect as province leadership.   I wish to thank all those who were able to make it.   I realize that this is a busy time for everyone as schools begin their programs and transfers and changes are still being either finalized or in the process of completion.

The gathering of Directors/Pastors and delegates took place at St. Joseph Retreat Center in Rosemead.   We are extremely grateful for the hospitality and wonderful welcome we received from Fr. Paul Chuong and his team.   Several Salesian Cooperators prepared lunch and dinner at the residence.   It was all very well-orchestrated and those of us who were able to stay until dinner enjoyed a wonderful meal along with their famous “Kahlua and ice-cream.”   Thank you to the staff of St. Joe’s, for their hospitality and for creating a wonderful Salesian environment in which to work.

IMG_9676
The southern communities working collaboratively on community events such as who is hosting Thanksgiving and Days of Recollection

The Director/Pastors meeting had three components to it.   After a prayer service prepared by Br. Damien Ho, the Directors and Pastors reflected on Fr. Angel Fernandez A.’s letter at the conclusion of the Extraordinary canonical Visitation of March-May 2019.   We reflected on 11 positive points made by the Rector Major regarding our province;  5 challenges we face as a province;  and, 7 Recommendations given to the province.   We had heard many of the points before but put forth in a different context.

The Rector Major praised the province for its fidelity to Don Bosco’s spirit, his charism and to his system of spirituality and education which he left to us as his legacy.  The Rector Major commended us on the efforts to help poorer students enter our schools by the large amount of tuition assistance we give and the efforts to raise funds for this purpose;  for the well-run institutions and communities;  the collaboration with the laity and the general animation and governance of the province leadership.

The Rector Major also reminded us of the great challenges facing our province:  the declining number of confreres, the declining average age and limited vocations entering our formation programs, the reduced visibility of SDBs in our ministries which weakens the visibility of the beauty of Salesian consecrated life among the young and contributes to the lessening of vocations, the restriction of our presence to California and one parish in Texas, the strong influence of a secular culture in California and the tendency to fall into a routine spiritual and fraternal way of living.

Some of the Recommendations made by the Rector Major to our province are the following:  work on creating a vocational culture in our province, increase our Salesian presence and personal accompaniment of the young by choosing significant places and moments to be present among the young, place our province on the official list for receiving more missionaries from the congregation, invite the province to re-imagine and re-design our mission, strengthen our presence in Berkeley by strengthening the ISS program (Institute of Salesian Studies) and finally, commit ourselves whole heartedly to a radical renewal of our religious life as mystics, prophets and servants.

I find Fr. Angel’s comments challenging and loaded with food for deeper reflection and action by the part of the province and, especially, the provincial leadership.  I encourage us all to take the letter given to each director and pastor and meditate on it together, digest its elements (don’t just scan through it and place it on the shelf) and  ask the Holy Spirit to help us find ways to implement these ideas and recommendations that will help our province grow stronger and be a more vibrant Salesian presence in the West.  More on this in the months to come.

The rest of the Directors/Pastors day was spent on a reflection with several young Salesians on the future narrative of Religious Life.   And in the afternoon, we spent some time looking/studying our Province Organic Plan.  

IMG_9670
Fr. Jim Nieblas, SDB and Fr. Rafael Saiz, SDB listening on Fr. Angels letter after the Extraordinary Visitation.

In future InTouch letters I hope to focus more on Fr. Angel’s letter and our Organic Plan.  For now, I wish to mention briefly some highlights on the second topic of our day, namely, the future narrative of Religious Life.

In early August I attended the CMSM conference in San Antonio, Texas.   This is an annual conference for the Major Superiors (Provincials, Abbots, Priors, etc) of the United States.  The three days were spent processing this question:  What do we want to dominate the narrative of Religious life over the next three to ten years?   Unfortunately, we do not always control our narrative and story.   So, the story which is repeated “ad nauseam” is the abuse situation in the Church, the aging of confreres, the lack of vocations and the challenges of limited and  ill prepared confreres for the mission.   But, the story we tell must be one of hope, despite the challenges, trust in a God who accompanies us and gives us the grace to do marvelous things with the little we have (multiplication of the bread and fish), the witness of fraternal life, unity and inclusivity and not being afraid to be vulnerable and transparent in a world of fear, division, racism and secrets.

IMG_9669
Bro. Damien Ho, SDB (left) and Bro. Quang Nguyen, SDB (right) sharing their thoughts and experience of religious life with our province leaders.

IMG_9666

IMG_9664
Bro. Vien Nguyen, SDB was also part of the panel

Yesterday, we invited four young people:  Br. Damien Ho, Quang Nguyen, Vien Nguyen and Reegan Leedet to share with the province leadership their views and experience of religious life and how they see this unfolding in the next three to ten years.   What will our narrative be?  What needs to change or what needs to be emphasized?   As I mentioned above, more will be written on this topic in the next Intouch letters.   After the young panel’s sharing, an energetic discussion followed with the whole group present.   As I heard at the CMSM conference:  “who is to say that the brightest and best are not yet to come!”   Why do we put limits on God’s power, grace and Spirit.   We can keep telling the same story, namely,  that our history (past) has been rich and meaningful but that was in the past and now we face too many challenges.  But, God works in the present and the “good old days” are still to come.  Our young people asked us to be hopeful, to accompany them with our presence, be more intentional in creating fraternal life, create home-go to the heart, have a growth inducing mindset, put community first, support one another, tell the story of Don Bosco, don’t hang our dirty laundry for all to see and find ways to share our experiences.   Again, the next InTouch will include a bit more depth on this reflection: our future religious Salesian life.

I wish to thank our young panel and those at the directors/pastors gathering for their participation and input.  Let us take that same question to heart and see what answer we come up with:  What do we want to dominate the narrative of Religious life over the next three to ten years?  In the months to come we hope to reflect on this and some aspects of our Organic Plan.  May God strengthen our province, bless our work and ministries and help us be signs and bearers of his love to the young, especially, the poor and most neglected.

With warm regards and gratitude,

Ted