18 Oct 2018
Listening to and engaging the young people
Dear Salesian Family,
The Synod on Youth, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment is now in its third week. I hope you have been able to follow this historic event. You can find updates at www.synod2018.va and www.saltandlighttv.org.
Of course, this Synod is of particular importance for the Salesian Family because of the topic that it is discussing. It is also important to us all because a good number of Salesians have been involved in the process of preparation and are present at the Synod, including Fr. Angel. The Synod has already given the Church significant documents for reflection, and we look forward to benefitting from the final document and the expected subsequent apostolic exhortation from the Holy Father.
In addition to all this, the Synod is following a methodology that is of particular importance to the SDBs as we prepare for the next provincial chapter. I quote here one paragraph from the address by Pope Francis at the opening of the Synod on October 3.
“We are a sign of a Church that listens and journeys. The attitude of listening cannot be limited to the words we will exchange during the work of the Synod. The path of preparation for this moment has highlighted a Church that needs to listen, including those young people who often do not feel understood by the Church in their originality and therefore not accepted for who they really are, and sometimes even rejected. This Synod has the opportunity, the task, and the duty to be a sign of a Church that really listens, that allows herself to be questioned by the experiences of those she meets, and who does not always have a ready-made answer. A Church that does not listen shows herself closed to newness, closed to God’s surprises, and cannot be credible, especially for the young, who will inevitably turn away rather than approach. (Address by Pope Francis at the Opening of the Synod of Bishops, http://www.synod2018.va)
The comments of some of the bishops and young auditors indicate that indeed the Church is listening, that it is open to dialog, that the young people are active participants in the process. The Pope’s opening address and the process used by the Synod are giving us an example of how we too can prepare for the provincial chapter: listen to and engage the young people in meaningful dialog.
To varying degrees, this is already being done by the communities. I draw our attention to it at this time so that the effort to listen to and engage the young people is done, not so much to complete the requirements for the chapter, but so that it becomes an ordinary way of doing things. Yes, there are questionnaires that the must be filled out on time and sent to the moderator. More significant than reading what a young person has written on a form is the personal dialog with the young person. It is when we sit with the young adult teachers or volunteers and talk with them about what matters in their lives, when we invite them to prayers and dinner to get to know each other better, when we attend their prayer group as an entire community or set aside some time at camp staff meetings to reflect together on life experience, it is then that we can say we are really preparing for the provincial chapter.
What is said here about listening to and engaging the young adults in the process of preparation for the provincial chapter can equally apply to the involvement of those co-responsible for the Salesian mission. We can take advantage of the preparation for the provincial chapter really to listen to our lay collaborators and members of the Salesian Family, engaging them in formal and informal dialog. Besides all the documents the Synod will produce, I think we can learn quite a bit from its methodology.
This is a gentle reminder to the SDB directors to send in the forms for the provincial chapter on time. I don’t know of anyone, however, who has grown in his vocation because he has completed forms. If we arrive at the opening of the provincial chapter, and all we have done is filled out forms, we will have missed a great opportunity to live our Salesian vocation. The forms are meant to be documentation that, like those at the Synod, we are listening and dialoguing together with the young and our lay collaborators, to discern God’s will.
Thanks to Fr. Mike Mendl and the preparatory commission for providing all the necessary resources for this process of preparation for the provincial chapter. Thanks to the SDB directors for animating all the confreres, young people, and collaborators in this process.
In Don Bosco,
Fr. Tim Zak