Italy - Rector Major: "The mission of the Salesians is always to stand by the young."

(ANS – Turin) – On Dec. 8, 1841, Don John Bosco, founder of the Salesian Congregation, inaugurated an “oratory” dedicated to St. Francis de Sales on the outskirts of Turin. It was the nucleus of what became the “citadel” of Valdocco. Where “everything began.” Here, a group of 30 journalists accredited with the Vatican Press Office and the Italian Foreign Press spent the weekend of Dec. 16-18 visiting the central places where St. John Bosco worked. The group was organized by Fr. Giuseppe Costa, Secretary of the Rector Major of the Salesians, Fr. Ángel Fernández Artime, and co-spokesperson for the Congregation. 

On this occasion, the Rector Major was interviewed by “Avvenire,” recalling how the “mission of the Salesians is to always stand by young people.”

The following is the full text of the interview.
“In almost nine years, most of which have been spent traveling around the world, visiting missions,” Fr. Ángel Fernández Artime began, “I have been able to touch with my own hands the immense good that our confreres do, together with the whole Church and so many people of goodwill. I say this without triumphalism: I believe that today we are a serene congregation that can look to the future with hope.” Some data comfort him.

There are currently 14,000 Salesians of Don Bosco, present in 134 countries, soon to be 136. Between 440 and 460 novices make their First Profession each year, with a “very good” ratio of one young man in formation for every 4.2 Salesians. Fr. Á.F. Artime talks about the Congregation’s presence in Ukraine in both the Latin and Greek Catholic rite communities. In this year of war, he says, “our confreres in Ukraine are very brave; some of them are always on the frontiers and on the front lines, bringing medicine and aid. We have not lost any Salesians, but the reality is extremely harsh. In November I was able to view photos of the front line of the war: I cannot imagine how in the 21st century so much human harm can be caused.”

The Rector Major also mentions the presence, discreetly, in mainland China where there are “some Salesians,” known as such by the authorities, who carry out a professional activity. “For example,” he specifies, “we have an Italian who has been working with lepers for years and an excellent professor of classical literature who lives on a university campus.” During the meeting, there is also time for especially sensitive topics, such as the sad phenomenon of child abuse. Fr. Á.F. Artime is clear and sharp: “for us who have promised God and publicly to surrender our lives for the sake of children, even one case of abuse is terrible. As far as we Salesians are concerned, any case that comes to us, we don’t let it sleep: we immediately have a trial at the place where it happened to clarify. Then we present the case to the authorities in Rome.” Having said that, the Rector Major adds, “It is important to ensure justice for the victims, but if a person is innocent to throw him to the public is radically unfair, because his reputation will not be the same as before. We believe so much in restorative justice: you have to meet the victims, see their needs and what is their demand for justice.”

Asked about what Pope Francis defines as “ideological colonization” and the issue of “gender,” the Rector Major of the Salesians recalled that “the most important thing is respect for the person. One cannot deal with such sensitive issues in a superficial way. The person is the most sacred reality we have: the Church must be capable of mercy, listening, welcoming, understanding, which does not mean blessing or justifying everything.”

Regarding the question of how to transmit the faith to the younger generations, Fr. Ángel Fernández Artime observes, “Compared to Don Bosco’s time, everything has changed, but, at the same time, nothing has changed.” So, even in a profoundly different society from that of the mid-19th century, “our center does not change: a faith lived in transparency, with declinations that, of course, change from reality to reality.” Without falling into proselytism, on the other hand impossible in realities such as Muslim and Hindu countries, but without giving up proposing one’s own testimony of faith.

“The important thing,” he remarked, “is that we are not ashamed to make proposals. Then each person, according to his or her freedom and interest, chooses. When this happens, it gives me so much peace of mind.” Finally, Fr. Ángel Fernández Artime emphasizes that the work of the Salesians takes place not only in the classic oratory but also in other ways, determined by the reality. With youth centers and with schools, with homes for street children and sexually exploited girls, in the 2,800 parishes entrusted to the Congregation, in 92 university institutions. And also, he is keen to emphasize, in refugee camps such as those in Kakuma in Kenya, Palabek in Uganda, and Juba in South Sudan: “We work for the vocational training of young people, so that they do not remain there but learn a trade and as soon as possible they can leave those camps.”

Source: Avvenire

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