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Tuesday, 09 June 2009 12:59

Understanding Inculturation or How I changed

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This is an interesting article by Brother Matt, a young Salesian Brother from Poland taken from Don Bosco Today (Summer 2010). Last year he completed a year’s work experience as a teaching assistant in a Salesian School in England


A car, a mobile, money and a girlfriend – that makes you a man nowadays. That’s the way some lads think. So many of those they consider heroes behave like children. They seem to lack responsibility, they indulge in foolish and dangerous behaviour, they use people; for them what they have is more important than who they are. So it was inevitable that at first the young people regarded me as an alien rather than a normal person. I tried to show them, to teach them that being a man means to love and be ready to protect what you love, to give your life for it. It means not to fear even when everything and everyone is against you. Do not be afraid. They were the gospel words that sustained me during my stay in England. Being a man means to work hard, to be the head, be in charge – first of all in charge of your own life. Not to give the steering wheel to mass-media, mates, alcohol, drugs or your X-Box. That’s what I was trying to show them. Maybe one year is not enough but I hope they’ve seen that I’m happy, in charge of my life, even if I don’t have my own car, money or a girlfriend. For me, being a man means to be a good Salesian – a father, brother and friend.

Although Polish and English teenagers are different – because of language, education, culture and family background, there is something that everyone understands – a smile. I am convinced that’s the key to their hearts. The only difference is that sometimes it takes longer to open doors. That was, for me, a lesson in patience. In my country when a Salesian or priest smiles youngsters come and want to chat, ask different questions, they’re interested in him, in his story, in his vocation. It’s so obvious, but not here. I was someone from a different world, an adult, a staff member and they must have thought I was a spy. It took me a long time to break through. Eventually I used the simple Don Bosco method – like what young people like. When I’ve seen them with headphones for example, I’ve asked about their favourite bands, types of music. And I’ve shared my tastes in music with them. Similarly with sport, art, and books. It was difficult for me because I’m the type of person who does everything quickly – I think fast, I talk fast, I walk fast, I eat fast, I make friends easily. In England I had to slow down. I’ve also become more tolerant of the behaviour of young people, they are slightly more aggressive and hyperactive than in my country. Perhaps it is because of their family situation – some lack both parents, some boys miss the father figure in their lives. After quite a few failures at the beginning I decided I wouldn’t give up, I’ll try again and again… and it was worth the fight. Despite being so different from them, I think the youngsters began to appreciate me. I didn’t see it at the beginning, but soon I recognised signs of their appreciation. I treasure those moments when, jogging after school and passing the school bus, the pupils would wave and shout Hello, Brother Matt. I’ll never forget those moments, and hi-fives on the corridor. When I heard I was going to England I imagined myself a fighter, a warrior, a crusader. I wanted to take my cassock, bible and crucifix (and maybe a sword) to evangelise. But when I stepped out of the plane I realised that it just wouldn’t work. You can’t tell an Eskimo the parable about the good shepherd because he has got no idea what sheep are like. So I had to change my way of thinking, I had to become more modest about my religious life, hide the shepherd’s crook. They live in a different culture; have a different way of praising God, of talking about him. So I had to change my behaviour, my way of thinking. I soon realised that, in a different culture learning the language is just the beginning. Inculturation means discovering all the good and valuable things that British people and their culture produced during 2000years. I can’t just step in like an unexpected guest in other people’s houses and tell them what kind of books they should read, what kind of music to listen to, and how to prepare a meal. I’m the guest; I must respect the host.

So I never said a word about things that I thought were wrong; because they weren’t wrong – they were different. Even if sometimes I was boiling inside and wanted to shout out. I just stopped and thought: Why? Why say it’s wrong? Don’t judge! How do I know that Poles are doing these things correctly? Who am I to judge? If something works here but not in Poland let it be, just leave it as it is. The best way is to observe; don’t criticise. Learn because maybe you’ll need to do the same.  Does it work? It worked for me. After weeks of inner rebellion I fell in love with this country, its people, its food, and even the weather!

In school, the staff are wonderful. They spend so much time in the school. I really admire their commitment and the passion they show in their teaching. That’s the impression I’ll take, in my heart, back to Poland and tell people about it. The school staff were a great example to me, a 26 years-old foreigner, with no experience of professional teaching. Thanks to them I’ve learned so much and I’ve achieved so much. Being a teaching assistant in their lessons was a pleasure and huge life lesson for me. They didn’t have to say a word. I just watched them; it was like a good film. Now I need to share my experience with others and invite them to play that role. They deserve an Oscar. What surprised me was that, after a few months of working with them, some of the teachers occasionally did things the way I was doing them with the youngsters – ways that worked. I like to think they appreciated the Salesian way.

bromatt2How do English Catholic young people differ from Polish young people? They have their English Catholicism the same as Polish young people have their Polish Catholicism. There is no point in trying to make judgments, no need to compare or to assess the differences. This diversity is an area where the whole richness of the Church takes place: a space that cannot be measured or defined. But when you enter that space with an open mind you will never be the same again. You become a new Catholic – a richer Catholic. That certainly has been my experience. That’s why I encourage others to join Project Europe – for that enriching experience. They will discover that they receive more than they give. I have certainly changed since I came to England. Some people have commented on the improvement in my English, and have even remarked that I’m more British now, whatever that means. I’m sure that is not just about Health and Safety issues or tea breaks. It seems to me that I just understand people more than I did before. I’m curious to see what my family and friends are going to say when I return home. I can certainly feel the difference.  I just know I’ve changed; even when I can’t name it I can feel it.

There are still many areas of disagreement; that’s inevitable and that’s healthy. I didn’t come to England to change into Brother Matthew. I’m still Mateusz. Most of our differences are caused by our lingual, cultural and historical differences. But an appreciation of this makes us more valuable as people, more effective as Salesians. I’ve learned something from you but I hope that you’ve learned something from me. This is Project Europe, not Project England or Project Poland. We can only hope that every country which takes a part in Project Europe will reap the benefits.

As I said in the beginning,  Why? was the most important question. Sometimes the question is more important that the answer. A good philosopher is the one who asks the most important and basic questions.

During the Easter holidays, the Lower Sixth took part in what was a truly memorable and fulfilling pilgrimage to Lourdes. After the 12 hour journey that took us to the South of France, we arrived at what was to be our  hotel for the week. A two star hotel with reports of Salmonella poisoning, even a few bugs in the toilets…let’s just say we had our doubts!

However, within a few hours of arriving we soon realised that Lourdes was not about the quality of the hotels or how beautiful the surroundings were. It was about the atmosphere – the atmosphere created by all the people present – this is what makes Lourdes the special place that it is today.


The story of Lourdes began just over 150 years ago when a 14 year old girl, named Bernadette Soubirous, claimed that a beautiful lady appeared to her. In fact, this beautiful lady appeared to Bernadette 18 times in total, and she requested that a Chapel be built and processions take place.

So Bernadette went to her Parish Priest and told him that this lady appeared to her and wanted a Chapel to be built and procession to occur. However, since she was only a young girl and didn’t have any evidence of these appearances, the Priest wanted to know what her name was before taking any action.

Then early on a Monday morning when the beautiful lady appeared once again, Bernadette asked her what her name was. She replied, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Bernadette didn’t know what this meant, but the priest did, and he was left amazed at this news. He knew indeed that it was the Virgin Mary who was calling.

Four years later, it was confirmed by the Bishop that this apparition did occur and since then Lourdes has become a Holy Shrine that attracts many people from all over the world; with claims that miraculous healings have also taken place. So now that the short history lesson is over, let me take you on our journey to Lourdes so that you can hopefully experience what it’s like to truly be there.

Specifically, when the Lower Sixth went to Lourdes at Easter, we were members of HCPT (the Handicapped Children’s Pilgrimage Trust). As part of this massive group that totalled more than 7,000 children and helpers, we were there to provide support to the many children that went to Lourdes who have a disability and whom required the loving care and attention of those around them.

A line from a song that was sung during one of our Masses, ‘Be still for the power of the Lord is moving in this place,’ summarises all that was special during our week at Lourdes. Within the souls of everyone present there, the values of compassion, service for   others, love, faith and good will shone out in order to light up the lives of those around them and bless Lourdes with the power of the Holy Spirit. I have an extract here from a letter that one of the Lower Sixth (Chris Joseph) wrote; ‘The children made the week for me. I was particularly close with a girl from group 170 from Southampton. I will never forget her smile; she was such a proud and happy child, always smiling and singing. One of her comments to me really moved me. She said to me, “I get bullied at school   because I’m different; Joe, would you love me more if I was normal? I know I am different to you…” I was stunned at this comment.’

He continues, ‘A number of events really moved me during the week, but one of the most significant points for me was on the last night,  after placing the group candle. I was standing with Oli, Antonio and Tom, and we just watched the candles burning. Then all the Salesians linked arms, and just stood there praying. Nobody spoke a word, but somehow, I think we all knew that we were praying for each other.’

So what then can you take away from the experience of Lourdes? It is important to realise that many of the activities that we did with the children were very basic. Whether it was face painting, talking part in a Mass with them, or simply playing a game of football, actions that may seem very insignificant to us, mean an awful lot to those less  fortunate than ourselves. It was remarkable to see the gleaming smiles on the children’s faces as they were kept entertained and treated to a wonderful spiritual experience during their week in Lourdes.

Finally, if you see any of the candles that are burning on the altar here, just use the last few moments to focus upon it. Every evening, there was a torchlight procession where thousands of people would walk together with candles through the darkness of the night, By  helping others in any way that you can, this is what you are doing. You are using the candle that burns strongly inside of you, in order to light the candle within someone else. If we all take the opportunity to do this, then candle after   candle can be lit, and the view ahead will be lit up even when it may be dark around us. Then we will be able to see what lies ahead of us, and take the path that leads to goodness, happiness and friendship.

Marcus Almeida was a Student at Salesian College, Farnborough

Thursday, 21 May 2009 12:59

Asylum Link Merseyside

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There are two accounts of Asylum link from Ewan Roberts who is the Centre Manager of Asylum Link Merseyside, and from Fr. Michael Cunningham who has been working with the project.

Ewan Roberts, Centre Manager of ALM

Since the withdrawal of English teaching for newly arrived Asylum Seekers, the volunteer classes at Asylum Link have steadily filled to the point where 70-80 people per day are taught basic English. Brother Eamonn Doyle is both the main teacher and the coordinator and drafts in friends and former teaching colleagues to help out.

The participants come from as far afield as North Korea and Bhutan, but the majority of students are from African countries, Kurdish regions, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. Asylum Seekers have no permission to work, only £42 per week to pay for their food, clothes, transport and communication, so the English classes provide an opportunity, not only to learn the language, but also to fill up the day, socialise and exchange information and take part in the other activities at the centre. Recently we have had a lot of interest in our allotments which are a way for people to relax and step out for a breath of fresh air.

An asylum seekers journey through the system can be quite brutal, and the British Medical Association have twice in recent years, pointed out the detrimental effect of the asylum process on people’s health. We feel it is essential that organisations like ours continue to offer respite and a warm welcome for some of the most disadvantaged people living in our communities.



Fr. Michael Cunningham

In my work as a Salesian Priest I do a lot of what is called Retreat Ministry, both here in the UK and in other parts of the world. In the many places I visit I have often spoken about ALM, which provides such valuable support to asylum seekers who come to Liverpool. In a world where we see so much violence, suspicion and hatred, Asylum Link provides a haven of welcome and friendship.

Recently I was working in California and I spoke about the plight of asylum seekers coming to the UK. Afterwards a lady gave me a donation of £200 towards the work of the Centre. She wished to remain anonymous. On a previous visit to the USA I worked with the Salesian Sisters. After mentioning the work of ALM, one of the Sisters, who was teaching children in New Orleans, got them to raise some money for  Asylum Link as part of their Lenten fund raising activities. Since this was just a few months after the  devastation of Hurricane Katrina I was touched that they were able to reach out beyond their very own real concerns to try to give some assistance to asylum seekers in Liverpool.

Both these examples show how people in different parts of the world are willing to help others in need.

We do live in a rather violent and unforgiving world these days; but it is also a world in which ordinary people are prepared and willing to reach out the hand of friendship and provide some practical help, however small, to those in need. Asylum Link Merseyside is a great sign of hope, and good people recognise this. God Bless all of you and everything you do.

Thursday, 21 May 2009 12:59

New Salesian Schools Animator

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We are delighted to announce that the Provincial (Fr Michael) has appointed Fr Hugh Preston SDB to the position of ‘Animator to Salesian Schools’ in the British Province.

Operating as a member of the Youth Ministry Team, Hugh’s role is both wide and varied, but essentially his main role consists in promoting and developing the Salesian character of our schools within the Salesian network in Great Britain.

Whilst Hugh will bring his own personality and character to the post, it is expected that he will

  • advise, resource and support our Schools as an integral part of the Mission of our Province in order to ensure a consistent reflection on, and application and appraisal of, the principles of the Preventive System, and to further develop the coherent identity of the Schools whilst respecting their individual characters.
  • be a conduit for relations between the Provincial, the Youth Ministry Team and Head Teachers, Chairs of Governors and Governing Bodies, in order to assist strategies for planning, information and development relating to Salesian identity, education and youth ministry.
  • facilitate common projects between Schools and the participation of Schools in the wider context of the ministry of the Province, as well as the European and International network of Salesian Schools.
  • collaborate closely with the Salesian Youth Ministry Team, particularly in the areas of Chaplaincy, ‘out of school’ activities and others including Volunteering and Justice and Peace.

Fr Hugh brings a wealth of experience to the post, both in formal and non-formal education – he has just finished four years as Rector of our Youth Retreat Centre, Savio House. All of us on the Youth Ministry Team welcome him, and we are sure that he will do an excellent job in the coming years.

putpeoplefirstAs you know the G20 is in town, discussing our future and how we can get out of the financial crisis. As others have said, and I agree, I believe that we are at a pivotal moment in our history. I am not a doom monger but the effects of  climate change and possible deepening recession have to be taken seriously.

On Saturday 28th March I participated in an event run by the campaign “Put People First!” The day began with a Christian service in Westminster Central Hall. This was uplifting and informative. It had speakers from different organisations talking about problems they have encountered and possible solutions that can help. Afterwards we filtered into the main march (around 40,000 people) at Westminster Square outside the Houses of Parliament. As we walked down Whitehall and through Trafalgar Square, I saw several worthy campaigns that deserve the attention of our leaders.

Despite the weather forecast being freezing cold and heavy showers, the march was pleasant and sometimes even the sun came out. Walking along Central London with like-minded people gave me a feeling that democracy can work and if enough people feel strongly about an issue, the world can change!

From Piccadilly Circus, the march culminated in Hyde Park for a rally. This was a chance to listen to several inspirational campaigners and activists from around the world, explaining why change is no longer a just a goal it’s a necessity! It was a  message to the leaders of the G20 countries to talk about and make the decision to act on the current financial crisis, stopping the job losses; justice for the poorest people in the form of improving trade; and    tackling the pressing issue of climate change, ensuring that real and achievable targets are made so that we live in a greener and fairer world.

Let’s hope they will listen!

For more information, please visit

Thursday, 30 April 2009 12:59

Around the UK in Four Meals

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What do you get if you cross an inability to cook with the catering needs of twenty five hungry Europeans and a healthy dose of chutzpah? Cheese on toast masquerading as Welsh Rarebit. Tesco’s fish, McCains’ chips and a copy of the Macclesfield Express becoming traditional English fish and chips. A pan of scouse cooked by a Widnesian morphing into Irish stew. And what can only be described as people getting merrier than expected on Laphroaig being reborn as a Scottish whisky tasting evening.

Mid-March saw the General Executive Body of Don Bosco Youth Net meeting at Savio House in Bollington. With twenty-three of our continental cousins flying in from across Europe (including an  Italian with some Russian vodka and a Slovak whose only previous visit to Britain had been to pick strawberries in Scotland) there was a good deal of meeting and greeting and catching up with old friends and food and drink played an integral part in the (successful?) week.

With a deferential nod to the Provincial Economer, the GEB meetings – to plan for the coming years and to look at exciting things like finance and working groups – saw delegates provided with the finest sweets and lollipops that Poundland (the cheap-as-chips shop not some new Eastern bloc territory) could provide. And though the coffee eclairs went largely untouched the discussions themselves were productive – you can see more about the outcomes at

A Slovenian introduced us to a breakfast of Cornflakes and coffee…in the same bowl. The British introduced others to hairnets, aprons and gloves. A trip to the Poachers on Friday saw trepidation abound as our guests discovered pints of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord and the dubious pleasure of pork scratchings. Mmm, hairy. Saturday morning saw the British introduce paracetamol. On a previous occasion when a delegation of Germans had arrived we had innocently offered them some Lancaster Bomber beer but fortunately such international incidents were avoided this time. This year, we played it safe and in addition to the whisky we offered such traditional British staples as Stella Artois and a nice Australian Chardonnay. Don Bosco Youth Net is all about non-formal learning – I think we put the theory into action.

I like to think that Jesus was a foodie. The gospels are full of miracles where He made sure people were well fed and watered (or wined)…whether at Cana or the shore of Tiberias He knew the value of a good meal.

And at the Last Supper He took simple food and drink and changed it to become His Body and Blood – feeding His disciples in a manner which could last forever. For those at the DBYN GEB, long after the taste of dried pig fat has faded and the    hangovers have been dispatched (or replaced with new ones) the memories and the mission will remain.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009 12:59

Celebrating Salesian Volunteering

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On the 16th until the 18th of January, Savio House hosted the “Celebrating Salesian Volunteering” Weekend. I was lucky enough to have the time to go, along with Carmela, my wife. We were quite late and arrived in the middle of the evening social at 11pm (I say the middle, it was just beginning!). The whole weekend was an opportunity for us to link up with other past and present volunteers. I realised just how diverse in terms of experience Salesian volunteering is – there were people from Savio House, Brettagh Holt, overseas volunteers and other parts of the Salesian family (sorry if I’ve forgotten anyone!).

Saturday saw us playing Sandy’s hybrid game show on “Belonging”: “Deal or no Deal” and “Strictly Come Dancing” mixed together. Luckily, only forty of us were there to be subjected to the singing! We also had the opportunity to make Christmas cards (it’s a bit late to send them now Bob – or is that too early??), design posters to promote both Salesian volunteering and to raise awareness of children’s rights. The lesson planning session was less popular – especially for teachers like myself!

The prayer sessions were equally diverse, with sessions led by the Savio team, the Brettagh team and excellent singing from Fr. Martin P, although the ball of string thrown across the chapel during night prayer did seem to get dangerously close to the ceiling lights! There was a thought provoking session from Fr. David on “Meaning”. Another from James on “Learning”, whose session included the Savio Super Sheep in what is sure to be an Oscar-baiting role.

My team celebrated (in the “Celebrating” session) after their nail-biting victory and some dodgy quiz master decision from Bob. We had the benefit of both youth and age/wisdom in our teams from the volunteers and the SDBs respectively (thanks Graham, Hugh and Bro. Michael!).

The weekend was finished off with an excellent mass led by our Provincial. It was great to see Fr. Michael, as he was the rector for both Carmela and I when we were at Savio. We also managed to bore everyone with our wedding pictures!

The weekend was a great success and an energising experience for all. It has left me thinking hard about my Salesian spirituality – or lack of sometimes. Many links were made; from people planning retreats and advertising their own youth projects (yes, that’s you John!), informing about upcoming Salesian events and thinking of how they could continue to develop the Salesian seed that was planted in them when they initially volunteered – for some, this was longer ago than for others!

It was greatly inspiring to see Savio continuing to go from strength to strength and I can speak for everyone when I say a heartfelt thanks to the Savio community for hosting us and to Fr. Bob and James for organising the weekend.

Sunday, 12 April 2009 12:59

Transitions - Where are they now?

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Apparently I now live in the most desirable postcode in London. What makes it so ‘desirable’? Well according to the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, it is within easy cycling distance of central London; it has the most popular properties, and the most enviable neighbours – so that is why he and his family have moved into….N1. Yet within this small     geographical area of N1 is a wide, social and economic divide. Boris has chosen a much sought after private multi million pound property in Islington, while I have recently moved into ‘Dorothy Day House’. It is true that I now proudly reside within N1, But N1 Hackney, not Islington!


So if it is all about ‘location, location, location’ what have I found that is so desirable that I have chosen to leave behind two years of the quiet, prayerful, spacious and green surroundings of an enclosed monastery in Arundel, Sussex and make my home with the London Catholic Worker? In many ways my needs are no different to the Mayor’s; I too want to be close to where decisions are being made that affect the global economy; I too want to be where the demand for property is so high that the need to share is vital, and I too want neighbours that are priceless. My underlying motivation comes from the Gospel insight which tells us that, “wherever your treasures are, that is where your heart resides too”; where we locate, or rather “incarnate”, is the ultimate expression of our deepest longings, the eternal echo that makes real on earth the heavenly, the divine. Annunciations are common; everywhere we hear people  talking about poverty and injustice – we hear too much talk about what they are doing for the poor, their strategies and their policies for change. What is rare is when these ‘annunciations’ become ‘incarnations’ – then all talk about the poor is silenced, because as Phil  Berrigan reminds us;

‘The poor tell us who we are, the prophets tell us who we should be….so we hide the poor and kill the prophets’

The first time I visited Dorothy Day House there was snow on the ground, so it was good to be welcomed with a cup of tea. As I began to thaw out I slowly started to take in my surroundings. I already had a good idea of which Catholic Workers were living at the house, who the guests were, and who were the current visitors, so as I added this up, I whispered to one of the visitors, “please tell me this house is like the Tardis on Dr Who, that it looks small from the outside but in fact it is huge….” So many people ‘hidden’ in such a small space: it shouted loud and clear who I am. Such a prophetic sign; it told me who I should be….where I should be, where I am called to ‘incarnate’.

The road that has led me to Dorothy Day House has been a very long and winding one. Yet the truth of the incarnation is that ‘God is with us’, not just for us but with us – and we too are called to incarnate that Love not for the poor but with the poor, and that we can never do it alone, for as Dorothy Day said;

“We cannot live alone. We cannot go to heaven alone. Otherwise God will  ask us, ‘Where are the others?’”

And so I continue to ask myself, ‘Where are the others?’, and I’m beginning to hear the whisper……N1

Katrina Alton is the ex-Assistant Retreat Team Leader at Savio House, Bollington

Dorothy Day House offers hospitality to destitute refugees, usually men. They also run Peter’s Community cafe and the Urban Table Soup Kitchen (both attempts to imitate Jesus’ practice  of sharing His table with all comers)

Servant of God, Dorothy Day was born on the 8th November, 1897 in Brooklyn, New York. She was the co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, which started with the ‘Catholic Worker newspaper’ created to promote Catholic Social teaching and stake out a neutral, pacifist position in the war-torn 1930’s. This grew into a ‘house of hospitality’ in the slums of New York and then a series of farms for people to live together communally. Well over 100  communities exist today.

Tuesday, 07 April 2009 12:59

Collaborative Ministry in Parishes

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parish-ppsFollowing the death of Pope John Paul II, I read his reflections on his own vocation story, his journey towards the priesthood. In it he pays warm tribute to the parish in which he grew up; the parish of St Stanislaus Kostka in Cracow, which was run by the Salesians. He recalls that all the parish personnel and the community were sent to Dachau concentration camp, except an old parish priest and the provincial. Reading the Pope’s words it is possible to conclude that the youth work of the parish ‘begun anew….in that difficult period’ was perceived as a threat by the Nazi regime and had to be dismantled, destroyed. The battlefield had switched from the land of Poland to the landscape of the heart and mind; a much more difficult battle to win. This reminds us of a key concept in Salesian spirituality in the words of St Francis de Sales; ‘Nothing by force; everything by love’.

We tend to think that our present age creates anew, sees things from a greater    perspective than those of old. As Salesians we have moved to promote lay   ministry and collaborative ministry in all of our work settings. Pope John Paul   remembers a young man of the parish, Jan Tyranowski, a clerk by training, who had chosen to be a tailor in his father’s shop. He was a man of deep spirituality. He had chosen to work as a tailor, because this gave him more time and space to deepen his life of prayer. Pope John Paul writes,

‘The Salesians…had given him the task of creating a network of contacts with young people through what was called ‘The Living Rosary’. In carrying out this work Jan Tyranowski did not limit himself to the organisational aspects alone; he also concerned himself with the spiritual formation of the young people whom he met. Thus I learned the basic methods of self-formation, which would later be confirmed and developed in the seminary’. [Gift and Mystery p23]

In 1940’s Poland we find Salesians ‘networking’ with young people; enabling a gifted spiritually aware youth leader to establish youth to youth ministry in the  parish; encouraging a collaborative style of ministry within the parish. Perhaps the writer of Ecclesiastes is right in saying that ‘there is nothing new under the sun! [Eccs 1:9]

I often remind those who are working in the parish at our meetings that it is important to take time to reflect again on the ‘why’ we do of the ‘what’ we do. So, here  are  a  few  reflections  on  the  ‘why’  we  try  to work in a  collaborative style as Salesians. The Constitutions of the Salesians of Don Bosco recognise that working together first and foremost is ‘an experience of the Church and a revelation of God’s plan for us’ [SDB Constitutions 47] This recalls that first    Pentecost experience, in which ‘the whole community was united heart and soul’ [Acts 4:32], united in prayer and apostolic action. Only in working together can we come to know the direction in which God is leading us and in working   together we experience afresh the presence of the living Lord and the power and depth of his love for us: individually and in community. In sharing, listening and planning we give ourselves the   necessary space to discern the action of the Holy Spirit. The contribution of each person is essential, especially when suggestions are drawn out of the life experience of the person. If we are being open to the movement of the Holy Spirit, then we are attentive to the wisdom we have learned from living life itself.

Collaboration is, therefore, welcomed and encouraged, because of the opportunities it provides for all the members of the Salesian Family to share a deeper knowledge and appreciation of our Salesian spirit and Preventive System. Collaboration is a moment for all who are working together in a Salesian way to be both  pupil and teacher; collaboration is an educative moment. It is a dialogue between equals, and like Jan Tyranowski and ‘the Living Rosary’ groups, collaborative ministry is an  opportunity to ‘foster the spiritual growth of each [person]’ [SDB Constitutions 47]

I think that in this regard Salesian Parishes have a unique contribution to make to the life of the local Church and to the work of the diocese. If we look around our deaneries and dioceses we can see parishes where lip-service is paid to the idea of collaboration, bur where the reality falls short of the ideal. The Parish in Cowley is blessed by a very active core group of Salesian Co-operators, who are involved in developing the mission and the community of the parish. This highly visible group of collaborators sets a very good example for the rest of the parish to be willing to be involved and to share responsibility for the life of the parish.

Collaborative ministry has a life of its own; meetings multiply! Collaborative ministry makes demands on us, because it involves a high degree of ‘maintenance’. These are not simply meetings for the sake of gathering together, but opportunities for evaluation, formation and pastoral planning. Frequently this means that as Salesian leaders we may begin at one point, with a particular purpose or goal, only to discover that in the dialogue a new purpose is identified, a new goal established.   Collaboration often leads us to lay down our own agendas and to be greatly enriched by the insight and faith of those with whom we work.

These reflections lead me to conclude that collaboration brings with it a growth in three Salesian ‘virtues’. In our parishes, collaborative ministry will not succeed unless we have the first ‘virtue’; a positive attitude of welcome. This welcome extends to parishioners of all ages, but especially to those who are young parishioners. A second ‘virtue’ is that of acceptance. Salesians recognise the value and dignity of each person and beyond that their infinite potential as a child of God. This leads to a third ‘virtue’; participation. Our welcome and acceptance will only be authentically recognised, when we invite a person to belong and to participate. If we take a look at the life of Don Bosco then we see these things reflected in his pastoral style of action. Young people flocked to him like pins to a magnet. They knew they were truly welcome. He recognised their value and their individual worth and reminded his Salesians,

‘It is not enough to love young people, they must know that they are loved’.

Finally Don Bosco involved young people in being responsible for the life of the Oratory as youth leaders, many of whom became his closest co-workers as young Salesians. Collaboration connects us with our Salesian roots and even produces popes from Salesian parishes!

Thursday, 19 February 2009 11:59

Why am I staying in Swaziland?

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Why I decided to stay in Swaziland

I was dreading this, and, in true Megan style, delayed writing as long as I could! Why do I want to stay volunteering with Manzini Youth Care? Should be an easy question, surely? It was my idea and my decision so why? The magic created by Manzini Youth Care is so amazing, it sucks you in.megan-swaz

After spending a couple of months working with the Salesians in Swaziland, I began to think seriously about extending my service by a year. My family and friends were reluctant at first and thought I was crazy, “What about university?” was the main reaction I received. I knew that spending a longer period of time out in Swaziland would affect my studies, but I also knew that I could learn a lot in Swaziland and have an amazing experience. I was also wholly aware that the boys in our care desperately need structure and familiarity in their lives, and volunteers flitting in and out all the time wouldn’t be the best for them. I am lucky to be in the position that I could extend my stay, allowing me to properly develop relationships with the boys and enjoy my time there. Watching the boys develop and grow over a year is a really exciting prospect for me. I feel as I learn more about the culture and the boys’ experiences, I’ll be able to offer more to the project.

Fundraising in the UK

I wanted to do something while I was home  to raise some money for the boys at MYC. I thought of what the boys could use, and blankets was one of the first things that came to mind. It’s the type of thing that people don’t see as a necessity, due to the stereotypical imagery of Africa being sunshine and blistering heat, so what’s the need for blankets? But as soon as the sun goes down, or even behind the clouds, in the winter months, blankets and coats are a must if you’re going to stay warm and healthy. I thought if I could raise enough specifically for blankets, it’d maker this winter a little bit better for the boys.megsy-swaz

I approached my Parish Priest, Fr Michael Cooke, and asked if I could do an appeal at Church to raise some money. He was very happy to allow me to do it and so I made a pulpit appeal, with a second collection, at two masses this weekend. The response was amazing – altogether I raised £1002.01!! I’ll be able to buy enough blankets for all the boys and have money left over to go towards something else.

I’d like to express my thanks and appreciation to all at St John’s Parish in Bromley Cross and to Fr Michael Cooke for allowing me to make the appeal.

Thursday, 05 February 2009 11:59

The Southern Network and Don Bosco Day

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A group of young and not so young adults gathered alongside the SDB and FMA Communities in Battersea to celebrate the Feast of Don Bosco.   The idea had originated from the ‘Celebrating Salesian Volunteering Weekend held in January, because some people felt that it was on days like this that they missed the Salesian Community the most!dbday-battersea-09

So 20 of us gathered in the Orbel Street Chapel to celebrate a good old Salesian style Mass, led by Fr Martin. This was of course followed by a marvellous buffet and good conversation – a good time was had by all.

Until the next celebration……….

Monday, 02 February 2009 11:59

Summer Camp in Holland

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mad-and-pancakeIt is said that Dutch people keep themselves to themselves. Maybe Don Bosco Dutch people haven’t heard this rumour. On arrival with two Slovakian volunteers, in a  foreign country to a place consisting of a Salesian house, a cafe and a glorified barn, I could be forgiven for being a little apprehensive but we were greeted enthusiastically and made to feel right at home as we sat chatting over tea and biscuits. Well, dishwater and biscuits to be precise – the Dutch can’t do a decent brew. Here I met Johfra, Roberta, an Italian volunteer also on my team and Suilven, Leon, Melissa and many others from the other team, who would be working at the camp held in said barn, known as “the shed”. The next morning, Saturday, after the arrival of Koen, Esmeralda, Judith and Wendi, who along with Roberta, Johfra and myself would be the tent camp team and other shed camp volunteers, we packed up numerous cars and vans and set off for the site. …

The basic outline of each day was the same. Up around 7.45, get the kids up and dressed, breakfast and corvee (dishes and tidying) then begin the activities. Lunch was between 12.30 and 1.00, and then activities would continue until dinner time. After more corvee we had an evening game, showering and “tick-control”, then sitting together with drinks, cookies and bedtime stories before lights out and evaluation. It seems so quick and insignificant written like that but the quality and range of activities put on for the children was incredible.

On the Tuesday, the weather really took a turn for the better and we were able to go on our cycle trip to a town called Ermelo, reaching our destination via a multiple-choice quiz in which wrong answers sent us off the long way round. In the town itself, we played a life-size version of Cluedo, with animators (I always find this title amusing) regaled in their pirate costumes hiding in the streets with children seeking us out to find out which cards we held and hence solve the mystery. It was my turn to cook that night, along with Koen. We cycled to a sandy location called Caitwikerzand and began frying the contents of a thirty-something litre pot. We were eating pancakes for days. That did, however, have to be one of the most memorable occasions for me. Kneeling beside gas burners, ladling batter into sizzling pans, eating hot pancakes while the children played games beneath a glowing sunset then cycling back to camp was not something I will forget quickly.

Other special moments included those around campfires, toasting marshmallows on sticks we had found in the woods or attempting to bake bread-dough over the flames. They had to be turned very quickly; we got the water to powder ratio a bit wrong. And the there were the bedtime stories, made all the more camp-like for being read in turn by the children, through mouthfuls of crispbakes. Or just sitting together in the warmth, with hot chocolate and cookies – lekker!

One day we went swimming. The weather was unbelievable and after a morning’s hard work burying treasure in Caitwikerzand, we cycled to a tropical pool. That was a really memorable time for me. Water breaks down so many barriers as the children (and animators) just mess around and many friendships were forged in those few hours, even among those who were struggling to relate to others. I also got a chance to reach some of those who were a little more distant. …

Of course, a pirate’s life is not always a barrel of rum. On the Friday, when preparing for the bondavond, I felt awful. It was a mixture of tiredness, feelings of inadequacy and frustration that despite my attempts to enthuse the children, they refused to be excited. The language was also a barrier. On the first or second day, I began to wonder why they had taken on foreign volunteers as there were times when I was seriously limited in my interactions with the children. Combined with the initial incessant rain and the cold, wet, sore feet, progressively later nights and Dutch tea, there were times when I wondered what I was doing there. Although close to unbearable at the time, these lows were to be expected and were fortunately immeasurably outweighed by the highs.

So what would be the most special part for me? The children’s attempts to communicate with me, their hugs, smiles and requests to sit or cycle beside me, their sheer joy or their spirit of fun? The love and support of the other animators, their translations, their encouragement of the children to translate for us, their enthusiasm or their humour? The infinite meals of bread with chocolate spread, peanut butter, Gouda, hagelslag (chocolate vermicelli which is poured onto buttered bread) and pancakes? Possibly the drink and meal we had after the children had gone and we enjoyed each other’s company one last time. Maybe the comments written by the children and animators in each other’s booklets on the last morning before leaving. It’s hard to say. But what I can say with conviction is that I wished that I had not waited until I was twenty-five before I started volunteering. I wish I had known about this when I was eighteen and my advice is, if you are that age – or whatever age you are, volunteer! There are just so many places to go.

So, I’m already excited for next summer. Hopefully this time I’ll make it to China or Swaziland but with BOVA, one never knows. Planet Mars, here I come? Just watch this space.

Page 5 of 5


Spring 2019

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