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Thursday, 17 October 2013 18:40

Salesians of Don Bosco UK

Salesians of Don Bosco UK

Strenna for 2013


Each year the Salesian Rector Major sends a Strenna or slogan to the Salesian Family. This year Fr Pascual Chez, has chosen Like Don Bosco the educator, we offer young people the Gospel of joy through a pedagogy of kindness. You can read more about it by clicking on the image of the poster above.

Working for Youth in Need

The Salesians of Don Bosco, (SDB) are an international Roman Catholic Religious Order of men dedicated to be signs and bearers of the love of God for young people, especially those who are disadvantaged.

Founded by Saint John Bosco in Italy during the nineteenth century, we now number nearly 16000 Priests and Brothers, present in over 130 different countries all over the world.

Wherever we work, the development of the young through education and evangelization is the focus of all our concern because we believe that our total dedication to the young is our best gift to humanity. Saint John Bosco said, "I have promised God that I would give of myself to my last breath for my poor boys."

In the Salesian province of Great Britain we have over 80 Salesians (Priests and Brothers) working from eight communities, with responsibility for schools, parishes, youth work and a retreat centre.

We collaborate with other members of the Salesian Family including the Salesian Sisters, Cooperators, Volunteers of Don Bosco and Past Pupils.

You can taste our charism, our Salesian Way, in the pages of this website, especially in the sections Salesian Footprints and Led by a Dream

We maintain support for our Mission in Liberia, West Africa, where Salesians work for the children especially those who were soldiers in the recent wars.

Thursday, 17 October 2013 18:40

Don Bosco UK - St Joseph Cafasso

Don Bosco UK - St Joseph Cafasso

Saint Joseph Cafasso (1811-1860)


Seminary director

Joseph Cafasso was born in Castelnuovo d'Asti in 1811. Son of small land owners, he was the third of four children, of whom the last, Marianna, would be the mother of Blessed Fr Joseph Allamano. From when he was very young the family and the entire village regarded him as a young saint. He completed his theological studies at the seminary in Chieri and in 1833 was ordained priest. Four months later he went to the Convitto Ecclesiastico, a residential pastoral institute for putting the finishing touches to his priestly and pastoral formation. He would remain involved there for the rest of his life, eventually becoming its Rector.

Spiritual director

At the Convitto the spirituality of Saint Ignatius reigned supreme as well as the theological and pastoral orientations of Saint Alphonsus Maria Liguori. Teaching was given much attention and was aimed at forming good confessors and capable preachers. Joseph studied and gained a deeper understanding of the spirituality of St Francis de Sales, which he then passed on to one student in particular: John Bosco. Cafasso, his spiritual director from 1841 to 1860, contributed to forming and guiding Don Bosco's spirituality.

Typical of his teaching was his appreciation of daily duty as a way to holiness. As the Founder of the Salesian also testified: "the extraordinary virtue of Cafasso was his marvellously faithful and consistent practice of ordinary virtues".

Apostolate to the poor

Always attentive the needs of the poorest, he visited and also financially supported those who were poorest, bringing them the consolation that came from his priestly ministry. His apostolate also consisted in spiritual accompaniment of prisoners and those condemned to death, to the point where he was defined as the prisoners' priest. Prudent and reserved, a spiritual master, he was spiritual director of priests, lay people, politicians, founders.

Pearl of the Italian clergy

Pio XI called him the pearl of the Italian clergy. Fr Cafasso also supported Don Bosco and the Salesian Congregation in material ways from its very beginnings. After a short illness he died at just 49 years of age on 23 June 1860. He was beatified in 1925 and canonised by Pius XII in 1947, who recognised him as a "model of priestly life, father of the poor, consoler of the sick, support for prisoners, saviour of the condemned". The same Pope, in his encyclical Menti Nostrae of 23 September 1950 proposed him as a model for priests.

Thursday, 17 October 2013 18:39

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Don Bosco UK - Spirituality - Don Bosco's Courage

14. Don Bosco’s Courage

Is this an unusual topic to consider as a vital part of our Salesian heritage? I do not think so. The virtue properly understood is perhaps more necessary for our focus today than ever.

We can pause and ask ourselves what is the essence of the inspiration which prompted Don Bosco to dedicate his whole life energy to the salvation of youth, especially the poorest? His dream at the age of nine inevitably comes to mind. Sometimes the familiar contains truths so often seen, they become almost invisible. Could this be true about the advice which the Shepherdess gave to Don Bosco?

We, who communicate in English, often suffer, I feel, because of the way some important texts are translated from the Italian. Sometimes the words used are accurate but lack the soul of what was intended. Could this be so for the famous Dream Don Bosco had aged nine? The words used to translate the instructions of Mary to our saint are: “Make yourself humble, strong and energetic.”

I think that a more appropriate word for strong could be courageous. Why? The root of this word is heart, cor. Our whole spirituality is based on the importance of love in our approach to community and education in every sphere. Love also needs a little word of explanation; by love I do not mean the touchy feely type of emotion, which is so often presented to us today in film, TV, adverts and news, “I feel - so it is love!” No, rather I mean the love that is sacrifice; that is the gift of oneself in promoting the good of the other, with a readiness to suffer in person so that that good might be achieved. This was shown to us by Jesus when, to redeem us, he was prepared to give up his life that we might have true life and the real freedom to realise our potential as human beings: knowing and loving the God who is and who comes to us, so that we might have life to the full and not live a sort of pseudo life in the shadow of make believe. Don Bosco himself says, “If one is to do good, one must have a little courage, be ready for sacrifice, deal affably with all and never slight anyone”. (MB III P39)

Courage in our Salesian Tradition

Re-reading the early years of Don Bosco’s mission among the young I was truly amazed to see how creative and ingenious he was in meeting the young wherever they were. Before he had the fully organised Oratory he spent much time connecting with young people where they were. I was struck by his freedom of spirit and courage in visiting inns, taverns, hotels where the usual run of the mill clergy never set foot, so that he might chat to all and sundry in places where they were at ease and enjoying free time. He was so friendly he easily made himself part of the group. He was often invited back and so had the opportunity, gradually, to bring in the good word, the invitation to do something different, to games or even to study. He often invited the whole group to come to his Sunday Oratory or to come and find him when they needed help or a chat. His genuine kindness and interest nearly always persuaded the adults present to support his requests for these youngsters to get a few hours freedom to come to his home on the Sunday. Because of his big heartedness and courage in serving the young he was not averse even to breaking up fights or speaking up for the welfare of young workers. “When one is convinced that the cause is just, one will fear nothing. When I see God offended, I cannot ignore it or do nothing about it. To prevent it I’ll fight even a whole army.” (MBVII P 231)

We can also see that Don Bosco was a man of immense courage. In his vision of how he would care for the young every opportunity was to be used and no stone left unturned. We see that the early listeners to his visions of schools, workshops, hostels, playgrounds with the best of all types of games and an army of helpers, could only conclude that he was mad. Time was to prove them wrong and his well founded trust in God’s immense providence make these dreams come true. He knew the risks but believed that God would provide, if he did the necessary work! Surely this persistence in the face of so many mountainous odds shows us his sure hope. He had a heart big enough with love of God and the young to go to the limit to provide what he saw was necessary for youth. He wanted them to have the space and opportunity to enjoy safe, wholesome surroundings where the message of the Gospel was lived so that they could choose to live by the same Gospel way themselves. “When we plan something, we should first see whether it will give glory to God. If that is the case, we should go ahead fearlessly because we shall succeed.” (MBVII)

The Good Shepherd

In giving us the Good Shepherd as our model Don Bosco has further underlined the need for courage. His image of the shepherd was that of those we still see in the Middle East, a person completely dedicated to the sheep. The shepherd’s life was spent for the good of his sheep. His was no nine to five job with long holidays; he was responsible for the sheep entrusted to his care all day, every day. Wandering around the desert was not easy. One never knew what problems, dangers or perils one could come across. Sleeping as the door to the sheepfold might sound romantic but in the dead of night, in the cold, with the possibility of attack from wolves and other creatures requires courage, preparation and readiness to be alert at all times, as well as putting the well being of these, quite easily led, creatures first. “In those things which are for the benefit of young people in danger, I push ahead even to the extent of recklessness!”

Maybe it is this wholeheartedness, which draws us to want to know more about the Salesian spirit, which inflames our hearts too and stirs up our desire to work for the good of the young today. But these feelings are not the love that comes from courage. No, this gift helps us to ponder the risks, keeping our hearts open even when the heart is asked to hold more than it can! To be courageous in a Salesian sense surely means to act from one’s inner spirit, from that which can be said to be a driving passion, so that we almost rise above pain or pleasure for the greater good of those we serve. Knowing the odds we trust in the Providence of God and put in the necessary effort to work with the tools God gives us.


Don Bosco UK - Spirituality - More Snippets from Scripture

13. More Snippets from Scripture

The Fourth Gospel is a richly veined mine in which we can uncover deep insights into the person and meaning of Jesus, and into the nature of discipleship. In John’s story there are two events which occur in the last week of Jesus’ life which are closely linked. The wider context for each is the celebration of Passover, the immediate setting a meal. Each event contains a symbolic gesture. Mary of Bethany anoints the feet of Jesus and dries them with her hair. Jesus washes the feet of his disciples and dries them with a towel. Together the episodes illustrate the generosity and self-giving of Jesus, and invite a similar response from his friends and disciples.

The first narrative takes place in the village of Bethany near Jerusalem. It is the place where Jesus has recently raised his friend Lazarus to life, a moment of breathtaking drama. His visit is fraught with danger, for he is a marked man. His action in giving life to Lazarus has led the Jewish authorities to decide formally on his death. Against this backcloth there is a celebration meal. Lazarus reclines at table. Martha serves. Mary, the other sister, steals the limelight as she enters with a pound of very costly ointment, and without speaking a word anoints the feet of Jesus and wipes them with her hair. Both actions are highly unusual in that culture. The house is filled with the scent of the perfume. Judas objects to her extravagance, suggesting that she should have given the money to the poor. But Jesus defends her, reminding them that the poor are always there, whereas he won’t be. He then forges a link between her action and his imminent death and burial.

Mary’s action is firstly an expression of gratitude at the restoration of her brother to the family. It captures the joy of a family reunited through the life-giving action of Jesus. It is an unrestrained expression of her love for Jesus, her devotion and commitment, her belief in him as ‘the resurrection and the life’. Her gesture is costly, lavish and extravagant. It communicates the reckless totality of her self-giving. It mirrors the generosity of Jesus, his extravagant love to the end and the uttermost (Jn 13:1). Mary somehow perceives that Jesus’ action in giving life to her brother will lead to his death, which will be a source of life for all of us.

There is an ominous solemnity about the opening of the second narrative, as the disciples gather with Jesus for their final meal together, now that the ‘hour’ has come. Jesus is fully aware of where he comes from, where he is going, what he is about. He is in control of the unfolding story. Jesus rises from table, and with studied, almost liturgical deliberation, removes his outer garments, takes a towel and wraps it round his waist. Like a servant or slave he pours water into a basin and carefully sets about washing the feet of his disciples, wiping them dry with the towel. So far he has not spoken a word. Simon Peter struggles to cope with this unexpected reversal of roles which subverts the social conventions of the day. Like Judas at Bethany, he misses the point, and objects to what is taking place, categorically refusing to allow Jesus to wash his feet. Jesus insists, observing that otherwise Peter won’t be able to share his heritage and be part of his company. Peter relents and begs Jesus to wash him entirely.

Having completed the washing of the disciples’ feet, Jesus puts his outer garments back on and returns to the table. This washing, this act of humble service, self-effacement and devotion, performed for disciples who in their fragility do not understand, one of whom is a traitor, is symbolic. It is a prophetic gesture. It points to his coming death. It is a kind of commentary which reveals the significance of the events of the following day, events through which Jesus expresses the depth of his love and brings his mission to completion. The good shepherd gives his life for his sheep.

These twin stories reveal to us the love of Jesus for us, his self-forgetful and generous love, his not counting the cost, his passion that we should be drawn from death into the circle of God’s life and love, and become children of the Father. His walking to Bethany, like his walking to Calvary, is an expression of his life-giving friendship. This is Jesus, this is what he is about.

Mary illustrates the meaning of discipleship, the discipleship of friendship. Jesus is at the centre of her life, whatever others may think. She gives her all. The perfume container is empty. She keeps nothing for herself. Jesus at the supper goes on to tell his disciples that they should follow his example of self-giving service. It is the practical way to show our love for one another.

Generosity and service are outstanding characteristics of Don Bosco. He vowed to give his last breath for the young. Nothing was too much trouble. He used his many gifts. He gave his time and energy. He suffered misunderstanding, criticism, anxiety, even death threats. Young people were at the centre of his thinking, his planning, his begging, his praying. His perfume container was empty. He was completely at their service. Anything he could do to help, he would do, no matter how ordinary, menial, or exhausting. He understood his life’s meaning in terms of generous service.

I have met many people who follow Jesus in Don Bosco’s way, generously serving the young and one another. Some are Salesians with whom I have been privileged to live and work, people who are sensitive to the needs of others, and who put themselves out to be of assistance. Others have been young volunteers, cheerful in their availability well beyond the call of duty, in order to respond to the needs of the young people who visited the centre. To be in contact with such people is a wonderful experience, stimulating, enriching, challenging.

The symbols of the empty perfume container and the basin of water transcend time and culture, and continue to speak powerfully to us today about Jesus and about our Salesian way of following him.


Don Bosco UK - Spirituality - Salesian Youth Spirituality

Spirituality is an old and richly meaningful word. It denotes the search for what lies deepest in the heart of every human person.

Spirituality is for everyone and is not the prerogative of the chosen few! This is the particular message that Francis de Sales preached to Christians of his day and the same message inspired Don Bosco. There are many expressions of Spirituality. The Salesian Way, however, does not refer to a style of Christian living which turns its back on daily life to find its place in the desert or Monastery. It is about living each day immersed in the mystery of God in our everyday situations. Jesus reveals to us that God is at the very heart of life. The Spirit of Jesus is at work within the very fibre of our humanness, our actions, our words and our daily life experiences. Spiritual women and men allow the mysterious and all-pervading presence of a living God to give meaning and purpose to their lives, their life choices and their optimism.

This conviction has helped us to recognize the gift Don Bosco left us, a spirituality of life and daily living. Encouraged by the words of John Paul II who acknowledged Don Bosco as a "master of youth spirituality" we are trying to live it with the new insights of our times in relation to God, the human person and education.

The noun "spirituality" attempts to reclaim a serious and challenging search based on the tradition of discipleship. The adjective "salesian" distinguishes it from other ways offered within the Church. The adjective "youth" stresses the fact that it refers to young people and has the characteristics of youthfulness even when it is embraced by adults. Finally we are saying that we want the"salesian" and "youth" aspects of our spirituality to encourage us to live the Gospel radically, a practice that has been the hallmark of so many ‘salesians’ from the beginning.

A new awareness of ‘Salesian Youth Spirituality’ burgeoned in 1988 and has spread Worldwide. Many people today, including those who are young, continue to carry forward the apostolic mission which Don Bosco and Mother Mazzarello have entrusted to us through living cheerfully the ordinary events of each day, a mission which has education very much at heart.

From the smallest of seeds sown so many years ago a huge tree has grown and continues to grow wherever there is an educator working with the enthusiasm of Don Bosco and Mother Mazzarello, spreading the Kingdom among the young.

Could this spirituality be for you?


Don Bosco UK - Spirituality - Praying as Salesians

11. Praying as Salesians

Don Bosco based his approach to prayer on St Francis de Sales’ vision of a loving and saving God. He modelled his prayer in a down to earth, loving kindness for the young, which reflected his deep faith in God’ presence. Six words capture this style.


Salesian prayer engages the heart as well as the head. It also moves a person towards change and to see things differently.


There is an energy and joy about Salesian prayer that renews and challenges life and leads to hope in the future. It is active and practical.


Salesian prayer avoids long and complicated words and prayers in favour of genuine heart to heart conversation with God as Father.


At the heart of Salesian prayer is an awareness of God’s presence as a dependable mystery at the centre of each person and their relationships. Touching and trusting that presence is the purpose of Salesian prayer.


Salesian prayer is not an escape from life. Salesian prayer sifts life experience for God’s presence and celebrates it in personal prayer, in scripture and in sacraments. Prayer opens up an awareness of God in ordinary life and joins the inner and outer life into one story of love.


Salesian prayer focuses on the good and helps it grow. It does not dwell too long on sadness or failure but sees these as stepping stones to greater trust. Salesian prayer does not stop at the cross but moves though it to resurrection and celebration.

Together these words spell out the word “mystic” because Salesian prayer leads towards a practical mysticism that links life and the Spirit.


Don Bosco UK - Spirituality - Salesian skills in working with the young

9. Salesian skills in working with the young


Because of who we are, our backgrounds, our experiences etc we all look at things or approach things differently. It is like looking at the world through our own inner window.

Don Bosco approached his work with young people, by looking through his window; for him his work involved four different window panes – SCHOOL, CHURCH, PLAYGROUND and HOME. The vital part of all this fourfold pattern was BALANCE. No child was pushed to pursue one at the expense of the other. If he saw a person constantly in Church and never in the playground he was concerned. If a young person was regularly alone and did not feel at home with the rest of the group he wanted to find out why. If someone was always studying and not spending time with his friends he would talk to his teachers to balance things up. Don Bosco used this fourfold approach to young people as a way of seeing into their world.


What skills do I need to work with the young? Maybe the language above feels a little ancient – but new words like BELONGING, LEARNING, MEANING and CELEBRATION can be substituted.

  • BELONGING – In my situation how do I make each child or young person feel welcome? What words or actions can I use to help them feel as if they are fully part of the group? A question here, a comment there; am I creating a safe and caring environment?
  • LEARNING – In every activity we do together how do I create the possibility of growth? Are my activities well planned (even those that seem to occur spontaneously)? Do I create the conditions for learning leadership skills, standing back and encouraging the young in their plans and ideas?
  • MEANING – Is the idea of linking ‘Faith and Fun’ part of my geography? How am I helping children to sense God’s presence in every situation? Do I encourage young people to take the lead in organising faith moments?
  • CELEBRATING – How many times have you been bored? I mean really bored!! Staying young with the young involves laughter and fun. Young people need to be able to run, to make noise, to do things to burn off energy – do I create the right environment for this (a safe and caring one)?


Don Bosco UK - Spirituality - Salesian Relationships with the Young

10. Salesian Relationships with the Young

Don Bosco asked Salesians to treat the young as their teachers. To learn the needs, hopes, and insecurities of young people should be paramount in the minds and the hearts of Salesians. This attitude of reverence is rooted in the recognition of God’s unfolding presence in every young life. The Salesian serves this inner spirit in the young by growing into the Gospel image of the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. In adopting this good shepherd role four relationship skills are vital


The mystery of God at the heart of the young demands that a Salesian be polite, honest, genuine and sensitive in relating to the young. The dignity of the young person should be obvious in the behaviour of the Salesian.


A Salesian works with the limitations and potential of young people as groups and as individuals. Knowing their fears and strengths the Salesian shepherds them towards experiences that lead to life, preventing harm before it happens.


Engaging young people with the heart; establishing genuine, friendly relationships with the young people is essential to the Salesian work. Don Bosco said that affection sets up an electric current of confidence between adult and young person by which hearts are opened, hurts are healed and life unfolds for both the Salesian and the young person.


Don Bosco saw fun and laughter as an expression of faith in the God of life. In touching what is deepest in the young he preferred noise, laughter and chaos to heavy and solemn silences. Cheerfulness in adults and young people is a sign of holiness for Salesians.

The above four words spell out the Hebrew word for spirit: Ruah.


Don Bosco UK - Spirituality - Salesian approach to young people

8. Salesian approach to young people

My belief is that in every young person there is an individual goodness, and where I can not yet see it, then I am challenged find it. "You are young, you are precious, you are loved."

It all starts with my attitude to young people, my belief, value system and my spiritual development. My values, beliefs, spirituality, are "caught", by my being a role model for the young person.

I want to be engaged with the young and make a difference in their lives, so that they can grow up as honest, effective citizens of this world and the next. Citizenship is a very popular word today — but was used by Don Bosco 150 years ago.

Some sayings from past Salesian educators, starting with Don Bosco, come to mind: "It is not enough to love the young; they must know that they are loved." "Education is a matter of the heart, and we need to ask God for the keys."


Meet them on their own ground: no matter what they are "doing". We saw in the popular film, how Don Bosco stole money from the young gamblers and encouraged the young people to chase him right back to base, where he introduced them to others, and eventually gave them their money back, with their promise of returning on the following days. Their motivation at the start was to get their money—still very relevant today—but we like to think that the atmosphere that was created in the "oratory" was such that they felt eventually at home. What an innovative way to begin a relationship, that perhaps, lasted a long time, and would bear fruit in Salesian principles being passed on to their children. This may be a "glossy" story, but it points out the creativity that sometimes we need to use ourselves, in contacting and making relationships with the young in today's world.

Young people "in their liberty of spirit" can be found in the most "inappropriate" places, as we might see it, for many of us to contact them— around the betting shop, the local kebab/chip shop, the bowling alley, hanging on the corner, as they say "plotting", kicking a football, on a stairwell, smoking behind the school—where no rules but their own apply, where they think they can be themselves, where they don't want any adults to tell them what they should be doing. This approach can give them the friendship they need to face a harsh world, and that is very important. As we know, peer pressure can also lead them to behave in negative ways, break down any principles they have learned from home, school, church, etc., and can get them into "big trouble", The local adult population can actually become afraid of them, and see them as "gangs" of hoodlums.

It's up to those who feel daring enough, to find creative ways of making initial relationships, without judging, meeting them on their own ground, but longing to bring them on to our ground. Don Bosco gives us the inspiration on how to meet, start relationships and find ways of developing them, so that they let us "enter their door".

In formal set-ups, such as school, church or youth club, this is somewhat easier, because the young person is already a "captive audience", on our ground, but the same principle applies: become their friend, not their "mate" and create an atmosphere where they feel good about being with you.

There are many stories of how Don Bosco made inroads into relationships with the young and we can read them and still apply today the principles he used.

  • Have a friendly attitude. Use innovative ways of meeting them on "their ground", as the Salesian Constitutions say "in their liberty of Spirit". Be interested in their world, where they are on their journey, without judging. Listen without seeming nosey, trying to engage in their world,finding common ground.Make a positive developing relationship, being involved in their activities. "Go through their door, to bring them out your door."
  • It's a question of maintaining a fine balance, the tightrope walk that Don Bosco used as a young boy and referred to metaphorically many times in his life. Keep your eyes always ahead (on the vision, on the Lord). Never look down (think negatively). Never look back (regret, counting the cost).
  • Find situations, actions, no matter how small, to praise, encourage. Give them the large dream, and the small dreams to look forward to, "one step at a time"
  • Offer them what they need, mixed with what they want, starting from where they are. Don Bosco didn't have many physical resources, but used all his human ones.


Page 12 of 14


Spring 2019

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