Dear Salesian sisters and brothers,
I send my greetings from the Provincial House in San Francisco, where like most of you, I am sheltered-in place. These weeks have been challenging for all of us as we try to navigate the Coronavirus crisis. Every week brings new changes and challenges . Again, I wish to congratulate and thank all of you, especially our school, parishes and youth center administrators, employees and volunteers for the fantastic job in continuing to reach out to our young people and those entrusted to our care. You continue to teach, to minister and to accompany so many people. THANK YOU! You are in my prayers and I ask that Mary Help of Christians continue to bless and protect you all. We give thanks to God that to this date, no SDB has been tested positive with the Covid-19 virus. I have not heard of any of our employees and collaborators in our province who may have tested positive to this virus.
Here at the provincial house we continue to live our regular rhythm of Salesian life. We have our regular rhythm of prayer and meals. Everyone continues to fulfill their normal duties and run errands as needed. The big difference is that four of the confreres take turns in cooking at different times and days; the rest of us help where we can. And, we have limited our outings and times of going out. I do try to take some extended walks in the evenings, with protective gear and keeping my distance from anyone I may encounter on our nearly empty streets.
We are navigating uncharted waters. No one knows what this will mean for our future or how our future will look. I doubt that we will simply return to a pre-Covid-19 world. For us who have faith and hope, we see a bright future but one that will mean venturing into a new future. As we try to combat and conquer this virus, and we look at safe ways to return to some normalcy, we also realize that the future will be different.
After 9/11 we were encouraged to return to a “pre-9/11 America.” As we know, we rebounded and we grew strong, but we also had to make many changes to our lives in order to keep safe and protect ourselves from future terrorist attacks. We became accustomed to long lines, security check points, metal detectors and greater intrusion into our private lives by government agencies . While unnerving to some, it did bring greater security and a feeling of being safe. We got used to going to concerts, athletic events and large gatherings which would demand that our bags be checked and our phones and portable technology be screened and scanned. We made the necessary changes and life as we knew it before 9/11 never returned. It made an impact on our lives and psyche forever. But, we are a resilient people and adapted.
After Covid-19, whenever that will be, we will also change our lives in order to survive and prevent future pandemics. We will probably be more conscious of cleanliness and what we touch and where we go. Perhaps, the handshake or hugs will disappear or return only after a long time of keeping a distance and feeling safe again. Pope Francis also reflects and projects what a Covid-19 future might mean for us. In his reflection, Pope Francis tells us that this time in isolation and quarantine can help us enter more deeply into what is important in our lives and what are our important values as human beings and Christians. Perhaps, we will find that we don’t need to hoard as much as we did before. We can try to live more simply. We might find that spending more time with loved ones and friends is something we have learned to do better (and, personally, I do hope the handshake and hugs do come back). We will learn the importance of technology for connecting, teaching, learning and entertaining ourselves in a healthy way. Hopefully, we will learn to reverence nature and give it the respect it deserves rather than simply raping the land for our own comfort and wealth. We will hopefully learn the meaning of community and how much we really do need each other. We will learn to pray at home and gather the family for prayer as many of you have done. We will have learned the importance of first responders and medical personnel and how they really do sacrifice themselves for the wellbeing of those who are sick and who are suffering. We, hopefully, will learn to be humble and not feel we are “gods and self-sufficient.” And, we will learn that we miss the young and, hopefully, they miss us.
Here in our community we have learned to cook new dishes and share the responsibility of keeping a house clean, washing our clothes and pitching in for different responsibilities. But, most importantly, we have learned the need we have to connect with each other. This is a witness of what the world should look like, what the Kingdom of God would look like and what fraternal life should look like. We are far from that ideal but the world would be a better place if we take some of these lessons to heart. We need each other in the world community. We may be very powerful as a country and have great capabilities, but we need other countries and they need us. If we shut our borders to the outside world and simply aspire to return to the world of selfish capitalism and “let’s grow rich” mentality without any responsibility for the care of our earth and the care of those who suffer, we have learned nothing from this virus and we are apt to experience it all over again.
We are not done with the virus. We are still learning more and more about it and its effects. We are not sure what the future will look like, but we must trust and be open. We must continue to dialogue with one another and care for each other. We must be creative as we minister to the young. And, we must be people of faith and deep reflection, convinced that God will never abandon us!
During the General Chapter, Masses were celebrated according to languages. I mostly attended the Spanish speaking Masses which were attended primarily by members of our Inter-America and Cono-Sur Regions and Spain. Occasionally, I would go to the English ones. Fr. Pascual Chavez presided at one of the Masses in English. I happened to attend that morning. In his homily based on the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 5, verse 20, the gospel writer spoke of the need of going deeper in our spirituality, deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees. It is not enough to simply “not kill” as our commandments dictate. We must look within and see the anger inside our hearts which kills with words, with thoughts, with revenge and anger. Fr. Pascual had this to say:
“Anyone who is angry with his brother …” We note the insistence: brother! The other is someone who belongs to you, so you can’t disregard him. You kill your brother in the heart with hostile thoughts, harsh feelings or even simply with indifference. The brother can be killed with insulting and contemptuous words. Today it is fashionable to speak violently, vulgarly. Based on the climate of the society in which we live, this habit can also penetrate environments that consider themselves Christian, but it is completely anti-evangelical. It is said: “Tongue kills more than the sword”; but the thought kills even more than the tongue, because not all bad thoughts come to the lips … They remain inside fostering bitterness and sometimes hate! “Which SDB for the young people today?” A very gentle, kind, compassionate, merciful person, a man of communion, community, fraternity, friendship!”
As I listened to his homily that morning, I was deeply touched by that last sentence. So simple and so basic and yet that is what our young people need and want. That is what our world desires.
As we reflect on what our post Covid-19 world will look like, as we reflect from the theme of our last Chapter 28, “What kind of Salesian for the young people today?,” I am moved by the words of our Rector Major emeritus: The kind of Salesian for today: “a very gentle, kind, compassionate, merciful person, a man of communion, community, fraternity, friendship.” That is not what we see from some of our government officials and leaders. But, as Pascual says, behaviours of anger and insult are anti-evangelical. Perhaps, the answer is too simple. But, it is Evangelical and it is Salesian! As we vision toward the future, however that might look, may it always be: gentle, kind, compassionate, merciful, people of communion, community, fraternity and friendship. Let us pray for such a future! It is also the legacy we leave to the young of today and tomorrow!
With warm regards and gratitude ,