A Letter from the Provincial Coordinator for Salesian Schools
Dear Salesian Family and Friends,
As we enter into this Holy Week, I am reminded of Don Bosco’s adage: “We must cultivate charity in the habit of humility.” Educative and pastoral charity is at the heart of his educational approach to working with the young.
Placing the Young at the Center
Far too often the value of “me first” found in our current culture and society has colored the way we approach life and made us become more and more individualistic. Our Christian faith reminds us that we are part of a greater body—the Body of Christ. Jesus reminds us that “whatever you did for one of these least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Mt. 25:40) In our approach to educate and evangelize the young, we are invited to live Don Bosco’s motto of “give me souls, take away the rest.” As Salesian educators, when we place the young at the center, we remove any other distraction from that which deters us from focusing on our mission and vision. We believe that “God gives us the grace of encountering him in the young and calls us to serve him in them.” (GC23, no.95) This experience helps us to recognize the dignity of each young person which then leads us to renew and recommit to our faith in order to better educate the young to the fullness of life.
Responding with Salesian Pastoral Charity
For many, we think of charity simply only as a benevolent act of giving; however, it means so much more than that. Salesian pastoral charity is an unconditional love where we are able to encounter our sisters and brothers and help relieve any form of physical, mental, moral or spiritual poverty that they may have and respond to meeting their needs of economic, social, cultural, emotional, moral, or spiritual marginalization.
In the last month, as a Salesian Family, we have lost two giants who exemplified this kind of pastoral charity: Bishop David O’Connell and Fr. Paul Chuong Nguyen.
Bishop Dave, Like Don Bosco
I had the privilege to work alongside Bishop Dave as a member of the Board of Trustees for Don Bosco Technical Institute as well as interacting with him on a number of occasions through various events with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Bishop Dave had a great love for young people who Don Bosco often called poor, abandoned, marginalized, and at-risk. He did whatever he could to help alleviate the sufferings of these young people and their families. Bishop Dave in many ways lived the same conviction found in Don Bosco. Often, he would tell me that Don Bosco’s life resonated with him. Like Don Bosco, he used his influence, his connections, and even his own resources—limited as they were at times—for the good of the young.
Fr. Paul Chuong, Like Don Bosco
Like Bishop Dave, Fr. Paul Chuong too had an incredible way of bringing together various kinds of people from all walks of life and empower them to use their many gifts for the betterment of the poor. While it might have been surprising to some within our province to witness the outpouring of love from thousands who came to pay their respects at Paul’s funeral, those of us that knew him were moved by the level of his reach and influence. Often misunderstood for his zealous ideas and discontent with the status quo, Paul challenged many of us to think with a pastoral heart. Nothing seemed impossible for him and he somehow found a way to make things happen. Like Don Bosco, Paul had no patience for standing at the sidelines waiting for things to happen. If he saw a need, especially that of poor and marginalized young people, he would try to find a solution. Sometimes those projects and ideas worked and other times not, but in the end his motivation was about speaking, acting and thinking with charity. Paul lived from a Vietnamese understanding of being anh em trong gia đình—a brother among brothers. As the young people would say, “you knew that he had your back.” He would be the first to point out his own shortcomings and yet he was unwavering in trying to be better and encouraged others to be better versions of themselves.
Recalling Fr. Pascual Chavez’s Invitation
With the examples of Bishop Dave and Fr. Paul Chuong, we enter these holiest days of our faith mindful of the One who emptied Himself for the sake of all. With great humility, we continue to cultivate lives based on the pastoral charity of serving the young, especially those who are poor and on the margins. Collectively as a province we heed Fr. Pascual Chavez’s invitation, “to move forward in the direction of an updated re-affirmation of the socio-political-educational choice made by Don Bosco… by forming of a social and political conscience that then leads to the making of one’s life a mission for the common good of society with a constant reference to the inalienable human and Christian values and rights” (AGC 415).
May we, like Don Bosco commit ourselves to seek out souls and leave all else aside in order to serve God in a way that cares for the least among us. This Holy Week, may we have the courage to say to those we serve: “For you I study, for you I work, for you I live, for you I am ready even to give my life.”
Easter Blessings to you, your communities and families,
Bro. Alphonse Vu, SDB
Provincial Coordinator for Salesian Schools