Don Bosco Today - Summer 2002
Centenary Celebration of the Salesian Sisters in Britain
Mother Antonia's Greeting to the Vides/Leaders Group
Let's Celebrate Friends Like These
Two Young Lives have changed the World
Shattered windscreen, shattered dreams
Living in the Holy Land: a personal comment
Life from a whole new perspective
DON BOSCO AND THE QUR'AN
Reflection - The Ministry of Welcome
Fr Joe Davie SDB 1931 - 2002
Brother Joe Carter 1924 - 2002
In this edition of 'Don Bosco Today' we celebrate the centenary of the arrival of Salesian Sisters in this country. The celebrations to mark this event have been a source of inspiration and encouragement to all of us. We were particularly blessed by the presence of Mother Antonia Colombo Superior General of the FMA. I am sure all readers will find her words at Liverpool a source of great encouragement.
Over the last few months we have been concerned about the Middle East. We were all appalled by the tragedy of the suicide bombings and the tragedy of the invasion of Palestine. In particular we thought of the people besieged in the Church of the Nativity. Listening to the news from Bethlehem each day I wondered what it was like for the Salesians who work in Bethlehem and their pupils growing up with so much violence. I had emailed Fr Peter Carr who is presently studying in Jerusalem to ask for news of Bethlehem, and he had replied that as things were in Israel there was absolutely no way he could contact the Salesians in Bethlehem because the borders were closed. Were we also cut off from Bethlehem? I tried the phone. Imagine my surprise when the Headteacher of our technical school in Bethlehem, Fr Eraldo Vacca, answered the phone. He reassured me that the Salesians were safe and told me that on Easter Sunday about 30 Palestinian gunmen had entered the Salesian Technical School with the intention of making a stand there. The Salesians sat down with them and spent four hours talking to them persuading them to leave. Eventually they agreed to go.
The next four to five weeks were extremely difficult for the people and children of Bethlehem. There was a strict curfew and they were only allowed out for a few hours each day to find food. I asked Fr Eraldo about the famous Salesian bakery. It is a rather legendary place in Salesian tradition because the Salesians have been baking bread there for over 100 years and throughout those years it has been the main source of income for the school since most of the children are too poor to pay the fees. Fr Eraldo told me that the bakery has been especially busy during the troubled weeks of occupation since so many people needed feeding. I asked how much bread they baked each day. He said that recently they had baked about 3000 loaves a day and much of this had been given to the poor people who couldn't buy food. The technical school normally has about 175 students but the school was closed during the invasion. The irony is that when qualified a good number of the young people have to get jobs working in Israel, commuting every day across borders manned by Israeli soldiers.
One of the blessings of modern communication is that we can be in direct contact with our fellow Salesians in the most remote parts of the world, share the story of their sufferings and by our prayers and offerings help them.
Greeting to the Salesian Family - Liverpool Cathedral
Liverpool, 12th May, 2002
Your Grace, my brothers and sisters of the Salesian Family, friends and young people, it is appropriate that I greet you at the end of this magnificent Eucharistic Celebration because Eucharist means thanksgiving! We give thanks and praise to God who willed that the salesian charism should take root on British soil one hundred years ago. The entire Institute rejoices with you today, and, in the name of the members of the Salesian Family throughout the world, I wish to express my gratitude for your fidelity in the course of a century. May the twelve missionary sisters, who arrived in Battersea on the seventh of April nineteen hundred and two, intercede for us so that the charism may continue to flourish in this land, so dear to the hearts of Don Bosco and Mother Mazzarello.
Today we are called to offer hope in a different, but equally promising future. This is a difficult challenge, yet together, we can face it because our hope is rooted in the Risen Jesus, in young people themselves and in the mission entrusted to us. The Salesian Family is Worldwide! The charism is now known and lived in 89 countries. When this Province was formed we were present in 18 countries. We are like a great tree - roots, trunk, branches, leaves and fruit! Every branch has a specific contribution to offer, but the real challenge lies in 'togetherness'. The 'Mission Statement' for the Salesian Family recalls the importance of being formed together as Salesians, laity, Fathers, Brothers, Sisters and young people. We need to network among ourselves, as well as with other organisations, so as to make an impact in the Church and in society, coordinating our efforts for the good of young people.
Unfortunately, we too are experiencing the devastating effects of injustice and war in many countries where we work. The pain and suffering of any one nation is keenly felt by all of us, simply because we are a Family. This situation calls us to be 'active citizens', who give witness to the Good News of Jesus. We are called to go against the current, ready to pay with our lives, if need be, for peace and justice in our nation and in the world at large. Yesterday evening, I met a group of enthusiastic young people. I appealed to them to be aware of exaggerated consumerism, knowing that many of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world are living in conditions of misery. In our own continent we are also suffering from many aspects of poverty. Here again, 'Gospel Citizenship' urges us to live spiritual lives where God is truly at the centre. It is necessary to cultivate a spirit of prayer, deepen the Word of God and live according to the Beatitudes.
I invite you to continue your Christian journey, drawing up new road maps that will take you in the direction of Active Gospel Citizenship! In the words of Don Bosco, the challenge is that we be 'good Christians and honest citizens', a phrase that was later interpreted as 'good citizens because we are honest Christians'. Are we ready to take up this challenge that could make a significant change in this Nation?
Thank you most sincerely for giving me the opportunity to address you. God bless you all!
Mother Antonia Colombo
Superior General of the FMA
God's dream for you, at the beginning of the new century, is that you be 'salt of the earth and light of the World'. This is the message that the Holy Father offers to all young people, in preparation for the 17th World Youth Day in Toronto. Jesus refers to you as salt of the earth and light of the World! He tells you to let your light shine before others and I believe that this is what you are trying to do. This is surely something worthwhile to dream about, an adventure to pursue. God's love is pure gift. 'Freely, freely, you have received' is a line in one of your hymns.
God has gifted every human person with the wonder of creation. We too then are encouraged, invited, to live God's dream by giving ourselves as gift to others; here I quote the other line of the same hymn: 'freely, freely give'.
I am aware that as 'Vides U.K.' you have been dedicating your summer holidays, over a number of years, to running camps in poor areas. One of your primary tasks has been that of training leaders who can carry on the work of Vides when you move on to another needy area. Congratulations because this, indeed, is the way forward. I also heard that some of you had an experience of voluntary service in Africa. They tell me that, with a real sense of responsibility, you prepared an excellent educational project. Not only this, but I understand that you welcomed the gifts and values of African culture as well as sharing something of your own culture with African youth.
All this tells us that it is possible to be Christians today! A few weeks ago I heard the brief testimony of Mauro and Monica, two young Italians. They came to know one another in a Parish youth group. As time went by they decided to become engaged and to dream of their future. (Incidentally, they will be married in September.) Here are the exact words of Mauro: "Thanks to prayer and to the good spirit in the youth group, we have understood what it means to love each other in an unselfish way. Neither of us intends to 'possess' the other, but rather to be a gift one to the other. In this way we believe that deep happiness will follow as well as the ability to cope with whatever each day brings. Now we dream of having a family and teaching our children, through love and example, that God is gift." Maybe there is a question here! Are we too dreaming about where we want to go as individuals, as couples, as a group? It is important, especially for you young people, to plan the direction of your lives and this cannot be done without prayer.
The challenge is that of being gospel citizens in Europe! Our continent, with your help, needs to open its doors to other cultures and citizens in a world that cries out for justice. The gospel challenges us to look to God in order to nourish our dreams; it also helps us to keep our feet on the ground, so that our dreams become reality. How can we be gospel citizens, I can hear you ask? My reply is: make efforts to assume a simple lifestyle by battling against exaggerated consumerism, limiting needs of goods that many of our brothers and sisters can never possess. I also invite you to live spiritual lives, especially those of you already in the Vides U.K. Like every other association in the Salesian Family, you are part of a whole, the Salesian Youth Movement Worldwide. We need each other in our Family.
Thank you so much for inviting me to be with you on this occasion. It is always a joy and privilege to address young people because you are at the heart of all we think, say and do.
Let me conclude with the words of John Paul II to young people throughout the world because his words sum-up what I have tried to share with you: "Read the Gospel, personally, and in groups, meditate on it and live it. The gospel is the living word of Jesus who enables us to know the infinite, love of God."
May your dream be your life's adventure! Salt of the earth, light of the world! God bless!
FMA Centenary 1902 - 2002
This was the title chosen for the Centenary Celebration at Milnthorpe, near Kendal on Saturday April 20th 2002. The Centenary of the Salesian Sisters in this country, what better way to celebrate a centenary than to celebrate friends. And the friends came, from all over the country. The celebrations began with a pageant in the school hall. It retraced the story of the young woman, Mary Mazzarello, brought up in the remote Italian mountain Village of Mornese. It movingly portrayed the slow awakening of her vocation as she felt called from her obscurity to answer the needs of so many poor girls crying out for help. The music, the action and the colour of the pageant caught the vibrancy of God's call in her life and the sheer enthusiasm of her response. We felt the magnetism which attracted so many other young women to rally round Mary Mazzarello to form the beginnings of the Salesian Sisters, the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. The sight of today's young girls dressed in the traditional habits of the Salesian sisters of the 19th century, every bit as dynamic as the modern Salesian Sisters of today. And everywhere, on the stage, and running up and down the aisle there were the young people of today enjoying their re-enactment of the Salesian Story. The pageant was an injection of energy into the day as it recalled the past it caught the enthusiasm so characteristic of the Salesian Sisters of today. The day continued in typical salesian family style with packed lunches on the lawns of the school, a chance for friends to meet old friends in a truly eucharistic picnic.
After lunch there was an opportunity for presentations of the work of the Salesian Sisters in the province today. These presentations were in the form of displays in the community centre and live presentations in the local Catholic Church.
But what about the theme for the day, Lets celebrate friends like these? My immediate understanding of this theme was as a reference to the many Salesian Sisters present on the day. These were so obviously the much appreciated friends of the many members of the Salesians Family flocking round them. The warmth of that friendship was so evident. A friendship which had begun in many cases years ago in school, in parish, or in youth club with children befriended in the playground. The child made to feel special in the eyes of this sister who understood, or the young girl pushed by another sister to succeed beyond her dreams. A friendship which had been nurtured beyond childhood in letters exchanged or postcards hastily written, in long hours of listening and drying tears. A friendship displayed in the joy shown and shared in a friend's success. The ever present smile of welcome for the pupil returned, now a proud mother or even a grandmother.
The pageant in the hall was so moving: but for me there was a more impressive pageant played out for the rest of the day as the Sisters were reunited with their friends. Grown women felt very much loved again as they had been as children so many years ago. So welcome in the arms of sisters they loved. A hundred years of educating friendship! Well worth celebrating!
Tony Bailey SDB
On 24 February 2002 our children Rebecca (age 18) and Matthew (age 16) Rossiter died after their car was in collision with a Mercedes camper at the foot of the High Cross Inn in Broughton-in-Furness Cumbria. Rebecca died at the scene. Matthew died a week later in Salford's Hope Hospital intensive care unit. Dean, Rebecca's 17-year-old boyfriend, who was a front seat passenger, survived with minor injuries. As parents, Mandy and I do not feel angry, for the two of them have changed the world and have touched so many people in so many different ways. Since the accident we have experienced nothing but love and support. This could never be described as a tragic waste of young lives since Rebecca and Matthew have achieved so much and brought joy to so many. It is not length of life that is important but what is done during one's life that counts.
The effect on the community was remarkable as evidenced by the attendance at the funeral at Our Lady and St James Millom where some 600 people gathered in the Church and a further 200 stood outside in the sunshine to pay their respects and celebrate Rebecca and Matthew's lives. Indeed the love of this community was clear during the week Mandy and I spent in intensive care with Matthew. We felt it flowing down the M6 motorway from Cumbria to Manchester. We have received over 700 cards and Masses are being said across the country for them. Mandy teaches at Haverigg Prison and I am a Prison Governor. Not only did prison officers act as bearers for the funeral we received flowers and cards from both individual and groups of prisoners and they have also made financial donations.
Rebecca Marie Therese was born at 23.50 hours on Saturday 12 November 1983 in Wordsley Dudley west Midlands. The night she was born was the most wonderful night of our lives and I must have been the most boring new dad for some considerable time. Indeed the nursery nurse in the maternity unit had to prise Rebecca out of my hands, as I could not bear to let her go. Mandy was trained as a nursery nurse, and it was amusing to see the reactions of the maternity staff to a new mother feeding and changing her firstborn in a matter of moments. Rebecca was what one would call a good baby. She always had a big grin and was full of vitality loving playgroup, nursery and then school.
Matthew Barry was also born on a Saturday, 22 December 1985, at 8.20 am in Beverly, East Yorkshire. This too was a joyous occasion as Mandy and I were together with the midwife and the tape was playing the Moody Blues' song 'In Search of a Lost Chord'. This was quite appropriate as Matthew in contrast to his sister never slept and was awkward with his food. Life was always a challenge to Matt, as he later liked to be called, he was happiest in muck and loved to get to grips with things. Whenever I recounted Matt's latest episode my mother would fondly remind me of the trying times I gave to her
In 1990 the children were faced with their biggest challenge when we moved to the Lake District and settled in Foxfield, a small hamlet in Cumbria. Matt and Rebecca amused their teachers back in St. John' RC primary school in Beverly by informing them that we had bought a house with a free dog. This was true as during our house-hunting we fell in love with a Victorian terraced house that had been a happy family home to thirteen children and one collie pup called Emma. We proudly acquired house and dog together. So began a whole new chapter in our lives as Rebecca and Matthew went to St James RC primary school in Millom, Cumbria some 10 miles from home across mountain roads. Much to their chagrin they were often transported by one of their teachers until Matt decided he was independent enough to take the train. They both led active lives with Rebecca being very keen on horse-riding and Matt on sport and mountain bikes. They were both members of 5th Millom Scout Troop achieving their chief scout awards and enjoyed trips to France and Italy. Both won awards at the South Cumbria Music Festival for singing and public speaking. Matthew gave a poetry rendition that was astounding in terms of its delivery. He was disappointed when the judge from the Poets Society in London, awarding him 100%, said she could envisage Matthew at the dispatch box in parliament. He said, "But I want to be an airline pilot". They were both alter servers at the church of Our Lady and St. James. Fr. Frank Osman, who was a close confidant, said Rebecca was the only girl to have ever invited a Catholic priest to her 18th birthday party.
They both attended Ulverston Victoria High school where Matt was to sit GCSE exams this summer and Rebecca left last year after GCSE's to continue her studies at Barrow 6th Form College. Rebecca had attended the 'Take your daughters to work day' at HM Young Offenders Institution Lancaster Farms where I was Deputy Governor and she was hoping to follow a career in the Probation Service. Matthew had work experience in a training company in Barrow and was keen to work with computers. They both took an active interest in current affairs debating fiercely the rights of the individual and fought for the underdog. Rebecca became a volunteer with VIDES working in Glasgow and was due to work in Newcastle this Easter. It was Rebecca's dream to go to Kenya next summer.
Rebecca always had a smile and a kind word for adults and children. As Fairy Splint Spark in the local amateur dramatic pantomime she was amazing. Her 18th in November 2001 was a party to remember especially for dad, I picked up an enormous bar bill. She had a gift of knowing just how to bring happiness and was most loved by Dean her boyfriend who on Valentine's Day bought her 20 red roses. She passed her driving test only a few weeks before the accident and was about to take delivery of a new car I had ordered for her that week.
Matthew was a real campaigner for social justice. At primary school he was the only child to have argued with the Head, Maureen Hughes. She admits he sometimes won but was never cheeky. Matthew's favorite words were "It's not fair... I think it should be done this way". Matthew was always trying to save the world. From his earliest days it was said of Matt that he could hold a mature conversation well above his years. He had a wonderful and mischievous sense of humor. His teachers found him a challenge but a delight, as he was never one to do harm. This was a young man who broke hearts in love affairs as he was getting to grips with life.
Rebecca and Matthew will always be with us. We consider ourselves blessed to have had the privilege of being their parents. We will send both of them to Africa to continue their drive for good as a fund has been established. 'The Rebecca and Matthew Rossiter Memorial Fund' has been set up with Natwest Bank for the sole purpose of providing a facility such as a schoolroom in Africa and to progress the work of VIDES promoting development.
If you would like to assist donations can be made to the Rebecca and Matthew Rossiter Memorial Fund to Sister Connie, Salesian Sisters, VIDES, 61A Mansion Drive, Croxteth Liverpool L11 9DP.
Barry Rossiter 7 May, 2002
'Vides' is a non-governmental organisation that operates at a national and international level. VIDES UK is a registered charity no. 1015097.It promotes projects that help development. It offers voluntary service for young people; its projects vary but may include teaching, working in dispensaries, outreach work or working with street children.
Violence may seem to reign supreme
Be blinded by sad scenes of strife
Or see blue sky, find signs of life.
'Arafat must do more to curb terrorism.' 'Arafat is the father of all terrorism.'
These two messages from President Bush on the one hand, and Prime Minister Sharon on the other have been ringing round the world for the past few months. When you are living in Israel, albeit temporarily, such statements make you feel near to despair and anger. Despair at the one-sided approach of Bush to the sickening events happening in the Holy Land. Anger at the self righteous, arrogant posturing of Sharon, who himself was once forced out of office for overseeing terrorist-like massacres in the Lebanese refugee camps.
Such statements also make you ask the question, "Who really are the terrorists in the present conflict in the Holy Land?" I think the question is not unlike "Who were the terrorists" - even though the term may not have been used - "in occupied France during World War II? The Nazis or the French Resistance?"
Let's try to be clear. The situation here is very complex and is the topic of endless conversations here in the Holy Land. Arafat is no angel and no one can have sympathy for the Islamic extremists and fundamentalists. Neither can one condone suicide bombings in the cities of Israel or approve of the shooting of Israeli civilians in their streets, cafes, homes and places of leisure. That is terrorism, for sure, But the State of Israel fails to ask why much of it is happening. They see only the symptoms, and fail to ask, or don't want to acknowledge, what is the root cause. It is happening because of their own brand of vicious State Terrorism against the Palestinian population, ordinary, innocent civilians for the most part. It is happening because the Palestinians are a frustrated people without hope and who are faced with F16 war-planes, tanks and helicopter gun-ships. The Zionists have deprived hundreds of thousands of them of their land, their homes and their livelihood since 1948 and the Israeli government continues to take their land for Jewish settlements.
The crux of the matter is the continued occupation of the Palestinian areas by the military, the Israeli settlements on their land, and the check-points. The Palestinian towns are like large prisons holding the whole population inside, for although the army says it 'withdraws', the tanks stay outside preventing free movement. Archbishop Tutu, in a recent article in the Guardian newspaper, compared the situation here to the days of apartheid in South Africa. Sharon's so called latest peace plan is to build an electronic fence and dig ditches down the length of the country so as to keep the Palestinians inside their own territory. They will be allowed along certain controlled roads, but will have to pass through highly sophisticated check-points. It sounds like another Berlin Wall - and remember what happened to that.
The stories one hears of the brutal inhumanity of the Israeli army are horrific. People bulldozed in their houses, the army reply has been that they chose to stay. Whole villages and towns having their electricity and water cut off. Food and medical relief brought to them by Israeli Arabs and 'left wing' Israelis turned away. Males between the ages of 15 and 45 taken away from their in villages and towns, stripped and then the released ones sent home without their clothes. People in Jenin do not know where their relations are or if they are dead. The refusal to allow wounded and sick people to be treated or taken to hospital. The list goes on and on. Of the thousands that have been detained during the recent invasion of West Bank towns, what has happened to them? No information seems to be forthcoming about them. Sharon continues to subject the whole Palestinian population to a brutal, merciless and massive collective punishment for what he calls acts of terrorism. He is engendering even more hatred for all Israelis and breeding more potential suicide bombers and terrorists among a new generation growing up. The logic of his policy, if it is to succeed, means he will have to imprison or kill every Palestinian.
In April, on Independence Day, the Israelis celebrated their freedom as a sovereign State. At the same time they were oppressing and humiliating their blood brothers, as they have been called, a few miles away in Bethlehem and other West Bank areas. There were numerous firework displays here in Jerusalem to inaugurate the celebration. It was sickening, when just over the hill the siege of the Nativity Church was going on. However, it was noticeable that Independence Day itself was held in fear. Thousands of troops and police were on duty. Because of their fear Arab neighbourhoods and villages around Jerusalem had to be put under curfew. Fear is present everyday in Jerusalem. Armed soldiers and police are in the streets, shopping malls, schools, restaurants and places of public entertainment. Groups of school children have to be escorted by armed guards. Every boy and girl has to serve in the army and how sad it is to see these 18 year olds, girls included, with guns slung around their shoulders.
The night before Independence Day three of us went to the Western Wall to see the memorial service for the fallen soldiers of Israel. Standing next to us were some fundamental, evangelical 'Christians' from Holland. They had come to show solidarity with Israel. Their belief is that once the Jews return to their biblical land Jesus the Messiah will return and the Jews will be converted. They told us they had been to Jenin. One of us asked them did they go visit the Palestinians. "Oh no! We went to give encouragement to the soldiers", was the reply. Such so-called Christians are not helping the situation by coming here.
It could well be that in the long term Israel is digging its own grave. Their biblical history is clear that when they don't live up to the Covenant, but engage in oppression and injustice, disasters befall them and they eventually lose the land. It could happen again. If only they would listen to their Prophets! If only they would listen to the voices of today who keep telling them that the peace and security they rightly want will only come when justice and freedom is given to those they keep in chains. Thank God there are some Israelis who do realize this and work with the Palestinians to bring about reconciliation, justice and peace.
Fr Peter Carr SDB. Jerusalem.
Discovered by Sixth Form Students from Thornleigh College
When I went to Lourdes I had an excellent time, we had so much fun. The atmosphere of Lourdes is something that you can't describe. It's something that you have to experience for yourself. A lot of people don't go to Lourdes with HCPT because they think that it's all about praying, but it isn't. It's about giving the children a holiday of a lifetime, letting them have as much fun as they can.
I think that the best thing about Lourdes was the Trust Mass. It was a time when HCPT groups from all over the world got together and had a celebration. It was a brilliant atmosphere, everyone was dancing and singing together. It was wonderful to see the children so happy. I also really enjoyed going to the grotto at night time.
Lourdes was a holiday of a lifetime for me. It is something that I will never ever forget and would love to go back. I would advise everybody to go to Lourdes so they can experience what I experienced.
For me, travelling to Lourdes with the HCPT was an amazing experience that I will never forget. It was one of the hardest weeks of my life both physically and emotionally yet it was the most rewarding. Just seeing the children smiling, laughing and enjoying themselves made me realise that all my hard work had been worthwhile.
Reflecting back, Lourdes is a very special and spiritual place to take disabled children. The main highlight of the week for me was definitely the Trust Mass. The atmosphere in the underground Basilica was just fantastic! Inside there were HCPT groups from all over the world and in true HCPT fashion they were all wearing brightly coloured hats, jumpers etc distinctive to their particular group. I don't think I'll ever go to a Mass quite like it. Everyone was singing and clapping and when the children recognised a song that they knew their eyes lit up and you could see the enjoyment on their faces. Everyone was joined together in a unity of friendship. This friendly and warm atmosphere of Lourdes gave the children joy and happiness which was part of the fantastic experience Lourdes was for me. I can't wait to go back.
This Easter I volunteered to go as a helper to Lourdes with the HCPT. I was unsure about what would be expected of me and whether I would fit in with the group. As it turned out the trip was the most amazing and humbling experience of my life. It helped me to look at life from a whole new perspective. I have now realised that life is not perfect and that there may be struggles, but it is important to make the most out of your life. It helps to try to stay cheerful even during troubles The main thing that struck me was the amazing courage of the children. Even though their life is a constant struggle, they are still lively and full of enthusiasm for everything. One image that will stay with me was when we used to sing songs to the children. The response from the children was that they smiled and that smile made the whole trip so worthwhile. The children would often say things to me that made me stop think, and usually laugh. This was not because the comment was funny, but usually because of the way that it had been said. The part of the trip that I found most touching was when children got up to say something themselves or to say a prayer during a service. This experience was often difficult for some of them because what they said had come straight from the heart. It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and a tingling feeling crept over my body. Lourdes made me realise that there is always someone much worse off than we are and that if they can persevere and stay cheerful and enthusiastic, then we can.
Right from the very start when we met up with all the children and their families back in January I knew that HCPT 2002 would be very special. The atmosphere was fantastic, the children on a high. The helpers full of adrenaline and raring to go. When we met up on the cold March morning at 3.30 am, half-asleep, it was the laughing of the children that woke me up and kept me awake. In fact it was this that kept me awake all week. Whenever I felt tired or felt I couldn't go on any more the scream of 'John' instantly gave me energy. The smiles, the frowns, the tears and the laughter of those children! They always showed their emotion, happy or sad.
The whole week was go, go, go. We were always doing something to keep the children occupied. The highlight of the week however was the Trust Mass on Thursday morning. The child I was with had a part in the Mass and represented the whole of England. In the procession. 5000 people singing and dancing, men, women boys and girls. The atmosphere was electric and the acts of the children bucked us all up. I will definitely be going next year.
I have recently moved to Bolton, in the north of England to take up the post of chaplain in our Salesian school. As part of my familiarisation with the local area I walked through the streets around the school. I discovered that most of the local people were Muslim. In the school yard however, I found that few of the young people had any meaningful contact with their Muslim neighbours. It seems that both white Christians and ethnic Muslims are living parallel lives in Bolton. Being a native of Leicester, where integration is much more developed, I was surprised. I was more concerned about the tabloid stereotypes that can create artificial boundaries within the minds of young people.
In ministering to young people in a multi-ethnic setting I have begun to think about the partnerships I need to establish as a Christian youth worker with those who work with youth in the Muslim community. I was interested especially in exploring how far I might be able to share common spiritual ground with a Muslim youth worker. What kind of motivation and meaning would a Muslim youth worker draw from the Islamic tradition? Would it have any connection to the meaning and motivation a Christian youth worker could draw from Don Bosco? I know that many Salesian schools in Asia are populated almost entirely by Muslim students. With this in mind I set out to make some early connections between Don Bosco's style of education and the Qur'an. What follows is the beginning of my exploration into common humanity of these two great religious traditions.
The Qur'an is a beautiful book that needs to be heard rather than read. It is set out in rhyming prose that lends itself to memorisation. The book is given a central place in Islam as the inspired word of God to Mohammed, the final seal of the prophets. The Qur'an's 114 chapters were committed to writing within twenty years of the Prophet's death in the year 632. Reading the text in translation I was amazed at how much of its wisdom found echoes in the words of Don Bosco and in the Salesian style of working with the young. I am not qualified to comment on the text of the Qur'an but simply place the text alongside key Salesian themes and invite the reader to make their own connections. In making their own links the reader might then find some bridges being built in their mind and heart between the Christian and Muslim world in general as well as the world of youth work.
Reason, Religion, and Kindness
One of the most common expressions of Don Bosco's style of work is 'Reason Religion and Kindness' in dealing with young people. In Don Bosco's mind they are vital pieces of any relationship that leads to life. The Qur'an sets out a similar challenge in working with other people:
Call others to the way of your Lord with wisdom and kindly encouragement. Reason with them in a gentle way.
The underlying motivation for this Salesian way of working springs from a sense of the mystery of God's presence in each person. We are all sons and daughters of God and have an infinite dignity and worth. That same sense of the individual's dignity and worth is expressed in The Qur'an in the following way:
God shaped man and breathed his own life into him
It is because we are so close to God that we deserve to be treated with reason and kindness. That awareness of the closeness of God was something Don Bosco urged his helpers to cultivate so that they could meet God in their relationship with young people. That same closeness is expressed in a very physical way by the Arabic text of the Qur'an
God is nearer than the jugular vein.
Wherever you turn, there is the face of God.
God is all embracing, all knowing.
The Preventive System
When asked to put his way of working into words, Don Bosco wrote a brief paper entitled 'The Preventive System'. It outlined a basic optimism at the heart of his work that young people, given a chance, will grow up happy and close to God. It was the task of the educator to create the right environment, a place where they were faced only with challenges that would not damage them. That meant that the leaders would need to be aware of potential problems. Then they could distract, divert or intervene to prevent destructive activity rather than wait for mistakes and punish children for them. It was a real surprise to me when I found similar sentiments in the Qur'an written over a thousand years before Don Bosco's birth:
Repel the evil deed with one that is better, good deeds annul evil deeds
How does one help a troublemaker?
By hindering him in doing wrong.
Part of the wisdom of the preventive system is the encouragement to overlook small faults in young people, as due mainly to thoughtlessness. It is far more important to sustain a warm and supportive relationship than to be constantly nagging young people about small details. The most important thing for Don Bosco was that their inner life, their soul, was not damaged. The Qur'an offers similar advice:
If you overlook faults and forgive, God will be merciful and forgiving. The one who is successful is the one who causes the soul to grow and the one who fails, stunts the growth of the soul.
No burden do we place on any soul but that which it can bear.
The adult, dealing with young people, therefore needs huge patience as young people acquire maturity and consistency. Don Bosco said that only mature adults could make this system work and they also needed a spiritual motivation to do it well. The Qur'an would agree entirely:
True constancy before God lies in forgiveness and patient forbearance. The believer who joins in with life and its sufferings is worth more than the one who distances himself from human suffering.
The strong man is the one who controls himself when he is angry.
Not all faiths are the same, not everything in Islam sits easily with a Christian approach to life. But there is common ground. There is a shared humanity, a concern for spirit and soul, a realisation of people's frailty and the importance of the young. This is a good foundation to begin in working together with another culture. The words of another Muslim text provide the last word on this common concern for the gentle quality of education and faith:
All human beings are God's children, and those dearest to God are the ones who treat His children kindly.
Fr David O'Malley SDB
I was recently travelling with a group of friends. It was Sunday and we were in a strange city, so we asked where the Catholic church was. We were directed towards the city-centre and found the church. On entering we were greeted by this sign:
Communion in the hand not allowed here
It certainly shocked us. But we wanted to attend Mass. Since we had no where else to go, we stayed and silently fumed. This did not seem to be the best way to welcome people to Mass. The liturgy that day was based around the story of the 'Good Shepherd', but sadly the negative tone of that sign did not seem to go well with the idea of the caring Shepherd. This clash of impressions made me reflect on the essence of the Good Shepherd. What should it mean to be a leader and guide? I thought of the example of Don Bosco.
The three words not allowed here haunted me for days. They seem to capture negativity, legality and exclusivity. Was the priest in this Church not happy with recent changes in the Catholic Church? Did he feel he could unilaterally decide that his parishioners and visitors to his church would not be allowed to receive communion in the hand? It reminded me so much of another sign I used to see in my local corner shop:
Please do not ask for credit, as denial often offends!
As a priest I was saddened by the negativity of this sign. It certainly was not a sign of welcome but rather a sign of alienation. As priests, we are called to be people who care about people; about their needs, about their worries. We are called to be concerned especially for those who are suffering or on the margins of our society. Yet a sign like this only makes people who normally receive Communion in the hand feel marginalised.
Our Church is a pilgrim people and we are on a journey. Like any travellers we need support and help. As a Christian Church we are called to offer a hand to fellow 'travellers' in a real and living way. To help them live in our world as it is today. I believe we are called to welcome and to make real the friendship and care of Christ in our world. Many of our great religious orders, such as the Benedictines were founded to offer hospitality and welcome to the 'pilgrim people of God'.
Recently we have been dismayed by the crisis of abuse in the church, when sadly some Shepherds let down the very people they came to serve and help. Clerical abuse, like all forms of abuse, is an abuse of power. For too long in our Church some priests and religious have felt they had the power to tell people what not to do. Yet Jesus tells us quite simply. 'The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his flock'. Jesus walked on the road to Emmaus with his disciples. We need to walk WITH our brothers and sisters of faith and no faith, listening to their fears, concerns and worries. We cannot hide behind clerical collars, religious habits or titles no matter how grand and important they might make us feel. The Church is an effective and real agent for change in our world that can appear very materialistic and lacking faith. If we, as pastors, do not change our outlook and work for effective collaboration within the community, then we will be as 'real' as Fr Ted, Fr Dougal and Fr Jack, on television Channel Four; living on our very own Craggy Island.
At the end of that frustrating Sunday, we called into another Church in the same city. The first thing we saw was a copy of Don Bosco Today on the bookstand. The parish priest, seeing we were strangers, came and welcomed us. Cause and effect? It would be lovely to think so, but quite simply we had found one of the many parish priests who really are the good shepherds that we as Catholics have come to know and love in this country.
Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB
'There is a time for everything under heaven, a time to be born and a time to die'. Joe's time to die came on Sunday 3rd February 2002. When I visited him just a few weeks before he died, I found him very upbeat with a keen awareness of God and his nearness to him as experienced through the care of his family and friends, his Salesian confreres and parishioners, and the staff at Marie Curie Hospice.
Joe was the third of eleven children born to Tom and Mary Davie in Dennistoun, in the east end of Glasgow. He was baptised in St Michael's, Parkhead, just opposite 'Paradise' (Celtic Park). At the age of 15 he took up an apprenticeship as a tailor. After finishing his apprenticeship he went to America where he met the Salesians and received and followed his vocation with them. He was professed on Sept 8th 1959 and worked in New Rochelle, New Brunswick, and Boston, before resuming studies for the priesthood. He was due for ordination in 1975, a Jubilee year and he was to be ordained by the Holy Father in Rome. As his parents were unable to travel he chose to be ordained by the then Archbishop Winning of Glasgow. He returned to America for four years working in New Jersey, Tampa and Cedar Lake. In 1979 with his mother's health deteriorating he returned to this country. It was a comfort for the family that he was here when his mother died in 1980 and his father in 1983.
Service was one of those elements Joe was trained in by his parents and family and so not surprisingly it was a mark of his priesthood. Service is never easy. One has to master oneself to serve others, and there are the inevitable pressures, misunderstandings, regrets. Service is love made visible. Joe served as bursar at Cowley from 1981 to 1985. He worked in a parish on the Isle of Man from 1985 to 1987. For nine year he worked in St Richard's Parish, Bootle. Finally in St Peter and Paul's Stockton where he was Parish Priest for the last six years. We pray he may be enjoying the fruits of his life of service.
Fr Michael Power SDB
Brother Joe was born in the city of London in May 1924 and spent his early years in Upminster. At the age of nine, he became a pupil at Salesian College, Chertsey and there began his life-long love of Don Bosco and attachment to the Salesians. His school days over, he spent a couple of years with the White Fathers discerning his vocation. But the pull of Don Bosco proved irresistible and in September 1943 he began his novitiate at Beckford. First profession came in August 1944 and after a further year on the farm in Beckford, he moved to Blaisdon where he was to spend the next fifty years of his Salesian life.
Gradually, thanks to his own inexhaustible energy and the influence of Salesians such as Fr Dan Lucey, he became a skilled farmer, and contributed much to establishing the reputation of the farm at Blaisdon as one of the best in Gloucestershire. Besides the heavy demands of farming, he was also entrusted with the special care of some of the boys for whom Blaisdon was both their home and school. The large number of past pupils who were present at his funeral spoke eloquently of the deep affection and regard they had for him and of the very Salesian way in which he had cared for them.
Besides his work on the farm, such was his generosity that he was always willing to take on another job. Despite his many school commitments, his involvement in the local Blaisdon community was just as great. For many years he was the 'snow warden' for the village and there was nothing he enjoyed more than to wake and see the place covered in snow, and then to get out before dawn with tractor and shovel and clear the roads and lanes. For the people of Blaisdon, he was very much their Good Samaritan.
Joe had a great love of his family and always spoke proudly of them. Even though they had emigrated to the United States, he visited them regularly, and in the early eighties he spent a couple of years there caring for his elderly mother until she died. His two remaining sisters, Lacy and Mary, kept in constant touch with him by phone and we were pleased that Lacy was able to be present for his funeral.
In December 1995, with the closure of the school at Blaisdon Joe had to move to a new home in Farnborough. It certainly was not easy for him to leave the green fields of Gloucestershire, but Joe was nothing if not adaptable and resourceful. He settled into life at Farnborough, and soon became a familiar figure in the neighbourhood as he made his way around the town in his motorised wheelchair.
Even as a youngster Joe had to contend with ill health, and in his latter years, besides having to come to terms with the loss of much of his sight, he was almost always in constant pain. Yet he remained cheerful and welcoming. Joe died on the 26th February 2002. May he rest in peace.
Fr Hugh Preston SDB