THE REAL CHALLENGE – Not to proclaim but to be, Don Bosco.
The Parish Priest of a city church had invited the Salesians to regularly animate and celebrate the Sunday Youth Mass. After some 9 months however, he aborted the deal and expressed his concern that his youth would think there was only one saint in heaven.
A Bishop in India had offered a parish to the Salesians who very zealously built 4 Mass centers and invited the Bishop to bless the new chapels. The Bishop observed that all the 4 chapels were dedicated to Don Bosco. On being invited to lunch at the Salesian residence, the good humoured bishop remarked: “let me get back home, before my own chapel becomes a Don Bosco chapel”.
Way back in 1982, the Salesians of Don Bosco set up residence in Nairobi, Kenya. It was their first presence in East Africa, and till then, Don Bosco was unknown to a majority of the Kenyans. In fact, in the first month, seeing the board, “Don Bosco – Salesian Fathers” at the entrance to the villa, a gentleman walked in and asked to see Mr. Don Bosco. But in less than six months the name and fame of the Founder of the Salesians spread, and on 31st January, a surprisingly big gathering attended the festive Holy Mass, presided over by Maurice Cardinal Otunga to celebrate St. John Bosco. Other Religious Congregations were already working in Kenya effectively and with great missionary zeal among the people but they perhaps, did not make much mention of their Founders and someone even remarked, “don’t the other religious congregations have founders? “
No doubt, the Salesians exhibit a great devotion to their Founder, Don Bosco, almost to a fault and sometimes, to the annoyance of others. But, It is precisely this enthusiasm and attachment to the person of Don Bosco that is the bonding force that unites all the members of the Salesian Family and perhaps, explains their apostolic drive and missionary zeal in the service of the Church and the holistic uplift of poor youth in particular, over the years. The Salesians, also do not hide the fact that their Founder placed his religious congregation under the patronage of a French Bishop, Saint Francis of Sales. But after the canonization of Don Bosco, in 1931, the switch from Salesian Congregation (SC) to Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB) has since become, not just a boastful slogan but in fact, a ‘brand name’ which today, encompasses the “whole” Don Bosco – his life, his mission, his youth apostolate, his method of education and his salesian family, today.
But now, in this Bi-centenary Year, 2015, of the Birth of Don Bosco, what is clearly visible in the vibrant celebrations across the world, is less of an extravagant euphoria and more of a serious commitment, to be “like Don Bosco with the young and for the young”.
The 27th General Chapter of the Salesians (SDB) had already discussed intelligently and deliberated wisely on the importance of being realistic and relevant. It redefined the identity of every Salesian to be like Don Bosco: “Mystics of the Spirit, Prophets of fraternal life and Servants of the young”.
Yes, Don Bosco was not only realistic and relevant in responding to the situations and needs of youth in his times, he was also bravely resilient, like a tennis ball. Just as a tennis ball bounces higher, the harder it hits the ground, Don Bosco possessed that admirable quality of “resilience”, an important ingredient of Gospel radicality exemplified in Jesus Christ. Notwithstanding the stiff opposition, persecution, passion and death on a cross, Jesus did not succumb but bounced back. Resilience, ultimately for Jesus is Resurrection. Resilience in Jesus Christ, then, more than grit, is a “mysticism” founded on total trust in God and unconditional fidelity to His Will.
Resilence characterised the life of Don Bosco, too. He lived in deep “union with God” and he literally “hoped against hope” . Don Bosco grew up from childhood through tough challenges of poverty and faced all kinds of obstacles to realise his vocation as a priest and his mission to be a friend of poor, marginalised youngsters. The harder he hit the floor of difficulties, the higher he bounced to achieve his goals, trusting in Divine Providence and Mary, the “help of Christians”. It is infact, this quality of faith-propelled Resilience that is needed to grow into Mystics of the Spirit, Prophets of fraternal life and Servants of the young.
To respond to the complex needs of modern youth, groping in a world of confused values and false promises; and, to carry forward the Salesian Mission beyond this bi-centenary year, the Salesian Family would do well to shift from being mere story-tellers of the glories of Don Bosco and strive to emulate the realism, relevance and resilience of Don Bosco, the Mystic, the Prophet and the Servant of the young, with the young and for the young.