Salesians worldwide focus on Evangelizing the Young
Interview with Father Filiberto González of the General Council
ROME, JULY 19, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The Salesians have always been dedicated to evangelization, but they are renewing their efforts in response to Benedict XVI’s call to evangelize, with a particular focus, as their charism dictates, on the evangelization of young people.
Father Filiberto González is in charge of communications for the Salesians’ General Council and was recently interviewed by ZENIT.
ZENIT: How many Salesians are there in the world today and in what countries?
Father González: Salesians are in 130 countries, and we number some 15,500 including priests, deacons and consecrated souls with initial and perpetual profession. The number grows enormously if we think of the Salesian Family made up of 28 groups, such as the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, the Sacred Hearts, former students and volunteers, which extend from the consecrated to the laity. The latest birth in the Congregation is a group of families consecrated to the mission.
ZENIT: How can Don Bosco’s charism be described?
Father González: It is an educational, evangelizing charism aimed toward young people, particularly the neediest. In the endeavor of educating and evangelizing we seek to have them understand that God loves them and that they are important in the Church. We work faithful to our charism, as evangelizers, educators and communicators of the love of God. These are, for us, the three central elements.
ZENIT: Italy has changed a lot since the time of Don Bosco. Has this meant a change in your charism?
Father González: The charism is the same in Italy and in the world. In Italy, as in other places, we try to be faithful to our sources: the Gospel and Don Bosco’s charism.
ZENIT: In Italy you have universities.
Father González: Yes, it’s true, we have some universities and schools of all types, particularly technical institutes, in which youth want to learn to work to be “good Christians and honest citizens.” Moreover, the charism is expressed also in parishes, oratories and in all these endeavors we unite ourselves to the efforts of the Church in Italy. We have some centers for kids with problems of addiction, who, thank God, are few, but they are the neediest, many of them are Italians but there are also immigrants.
ZENIT: And in other countries?
Father González: We work in all types of schools and universities, parishes, centers and in the mission in areas that no one reaches. In Brazil, for example, there are 28 Salesian bishops. Where are they? Almost all of them are in mission territories.
ZENIT: What is your contribution to the New Evangelization and how are you living it, given that the Salesians have always been evangelizers?
Father González: We have two points of departure in the New Evangelization. First John Paul II’s appeal, from the beginning of his pontificate, in addresses given in Poland and in America, in Santo Domingo. Then in the year 2000 Cardinal Ratzinger, and now as Pope Benedict XVI, in a profound appeal that recalls the Church’s evangelizing vocation: proclaiming the absolute value of God, the primacy of His Kingdom, acting as servants of men and witnessing this in a culture that is evolving.
ZENIT: And your answer?
Father González: Eight or 10 years ago our Congregation joined the Church in promoting what we call “Project Europe,” with three great stages.
The first is our personal and community conversion to the Gospel and to the Salesian charism. The point of departure is not organization but our conversion.
The second is the re-structuring of our distribution and the re-definition of our presence. In Europe we are organized in three large regions, but this isn’t enough. We must see how we can respond with our charism and work to the new needs of young people.
The third: being part of the evangelizing Church, we invite all the members of the Congregation to Europe, to do so as evangelizers of young people in the name of Christ and His Church.
ZENIT: In the task of the New Evangelization, do you have a particular role to fulfil regarding young people?
Father González: Yes, young people are in need of the love of God, and we need those who will manifest it to them. We have taken up the Holy Father’s appeal to be Salesian mystics, seekers of God as regards the meaning of life; prophetic with a genuine and fraternal personal and community life that stems from being children of God; as servants of our neighbor, especially of the neediest young people, in particular those who don’t have God, those who have forgotten Him.
ZENIT: And what projects do you have for the forthcoming years?
Father González: In March-April of 2014 we will hold our 27th General Chapter, and the subject we have chosen as a Congregation is to be “Radical Witnesses of the Gospel.” This is joined to a process of identification with our founder, Don Bosco, in the commemoration of the 200 years of our birth.
ZENIT: You have just spoken of your relationship with the Pope. Can you describe it?
Father González: Our love for the Pope is born of Don Bosco, it’s as a fourth vow, aware that being with him we are with the Church and faithful to the Gospel. There is an interesting event in this relation of youthful mission. On May 24, 2009, day of Mary Help of Christians, Benedict XVI wrote a letter to all young people of the world on the World Day of Social Communications. The topic was "New Technologies, New Relationships. Promoting a Culture of Respect, Dialogue and Friendship.". We had the impression it was written by Saint John Bosco because of the love with which he addressed young people, and his invitation to them.
ZENIT: What was the Pope’s invitation?
Father González: The Pope wrote: to you young people, who know your contemporaries better than we do, I entrust the evangelization of the digital continent, a new reality where the majority of believing and non-believing young people of the world live.
ZENIT: And how are vocations fairing?
Father González: We have been hit as all have in the Church. There are fewer vocations but perhaps they are more mature and better discerned. Meanwhile we have an average of between 450 and 500 novices every year and we believe that this gift of God is due to the youth charism. It is a great blessing. In Europe, they are much more solid and are very serious about life.
[Translation by ZENIT]