Provincial Letter July 3rd, 2020

Dear Salesian sisters and brothers,

We continue to struggle with all of the challenges which Covid-19 presents to us.   With the resurgence of Covid cases in certain areas of our province (California and Texas in particular) changes are continuously taking place to assure the safety of all of our people, especially, our young men and women.  While some of our sites are conducting virtual camps, in some places Churches and services are being shutdown until the civil and Church authorities conclude it is safe to reopen.   In Laredo, Texas, Fr. Jose Lucero, pastor of San Luis Rey Church,  tested positive for Covid-19 and was forced to close the Church for two weeks while he quarantines himself.  Please keep him and that community in your prayers.   In San Francisco, Sts. Peter and Paul Church was asked to cease all religious services.   Other parish churches will also abide with these new restrictions.   Please keep all of our Salesians, religious and lay, in your prayers.

Two days ago we received the very sad and shocking news of the sudden death of Lupe Garcia, a long time care-giver at our Salesian community in Bellflower.   She and her sister, Esperanza, have worked at St. John Bosco for many years.   Lupe cared for many of the elderly SDBs who have lived at the St. John Bosco community.   She tirelessly and generously gave of herself, always being available to whatever anyone needed.   She was found unresponsive in her truck at SJB parking lot early in the morning after she failed to show up for work.  She died of natural causes and the family is still looking to see whether some medical issue had gone undetected.    Please keep Lupe and her family in your prayers.   It has been a great loss and sadness for the Salesian community in Bellflower.   She served willingly without counting the cost and always with joy.   She will be missed immensely.   We thank God for her life and how she touched our lives.  May she Rest In Peace and receive the reward for her labors and goodness.

As all of you know, Fr. Mel Trinidad was asked to take up the service of leadership as provincial of our Western Province.   We Congratulate and thank Fr. Mel for his generous yes and willingness to guide us for the next six years.   Mel brings many wonderful qualities and a vast experience of responsibilities he has held and fulfilled quite well throughout the province.    I know the service as provincial can be challenging and daunting, but we promise our support and prayers.   I know from personal experience that many problems, answers or solutions  to situations in the province are not easily solved.    Decisions, even when not understood by all, are made in discernment, prayer and with the consultation of the provincial council and others.   However, the support of my brothers and the Salesian Family was always a great encouragement and strength for me.  And, even comments such as, “I am praying for you,” or “we are praying for you,” meant a lot.   So, let us continue this support for Fr. Mel.    We hope to have the official transfer of ministry of leadership during the last week of July.   We have not finalized the date but it will be a semi private ceremony due to the Coronavirus.     A very limited number of people will be able to attend, due to social distancing and precautions that the civil and Church authorities ask of us.   We will live-stream it so that all can follow.  In the next few weeks we will give you more information.   No reception will be held, but we hope that at a future date we can have a bigger celebration to welcome our new provincial.

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Our Salesian Province of St. Andrew the Apostle just finished its first Province-wide virtual retreat.  Due to the Covid-19 we decided not to meet in person for our annual retreats.    The SDBs normally choose to make their annual spiritual retreat either in June at Three Rivers, California or early August at San Juan Bautista.   Because of all the complications involved with retreat centers and distancing, etc., we did what many other provinces, including the Salesian Sisters, have done.   My sincere THANKS go to Fr. Joseph Thannickal, our retreat preacher from Kolkata, India, for his excellent talks which had great depth and human/Salesian touch.   I also wish to THANK Fr. John Itzaina and the formation commission for the excellent work they did to prepare us for this virtual retreat.  The website, handouts and guidance were wonderful and made it easier to plan and live out the retreat.   A special thanks to our delegate of communications, Andres Neria, for his work in the social communication department.  Each community organized the retreat schedule for the their local members with the whole province using the same talks, videotaped beforehand by our preacher, Fr. Joseph Thannickal. I gave a daily goodnight via technology, taped earlier in the day.   At the end of the retreat, on Friday evening, each community zoomed in and we were able to see each other.  I gave the goodnight and thanked Fr. Joseph who was unable to join us due to some technical problems.   While we do not wish to make this a regular style of retreat (we miss the person to person interaction), the feedback was positive.  It also allowed those who normally cannot make a retreat with the province, to join in and feel part of the province community.    With the Coronavirus we have all been challenged to interact much more with technology.   It has forced us to better our skills at social media and internet activities.   It has also opened new possibilities and means of greater communication.   However, we would never wish to replace the physical person to person interaction.   But because of different situations which may also arise in the future, we are finding new and effective ways to stay connected.

I have mostly been sheltered-in-place these days.   I did make a quick trip to Southern California to visit our communities.   I will do that again sometime in the near future.   Contacts are very limited and we are all trying to stay safe and keep, especially, our elder members, healthy and strong.   Let us keep each other in prayer and hope that in the near future we will be able to return to some normalcy and be able to once again express our Salesian warmth and greetings, something so dear to our Salesian spirituality.  For now, we do what we must and find creative ways to keep our Salesian Family connected and in touch.

May you all have a very blessed and safe “4th of July.”   Let us continue to pray for our country and her leaders.   May the values which have made us a great nation and blessed us for years, never be lost or clouded by our selfishness, egocentric behaviors , greed and racism.   We are a much bigger nation than that.   As a favorite Greek proverb of mine says:  “a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”    May we continue to cultivate the values of freedom, human rights and respect for all peoples, generosity, welcoming and creativity.

With warm regards and gratitude,