Don Bosco Today - Summer 2005
Our last edition was devoted to an appeal for the victims of the tsunami. I would like to thank our readers for their generosity. In place of an editorial I am including a letter sent to our province thanking us and given details of the way the money was used.
I wish to thank the Salesians of the GBR Province on behalf of all the population of South - East Asia for the generous donation of 35,822 Euros that you gave for the Tsunami Emergency. We want to express our gratitude because, with your contribution, you gave hope to numerous orphan youngsters who have been affected by this tragedy and supported by the Salesian community present in the region.
We are constructing day centres for poor and orphan children, giving economic support to the families most hit by the tidal waves, providing student grants, constructing small brick houses, purchasing boats, nets and further equipment, with the participation of the population and above all with the collaboration of the local Salesian communities.
Thanking you again for having promptly thought about the people in need, we wish that your support may continue in the future and may bring further help, in particular to the hundreds of children and youngsters that in this tragedy have lost their families and closest relatives.
Don Ferdinando Colombo SDB Volontariato Internazionale per lo Sviluppo
Title: Shelter and First Emergency Aid for Displaced People in Negombo - Sri Lanka
Total cost of project: Euro 100,000
Your contribution: Euro 35,822
Establishment of temporary shelters for the displaced and catering for emergency needs including water and food security and medical care.
- Purchase of tents, equipment and other material for setting up a temporary shelter for displaced people
- Identification of 300 tsunami-affected adults and children from the surrounding areas, to be hosted in the temporary shelter camp
- Provision of psychological and medical support to the people sheltered in the camp
- Purchase and delivery of drinking water and daily meals
- Support activities for the children
300 displaced adults and children are benefiting from this help, among them many orphans that lost their homes and belongings after the tsunami. Indirectly the entire community of the region will benefit from the aid and support provided to the displaced. This project began immediately after the natural disaster in December 2004.
Fr Anthony Bailey SDB
At the beginning of 2005 Rachel Wood and Patrick Kerridge, accompanied by Fr Patrick Kenna SDB (RIP), left for India, where Rachel and Patrick would be working on a project for child labourers. Rachel had already spent a year working on the youth retreat team at Savio House and Patrick had come to hear of the Salesians through his brother, Michael, who had also worked at Savio House.
We arrived, safe and sound, on the morning of Monday 17th January at Bangalore Airport and were met by Fr George Mathew SDB, director of BREADS (Bangalore Rural Educational and Development Society). He drove us to Bangalore Provincial House where we spent our first night and met some of the Salesians working in Southern India. I also went shopping to buy appropriate Indian clothes.
6am Tuesday morning saw us leaving Bangalore to travel to the project in a town called Davangere. We arrived at the first centre at about 11.30 to be greeted with songs and dance by the young people, who range from about 5 years old to 16. They are so lovely and friendly and are fascinated by our white skin and freckles. They are always smiling and cheerful and you would never be able to tell some of the horrors they have been through. After lunch we travelled a further 30 minutes to the other centre which is where we are working and living. There we were shown to our rooms which are much more luxurious than we expected, quite big and high, which helps to keep them cool.
Our work is slowly falling into a routine. It was a bit disconcerting at first, not knowing what to do or what was expected of us, but we are slowly making friends with the other staff and learning their names. We can just get by with the amount of English they know, and I am slowly picking up useful phrases in the local language.
Getting to know you
The children get up at 6 am and wash. I usually teach Standard 9, the oldest class we have. All the boys are 15 or 16. They are the best at English and are very good at helping me out and even teaching me Kannada, the language that everyone in Karnataka speaks.
At 1 pm we have lunch and then play until 2 when it is back to the classrooms. The ends of corridors and verandas with blackboards propped at the end suffice as classrooms in this warm climate! For period 4, I have no class. Period five begins at 3 pm, and I should have standard 7, but so far the lesson has been taken over by firstly a science teacher who came from outside to give all 100 children a lesson at once, and then by rehearsals of a sketch about Don Bosco's life in preparation for the Don Bosco's Day celebrations. Salesian flexibility is alive and well! At 4 the children are given tea. They then play games until around 5.30, football, volleyball, scoreball, coco, a national game, very fast and fun. There have been various competitions and tournaments going on all in preparation for Don Bosco's Day when the prizes will be given.
At around 5.30 the children wash and then settle down at 6.30 for private study, where we supervise and provide assistance if they need help. At 8 pm we have supper and then we dance! There are loudspeakers in one of the passageways and the children are teaching me Indian dance moves! At 9 pm there is a quick meeting so the children know what is happening the next day, then after prayers a Salesian Goodnight is given, usually a story about Don Bosco's life. And that is our day!
Feast of Saint John Bosco
We had huge celebrations for Don Bosco's Day. The whole population of our centre travelled to the other centre for the day. Celebrations began properly at 12.30 with a prayer service, then the teachers and staff served the children lunch. chicken birayani, bananas and ice cream! For many it was their first experience of ice cream. Then there was a special meal for the staff, and afterwards there were party games, which only the staff played! This was basically for the amusement of the children, and amuse them we did. Then at 5.30 the evening programme began with all the sketches, dances, songs, speeches that the children had prepared. I have to say that I felt very proud of my boys as they performed their dances. It made me realise how attached I already feel to them! I also did my bit and played them some traditional English tunes on my violin.
The male-female separation in this society is very obvious. You very rarely see men and women together in the street, unless they are obviously part of a family with children in tow. The boys and girls at the centre sit on different sides of the room for both study and eating, and even in Church there is a male side and a female side.
Recently we had a Parents Day for our children. It was a very strange feeling to see them all, knowing that some of the children didn't even have parents who could attend. They arrived in the morning, and everyone assembled in the dining room. Then some of the children's reports were read out. The parents had a chance to say what they thought of the centre and were then given a talk about their responsibilities once the children leave here, making sure they go to school every day, etc.
The experiences of earlier life could well have left the young people of our project thinking that life isn't worth the effort, but instead they are so eager to make the most of every opportunity that is given to them. They are a pleasure to teach because even if they can't understand me they really want to and try to, which makes life easier for me because I'm not battling to get their attention. The only thing I have to control is their over-enthusiasm!
At the beginning of the week some of the lads got new uniforms, so there was major excitement at breakfast as they were handed out. It was fantastic to see the smiles on their faces and the pride they obviously have wearing them, so different to my own experiences of wearing school uniforms. When they wear their uniforms they feel as if they belong to something, it invokes the same sense of pride in themselves and their home. We've had a couple of new boys join our centre during the last week. It is nice to see the way that the other boys respond to them and help them get to know the routine.
Last Tuesday we had a holiday as it was a festival day - Shivuratri, which means 'Shivu night' (Shivu being one of the main Hindu gods) - which meant no classes and lots of games.
This week I have begun in earnest to learn the Kannada alphabet - I hate not being able to read the words around me - in newspapers, on shop fronts, in the street etc - so I am doing my best to learn.
I took an English missal with me when I went to the Masses over Holy Week, because they were all in Kannada. It feels really nice though that I can follow the Mass even in a different language; it makes you realise just what it means to be part of something that is so global, God is the same wherever you go! I managed to continue with a few traditions that happen in England - for my family at least! I created an Easter Garden in Sujyothi chapel complete with living plants, tomb and crosses. Then on Holy Saturday afternoon I decorated boiled eggs for our community. It was nice to feel like I was joining in traditions even this far away.
It was quite ironic that on what should have been quite a solemn day for us - Holy Saturday - the rest of India, well all the Hindus at least, was celebrating its own festival - called Holi! It is celebrated by everyone running round with packets of powder paint and water to make it stick and throwing it onto everyone else. It happens everywhere not just in homes or within communities but in the streets and so complete strangers can come up to you and pelt you with paint. We had our own celebration of this with the children because most of them are Hindu.
Yesterday was our celebration of International Women's Day for which we had a big function in a marquee set up at Suprabha and we brought all the young people from our centre there and all the women who are in Self-Help groups which Don Bosco has helped them to set up.
This week the Dance Master came from Suprabha to start teaching some of our young people a new dance which will be performed when we join with other NGOs to raise awareness at Ante Child Labour Day by walking through the streets and then ending with a function.
Looking back at my time in India my range of job titles have included:
This weekend we have started to say our goodbyes, to the parish priests in Davangere and the nuns at the convent. Next weekend we shall be leaving Davangere for good! We will spend the last three weeks traveling round other Don Bosco houses in Kerala, our neighbouring state, and then ending up in Bangalore to leave for home on 9th July.
- Teacher - playing hangman and other word games in an attempt to teach vocabulary.
- Hairdresser - both Gawramma and Geetha, the two women who work in the kitchen, asked me to trim their hair this week.
- Artist - have been busy with doing mehindi designs and making flower chains for the girls this week as well as helping Anesh to make another huge poster for the Ante Child Labour Day rally, walking through the streets of Davangere.
- Farmer - have spent much time with the young people helping out on the farm this week, preparing the land for being planted - weeding it and spreading cow dung and the like.
If you have an interest;
then please contact Fr Bob Gardner SDB at Savio House, or on 01625 560 724 or at email@example.com for information and an application form.
- in supporting our Volunteers home or abroad
- in serving as an International Volunteer in India, Africa, the Philippines or South America
- in becoming a Volunteer at Savio House
In 1993 I went, with a few Salesian friends, to Greenbelt, the Christian Arts festival that runs over the August Bank Holiday. That weekend, I heard an amazingly catchy song called Bannerman by an artist called Steve Taylor. It was a tribute to the people who went to football matches, athletics events and the like and, when the camera came onto them, held up a banner that said, simply, John 3:16. I was reminded of the song and the banner as I walked around the grounds of Westminster Abbey on the night of Friday 15th April this year. Like many thousands of others, I had made my way to London for the Make Poverty History Vigil, and had found that there were too many of us to get into the Abbey, for the star-studded opening service.
As I was walking down to the Abbey after getting off the coach from Oxford, I happened to meet up with the London CAFOD group. Their Make Poverty History banner was so long that it needed almost thirty people to carry it! A group of school friends from Wrexham, who had travelled down with a couple of their parents, had improvised bandanas and armbands on which they had written Drop the Debt and Make Poverty History. As we queued to get into the Abbey, we passed a group who according to their banner were from the Scottish Catholic Justice and Peace Network. They greeted us with loud cheers, and I chatted with some religious sisters who had come from East London.
Many of the people I talked to that night, like me, were there for their first major protest event. As we walked up Whitehall, for the midnight minute's silence, it had a festive atmosphere: there were thousands of white balloons all along the street, making it look more like the venue for a street party than a protest! Sure, we were there to make a serious point, but you don't have to be miserable to make a serious point. Don Bosco would have been proud of us! In the supports of the crowd-control barriers, inevitable these days for any kind of protest gathering, the organisers had put little tea-light candles in jars, just like the ones they had encouraged us all to bring along. This reminded me of the other meaning of vigil. It was to be a time of prayer, too, a time to ask for justice and for fairness.
Then it was two minutes to twelve, and I was saying to a friend of mine. How are they going to get all these people quiet for the minute's silence? But, like a rushing wind a sound began to come up Whitehall from Parliament Square, moving towards us as we stood opposite the entrance to Downing Street: Shh! As we joined in and it passed us, silence descended and we could hear the sound of Big Ben introducing its midnight chimes. As it rang its first bell of midnight, people around me started to hold up their candles and Whitehall was transformed into a sea of candlelit faces.
It was then that I felt as I had felt at another vigil, where, only a couple of weeks earlier, I had sung the Exsultet, proclaiming the joy of Easter in a sea of similar candlelit faces. In that silent prayer, in those gathered people, in their hopes and dreams for a better world, I knew what my banner would be: John 10:10 - I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.
Fr Martin Poulsom SDB
A New Book by Fr Michael Cunningham SDB
The Chinese have a saying: May you live in interesting times. This seems true of our era. Change has become the common feature of our culture. An old world is collapsing around us while a new one is yet to emerge. This affects every aspect of behaviour. Our culture is restless, distracted by the trivial and characterised by a loss of meaning and a deep cynicism. There are no heroes now. All have feet of clay. It may explain why politics seems to have lost its optimism and is dominated by phrases such as the war on terror, the clash of civilisations or the end of history. In this time of numbness, religion appears, on the one hand to be in numerical decline, while on the other it is increasing in fundamentalism and simple certitudes: simplistic answers for a complex world.
But there is hope. A new interest in spirituality reminds us that we cannot bury questions of ultimate meaning. All religion has to undergo constant purification and renewal. When Jesus calls us to repent he is asking for a renewal of heart, soul and spirit. Authentic spirituality cannot shelter us from the problems of the world; in fact it leads us right into them, as is clear from the story of the chosen people in the Bible, who are led into wilderness and exile, to discover a God who does not threaten them or punish them, but calls them into a relationship of communion and intimacy.
This story reaches its fulfilment in the person of Jesus who moves us from a servant relationship to one of friendship, from fear to love. He chooses a small group, chosen people, who will act as visual aids of what he is doing for the whole of humanity: bringing everything into union, everything in heaven and everything on earth. His mission is to bring all the polarities of life together, not so that one triumphs over the other. In a creative tension, a new and richer unity is allowed to emerge. Even sin becomes the very heart of redemption and forgiveness. God invites us beyond a religion of the first half of life, one of law, observance and perfection, into a spirituality of surrender. The individual ego dies and we are re-born into a richer and fuller life of wisdom, forgiveness and compassion. Jesus reveals a totally inclusive God, who has no favourites but invites everyone to share the heavenly banquet. He reveals that, far from living in fear of God, we are in fact beloved of God, beloved sons and beloved daughters. This is the destiny of all people.
The Gospel strategy of Jesus is to create ever-widening circles of friendship. Friendship is God's great gift to us. Every human being needs particular people to offer warmth, acceptance and intimacy, so that our true self can emerge beyond the primal sense of shame and guilt, which is original sin. The love of friends gives us the confidence to embrace the other, the person, race or faith that is different from mine. Modern communications and technology have created a global village. Industrialisation has divided the world into rich and poor, but the rich world reacts with fear, not just to the cry of the poor, but especially to their presence in the form of refugees. Instead of bringing a healing vision, many of the world's religions seem to be increasing the divisions and the conflict. There is a need to move beyond the limitations of our story to connect with the human story.
These circles of acceptance and forgiveness subvert and reverse our normal way of building a society with the rich at the top and the poor at the bottom. Jesus gives preferential treatment to the poor, in his teaching on the beatitudes. In the great gospel reversal the rejected ones become the teachers.
The way of transformation is what we used to call holiness. Such transformation leads us into the spirituality of compassion. The blending of the masculine and the feminine is one of the great life-giving challenges facing us in our culture today. Much of the renewal of culture and the Church rests on the need to move from the patriarchal patterns that have dominated for so long. Men need to discover the sacred feminine and move from controlling, fixing and engineering change from without, to a more collaborative, compassionate style of authority and of living, one that brings about transformation and change from within. In the spiritual life, the patriarchal model of winners and losers makes no sense; grace is given unconditionally to all, beyond any concept of worthiness. Women need to bring their relational agenda and their voices into the masculine world of soul-making to embrace the need, not just for charity, but for social justice, as many are doing. The feminine voice needs to be heard in our Church and world. God has created us male and female and we need both for wholeness, but it is a wholeness that we all fear.
In the mystery of the Cross, Jesus goes further and reveals the great lie of history which is the creation and scapegoating of victims. He shows us how to deal with pain and evil. Instead of projecting it onto others and blaming others, Jesus absorbs evil and violence, in the great theme of redemptive forgiveness. The lie of ignorant killing, which is the false story of history, is laid bare and uncovered. In complete vulnerability and woundedness, Jesus offers a new way of living in divine sonship, as beloved of God, which uses vulnerability and woundedness as the way into a new use of non-dominative power, the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The great transition to the second half of life is built on the death of the private ego. Life is not about me; I am about life. We discover that we do not go to God by getting it all right and perfect but through our imperfections. This leads us into the way of honesty and humility. The only sign Jesus gives us is not a set of answers like the catechism, but a path, which the Church calls the Paschal Mystery. This reveals the paradox at the heart of all reality, the opposites, which Jesus holds together on the Cross, as he hangs between heaven and earth, between the good and the bad thief. We are called to live this Paschal Mystery in our lives by holding the opposites together and allow ourselves to be transformed by them: human and divine, light and dark, good and evil, heaven and earth, original sin and original blessing, male and female, strengths and weaknesses, wheat and weeds.
Living a transformed life leads us to rejoice in the goodness and beauty of creation and of all people. At the same time it moves us to weep and mourn as we meet and experience the mystery of unjust suffering. Such a life-style will not be perfect. Like the biblical characters, our journey will include some steps forward and some steps back. All of it however in the sure faith that God is the great re-cycler, who can use and transform every aspect of our lives. As I learn to accept and own the darkness of my own wounds and shadow, I can move out to welcome the other, the stranger, the one who far from threatening me contains the truth that I need. This has to be Good News, but it is not a pain-free path since we are, as Thomas Merton reminds us, a body of broken bones.
A Time for Compassion is available from Don Bosco Publications.
Fr Michael Cunningham SDB
A sight a child should never see
Homes lost in catastrophe
Stand by these children in their need
Bring hope in their anxiety
The most vivid dream I ever had, in all my life, came to me some weeks ago. I seemed to be alone on a beach with an African boy. The coastline was wild and rocky, the sky gloomy and menacing. The boy was lost and in great distress, wanting to find his way home. I took him by the hand and simply said, I will take you there. With these words came an overwhelming sense of happiness and fulfilment, then the dream faded. One might hesitate to pen yet another article about our African children, but the dream encourages me. What follows comes from the heart.
Contrasts sharpen our perception. I am presently engaged in the training of young African Salesians in Tanzania. Our house lies in the peaceful surroundings of the village of Shirimatunda, on the lower slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. In the evenings our playing field is opened to the local youth and at weekends our students run activities for them. Just across the hedge from my room is a play area from which I hear the happy sound of lively children. Many play in bare feet, using their own kiboli, a football made from plastic bags, ingeniously packed into a string net. Ki means little and boli derives from the English, ball.
What a contrast with wartime Liberia, where I previously worked! There I saw hundreds of small boys carrying guns, their young lives blighted by killing and every form of violence and vice. When at last they were demobilised, we Salesians were in the forefront of the efforts to help them. Among our collaborators were British Save the Children workers. Their leader, Una McAuley, told us of an incident at the small town of Kakata. She was standing on the back of a pick-up, explaining to a crowd of these boys about possible alternatives. She said, "When I finished, they all shouted out, We want to go to Don Bosco! We want to go to Don Bosco!" The messages on the grapevine from their predecessors had been effective. Unconsciously they were crying out for what is the need and right of every child: security, education and love. Don Bosco was the place to be. Yet so many African children are still crying in vain.
In a very different situation, the youngsters around Shirimatunda will say, We are going to Don Bosco. In their local youth-speak this is often cut down to, We are going to Doni. The familiarity implied by Doni appeals to me. These African children feel at home wherever the spirit of Don Bosco reigns. In a continent where so many are lost, like the child of my dream, through poverty, pestilence and violence, our Salesian Project Africa, of the last quarter century, has done immense good.
In our own country, family life has deteriorated under modern pressures. The same pressures are building up in Africa, mainly in the big cities. However, in general, the African child is still supported by a strong family framework. You will find an equivalent for cousin in a Swahili dictionary, but in eight years I have never heard it used even once. Your cousins are all sisters or brothers. Your mother's older and younger sisters are known as Big Mother and Little Mother, respectively. Similarly, paternal uncles are Big Father or Little Father. It is very common for children to go and live with a related family for long periods. The children simply address uncles as Dad (Baba) and aunties as Mum (Mama). Old people are venerated and cared for within the family. It would be the norm for orphans to be taken in by relatives. Sadly, the effectiveness of this fine family system is being undermined by wars and by the scourge of AIDS. Very large numbers of African children have become unsupported orphans; many of them are among the former street-children cared for by the Salesians in various African countries. Young girls are particularly at risk. It is a simple fact that wherever education for girls is established, the status of women improves. The Church is striving to maintain these precious aspects of African culture.
Butterflies and Bullets
We are used to harrowing pictures of starving children, but much more than sheer survival is at stake today for the African child. Just consider an experience I enjoyed last year. I was returning from a walk which included a stretch of the nearby river Karanga, where some children, lean but healthy, were peacefully fishing or swimming. As I approached Shirimatunda village I heard a lot of excited shouting and laughing from a group of a dozen or so boys and girls. They were running up and down trailing tiny kites, a small square of white paper flying from a stick and short string, with a fluttering effect. To my amazement, it seemed to me, that some butterflies were chasing after the children. Not quite believing my eyes, I asked a small boy, Do your toys attract the butterflies? I liked the answer, Yes, Father! The butterflies play with us! I since found that this is a common seasonal game and that the butterflies do indeed play with the children.
I contrast this beautiful scene with the horrors of the war for Liberian boys, exchanging kites for guns and butterflies for flying bullets. Some 20,000 children fought in the deadly game of that war. How many children were killed is anybody's guess. I remember being stuck at a checkpoint for half an hour, looking at just one, five feet away, a boy of about 13, who seemed to be peacefully sleeping. He lay in the gutter, along with the rubbish, he had been shot dead.
That boy's face hardly differed from those of the boys snoozing on the warm boulders of the river Karanga, after their swim. What a difference between the world of innocence and gentleness in Shirimatunda, and the evil world of war. How can this be? The answer is usually greed. The ghastly civil war in Sierra Leone was all about the control of the illegal diamond trade. Without buyers in the developed world there would have been no such trade and hence no war. We rightly deplore the corruption in Africa which impedes the aid programmes, but we must remember that the problems of Africa arise in great part from the colonial legacy of artificial nations and from the pressures of the free market in the world.
We speak of millions poured into African aid, forgetting the many more millions sucked out of Africa by grossly unfair payments for African produce. The efforts of agencies like Save the Children and the tremendous good work of the Salesians and the Catholic Church help to redress the balance. In the old slave markets a child had a value. What value can we place on the dead boy in the gutter? For many, no more than the rubbish he lay on. A diamond is worth more. Returning to my dream, I recall a book, which suggested that a beach where land and sea meet is a symbol of the interplay of mind and heart. We hear much about the African child, but does it touch our hearts? If the image of that dead child in the gutter can help a little, then perhaps he did not die entirely in vain.
Fr Brian Jerstice SDB
Family breakdown, angry adolescents, hoodies and teenage pregnancy are the subject of a conference in Leeds in July 2005. There is no real surprise in that, except that it is a conference on mediaeval social history. They will be talking about hoodies, not medieval monks but outlaws like Robin Hood, who used hoods to disguise their identity. They will explore why gangs of feral youth roamed the streets and little respect was shown to the elderly and infirm. Those were key problems facing some communities in this country, 700 years ago. They sound eerily familiar to our 21st century ears. The UK Government raised similar concerns this year about youth and community tension, by focussing its new programme around the keyword respect.
This tension between youth and society is the birthplace of the Salesian mission. It began in Turin, in Northern Italy, during the industrial revolution. Bands of youths were used as labourers and were boarding in Turin away from their rural families. They were wild at times, exploited by employers, frightening for older residents and liable to be manipulated by political movements. Don Bosco would therefore be familiar with the sentiments behind a recent tabloid headline such as, Yobs rule because we've lost respect. So what would he say to us about how to deal with this recurring tension between society and its youth?
Firstly, Don Bosco would look at the whole situation and try to understand why the tension had built up. He spent many months walking the streets of Turin, meeting young people, talking to them and listening to different opinions. It was many years after his ordination to the priesthood that Don Bosco took young people into a more formal residential experience. He did not rush at the problem, but tried to use reason to understand it.
In today's culture he may well have studied the report on Understanding and Preventing Youth Crime, from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation that offers the following causes for the bad behaviour of some young people today:
Each of these causes would have raised parallels in Don Bosco's own experience. The youth of Turin were separated from their families, living in a chaotic city centre. They would have had little education, have been subject to erratic discipline and would have been vulnerable to peer pressure. The causes of family breakdown would be different today, the reasons for impulsiveness and hyperactivity may be different; the educational setting is certainly different. Nonetheless, a similar tension was felt by youth and society. How did Don Bosco respond?
- low income and poor housing
- living in deteriorated inner city areas
- a high degree of impulsiveness and hyperactivity
- low intelligence and low school attainment
- poor parental supervision and harsh and erratic discipline
- parental conflict and broken families
At its simplest, Don Bosco created a home and invited his Mother to join him. In time he built up a youth community and a way of working that brought young people to life. The first Salesian house was a space where young people would be known and recognised. They would not need to hide. A stable, consistent and caring atmosphere compensated for the chaos of their town and family life. In Don Bosco's Oratory everything was arranged around the values of reason, religion and kindness. Rules were explained and kept to a minimum. Thoughtlessness from young people was expected, and forgiven easily without breaking relationships. Don Bosco did not expect the impossible from young people, but encouraged and praised them into new confidence and a cheerfulness that was infectious.
What would Don Bosco advise us to do about young people today? First of all he would want us to avoid the kind of tabloid talk that lumps all young people together as problems or yobs. He would want us to be optimistic about each young person, and deal with them with warmth and consistency, either as parent, grandparent or teacher.
Secondly, he would want us to treat each young person with respect and live that respect in our own adult relationships. Research has found that conflict between adults at home is one of the key issues in the development of antisocial behaviour. Deep personal disturbance in young people can be created by parental conflict. It needs healing through patient and consistently respectful relationships with caring adults. Don Bosco wanted his workers to bear patiently the ingratitude of young people, and wear them down with consistent rules applied with gentle and cheerful perseverance.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Don Bosco would offer us a spirituality for work with young people. Much of the national debate about youth issues focuses on techniques and resources. Apparently we need, for example, ID cards, more power for headteachers, less free time, more prisons or youth clubs and better citizenship teaching. As well as focussing on such resources, Don Bosco would probably advise us to focus on relationships. It is in relationships that the energy and wisdom of Salesian spirituality is located. There is a profound mystery at the heart of each person, and that includes adolescents. Connecting with young people at a time of rapid adolescent change, puts the adult in touch with a creative energy, that can heal and challenge hearts both old and new. For those with a Christian faith this energy is named clearly as God, sometimes prophetic in the young, sometimes crucified, but always moving towards resurrection.
The energy that is twisted into violence and apathy in young lives therefore, takes on a spiritual meaning in the Salesian approach. Engaging with the negative and angry chaos of young lives puts a Salesian worker on the way of the cross. Sharing the energy and optimism of most young people puts the Salesian with the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus, with a burning heart: the sacredness of God in ordinary young people has been recognised. The goodness of young people renews the adults who work with them. It gives them the strength to stand by the crucified inner world of some young people, for whom life and faith have little meaning.
There is one thing more. The mystery at the heart of young people, whether you call it God or not, is the key to building the respect that is at the heart of the present Government agenda. The sacredness of each life, made in God's image, is the reason for respect; it holds the motivation to give and receive respect from one another. It is a sacred life that we all share. It is the reason we fall in love, why we grieve and make sacrifices and the basis for every community and family. Don Bosco would want us to remember that, even under a hood, we belong to God, meet God in each person, and are on a shared journey to deeper life in God. Perhaps the wildness of youth today is symptomatic of a society that has forgotten how close God is.
Fr David O'Malley SDB
The missionary dimension constitutes the essence of the Church, the reason for her existence: to proclaim to the world the Gospel of Jesus. He is the proof and the guarantee that God has established an everlasting friendship with the human family and has made us all his sons and daughters.
In so far as they are an expression of the human spirit, all cultures and civilisations are good. Human beings, of every time and place, bear the mark of God. We are made in his image. But all human historical realities have their limitations; cultures and civilisations therefore need to be taken up, purified and raised to a new level by Jesus and by his Gospel. God became man, similar to us in everything but sin. He was born, he lived, he grew up, he suffered and finally died in a certain place, at a certain time, among a specific people. Incarnation also means inculturation: he chose a culture through which to manifest himself to the world. Culture means values, but it also implies limitation, to the extremely painful extent of death. Death and Resurrection are the supreme expressions of Jesus' love, the proof that he truly was the Son of God, confirmation of what he had preached and proclaimed. They are also the clear sign that every culture is called upon to overcome everything in it that leads to death or to sin.
Evangelisation is the vocation and the mission of the Church. The missionary mandate of the Teacher from Galilee to the disciples, who had followed him, is the concrete expression of that task. From this also flows the conviction that all cultures, without exception, have the possibility of opening themselves to the news of the Gospel. Indeed, looking at the obscure Teacher from Galilee, one can deduce who God is, who man is, what life is and what death is. In the person of the Son of Mary of Nazareth everything finds its true significance. The meaning of life and of history is unravelled: where it comes from and where it is going. Christianity, therefore, is not a philosophy. One could even say, it is not a religion. It is rather, the historical manifestation of God and of his plan of salvation. God becomes man to lead human history towards the Kingdom, towards its fullness, towards the end for which the world and man have been created. Christianity is not a collection of rules to be practised or of rites to be celebrated. It is rather to recognise all that God has done through Jesus to give meaning to the history of mankind and of the world. Morality is living according to this revolution. Proclaiming this good news has been, and will continue to be, the mission of the Church. Christ is not one alternative among many. He himself said that he was the Way the Truth and the Life.
Today, Christianity is spoken of as something already out of date. It is regarded as the enemy of progress, of culture and even of man himself. Religious ignorance and certain recurring prejudices, given a new airing, can lead to this way of thinking. But it is just not true, nor has it ever been historically so. Christ did not come to condemn but to save. Everything that is good in human hearts and minds, in the rituals, in the customs of peoples is not lost with Christianity. It is purified and becomes a true path of salvation and therefore of happiness for human beings. The Gospel does not eliminate progress, nor civilisation, nor culture. It shows them other values more profound and opens them to new and wider horizons. Christianity is not man's enemy, just the opposite. It ennobles us, making it possible for us to become, in Christ, children of God, opening for us the doors to an eternal destiny of happiness with God/Creator/Father.
The Church, as mother and teacher, through her missionaries, has brought to all parts of the world not only the strong light of the Gospel, but also the strong light of progress, of knowledge, and an effective sympathy with those who suffer and are forgotten. Through her communities of apostles, missionaries and believers she has founded schools and universities, health centres and hospitals, centres for development, qualification and vocational training. For many centuries her institutions were the principal means, even at times the sole means, for the spread of culture and human dignity among the most marginalised on the earth. Incredible was the work, both at the cultural and at the social level, and even in the political arena, of the first evangelisers of Europe e.g. Saints Benedict, Boniface, Cyril and Methodius. Impressive were the exploits of Jesuits, Franciscans and Dominicans in newly discovered America. Saint Francis Xavier evangelised India, the East Indies and Japan. The Jesuit Matteo Ricci succeeded in entering China, thanks to his knowledge of mathematics and astronomy. Monsignor Daniel Comboni and Cardinal Charles Lavigerie, founders and intrepid missionaries in Africa, demonstrated that the Gospel is synonymous with a commitment to the dignity of every human being.
Thousands of missionaries, men and women, religious and lay, continue today to proclaim the Good News of Christ. They defend human rights and fight every form of slavery and exploitation in most countries in the African continent and among the peoples of Asia and of Oceania. A people without God is a people without a future. A life without a transcendent dimension is a life without meaning. For this reason, faced with a situation of secularism, materialism, violence and the loss of the values that our world is experiencing, Pope John Paul II insistently called us to a New Evangelisation. Jesus Christ and his message must continue to be light, salt, leaven, yeast for a new humanity rooted in peace, in justice and in universal respect.
To proclaim, to live and to bear witness to the Gospel continues to be the mission of the Church and the responsibility of every Christian. Jesus says to everyone: "Go and make disciples of all nations." (Mt 28: 19).
Fr Pascual Chavez Villanueva SDB (Rector Major)
Fr Ainsworth was born on the 5th May 1908, in Bolton. He came from a strong Catholic family tradition. Before the First World War the family went to America, in search of a new life, his mother died there and the family returned in 1913 on the Mauretania.
Fr Ainsworth was a late vocation. He was working at a large engineering works in Gorton, Manchester, when he applied to join the Salesians. After many difficulties, he finally began his novitiate in Oxford in 1931, and was professed in September 1932. He was sent to teach in Malta in 1934. When he arrived in Malta, to begin his three years’ teaching, he was greeted with the news that his father had died. In 1937 he returned to England to study Theology in Blaisdon where he was ordained priest in 1941. From 1941-1943 he worked, in Battersea, on the Salesian Press. In 1943 he was appointed Provincial Secretary, a responsibility which lasted 9 years. These may not seem to be significant years but Fr Couche relied very heavily on Fr Ainsworth and these were precious years which gave him an insight into the workings of religious life. They were different times indeed, Fr Ainsworth loved to tell how Fr Couche travelled to Turin by plane while his faithful secretary had to go by train, with the Provincial’s luggage.
In 1952 he became rector of Beckford, in Gloucestershire and oversaw the move to Melchet Court in 1954. In 1956 he was appointed Rector in Bolton. In 1957 he became Provincial Delegate for South Africa until 1966.
In 1966 Fr Ainsworth was sent to Australia to work with the students and to edit the Salesian Bulletin: Fr Ian Murdoch, who became provincial in Australia, wrote to Fr Ainsworth many years later:
This is just to say thank you so much for your encouraging and positive words, and also for the wisdom and bedrock humanity you brought with you to Lysterfield when I was there in 1967 and 1968. These are precious qualities in any age, no matter how enlightened it considers itself to be, and in any form of living the religious life, perhaps the most important lesson anyone has ever taught me.
Fr Ainsworth returned to South Africa again, as Provincial Delegate, in 1969, where he worked until 1974. In 1974 he returned to Bolton and was editor of the Salesian Bulletin until 1983. Even into what might, euphemistically, be called the retirement years of his nineties, Fr Ainsworth regularly said Sunday Mass at Mount St Joseph’s Convent and treasured his links with the Sisters of the Cross and Passion. Fr Ainsworth’s contribution to the life of the province is best expressed in these words of Fr Martin McPake, the Regional Superior, in a letter to Fr Ainsworth in 1991 on the occasion of his Golden Jubilee:
I have a fair knowledge of the history of the province, and on that scene, I see you as a significant and happy and healthy influence for more than half of the province’s lifetime. I’m glad I knew you, I have always been touched by your kindness, and I am proud to have benefited from your friendship.
Fr Ainsworth’s vocation was also that of a writer, in the best and truest sense of the word. He just had to write. He wrote every day. He kept his diary until his 97th birthday. His diary describes him, it charts his every day, his concerns, the things he loved, but above all the people he met, every visitor is recorded there and their kindness noted. Fr Ainsworth understood the power of the written word. His best known book is St John Bosco, The Priest, the Man, the Times.
What kind of man was Fr Ainsworth? He was a man of great encouragement. His praise was never vague; he was always precise in attribution. This uncanny ability of encouragement meant that he made friends instantly and easily. Some months ago I was reading to him a card from a lady who had great regard for him. She concluded her words with the phrase, I’m so privileged to know you. He looked at me quite puzzled, How can she say privileged to know me when she has only met me once. I said to him, You know there must be thousands of people who have felt proud to have known you, I certainly feel proud to have known you. In the sight of death you can be honest. A few days ago I read the entry in his diary for January 22nd:
Proud to know you? Very many, untold numbers of people, men and women without number?
At least he was thinking of what I had told him, even if he wasn’t convinced. For me and, it seems, for so many people, his vast capacity for encouragement was his outstanding virtue.
Another virtue was his gift of wonder. He never ceased to marvel that so much should be done for him, a new bed, a constant stream of nurses, and visits from his community. Why do they bother with me? He would say, surely there are people younger than me who need attention. This great sense of wonder never left him. He marvelled at so many things; at how many points Bolton had achieved in the premiership, at cricket scores, at food well-cooked. He did like a book; I even found a book on St Theresa in which he had written many years ago:
Stolen from Fr Francis Gaffney SDB by its present owner W A Ainsworth. Restitution will be made.
The last entry in Fr Ainsworth’s diary is for his birthday, May 5th. He loved to celebrate and St Joseph’s has such a wonderful tradition of celebration, Fr Ainsworth was in his element. He said the grace, he gave a speech, he even called over Brother Chris (aged 96) to join him in a song. All this was faithfully recorded in his diary under the heading The Day.
I need finally to express the gratitude of our Bolton community to all those who looked after Fr Ainsworth with such love, especially in the last months of his life. My thanks to the staff at St Joseph’s and Thornleigh, who loved him dearly, all the staff at Mandalay health centre, and the nurses who spent long nights with him. Finally my thanks to the staff at Nazareth House, who looked after him for the last week of his life. The difficult decision to move Fr Ainsworth from St Joseph’s was only made possible by the knowledge that he would be in the best of hands in Nazareth House, and so he was.
Who could forget his smile, his encouragement and his sense of wonder? May he rest in peace. Amen.
Fr Anthony Bailey SDB