Dear Salesian Sisters and Brothers,
Today we remember the 9/11 event which took place eighteen years ago. It was a type of event, much like the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, when people recalled exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard of the news. The 9/11 event changed our lives forever and today many of us still recall the exact time and place when we first heard what was happening. Today we recall the many lives lost (over 3,000) and the lives lost afterwards because of the fallout of the cleaning process. Many are still affected 18 years later.
What I recall, besides where I was at the time—Salesian, Soto Street—was the heroism of the “First Responders.” I have always been struck and inspired by the courage of these men and women, some very young, who without thinking twice and because of their formation and training, ran toward danger, toward the fire, toward death, in order to save, to serve, to help! My hats off to them all—not just fire fighters and police officers, but to all responders, whether officially trained for that or simply by-standers who refused to be “by-standers.” If only we could hear all of their stories!! Today, in a special way, let us keep them in our memory and hearts, but, especially, in our prayers.
As we begin this new school year and looking over the September and October calendar, I can’t help but be overwhelmed by the many meetings taking place here and in other countries, attended by our delegates and members of our Salesian Family. All of our training and conferences must point us to the young we are called to serve. They are the reason why we do what we do. We are called to be signs of God’s love and bearers of that love especially to the young. We could ask ourselves if the way we speak and act, the time we spend at work or elsewhere, the values we promote and live—if all of this projects a sign of God’s love to the young. Sometimes, I am ashamed to see how some of us in the Salesian Family act contrary to this sign.
Last March, on March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, Pope Francis presented the Church and the world with the Apostolic Exhortation, CHRISTUS VIVIT. This Apostolic Exhortation was the fruit of the 2018 Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment. I invite us all to read and reflect upon it. It is easily accessible through the internet. It is also significant and relevant to us Salesians, for its message is to and about young people. But, Pope Francis also addresses us adults and he does it in his typical honest and direct way. Pope Francis is not afraid to say things as he sees them and challenge, especially, the ecclesial structures and those in authority (not just clerics) to let go of some of our antiquated ways which keep the Church old and more as a museum than something ALIVE AND ABLE TO BE ATTENTIVE TO THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES. Pope Francis writes:
“Let us ask the Lord to free the Church from those who would make her grow old, encase her in the past, hold her back or keep her at a standstill.” (Christus Vivit, 35).
Recalling the 9/11 event and the first responders, I couldn’t help but think of Francis’ words:
“Christ’s Church can always yield to the temptation to lose enthusiasm because she no longer hears the Lord calling her to take the risk of faith, to give her all without counting the dangers; she can be tempted to revert to seeking a false, worldly form of security. Young people can help keep her young. They can stop her from becoming corrupt; they can keep her moving forward, prevent her from being proud and sectarian, help her to be poorer and to bear better witness, to take the side of the poor and the outcast, to fight for justice and humbly to let herself be challenged. Young people can offer the Church the beauty of youth by renewing her ability to “rejoice with new beginnings, to give unreservedly of herself, to be renewed and to set out for ever greater accomplishments.” (Christus Vivit, #37).
The Holy Father, in the beginning of his Apostolic Exhortation, gives us a beautiful and impressive overview from the Old and New Testaments of the many young people God called to help spread his word of hope and accomplish his mission: Joseph from Genesis, Gideon in Judges, Samuel and King Saul in the book of Samuel, King David and Solomon from the book of Kings, the young Jewish servant girl of the foreign commander Naaman and the young Ruth. They were all young and some of them unsure of what God was asking of them. But, to all, God promised his presence, strength and love. They would be victorious because of Him!
In the New Testament, Francis presents the young prodigal son who squanders his father’s inheritance but has the courage to humbly return to the father and ask for forgiveness as opposed to the arrogant older brother whose heart had grown old and filled with envy and anger. The Pope also presents us with Mary as a model of youth who trusted in God’s courage and his accompaniment in the midst of fear and of an uncertain future.
Later in his letter, Francis offers us examples of young people from our Church history, who attained a certain degree of holiness and are models of living heroic lives: Saint Sebastian, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Joan of Arc, Blessed Andrew Phu Yen, St. Katerina Tekakwitha, St. Dominic Savio, Blessed Ceferino Namuncura’, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati and others. Young saints inspire us to return to our first love.
As we Salesians, vowed and lay, begin this scholastic and pastoral year, let us remember that all that Don Bosco did was done with the purpose and intention to bring young people to Christ, to holiness, to make a difference in the Church and in the world, to be good Christians and honest citizens. Young people are wonderful reminders of “First Responders.” They show us what they are capable of, when they open themselves up to encounter Christ. Let us listen to them, create environments of home where they will not feel as orphans but loved and more human; homes where they feel the warmth of those who care and where they learn the values of forgiveness, kindness, gentleness, joy, trust and the courage to speak out against corruption, abuses and lack of justice and compassion. The young will also teach us to wake up and get out of our comfort and fear and speak out against racism, against our lack of welcoming of our immigrants, speak out against greed and our need to hold on to power and old structures.
May God and Mary Help of Christians, bless our ministry and fill us with energy and courage to be a YOUNG and ALIVE Church!
On Friday, I will preside at the Triduum Mass for Salesian High, North and in the afternoon, leave for Los Angeles to participate in Don Bosco Tech’s Board of Directors retreat, which will take place all day on Saturday. I will also attend some meetings before returning to the Provincial House the following week. Our next provincial council will be on September 22-24, at the Provincial House in San Francisco. Please keep us in your prayers.
With warm regards and gratitude,