Don Bosco Today Spring 2001


  • Editorial
  • Racism
  • Youth Work=Group Work
  • Shrigley
  • Centre Page
  • Women educating women
  • SON and DAD
  • Media and the World of the Young
  • Moved On!
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Trust the Road


    In this edition of 'Don Bosco Today' we are attempting to look at some of the problems facing young people and the way these problems affect those who are concerned for the young.

  • In the last edition of 'Don Bosco Today' Fr David O'Malley wrote about working with young people in groups. That article inspired Fr Peter Newbery, who works as a Salesian in Hong Kong, to offer some further reflections on group work. I was delighted to include his article not only because it sheds further light on the issue but also because it illustrates how Salesians, in different parts of the world, are facing similar problems and how we can gain so much from sharing our insights. The problems of young people today are global problems.
  • Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy, who has made quite a study of 'soaps', explains how TV drama can affect the way adults view young people. It may help those of us who are addicted to Coronation Street to be critical viewers.
  • One parenting problem, which tends to be ignored in many publications, is the anxiety felt by parents and by young people when they have to come to terms with sexual orientation. However you may feel about gay people, I am sure you will be moved by the account of a father and son coming to terms with the difficulties of growing up and facing this reality in their lives.
  • We invited Fr Oliver McTernan, a communicator of great distinction, to look at the issue of racial discrimination. It may help us to face our own prejudices with honesty.
  • Sister X tells how the Salesian Sisters are working in Ecuador to uphold the rights of women.
  • The article on the Shrigley hotel is an interesting insight into hospitality.
  • The article on 'Moving On' looks at a creative approach to helping young people face decisions in their lives.
  • A new feature. We intend to take a different country each issue and give a summary of the Salesian presence in that country. We are beginning with Papua New Guinea.
  • Finally we have news of a book for school leavers, 'Trust the Road'. A gift for life.

    Fr Tony Bailey SDB Editor

    Editorial Board
    Joan Rankin, Gerry O'Shaughnessy, David O'Malley, Anthony Wilson, Stephen Wilson.

    Racism: a problem that must not be ignored

    RacismRecently I met up with a friend whom I had not seen for many years. She is a journalist, an African-American whom I received into the Catholic Church when she and her husband were working in London for an American broadcasting company. The week before our reunion, Linda had taken part in a conference for black Catholics that had been organised by the Archdiocese of Chicago. Worried by the declining numbers of black parishioners and so few black vocations, Archbishop Cardinal Francis George, was determined that black Catholics should have their say. The Conference was a first step in a consultation process that will culminate when the National Black Congress gathers in Chicago in 2002. Cardinal George assured the delegates that he had no hidden agenda. He was simply anxious to listen in order to see what God is calling us to do.

    Linda told me that she found the whole event a deeply moving experience. She was touched by the stories that she heard told. Some of her fellow delegates recalled incidences of racism which they themselves had experienced at the hands of fellow parishioners and priests. She marvelled at the depth of faith displayed by her fellow black Catholics. Despite experiences that had left them with deep scars and hurts they did not abandon the Church. She told me that the mood of the meeting was caught completely by a black religious sister who stood up and said, "This is our Church. We belong. We are proud of being black and proud of being Catholic".

    In Britain I think it is true to say that, on the whole, we like to pride ourselves on how well immigrants from all parts of the world have fitted into our social structures. It is true that with a few notable exceptions we have avoided the 'gettos'. In the USA 'gettos' have marred, and still do in most cities, the multi-ethnic make up of society. The death of a young black teenager on the streets of South London and the publication of the MacPherson Report which subsequently accused the Metropolitan Police of 'institutional racism' however alerted us to the dangers of such pride. This whole sad affair should have taught us that no institution in Britain today could afford to consider itself to be above the risk of becoming tainted by racism. The Catholic Church is no exception to this.

    When we look at our own recent history we become aware of the fact that, apart from the efforts of few priests, nothing was done at an institutional level to understand the pastoral needs of the large numbers of migrant workers that came to Britain from the West Indies in the 1950's. Many of these black immigrants were Catholics. I remember the Archbishop of Kingston in Jamaica telling me how horrified he was to hear the stories that many black Catholics had to tell him when he came on a pastoral visit to England in the early 80's. People told him how they found themselves barred from many parish social clubs because of their colour, and how they were unable to get their children into our Catholic schools because they did not meet the criteria. Sadly the Catholic Church lost most of that generation of young black immigrants. Some took refuge in newly formed black-led Churches, that are now flourishing. The few that remained Catholic found little opportunity to contribute culturally to our Catholic way of life in Britain.

    Overt racism is easy to spot. The problem is, as the Mac Pherson Report so wisely points out, most of our racism to-day goes unnoticed simply because we are not aware the effects of our actions or attitudes can have on people of another race. This came home to me recently when an African friend told me what she felt like when a newly appointed priest to her parish told an audience of mainly immigrants that he had little experience of a multi racial community. The parish, which he had come from, was, in his words, "white Anglo Saxon, apart from one or two brown and black faces that had only recently appeared in the congregation". She told me that not a single immigrant present at that parish meeting felt that they belonged any longer to that community. Sadly that priest seemed totally unaware of the anxiety which his remarks had caused. Even more sad was the fact that neither his bishop or those responsible for making such an appointment seemed to be aware until it was pointed it out to them, how ill conceived such an appointment was in the first place. Clearly our Church leaders as well as senior police officers have much to learn from the MacPherson findings.

    The Second Vatican Council declared in the Decree on Relations with Non Believers that we cannot call upon God as 'Our Father' unless we also treat all peoples as brothers and sisters. It also declared that racism of any kind is foreign to the mind of Christ. The Church will only be credible in teaching this message if first we ensure that at every level we are prepared to scrutinise our own structures and practices. We should not be prepared to allow any form of overt or hidden racism to go unchallenged. This calls for more than just being politically correct in our language. to day is a multi-ethnic society. Our Catholic communities should work to ensure that people are not disadvantaged because of their inability to speak fluently or to understand how our system works especially when it comes to finding a place in a Catholic school. I fear that criteria laid down by many of our over subscribed schools which demand an active participation in parish life are likely to exclude automatically those migrants we ought to be reaching. Many do not find it easy to play an active role in our parish communities. There may be all sorts of reasons for this. They are often obliged to work unsociable hours or long hours because they are so poorly paid. Language also can be a huge obstacle that prevents them from becoming involved. These are all areas that need attention today if we are to avoid the mistakes of the 50's.

    The Archdiocese of Chicago is to be praised for its bold initiative in setting up a process of consultation to ensure that the voice of black Catholics is heard. If the Catholic leadership in Britain were to follow this example they may find it painful to accept what they will hear from our own black and migrant groups. Such an initiative though could well prove to be a turning point in the downward trend of Church attendance in Britain today.

    Fr Oliver Mc Ternan. Fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University.

    Youth Work is 'Group Work'

    To counsel or not to counsel?

    Youthwork'Counselling' seems to be the magic word of the modern age. In Hong Kong, any youngster who is experiencing problems of any kind, stealing in school, failing exams, throwing a temper tantrum, suffering hallucinations, is prescribed as 'needing counselling'. By 'counselling' is meant personal one-to-one process of listening and perhaps decision making. It is often triggered by some crisis or behaviour and it is usually short term. Youth Workers of all kinds, teachers, social workers, pastoral workers etc. sign up for counselling courses. Will youth work become synonymous with counselling? Perhaps but that would be to underestimate the value of group work. No one can deny the need that many young people have for counselling, but perhaps the great value of good group work is not really fully understood.

    Don Bosco's Way

    Don Bosco always regarded the group as the natural setting for youth work and the place where most problems can be dealt with. We are born into a group, our family. We grow up in various groups, classes at school, football teams, clubs. We spend our lives in groups, work groups, associations, trade unions. Hopefully when we die some friends will be by our bedside.

    Don Bosco insisted that Salesians should always be together with the young people. Only occasionally, was it necessary to take a youngster aside for a quiet word of advice. A healthy and ongoing 'group' life is one of the best thing for a young person's development. For most young people Youth Work is Group Work. Only occasionally is it necessary to provide individual counselling to a group member to enable more effective participation in the group. 'Group Leadership' therefore is of critical importance to any youth worker.

    Group Development

    In the last issue of 'Don Bosco Today', Fr. David O'Malley described a model of group dynamics. Every group goes through five stages -

    (1) Forming (i.e. getting together as a group)

    (2) Storming (adjusting to each other)

    (3) Norming (dividing up the key roles )

    (4) Performing (actually getting on with doing what the group was formed to do)

    and finally

    (5) Mourning (splitting up).

    Just as a person must grow through childhood and adolescence before becoming an adult, all groups must go through these stages, before they mature and are able to 'perform' as a group, i.e. visit an old peoples' home, run a camp for kids or whatever it was they came together to do.

    Although this model of group work is not perfect, it is easy to understand and useful for any youth worker. The natural question to ask next is 'What is required of the group leader at each of these stages?'


    The effective leader needs to be both flexible in approach and aware of the needs of the group. The good group leader must be constantly aware of the ways in which he can influence the Relationship Behaviour of the group, improving the way they get one with one another, and the Task Behaviour of the group, how they carry out the job or task for which it was formed.

    The Relationship Behaviour of the group is improved by such things as giving support, communicating, encouraging and helping communication, listening, providing feedback, etc. In short, any act which helps build inter-personal relationships and unify the group regardless of whether the group is doing the work it was established to do.

    The Task Behaviour of the group is improved by such things as information giving, asking for opinions or suggestions, evaluating performance, goal setting, organising, establishing deadlines, etc. In short, all those things which are required to make sure that the job gets done regardless of how the members feel.

    The group leader must move the group forward through the five different stages by a skilful combination of emphasis on these two types of behaviour.

    Four Leadership Styles:

    In some groups the relationship dimension will tend to dominate and in others the task dimension will be stronger. In some groups they could be equally strong or weak. That mix demands four different styles of being present with the group.

    1. 'TELLING' style of leadership happens when the task is most important and relationships much less important. The members are basically 'told' why they are here and what they are expected to do. At this stage 'relationship' behaviour is usually limited to 'ice- breaking' and 'self-introduction. The leader is clearly setting the boundaries. This links with the Forming stage of the group particularly.

    2. 'SELLING' style of leadership happens when both task and relationship are equally important. The goal of the leader is to influence the group strongly to resolve conflict between members while motivating and organising the work that must be done. This links with the storming stage of the group.

    3. 'PARTICIPATING' style of leadership happens when relationships are most important and the work of the group is less important. The members have already agreed on how the work should be divided up but the leader needs to work alongside the group picking up the learning that is going on and being part of the group as far as possible. This links in with the norming stage of the group.

    4. 'DELEGATING' style of leadership happens when a group is clear about roles and relationship needs. When everyone knows what they must do and have accepted a working relationship at the personal level, the 'leader' can become an observer within the group and deal with any issues only where the group needs specific support. In general the group can almost look after itself.

    As the group finishes its job it is important for the leader to take up a more active role laying stress on 'Relationships' rather than 'Tasks', enabling all the members to say 'goodbye'.

    Each of these styles of being active and present to youth groups has its time and makes demands on the leader. In a group situation where a fire breaks out the leader would hardly sit down and talk through an escape plan with a group. The leader would 'tell' the group to get out and make sure they all did as they were told. The same style would not work if you were trying to get a consensus about how to deal with an emotional group problem. Don Bosco preferred to begin with breaking down the barriers with young people and establishing strong confident relationships. He would only 'tell' them to do things when he thought it was necessary for safety or when he was sure it could be done without resentment. For example, when faced with some poor behaviour from a young person Don Bosco dealt with him very gently and was challenged by his own colleagues. He replied,

    "This young man was not capable of gaining anything from a reprimand, his poor attitude has robbed him of reason, a telling off would have done nothing for him."

    At other times Don Bosco was clearly capable of taking strong action with groups and maintaining group discipline. He was able to participate in play, in music and catechetical group leadership and was ready to delegate huge responsibilities to young people in groups. Part of the wisdom of Don Bosco was his ability to read the group and individuals within it. He was able to push the group when it was needed, build up the relationships within the group or give that word of counsel to the individual in need. In general, we learn more from our failures than we do from successes.

    Here is a description of one group that almost failed. I once had to run a group for the fathers of teenage girls who were in the care of the Good Shepherd Sisters. Most of these fathers were divorced. Their daughters were in the residential school run by the sisters but were given home-leave for one weekend each month. The Sisters felt that these men would not pay much attention to them because they were women but they wanted to involve these men in the lives of their daughters. That was my task!

    I had assumed that these fathers, most of them busy, working men, would plod with difficulty through the different group stages since men generally are rather reserved about 'counselling'. During the first session ('forming'), I began with a standard introduction of myself and asked each them to introduce themselves. I suggested a few alternative arrangements for the group meeting - a different place? a different time? some refreshments? etc.... (Relationship behaviour!) The response, to say the least, was rather lukewarm! There was very little interest and I began to get worried that the group was going to collapse. So I quickly moved on to 'Task Leadership.'

    I asked if they had any suggestions as to what difficulties we could look at together. I asked each of them to suggest one or two difficulties they were experiencing in dealing with their daughters. Like a shot, each one of them produced a list of a dozen different things they were having problems with!

    I was still moving cautiously (since the text books say that is what you are supposed to do in the beginning). I said that we would draw up a list of all the problems, discuss which were common to all and then put them in the order that we, as a group, wanted to deal with them. I privately assumed that once we started this task, we would move into the 'Storming' stage with serious arguments among the members about what was most important and who wanted to do what first.

    In fact, as single fathers, they all found it extremely difficult to deal with their growing teenage daughters during the weekends of home-leave. They all focused on this problem immediately. I suppose in retrospect this is really rather an obvious problem. But the way in which this problem transformed the group was amazing.

    Unfortunately, I nearly caused the group to disintegrate because rather than let them get on with the job, I was still looking for the unresolved conflicts of the 'storming' stage while they just wanted to hear what all the other dads did to cope with their daughters during the home-leave ('performing').

    Fortunately, I managed to figure out what was going on in time and catch up with my group members. They had skipped right through the 'storming' and 'norming' stages and went straight into 'performing'. They were all adult men, competent in their own fields, sharing a common-felt problem. It really was just a question of 'delegating' and letting them get on with the job without getting in the way. They ran the group themselves. All I had to do from time to time was tell someone to give the others a chance to finish what they wanted to say. That usually produced a laugh.

    It was wonderful group that we all enjoyed. But I nearly messed it up because I insisted on going by the book rather than paying attention to what was actually happening in the group.

    Don Bosco was optimistic about the goodness of young people and expected that they could do much good for one another. As long as he could maintain a safe group environment he knew that young people could counsel each other simply by being together and learning from each other. The good group leader is one who can read the rich mix of energy and somehow harmonise it with both the relationship needs and task needs of the group. Young people have the wisdom within them to help each other to grow and only occasionally need that more intense experience of counselling.

    Fr Peter Newbery SDB


    From 1929 until 1978, Shrigley Hall was the home of the Salesian Missionary College, a type of junior seminary helping hundreds of young men to discern their vocations in life. Today Shrigley Hall is part of a large luxury hotel.

    In the Salesian Missionary College accommodation for the 'guests', the boys aged 11-18, was relatively Spartan. Over 100 boys were accommodated in one huge dormitory at the top of the main house. There was no such thing as an en-suite dormitory, 100 boys shared the facility of a 30- basin wash-place, with cold running water and the absolute luxury of a shower once a week. They were being prepared for missionary work in many foreign countries. From this college so many young men went off as missionaries to India, Africa, South America, all parts of the world. Even today we can think of former pupils, Peter Newbery SDB working with marginalised young people in Hong Kong. Joe Glackin SDB and Fr Joe Brown SDB and their unique contribution in rebuilding the lives of young people in Liberia. Many also became 'missionaries' here at home, as teachers and youth workers throughout the UK and Ireland.

    While some of the boys from Shrigley did become professed Salesians and missionaries, the majority did not. However they did enjoy the benefits of a Salesian education. By a strange providence these non-professed Salesians have probably done and are doing more for young people, in their own way, than the relatively few who became missionaries abroad. The education received at Salesian Missionary College was, according to the mind of the founder of the Salesians, Saint John Bosco, an excellent preparation for life, any life. Many more are still Salesians in their outlook and in their family lives.

    The Shrigley Hotel today boasts hundreds of en suite guest rooms and suites that have hosted such stars as the Manchester United Football Team, the Coronation Street crew and Robbie Williams. It was rather fitting that a number of past pupils gathered in the main reception area of the hotel to unveil a plaque to commemorate the College. The plaque serves to remind the guests that this fine example of restored Victorian glory, was formally the home and school of so many Salesians of Don Bosco and their students. Just as Shrigley Park Hotel considers itself to be a leading member of the hospitality industry; we Salesians consider ourselves as leading members of the hospitality mission. Our hospitality extends to the thousands of young people throughout the world who are without a home, without parents, or without the means to pay for an education. We welcome these many youngsters as our guests or rather our family in a world that can sometimes ignore them and their importance.

    Thanks must go to the Shrigley Past Pupils Association and Paramount Hotels Ltd for the opportunity for this commemoration. In particular our thanks go to Peter Hunter, one of the last group of boys to be educated at Shrigley, who worked so hard to commemorate the selfless dedication of those who went through the Salesian Missionary College

    If you ever go to stay at Shrigley, or have a meal or a drink in the bar, don't forget to look at the plaque to the right of the main entrance, and perhaps offer a prayer of thanks for the generosity and friendship of those who lived there at one time.

    Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy and Mr John Prior
    Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB and Mr John Prior Banqueting Manager at Shrigley Park Hotel

    The text reads as follows: "This plaque was presented by the Shrigley Association of past pupils and staff who studied and worked at The Salesian Missionary College - "Shrigley Park". It expresses gratitude to those who selflessly devoted their lives to the education of Catholic youth."

    Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB

    Centre page

    Unless you change and become as little children you will not enter the kingdom of God

    Women educating women in Ecuador 2000

    Women educating womenTooting, Tooting Broadway or Tooting Bec are names familiar to those living in south London. But who ever heard of Tuutin Entsa? In fact you would have to consult a very large scale map to locate it deep in the forests of South East Ecuador. Yet here at a mission station among the Shuar people the Salesian Sisters continue the work of Don Bosco and Mary Mazzarello on behalf of the poor and especially of young women in need.

    Salesian Sisters have been working in several centres among the Shuar Indians for many years. Known as the "Mother of the Shuar" one of the great FMA missionaries, Sister Maria Troncatti died in a 'plane crash in 1969 in the forests of that area. She had helped to establish several mission stations serving the spiritual and material needs of the people. She had also assisted the native peoples in setting up educational and training programmes for teachers and nurses, along with a hospital and a radio station. Above all, she had enabled the formation of a Shuar federation to press for civil rights, and other benefits for the people whose rights had not been recognised. Ecuador is a South American republic on the Pacific coast which, as its name suggests, straddles the equator. A narrow coastal plain rises to the Andes with some of the highest active volcanoes in the world. On the eastern side the mountains fall down to a densely forested plain watered by tributaries of the Amazon. The mission station of Tuutin Entsa is located in a clearing in the jungle where the makeshift football pitch of beaten red earth also serves as a landing strip for small aircraft. The area that goes under the name of Tuutin Entsa covers 700 square km. and is the centre for three groups of native peoples, with some thirty centres or communities in all. Approximately a quarter of Ecuador's 11 million inhabitants are Amerindians. Over the past thirty years or so the present Shuar population migrated there from further afield, in the search for land, losing many of its traditional tribal values. The mission serves people uprooted from their ancestral lands, trying their best to eke out a living from the region where they currently dwell, working the land for 'their daily bread'.

    It is difficult to reach Tuutin Entsa because it is only accessible by dirt road; most people walk wherever they need to go. They have no way of getting to markets to sell the meagre produce they raise from subsistence farming - bananas, coffee, cocoa, rice, potatoes, maize, barley and sugar cane. There are two rivers navigable by small craft but such transport is too expensive for the people. The same is true of course for travel by light aircraft. The people are poor by any standard and desperately need a helping hand to improve their lot. There is one small school in the whole area and the fact that young people have to leave home if they want to receive an education causes problems in itself. The school is, of necessity, a basic boarding school since the distances are enormous and the means of transport very limited. Many young people yearn for education which, in theory, is compulsory for six years. Resources, though, are restricted and there is scarce possibility of these young people ever attaining a better life. Very few people, in fact, have received any formal education. Their only hope for advancement lies with the young generations provided they receive an education. Culturally women have been marginalised when it comes to education. They usually fall below the level of basic literacy expected of their men-folk. Some young women choose to run away hoping for a better life elsewhere only to end up on the streets of Macas, the nearest town several miles away. Of those who do return, the majority do so as single mothers The one priest who has to serve more than 30 communities is assisted by a number of Eucharistic ministers and catechists who strive to develop the Christian faith of the people living in the villages of this vast region. In addition Tuutin Entsa is the launching pad for the evangelisation of the Achuar Indians. Aware of the needs at the settlement, two Salesian Sisters from the community at Macas have been spending as much time as they could over the past few years at Tuutin Entsa. They have been involved in the preparation of catechists, teaching religion in the little school, organising youth groups and running sewing classes, especially showing the young women how to make their own clothes. Finally, just under two years ago, they were able to settle there as a community with a couple of other Sisters. After assessing the situation more fully, the community is attempting to respond in a Salesian way to the plight of disadvantaged young women for whom there is no protection, no future. The Sisters are committed to the development of the various youth groups. They are also directing their energies and resources towards evangelisation and catechesis, literacy and general cultural programmes. For the young women they are offering agriculture, health-care, cooking, and crafts. The overall aim of their apostolate is to improve the lives of the Shuar people of Tuutin Entsa, and the young women in particular.

    Vocational training will give the young women a greater possibility of work. This work will indirectly improve the lot of the families and lessen the likelihood of the girls ending up as prostitutes on the streets of Macas and the other towns bordering the area. They believe in the principle, 'when you educate a woman you educate her whole future family'. The Sisters are already working to foster the community work projects and co-operatives for the marketing of the products of the vocational training schemes.

    The local Ecuadorian Sisters have managed to set up a place where the young Shuar women gather to learn sewing, crafts and raise their self-esteem as women. The Salesian Sisters of Great Britain have been able to help with this project. It's not an elaborate building but a safe, weatherproof place suitable for teaching the young women the skills that will help them with their own families later on and which will provide some sort of income. The young women are keen to learn. The Sisters have managed to acquire a few sewing machines and are trying to gather other essential equipment for the training courses. In fact, as Sister Luz Lopez, the superior of the community remarked, they are just beginning and need practically everything urgently. Despite vast differences of time and location, the mission station of Tuutin Entsa bears all the hallmarks of the early days of the Salesian Sisters at Mornese and Valdocco. The age of missionary pioneers, it seems, is not over yet

    Sister Mary Treacy FMA

    Should you wish to help the work of the Salesian Sisters in Ecuador please send your donations to Sister Kathleen Jones FMA, Provincial Office, 13 Streatham Common North, Streatham, London SW16 3HG

    SON and DAD

    ShoesWhen did I realise that my son, John, was different? There was no one moment of sudden realisation. There was just a gradual awareness through various small incidents that he was not reacting to life as his two older brothers had. He wasn't going out with girls as young men of his age usually do, though he had many good friends who were girls.

    When did I accept him as gay? I would like to think I had always accepted him because I loved him as my son. While still at secondary school, he was about 12 or 13 years old, my wife and I had taken him to the cinema. As we were queuing for the film, John spotted some of his school mates coming out. He immediately looked uncomfortable as though anticipating their reaction. Then they began to shout over towards us "Look there's the bloody queer!" I thought to myself, "Grief!" My suspicions were getting stronger. I pretended not to hear what they were shouting. My wife instead wanted me to go after them. I said "It's only kids' talk." We went home in silence and did not discuss it. I felt for my son but didn't feel it was fair on him to talk about the incident.

    One night John had gone out, with some of his friends, to a gay night-club. He didn't realise that we knew where he had gone. He didn't come home and we feared the worst. It was an extremely traumatic night for my wife and for myself. Teenagers never realise how much their parents can worry. From our point of view he had gone missing all night in what we thought was a dangerous place, and even though he was 19 years old we were frantic and eventually rang the police. Then he phoned. Knowing he was safe, and on the way home, I went out to do some shopping. My instinctive reaction, on seeing him, was hardly like the father of the prodigal son. I really felt more like wrapping the shopping round his neck than hugging him. In fact I suppose I felt more like the prodigal father. I had nurtured suspicions without having the courage to tell him that I accepted him as he was. My mind had been filled with the thought of what I would do with him for giving his mother and myself so much worry that night. Instead I just had to hug him.

    There was an incident when John had grown up and we were working in the same firm. I asked John to visit a customer. This customer told me that he didn't want John to go to his firm, because he was gay and people might object to him. I was furious and said to him, how dare he say that John was gay. I had denied he was gay and I don't know why I did. I was like St Peter, I denied it. Yet somehow I felt I was defending him from discrimination in the only way I knew at the time.

    I suppose my acceptance of my gay son is a kind of quiet acceptance. I don't talk to my friends about having a gay son, but at the same time I am immensely proud, as a father should be, of a having such a wonderful son. I am closer now to him than I have ever been.


    It began before I went to secondary school. I knew I was different but I didn't know why. Loneliness is a painful thing, especially for a young boy at school. When I went to the Catholic Secondary School I was made to feel different. The other boys and even some of the teachers treated me as different and made jokes at my expense. The lads would make a comment and the teachers would back it up, joining in the fun, taking the side of the majority against me, it hurt. I had no one to talk to and my loneliness deepened. I reacted by trying to do as well as I could at school; to let them know I would not be intimidated. On leaving school my loneliness increased till I discovered friendship.

    The confrontation I had been dreading for years happened when I was 19 years old. At that time my parents still expected me to be home on the last train at night. This particular night my friend had taken a drug overdose and I took him to hospital. I phoned my parents to say why I wasn't home. Next morning my mother quizzed me, saying "Who is this friend you were out with last night?" Before I could attempt an answer she immediately said to me, "He is more than a friend isn't he?" I was feeling very emotional after the night at the hospital, seeing my friend suffer. "Yes" I blurted out, "He is." She gave me a hug and a kiss, accepting me. I realised, after all these years, that my mother knew and still loved me. I went up to my room and cried.

    I had feared this moment for many years, I knew it would be difficult for both my parents. Now I had to face my Dad. How would he take the news? I stayed in my room, afraid to come down. An hour or so later I heard my mother calling up "Lunch is ready, come on down. Your dad is here. Its all right." I should have known by her tone of voice that she had spoken to Dad and that I could face him. But I was still so nervous. I can see him now. He put the shopping down. He came up to me. Gave me a hug and a kiss, and said "Oh my son". At which point Mum said "Come on the two of you, get on with your dinner." I was really not in the mood for dinner, but somehow it was like being at the last supper.

    I think I am closer to my Dad now than I ever was before. I realise that my parents, being good Catholics, find it difficult. When I told Mum I was writing this article she said "I still pray for you every day." I thank God every day for the love of my parents. I know one young man whose parents rejected him. He committed suicide by jumping off the roof of a car-park. Some parents feel ashamed of their children when they are gay.

    Media and the World of the Young

    A real jewel in the crown of British Independent Television is celebrating 40 years of broadcasting at this time. Of course, I am referring to the Granada TV production of 'Coronation Street', a serial drama that aims to tell the stories of people living in a Salford back street. It is amazing to reflect on the popularity of the programme not only in the UK, but also on screens throughout the world. If we look at the most popular programmes in the UK today, we see that the so-called soaps always top the ratings. BBC's Eastenders constantly vies with ITV's Coronation St. to be the official reflection on British life! Along with Channel 4's Brookside and ITV's Emerdale, the world of the soap, in reality, occupies a small, restricted world. A world, however, that is almost home to millions of people every week as they follow the highs and lows of their characters.

    Soap plots become the subject of eager conversations and debates in homes, coffee-shops, work-places, schools and even Parliament. As the BBC trailer says, with some modesty, "We're all talking about it!" The soap fulfils a place in modern life that the ancient village story- teller occupied of old. The addictive power of the soap is the subject of a book, but in this article I would like to explore the way soaps portray young people. To be realistic, I feel it best to limit the discussion to an exploration of one soap - Coronation Street

    From the very first opening scene, 40 years ago, with a couple of girls playing a street game outside the corner shop to the current plot of a fourteen year old dealing with motherhood, Coronation Street would argue that it tries to reflect British life. Children and young people have always been central to the plots. TV critics like to point fun at some aspects of life in the 'Street'; Sara Louise Platt went upstairs as a child and came back down as a different girl, who happened to be pregnant! The same critics would argue that such a plot line would never have happened when Ena Sharples was the local busybody and Annie Walker was the landlady of the Rover's Return. However, even back in those puritanical days, the audience enjoyed the activities of a certain Elsie Tanner whose cause for canonisation is certainly not being pursued!

    In a society that has largely moved away from the concept of strong community bonds, it is ironic to think that people might not know the names of neighbours living on their street, but can tell you who lives at 7 Coronation Street or 4 Brookside Close! We live in homes increasingly protected by high-tech security systems while we watch the activities of close-knit families, sharing love, anger, intrigue and laughter, usually in some communal area such as the local pub. We recognise in Coronation Street all the usual stereotypes from the nosy busybody to the concerned saint and the wicked villain. In a similar way a large group of people can form their opinions on Britain's youth by their TV watching habits. Strange how our whole perception of real young people can be formed by certain younger actors portraying the youth of today. A serial drama about everyday life in Britain today cannot be presented unless you show the whole variety of characters that might inhabit such a world. Some readers might remember the heartache that certain youths have brought to the 'Street'. Lucile Hewitt and Dennis Tanner were young people who made life difficult for their own families in many ways. However, a subtle message comes through the soap, even from these early days: children and young people are difficult! This is especially true for people who are not in regular contact with youngsters. The soap can thus reinforce ignorance and prejudice. It is interesting to note how all the popular soaps now use ever younger actors as central to plot lines.

    Despite the fact that this is just a story, for many the soap gives a true indication of modern British life. In fact it was Roy Hattersley MP who suggested that Coronation Street might give future historians an insight into British life. However, if we examine the young people on the set, we might want to question the image given. As Salesians, we stand by the young and become their advocates; being prepared to stand up for them. If we look at the central youth characters, we discover certain traits:

  • Sarah Louise is 14 and pregnant. She finds the whole experience frightening. At last she now realises that her baby is no toy. Her own social life is ruined. Some argue that her portrayal of a little girl lost, who made one mistake, was better than any amount of sex education lessons in school.

  • David, her younger brother can be the brat from hell, but then his parent's marriage has just broken up and he does not fully understand what is going on.

  • Candice, her friend is the stereotypical young vamp, chasing anything in trousers. However, she is far too street-wise to become pregnant. She knows exactly what to do.

  • Toyah, the eco-warrior, is concerned about saving the planet. She makes sure that wicked property developers are exposed in the media. She presents an idealism that we can all admire, yet few aspire to.

  • Tyrone, the son of a convict, has limited intelligence, yet can get by on his charm and wit. His story line about illiteracy fuelled the national debate about poor standards in schools.

    As in the case of so many soaps, it is the female that is very much in control and central to the plots. The 'Street' has a history of strong women. The men might think they are in charge, but it has always been the women who call the shots. Even in the baby plot, the only time we saw the father was when he was playing football in the schoolyard. A very young and vulnerable boy. However, the scriptwriters chose to concentrate, naturally, on the 'Street' resident, a girl, who was faced with the repercussions of under-age sex and bringing a baby into the world, and was, likewise, young and vulnerable. One might argue that this is the reality of the situation. It is the girl who is left to pick up the pieces in such a scenario. Tyrone, on the other-hand, is presented, as the 'good-laugh' character; as a boy, he seems destined to fill the shoes of so many daft men on the 'Street' from Stan Ogden to Les Battersby, whose mission in life seems to be to prop up the bar in the Rovers. Are the soaps sexist? Surely a topic for another article, but even from the limited evidence, it seems to make us question the messages coming through.

    Even these short examples show how the soap format is now almost central to the national psyche. Certainly the medium can entertain, but it almost certainly informs us too. Serious issues such as teenage sexuality, violence, abuse and family breakdown can be explored in a way that may well be cursory or even sensationalised. However, the chances are that huge numbers will tune in to watch events unfolding and may even be educated.

    Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB

    They've Moved On

    Moving OnThere are some experiences in teaching which I would rather forget. In my experience of teaching top place for that dubious privilege would go to the years I struggled to teach Sixth Form Religious Education. I did try and I tried hard but it was not easy. I was always looking for something that was topical, but which also gave the students a wider vision of life, and hopefully would have some influence on their lives. I remember scrabbling around to find something that they could understand and which they might appreciate as relevant. Sadly so often what seemed so relevant to me seemed totally irrelevant to them. They were not keen to attend lessons, they did not want to listen to the opinions of others, and the issues raised bored them beyond belief. Life was a hard slog, and finding enthusiastic RE teachers for the sixth form was never easy.

    I was curious to see what difference the use of the 'Moving On' programme had made to the teaching of Sixth Form RE at Saint John Bosco High School, Croxteth, Liverpool. Sister Pauline, Head of Sixth Form, was quite honest about the change, "The arrival of the 'Moving On' programme has not worked a miracle but it has changed a climate. First of all it is relevant to the sixth-formers because it is about them and they are interested in themselves. It is in touch with their lives and has a progressive route. The 'religious' dimension is as subtle or as obvious as you want to make it, and more to the point it can be 'fun', and fun is not a word young people generally associate with religious experience. This programme starts with the young people as they are, with their experience eof life and builds on that. It's a mixture of discussion, quiz, role-play, sharing, and of course the old faithful, the video or DVD. It also builds in plenty of opportunities for prayer, for dreaming about their lives in the future, and challenges them to take responsibility for their own progress. Having the source- book means you have the lessons at your finger tips, easy to photocopy, and not too difficult to adapt when necessary."

    It seems that the atmosphere of the lessons is also so different. It's alive, the young people want to be present, they contribute their ideas and it's very difficult to move on to the next point once they have got their teeth into the argument. The young men and women feel they are in control of their own spiritual growth and enjoy taking some responsibility for it. If nothing else they feel the future is in their hands.

    Some comments of the young people I met are very revealing,

    "It's not like RE down the school, it's alive."

    "This is so real to life."

    "I really enjoy the opportunity to chat about things that are important to me."

    "I now appreciate the gifts I have, and I feel responsible to use them fully."

    "This is real education, preparation for life."

    "I expected it to be essays, bible-bashing, and stories about Jesus, but it's not, it's about me and society and life!"

    The staff who teach the course told me that they find it very useful, it gives them opportunity to relate to the students. The most common remark is that they wish the course had been available for them when they were in the sixth form.

    Tony Bailey

    "Moving On" is available form Don Bosco Publications Thornleigh House Sharples Park BOLTON BL1 6PQ Tel 01204 308 811 Fax 01204 306 858

    email Price £23.95 + £4 packing and postage (Photocopying rights included)

    Papua New Guinea

    PNG FlagWalking with the young in Papua New Guinea can be slow, complex and even difficult, but the Church's future lies with the young in this country.

    Papua New Guinea is a country with a very irregular terrain. Meeting certain tribes involves a journey on foot of several days. Walking can be a dangerous occupation. You are quite likely to meet wild animals or members of hostile tribes. To love a person means to walk with that person even if that means accompanying him on his dangerous journey.

    The Salesians in Papua New Guinea walk with the young in their youth clubs. Listening to them, sharing their hopes and fears. This is the result of a conscious choice to help the 60% of youngsters who at the end of their primary schooling are not selected for further education. They are left by the wayside in the state system of education. The Salesians also run technical schools which were a great innovation in Papua New Guinea, and are very much respected by Bishops and Government.

    Today the Salesians are looking at possibilities of other work. They are committed also to teaching in local seminaries. The six salesian parishes all run technical schools and take day students and boarders. In Vanimo the Salesians run a weekend youth centre for hundreds of youngsters and provide spiritual care in the neighbouring parishes. As in other parts of the world the Salesian Communities of Papua New Guinea are following in the footsteps of St John Bosco to bring education and care to the underprivileged

  • Area: 474,000 km2
  • Capital: Port Moresby
  • Population: 4,600,000 inhabitants with 10 persons per/km
  • Urban: 6%
  • Rural: 84%
  • Ethnic Groups: Papuan 85% Melanesian 15% (There are more than 100 tribes)
  • Distribution by age
       Under 15 yrs: 40%
       Between 15-64: 56%
       65 and over: 4%
  • Government: Self Government since 1 Oct 1973
  • Head of State: Sovereign of the United Kingdom
  • Parliament: Single House with 109 members elected for 5 years
  • Languages: 800 with three main ones English-Hiri Motu- & Pidgin English
  • Occupations
       Services: 37%
       Agriculture: 28%
       Industry: 35%
  • Roads: 21,000 km of which 700 km are asphalted
  • Motorised vehicles: 82,000 0f which 30,000 are motor cars
  • Life expectancy: 57 years
  • Population increase: 2.3% for year
  • Fertility index: 4.8 for each women
  • Birth rate: 32%
  • Death rate: 10%
  • Illiterates: 27.8%
  • Religion: Catholics 34%, Other Christians, 63%
  • Salesian Priests: 21
  • Students for Priesthood: 2
  • Brothers: 5
  • Salesian Houses: 6


    Trust the RoadThis is a booklet written by Father David O'Malley SDB. It is a collection of reflections and prayers which was written last year specifically for the young people leaving our Salesian Schools. It was given as a gift from the school to each student as they left. It was so well received by teachers and students we are now publishing it for the benefit of all schools.

    Comments of School Leavers

  • "I personally feel that it met its requirements."
  • "I found it useful and beneficial, that's my personal opinion."
  • "Some of the stories were spookily very familiar. This allowed me to relate to the stories and seriously consider the advice and reflection that was provided I realise that this time in my life is very important and it is comforting to know that I'm not the only one facing important decisions."
  • "They made me realise there were existing problems far worse than mine. However, I also began to realise the emphasis upon 'God leading the Way' and helping us face difficult situations."
  • "This also got me thinking about things I felt to be of great importance, which seem to be gradually lacking relevance."

    Aim of the booklet

  • to provide hope and inspiration.

    Prayers and Reflections

  • based on stories from real life

    My Life in Forms

  • Pieces of paper affecting one's life

    Single copies £3 + £1 p&p
    50 copies or more @ £2 per copy + p&p

    Copies can be obtained from:

    Don Bosco Publications
    Thornleigh House
    Sharples Park

    Tel: 01204 308 811 Fax: 01204 306 858