Rector Major Visit: Fr. Angel Fernandez in Toronto

11 Sep 2018

By Fr. Tim Zak, SDB

Fr. Angel Fernandez Artime, SDB, met with representatives of the Salesian Family in the greater Toronto area on Thursday, September 6, at St. Benedict Church in Etobicoke, Ont. The Rector Major spoke in Spanish; Fr. Tim Ploch, general councilor for the Interamerica Region of the Salesians, was the translator.

After a warm greeting, Fr. Angel asked the groups present to introduce themselves. There were SDBs, FMAs, Salesian Cooperators from Toronto and Montreal, DBVs, ADMA, young leaders from the Salesian Youth Movement and the past pupils from Canada, Hong Kong, India, Kenya, El Salvador, and Sicily, Becchi, and other parts of Italy.

The Rector Major gave a brief introduction to his presentation, stating that, with his secretary, Fr. Horacio Lopez, he has visited 80 countries as Rector Major, and in each one he has been able to meet with the members of the Salesian Family. He stated that it is beautiful to see the groups of the Salesian Family giving hope to young people on each of the six continents. Each of the 31 groups is reaching out to the world of youth, the poor, and the marginalized. The Salesian Family is the largest charismatic family in the Church. This is not to make us proud, but to understand better the responsibility we have in the Church to live the Salesian charism; it is a very beautiful thing to realize this.

The Rector Major went on to offer four major points that he feels are important for the Salesian Family today. He acknowledged that some gatherings of the Salesian Family are large, with hundreds of members present from only one group. Others, like this one with about 100 people present, are smaller, allowing the participants to feel closer to the Rector Major and each other. All, large and small, are beautiful gatherings that should make us feel good about being part of Don Bosco’s spiritual family.

Clear Salesian Identity

This feeling of being part of the Salesian Family is beautiful. It doesn’t put us in competition with other spiritual families but moves us to a clear Salesian identity, and from this clear identity we are moved to generous service.

Witness to Communion

As Salesian Family, we can give witness to communion, which is more than what we do in each work. Together, there is a great feeling of family and communion among us all. Fr. Angel shared a few reflections about the groups of the Salesian Family present at this encounter.

The SDBs and FMAs are well known in the world. People know they are consecrated religious, living in communities at the service of the young, especially those living in poverty and most at risk.

The Salesian Cooperators have a beautiful vocation. Note the use of the word “vocation.” It is a lay vocation in the Church, not just a club or group. It is one of the most creative initiatives of Don Bosco. Don Bosco’s intention was to join the religious and lay groups in a common spirit and mission, like two lungs giving life to the body. Cooperators make a commitment to live their vocation in a family—first in their natural family and then as part of the Salesian Family. There are more than 32,000 Cooperators in the world; their potential is incredible. Think of the incredible testimony of all these men and women of faith living their Salesian vocation in the family!

The past pupils are a group that is not yet fully developed—millions of past pupils of the SDBs and FMAs! They are characterized not so much by their diploma from a Salesian school as by the values they learned in the Salesian environment, values which stay in their hearts for all their lives. Imagine these millions of past pupils being a force for good in the Church and in the world.

ADMA is not a group that gets together just to say the Rosary. ADMA was founded by Don Bosco with a special mission: to remind the entire Salesian Family that if we don’t have Mary Help of Christians in our hearts, we are not really Salesian. So the first mission of ADMA is to help all the sons and daughters of Don Bosco to keep Mary Help of Christians in our hearts and lives.

The Don Bosco Volunteers (DBVs) are consecrated women in the Church and in the world. They give a unique witness of the Gospel in the world; without drawing attention to themselves, they make Christ known.

The Rector Major drew the attention of all those present to the beauty of this diverse communion. We don’t have to campaign or make a lot of noise about ourselves to manifest the beauty of the Salesian Family. We are challenged to live in communion. That doesn’t mean we all do the same thing at the same time or in the same way. Each group acts according to its unique vocation without destroying the unity of the Family.

Growth of the Salesian Family

The Rector Major gave the members of the various groups of the Salesian Family the challenge to grow in two ways. First, he challenged them to grow in identity. What does this mean? He explained that it means to be religious and lay members as Don Bosco and the other founders dreamed them to be—each member and all groups alive in giving witness to the shared charism in each unique vocation! When we do this, it will be evident in the world. We need to grow in our Salesian identity.

Second, the Rector Major further challenged those present to see that the Salesian Family grows in numbers. This is not to take pride in being numerous, but to help others discover their vocation, offering them the possibility of being part of the Salesian Family also. It is good for us in our Salesian vocation to share our calling and boldly to invite others to discover their calling. Like the first Apostles, we can invite family and friends to “come and see for yourself,” that is, to have a personal encounter with Christ and then to respond to that encounter by living the Gospel with the Salesian charism.

A Missionary Vocation

Pope Francis wants a Church that is going out. Some groups in the Church have closed in on themselves and are protecting themselves; this is not Salesian. We have doors and windows open wide; we go out to meet others and to welcome them to the community. The challenge is to reach out to those at a distance. What can we do to help them feel welcome? One possibility is to receive immigrants. What is your way of going out, of being a Church that goes out? If we live this way, as missionary disciples, we will have a bright future.

These were the main points of the Rector Major’s presentation. He went on to say that he was happy to see young couples present. Not that the older members should be disregarded, but the presence of young couples reminds us of the responsibility we have to pass on the Faith and the Salesian charism, from one generation to the next generation.

The Rector Major then responded to some questions from those present.

What is your favorite Don Bosco story?

So many stories of Don Bosco have fascinated the Rector Major. Rather than only one story, he likes to see how they all show that Don Bosco was continually thinking of the young. Fr. Angel wants to be like that, with the young always in his heart. Don Bosco wanted all the SDBs to have this apostolic zeal and pastoral charity. How much better would we be if we had this zeal? What would the world be like if there were 15,000 Don Boscos in the world? 15,000 SDBs who love young people like Don Bosco? Imagine if there were 12,000 FMAs, saints like Mother Mazzarello, entirely dedicated to the young! We have to believe it is the Holy Spirit working in each of us, empowering us as Salesians to have a great capacity to influence, starting from our small circles of influence among family and friends and moving out into larger circles, influencing society.

After visiting 80 countries, what can you say about youths today? Is there a common threat? What challenges do youths face today?

Young people throughout the world are very different; they do not have much in common; there is such great diversity of cultures, food, interests, etc. But in what is most important, they are the same. They are the same in their hearts, that is, they have a certain simplicity, the capacity to dream, to have ideals to build their lives. This is what the Rector Major has seen throughout the world. Young people are not problems; they are opportunities. There is great diversity among them, but they all still have to face the same issues of maturing that previous generations have had to face. In this, they have a connection with previous generations. Today, however, society is moving very quickly, much more quickly than it has in the past. Parents and educators have to learn to accompany young people through processes of maturing. Today, these processes need to be more personal than in the past, not imposing from outside nor forcing the individuals into a group. Considering the fragility of today’s family, the process of maturing is lengthened and has particular concerns. How can Salesians accompany young people in their real life situations along these processes of maturation today?

How can young people find support to live the faith if the parish or local Church does not offer many groups for young adults?

In order to live our style of life with intensity, we have to take care of it. It doesn’t happen by chance. FMAs and SDBs live in community; many lay Salesians live in families. In this society, the Salesian Family can be creative to help young people find meaning in their lives. This doesn’t depend on the pastor or director or animator of the religious community. The Salesian Family can be creative in providing space and opportunities to share life. We don’t always need something to do, a task to accomplish. We can get together to enjoy life and support each other on the journey. We can’t let the bureaucracy prevent us.

What message can a new teacher share with her students?

How great it is to find a young Christian educator who want to live her career as a calling. In the words of Pope Francis, young people today need credible Christian adults. Therefore, live your faith in a convincing way. The most important message doesn’t need words. In the words of Don Bosco, “Strive to make yourselves loved.” Your way of being will teach much more than any particular lesson—your closeness to the young, your ability to listen, your approachability.

What can the lay people do to promote vocations, other than prayer?

First, take care of all vocations. We cannot look only for religious or ordained vocations. We have to see marriage also as a vocation, in which the couple continually learn to give themselves to this calling. In the family, create a climate where young people learn that life is more beautiful when we live it in service. The young learn that giving oneself in service makes one happy. In contrast to the individualism and self-centeredness typical of society today, in our homes, schools, and churches, we need to educate the young to “gratuity,” giving oneself away. This is key to the future of any vocation. This can be done by forming a sense of community in the parish or youth center, where you must be concerned for others.

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