I hope you have had the chance to read through the Rector Major’s Action Program for the Salesian Congregation after GC28. In his monthly letter to the provincials of the Interamerica region, Fr. Hugo Orozco writes, “In this month of August, the “Acts of GC28” have been published with the intention now of inspiring Salesian projects, for each person, in the local communities, in the province and worldwide. I recommend reading them; I assure you that you will find pathways for your service of animation and ideas for our region.”
Indeed, as I read these pages, I found many points in line with provincial chapter 2019 and the extraordinary visitation by Fr. Tim Ploch. I can see how our Congregation is situated in the life of the Church, living the Salesian charism as a unique gift in the Church and the world. I find the threads of the Synod on Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment and the Apostolic Exhortation Christus Vivit woven into the Action Program for the Congregation. I feel it speaks to our reality in Canada and the USA and challenges us to stay attentive to the reality of the young today.
For about two years, I felt the need of young adults to gather in small groups to share faith and life in a personal way, groups guided by Salesians who are willing to share their own faith experiences. I have talked with the provincial council and directors about this dream of our Salesians joining small groups of young adults for prayer, Scripture sharing, honest dialogue connecting faith and real life. I even gave them all this book, Creating a Culture of Encounter: a Guide for Joyful Missionary Disciples, published by the USCCB, so our province could see how easy and rewarding it is to gather in the name of Jesus with young adults and walk together on the journey of faith. Then I read these two proposals in the Action Program:
1.) We will promote a youth ministry that accompanies the young with a view to their personal maturity and growth in faith and that has the vocational dimension as its unifying principle.
2.) Accompany the energy of young people have by fostering their active role and leadership in every house and in the Salesian mission that is carried out there.
These lines motivated me to ask all the SDB communities to form small groups of young adults who meet regularly to share faith and life in a personal way with Salesians who are active participants.
Who are these young adults? Women and men in their 20s. I don’t think we have to go very far to find them. They are teachers in our schools, catechists in our religious education programs, the staff at the youth center, camp counselors, recent graduates, coaches in local sports programs. We are probably in contact with them regularly but because they are active in the mission, we may overlook their need for more personalized accompaniment.
What are we supposed to do with these young adults? I refer you to the Rector Major’s Action Program, section 3 for a beautiful explanation of the art of accompaniment. A small group of 8-12 people is ideal for more personal sharing, growing in friendships, being listened to, and learning to listen to the Spirit. I would envisage a group meeting monthly for most of the academic year (10 months). Some groups may meet weekly for a single liturgical season. In-person meetings are better, however virtual gatherings have become very common.
How do we reach these young adults? As Don Bosco did, with a simple invitation. I know of members of the Salesian Family who have stood at the doors of the church and invite young adults they see at Mass on a regular basis. It is not unusual that a motivated young adult will take the lead and invite his or her friends. Of course, a personal invitation is much better than a bulletin announcement or a social media post.
You’ll see that this style of encounter with young adults is already written into our province strategic plan. Fr. Steve Ryan, in the section of religious life and discipleship, will animate the SDB communities to share a prayer with young people. Fr. Dominic Tran rightly expects every SDB presence to have a journey/accompaniment group with young adults, in which the SDBs are actively involved. Fr. Abe will be developing a five-session program that the SDB communities can use with young adult groups during Lent.
I already mentioned Creating a Culture of Encounter from the USCCB. I also recommend some of the resources from the Catholic Apostolate Center (www.catholicapostolatecenter.org), especially “The Art of Accompaniment,” and “Living as Missionary Disciples.” The Paulist Evangelization Ministries have ready-to-use programs to guide such a group of young adults. Some confreres are familiar with Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddel. This book reinforces the urgency of sharing friendship with Jesus in the community in a personal way. The SDB community is not bound to use any resource or format in particular, but they are bound to be involved as participants, to “be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Pt 3.15).
This project of forming small groups of young adults to share faith and life in a personal way is not exclusively for the SDBs. The SDBs can invite members of the other groups of the Salesian Family to also reach out to young adults and journey with them to deeper faith. However, the SDBs cannot absent themselves from being actively present and involved, even if other members of the Salesian Family take the lead in organizing a group. The presence of all the Salesian religious in the community, regardless of age, is essential in this project. Not only do the young adults need our presence, but we also need this encounter with the young to be renewed in our vocation.
We’ll have the chance to talk more about this process of renewal and specific projects during the fall leadership meeting. During our visits to the communities, the provincial councilors and I look forward to joining you in the group(s) you form with young adults. We entrust this work to Mary Help of Christians.
Fr. Tim Zak