Letter from Rome of May 10, 1884: The Most Significant Elements

(ANS – Rome) – May 10th marks 139 years since the famous “Letter from Rome” that Don Bosco wrote to his Salesians to warn them of the risk of losing the truly “Salesian” nature of being among young people, of educating and evangelizing them. A way of being present among young people that implies loving, requires the visibility of this love, knows how to raise questions, provide models, gives birth to dreams, projects and prospects, and finally generates mature men and women capable of building the Kingdom of God in service to their brothers and sisters. In recent times, Rector Major Emeritus Fr. Pascual Chávez Villanueva proposed an updated reading of this letter, which is and remains a charismatic cornerstone for the whole Congregation and for the Salesian Family.

Don Bosco’s dream-letter written from Rome in May 1884 makes clear the dialectic between “presence of the Charism” and “work of educational or social services.” For there may very well be a presence of the Charism without a work – as it was in Turin with Don Bosco, before the reality of Valdocco was structured, or as it is in those realities where, for various reasons, works are impossible; just as there may be a work without the presence of the Charism any longer: a work that proceeds by inertia, that has lost its propositional capacity and meaningfulness, that perhaps has a glorious past to tell, but no longer has anything to say in today’s social and ecclesial scenario.

Faced with this risk, Fr. Chávez proposes a rereading, contextualized to today’s reality and its challenges, of the Letter from Rome, which he calls “the Gospel of Don Bosco.” Salesians are therefore called to welcome young people for who they are, “in the state in which they are,” and to articulate proposals and interventions to the measure of boys and girls, and of particular situations. “It is a matter of seeking that rare equilibrium between radical proposals of meaning and respect for the personal and collective dynamic that it takes for each person to achieve them,” he further explains.

Father Chávez’s reading identifies the six most significant elements in the Letter from Rome:

Knowing how to use the language of love – that is, the great principle of the “visibility of love.”

Understanding young people – the rational element that makes it possible to cancel the generational distance;

Having happiness at heart – as the goal of each person’s vocation and the privileged way for evangelization;

Being present – physically and in dialogue and sincere confrontation;

Overcoming formalisms – accepting the educational effort to give young people models of comparison for growth;

Sharing action – accompanying and fostering youth leadership.