From Thursday 4th to Wednesday 10th November 2010, in Prague, Czech Republic, there is a conference on the Salesian Mission in Europe attended by Salesians and Salesian Sisters. The theme is The Salesian Mission in a Frontier Situation and the Initial Proclamation of Christ in Europe Today.
The conference is being covered on the Salesian News Agency (ANS) website, but we also have the benefit of reports from Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB, Parish Priest of St James' Bootle, Sr Bernadette Cassidy FMA and Sr Connie Cameron FMA. These are not official minutes, but their notes give us a sense of the excitement experienced when dealing with Project Europe.
Friday Session 1Here are some of the points discussed
- humble realization that we are only a small minority among the world
- future of Catholic community in Europe is down to migrants
- need for DIALOGUE
- affirm the importance of FAMILY ministry
- how do we transmit faith in families that do not have it?
- Missionary Church in Europe is the future
- Urgency of EVANGELISATION to share experience of God with others
- low credibility of the Church
- we are a creative minority
- we need to let go of the past and work to create a Church family that is realistic and can speak to people of our age (Emmaus)
- the Church in Europe can/must learn from the Church of the developing world
- what can we say about Jesus of Nazareth?
- we need to be open to the God of surprises
- the Spirit is with us
- despite the problems of this age within our Church, we have to LIVE in the present and not be afraid to proclaim!
- the initial proclamation of Jesus was revolutionary in both word and action
- we have to DIALOGUE (ie LISTEN to what others are saying)
- we have to be PROPHETIC (ie proclaim the TRUTH of Jesus)
What are you seeking?
Who are you seeking?
These questions embrace the whole gospel
The dynamism of 'Come and See!' Let us unpack this Gospel and make it a living reality in our proclamation of the Good News.
Friday Session 2
Objective: Deepen the quality of witness
Thus the importance of the personal response of each Salesian to the call 'Come and see' and the need for EACH community to make a specific response in their specific context.
- we need to be aware of the concrete situation and reality that we are dealing with
- we need to know the specific situations of evangelisation that each of us have to deal with. How do we deal with these situations as SALESIANS and members of our local Church?
- we need to be fully aware of our audience (those we are called to evangelise)
- what are the main points of our research and the context we are called to work in?
- the sharing will allow all delegates to have some idea of where each of us is coming from in terms of evangelisation in our national/local situations.
- are there common themes and challenges?
(NB: refer to pp presentation PRAGUE MEETING)
Friday Session 3
Feedback from groups
- Create an environment where young people feel welcomed and can explore the person/experience of the person Jesus Listened to
- Point of reference for young people - strong authentic experiences/accompanied by adults to journey with them
- Provocation - question... we must have the capacity to go out to the young people
- Is the environment conducive to growth and questioning?... it's not our questions but making space for them to ask questions, challenge and search...
- There are many responses already by the Salesian Family but need to strengthen the QUALITY of our educative mission - presence!
- Make use of the media as a means to evangelise... new social networks... pass on messages of faith
- To offer strong experiences of faith where young people can be helped to make concrete choices to follow Jesus... vocational choices
- Importance to create an environment to share and question their faith Witness
- Risk of staying at a human level and not passing young people on to faith
- Category of Salvation: important to discuss this with young people. How do we translate this in our culture?
- Importance of words and gestures
- How do we present Jesus as 'Fashion icon'?
- Core values: life, love, marriage etc.
Key focus is our attitudes rather than responses or giving answers... Salesian attitudes... we already have...
- Salesian accompaniment
- Ability to relate, share our faith and values with the young
- To find ways to explicitly proclaim and introduce the young people to the person of Jesus Fears and sufferings of the young people today
- To make an experience of 'GIFT' - the gift of giving - SERVICE - Volunteering
We don't need to give answers but to help young people build a church that is a community that is silent. It is a proclamation that comes from the living experience of the young and not from 'above' (doctrinal).
- a response that is not black and white but GREY!
- Being a witness that encourages the young people to question and search rather than giving answers
- Key word... 'meeting' - a personal encounter with the person of Jesus
- We need to be there WITH the young (Salesian style) journeying with them
- It's our way of being with the young
We need to fall in love with God.
The Church needs to be ready to give answers... today... We need to be pastors... we are 'experts'... we need to be there to give responses as well as search.
Educate through questioning... this is the style of 'response' - not doctrinal - black and white - Educate young people to searching and nurturing that search
I'm not interested in the search of the young people but interested in the young people. I'm not asking 'What are they searching for?' My task is to give them a clear invitation to know the person of Jesus... Jesus will ask them the right questions... My area of work must be the place to find Jesus... I don't have the right questions... Jesus is the one who brings forward the right questions... I don't need to worry about that... the presence of Jesus intercepts the desire of human and I am waiting for that and present to that.
The presence of Jesus must be strong inside of me and my area of work so that young people see Jesus in that without words. The proposal of Jesus is much stronger than my questioning. You are Jesus... young people must see Jesus in you.
Our group talked about the Christian community, a community that sustains the first proclamation. Touching the way we should evangelise... the environment we create... space for different cultures... lost a bit of our identity... we should not be embarrassed to say that we are Christians.
In our group we underlined that the request of Jesus is not just about the proposal of Jesus it is about finding new ways to respond.
... on a journey of searching perhaps the spirit is saying it is not about an initial response but a journey that continues...
Don Bosco invites us to create a good oratory
Concept of Initial Proclamation
- A style of working within the Church
- To place people at the centre
- It is a form of listening to their needs
- It is not some lofty ideal but in the concrete reality of people searching to respond to the message of Jesus Christ
- It is a FREE response with NO coercion or force
- It is a respectful relationship
- It is like starting the car 'in first gear' - there is still a long way to go!
- It is bringing the BASIC message of Jesus' Good News to:
- Those who do not know
- Those who have known but have gone away
- Those who have a 'habit' of being Christian ('cultural' Christians) but who are now awakened and want to commit more deeply to the person of Christ.
- It is the GATEWAY to the life of faith
"Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction". Benedict XVI Deus Caritas Est 1
Saturday Session 1
Sr Maria Ko FMA who is a scripture scholar from Hong Kong led the Lectio Divina for the Conference. She is a scholar very much in the 'Michael Winstanley SDB' school: she brings scripture alive in an exciting and dynamic way. Today she reflected on the faith of Nicodemus, the Samaritan Woman at the Well and the Healing of the Son of the Royal Official.
Saturday Session 2
Keynote presentation by Mgr Tomas Halik, a priest who had to be trained, ordained and minister in secrecy under the Communist regime - even his own mother did not know he was a priest. He is now an academic at the Charles University and parish priest of the University Parish but also a visiting professor at Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard Universities. His lecture was on evangelisation and testimony to Jesus Christ in the environment of postmodern, secularised Europe. He strongly maintains that we, as Christians, need to preserve the secular nature of European culture. He feels that the secular and Christian components of European culture lead to a healthy tension that has to be open to honest dialogue. His lecture would take some days to honestly unpack, but his thesis needs to be listened to, especially given his own background and suffering that ensured not only the future of the Church in the Czech Republic, but also a personal experience of living under in a nation that officially tried to eradicate Christian teaching:
"I am afraid that if Christianity and secularity split or if one component absolutely defeated the other, Europe would lose its commitment to the the past but also its future....we can see in today's Christian fundamentalism and traditionalism what Christianity would look like if it really wanted to emancipate itself from the heritage of Enlightenment, from today's secularity ...We can find a similar statement in John Paul II's 'Fides et Ratio': faith without thought is dangerous, rationality without ethical and spiritual values springing from faith is equally biased and dangerous... Christians also bear the responsibility for keeping 'healthy laicism' of Europe and those who want Europe to be secular should be aware of their interest and the shared responsibility for the credible presence of Christianity in the public life of Europe."
Mgr Halik spoke about his history of conversion to Christianity and his work today, as a parish priest, in the RCIA programme that has brought about 1000 people into the Church. His experience as a priest working 'underground' has helped him to appreciate the problems of people searching for faith, especially in the context of 'dialogue' within an atheist state.
He feels that people are searching for authentic truth and that we, as Christians, can offer an invitation of welcome that is free from coercion, warm and open. There are so many questions that need to be faced with honesty and integrity - we should not be afraid to openly meet people where they are. While we have to acknowledge the challenges that militant secularism can bring to the Church, equally we have to be aware of the absolutism that is the response of some Christians, increasingly becoming more influential within our own Catholic Church.
We were urged to 'enter the story' as our way to meet God. We need to do so with respect and understanding and put aside much of the 'baggage' that we can carry with us:
So where does God exist?... He exists in tales that are told about him. This is the heaven that is open for anyone who is prepared to 'enter the story'... The Bible is not a 'photograph of the world' informing people what the world is like but a mirror reflecting a person, helping him to understand himself and thereby change himself and the world.
Christianity is offered to all, but, as in Jesus own experience, not everyone choose to accept his teaching. The response of individuals to accept or reject the Good News needs to be respected. He made a strong plea for respect for other faith traditions; in an honest dialogue with other faiths, we can not only appreciate the values that they promote, but we can also come to a deeper understanding of our own faith. He made mention of his own experience of working with Muslim academics that are closer to Christian values than they are to Al Qaeda!!! Any form of extremism and fundamentalism, even within our own Catholic Church, leads to a closing down of the mind and this cannot be healthy. This has strong implications for our own ministry as Salesian educators and how we help children, young people and families come to an excellent catechesis in and to the faith.
Saturday Session 3
Fr Luis Gutierrez SDB (Spain) made an official response as a Salesian; Luis had to step in at the last minute as the German Salesian due to give the response could not attend. Luis highlighted the cultural experience that Mgr Halik had to endure as a 'secret' priest and educator; we all come from our own particular history. For some young people in Europe they will have only the vaguest idea of who/what Jesus Christ is. For some, Jesus is the face of a movie or 'the little person' on the cross they wear around their neck!
Mgr Halik notes the importance of the Word of God ('entering into the story'); for many young people that we are dealing with, there is a need to re-evangelise so that they can 'hear again' the Word that that received as children at First Communion. Thus faith needs to be personalised and it makes our task of Initial Proclamation all the more important and central to our Salesian mission.
We need to ensure that our evangelisation is family-centred and can effectively speak to the culture of today. Family catechesis is crucial for Salesian ministry and we need to be open to the joy and challenge that whole community catechesis can bring. What happens consistently within the home has a more lasting effect than what happens within a classroom for an hour a week! (see General Directory for Catechesis 255)
In the militant atheism of today we can see people like Professor Dawkins speaking/writing about Religion with almost an 'evangelical faith'. Mgr Halik makes us all more aware of the mystery and mystical that must be part of our Christian experience. If we do not speak out or proclaim the Gospel message then our own lack of courage can allow secularism to thrive-the enemy of the Church is not outside, but within. This can make us afraid and we lack confidence both personally and as communities. We need to be able to speak of God within our cultures. As Christians we need to be part of the dialogue within Europe, just as the politicians and social scientists have the right to their opinions.
Saturday Session 4
Does the picture presented by Mgr Halik truly reflect your own context?
(English speaking group)
- He can be too academic in his presentation of what is for us, as Salesians, a daily reality that we face in the Oratory. The children/young people who come into the Centre want to play games and socialise, they do not want to ask those searching questions of faith. We are dealing with a pastoral reality.
- We need to stress the needs and role of the family in our Salesian ministry: this is especially seen in RCIA and family preparation for Baptism. Thus the importance of family catechesis within our ministry. We are called to help parents live their vocation; indeed the importance of the lay vocation within our Church.
- He gave a picture of the reality of the situation within the Czech Republic. To live within modern society, we need to dialogue. However, many of the people that we deal with are not opposed to God-they are not against faith and do not share the militant atheism that was talked about. Our call is help young people form a critical mindset and to ask questions of the society into which they are growing up.
- This was a very deep lecture, but how do we engage people today?
- The context is of Mgr Halik is not the context of the whole of Europe; he has made us think of the variety of contexts in which we are involved today. Increasingly, in Europe, we are living in multi-cultural/multi-faith societies. He has given us a filter through which we can see our modern European world and given an useful way of critiquing that society.
- We need to explore the pastoral implications of this lecture and how do we engage effectively in the world of the young. Whose God do we present to them in our proclamation? How do we put this theory into practice. It is a challenge to incarnate Jesus within the reality of our situations.
- Mgr Halik made us aware of the dangers of militant atheism, especially as put forward by Professor Dawkins, that can present itself as a form of 'faith'. We need to be aware of fundamentalism, from any quarter, that can ultimately lead to terrorism.
Overall people resonated with Mgr Halik's views, but what was missing?
- Needed more pastoral input-translate the theory into practice-how do we engage with his thinking and translate it into our reality (family, educating community etc).
- Reference to family and the key role they play in passing on the faith.
- Examples of how we, as Salesian educators, can 'incarnate' Jesus into our post-modern, secular world.
Areas to explore for further reflection
- Hear more about how to deal with young people who are indifferent to God - how to face the indifference prevalent in our society and culture.
- Explore his thinking around the image of 'man' from an anthropological perspective and not just theological.
- In the world of technology, how do we prepare young people to form a CRITICAL way of thinking/mind to be able to enter into dialogue before we 'proclaim' Jesus (il primo annuncio)?
Saturday Session 5
What are the challenges and opportunities for the Initial Proclamation of the Gospel?
- Using Sacramental moments
- Having the courage to proclaim\fear of rejection
- Use of an integrated policy of total family catechesis
- Special times in school with ALL age groups (prayer 'n' play)
- Follow up to visit of Benedict XVI
Feedback from Different Groups
- Integration of immigrants
- Be clear in our testimony (words) - humility
- Visibility and credible witness (personal relationship with Jesus - prayer) - transparent witness of Christ
- Sensitivity to young people's reality of God and presenting it to them in their language and reality
- Negative image of the Church
- Indifference of young people to 'institutional religion'
- Young people have a sense of solidarity - respect for the other - first condition for mutual respect need for welcoming difference (faiths)
- Each one - I am the Message
- Community catechesis - intergenerational
- Schools/youth settings/parish - create a space/environment where young people can question, search, reflect and discern
- Spiritual accompaniment - through friendship and relationship journey with young people BE a point of reference to explore and meet Jesus
Western Europe & Mediterranean Europe
Young people are searching for a clear point of reference... searching for meaning in their life. They have general questions about God.
- The culture of 'legality'
- Economic - unemployment which has impact on social life and society
- Frustration of young people in years of study but can't find work - therefore take on work illegally
- Political - violation and used for personal interests
- Religious - in many regions religion is ritualistic but not internalised. Fear prevalent due to social problems/backlash
Basic underlying problems linked to challenges...
- Multicultural and religious environment we live in
- Church as Christians talk about 'us' and 'them' (migrants) - exclusive language
- Ethical dimension - alongside volunteering is the economic crisis having an impact
- Concept of humanization - to give a true identity to 'man'
- Social and religious fragmentation
- Credible witness of traditional educative forms - family/school...
- Lack of commitment in young people - no permanent choices
- The theme of the language of God?
- The sense of solidarity and commitment to Volunteering
- Immigration and movement of young people in Europe
- Young people are the protagonists - leading the way
- The work of social communication in evangelisation
Central & Eastern Europe
Background of communism has influenced and unites them
- Thirst for spirituality
- Lack of identity
- Breakdown of the Family - lack of security
- Unemployment - causing migration affecting families- stability as well as family values
- Lack of person/specialist to lead open dialogue on social life
- Dialogue needed to put attention onto minority groups - start with forming small groups not the masses (evangelisation)
Important point to remember... it is easier to build a new house than it is to 're-shape' an old structure/building. Therefore, perhaps we as Christians in Europe are trying to 're-shape' re-model' an old structure - very difficult... It would be easier to start fresh - a NEW build!
This was spent away from the conference room!
We started the day at the Salesian parish of St Teresa of the Child Jesus, which has been in the care of the Salesians since it was established it in the 1930s. We joined the parish community for Mass. The site in the suburb of Kobyliske namesti now is home to the Parish staff, the Provincial Office, the Youth Centre and the publishing house, 'Portal'. They have a youth centre at, a beautiful functionalist complex housing a theatre, soccer fields, basketball courts, a climbing wall and rehearsal spaces for young musicians. In the middle of all this is the Salesian Beer Museum, an almost accidental collection of historic bottles, labels, openers, cans and beer mats from the Czech Republic and around the world.
On a far more serious note, Stefan Trochta was one of the earliest Salesians in what was then the new Republic of Czechoslovakia; he completed his Novitiate and studies in Italy and was ordained in Turin in 1932. He had various assignments and was working on the new Salesian centre in Prague when the Nazis invaded in 1939. Along with many other Salesians, Fr Stefan was arrested and sent to Mathausen Concentration Camp after brutal beatings by the Gestapo bullies. By near miracle, managed to escape, though wounded, from a death transport. Having returned to camp, he was transferred to the Dachau concentration camp in December 1944, where he was liberated by US troops.
On 16 November 1947, Trochta was consecrated as a bishop, and was installed as Bishop of Litomerice, a town where he had earlier laboured as an inmate of Terezin prison, on 26 November 1947. Soon after this came the communist takeover and, with it, new sufferings for Trochta; In January 1953, he was arrested by the State Security Service, and, in July 1954, was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment on concocted charges of 'espionage for the Vatican' and 'Anti-state activities.'
In June 1960, Trochta was given a pardon, but was not allowed to resume his clerical duties. For several years, he worked as a construction labourer, and then a plumber, doing such jobs as repairing toilets. After having suffered a stroke, he was allowed to retire to a home for priests, first in Tabor, and then in Radvanov. The Bishop was one of many SDB and FMA who had to carry out their duties in secret; many had jobs in factories or schools and would have to meet secretly for Eucharist, formation and 'community' experiences. Some SDB were allowed to practice as parish priests but their movements were closely watched by the secret police.
On 20 July 1968, at the time of the Prague Spring, the Supreme Court struck Trochta's sentence from the law books as a violation of legality, and on 6 August 1968 Bishop Stefan resumed his service as the residential bishop of Litomerice. On 28 April 1969, Trochta was named cardinal in pectore (in secret) by the Pope. This elevation was made public on 5 March 1973. Trochta was assigned the St John Bosco Church in Cinecitta, Rome's Hollywood-on-the-Tiber, as his titular church. When informed by telephone on 5 March 1973 that his nomination as cardinal was confirmed, Trochta reportedly said to a correspondent of the Italian ANSA agency: "I am a poor cardinal, I feel old and tired", (Reuter, 5 March 1973). He disclosed to Katolicke Noviny (6 May 1973) that he had been "quite surprised" by this appointment. He said he had not aspired to that office, but had not turned it down out of respect for the Pope's wish.
Apart from his duties as Bishop of Litomerice, Trochta served as a consultant on the pontifical commission for the revision of the code of canon law, and was also member of the Vatican Secretariat for Nonbelievers. His last public rite was the March 1973 consecration of three bishops in Slovakia, and one in Moravia. Trochta was brought in for 'interview' by the secret police and suffered a massive stroke from which he died. Stefan Cardinal Trochta was one of the beacons of the Czech Roman Catholic Church. Although he was persecuted for his sincerity and strength by both the Nazis and the Communists, he never betrayed his ideals and his life may serve as an example to many.
The parish is the largest in Prague, with about 40% of regular members choosing to be part of the St Teresa's community, even though they live outside the parish boundary. We joined them for the 9.00am Mass. I was struck by the number of families who shared the Eucharist, while the teenagers were recovering from a parish disco the night before! The parish was lively and showed great signs of life. We were invited into the parish centre for coffee and meet up with some very interesting people: lecturers from New England and a journalist from Paris; we shared with a technician who was a regular visitor to Blackwell's in Oxford at the height of the Communist regime, bringing home banned books!
Bro Michael SDB, the Youth Director then took some of us on a tour of the Oratory and the first class facilities that it offers the inner-city young people, only some of whom are regular parishioners. It has a fantastic climbing wall, gym, dance studio, ceramics/art studio, Mother & Toddlers Club, all-weather football pitches and a fully functioning theatre. It aims to offer young people and their families the very best. This was a practical application of what we had been discussing over the past few days.
After lunch, we were taken on a cultural tour of this beautiful city starting at the Royal Palace and Cathedral. Without doubt the city is one of the most beautiful that I have visited (and some of you will say, 'that is many!'). The Cathedral is stunning and worth spending a full day in itself as opposed to the hour that we had. A short walk took us to the Carmelite Church of the Infant, home to the world famous, 'Infant of Prague'. The Director of the shrine was a former Salesian Oratory student from Italy and made us very welcome, sharing the story of the Infant.
We then went over the world famous 'Charles Bridge' to the church of St Francis of Assisi, home to the last three members of their particular branch of the Franciscan family. The parish priest, a Czech national was imprisoned during the Soviet occupation-a situation that we were made very aware of during our time in Prague. We shared evening prayer and then had supper in the community room. We then went into the Town Square and the Church of St Nicholas for a concert of classical music.
After a brief visit to the National Museum for the view down the main square that was home to the 1989 'Velvet Revolution' and led to the expulsion of the Soviets, we returned to our hotel.
Monday Session 1
Lectio Divina was led by a Franciscan Friar of the Atonement, Fr Jim Puglisi SA; he is Fellow and Francis Joseph Cardinal Spellman Professor of Catholic Theology. He is Director of the Centro Pro Unione in Rome, currently teaches on the ecumenical faculty of the Pontifical University of St Thomas (Angelicum) and holds the chair of Ecumenical Theology at the Antonianum Pontifical University in Rome. He also teaches on the ecumenical faculty of the Pontifical Athenaeum of Saint Anselm. He is a member of the Diocesan Ecumenical Commission for Rome and is a former member of the Lutheran/Roman Catholic Dialogue in Washington DC. He has served as a consultant for the first bilateral forum of the World Council of Churches and currently is a member of the Vatican delegation for formulation of the yearly texts for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and Ecumenical Consultant for the Rome Diocesan Commission for the Catechumenate. In 2004, Fr Jim was elected Minister General of his order. He shared the writings of Paul as seen in Ephesians:
"Christ has broken down the dividing wall of hostility between us... he came to proclaim peace to you who were far off and those who were near... so you are no longer strangers, but you are citizens with the saints." (cf Eph 2:11 - 22)
Monday Session 2
Fr Jim then gave his paper on Salesian Mission: The Ecumenical Journey and Inter-Religious Dialogue in Europe - Challenges and Opportunities. As Catholics we are called to offer genuine HOSPITALITY; thus our communities and parishes must be places of WELCOME. We need to be aware of the great richness that ecumenical dialogue can bring. It is interesting to note that many of the traditional 'Catholic' nations cannot fully appreciate or understand the richness and the need that we, in Britain, have for ecumenism. It is not a watering down of our faith, but seeing the way in which we complement each other - it is not revolutionary.
He spoke of the need to respect the Jewish faith and our opposition to any form of anti-Semitism. If you are anti-Semitic, you are, by definition, anti-Christian. We, as Christians, need to be aware of our history and our spiritual paternity in Judaism. True ecumenism is not relative, as it does recognise differences and faces up to them in a mature way. The role of the Catholic Church in standing up to the Holocaust is still 'a work in progress' It is not simply a question of opening up the Vatican archives to read Pius XII's mind; the response of the Church had to be far more subtle in dealing with a very complex issue. A recent Roman Conference hosted by Jewish academics highlighted the positive role of Archbishop Roncalli as Nuncio in Istanbul and his tireless efforts to save thousands of European Jews with full Vatican approval. As Catholics we have to work tirelessly to ensure that political-economic-social situations that have led to the Holocaust can never happen again. The Word of God is our constant guide to ensure that we always treat people with respect and care. Extreme fundamentalism, from whatever source, is opposed to real dialogue and only leads to situation that is negative and harmful to the growth of a truly ecumenical community.
In Europe, we live in a pluralistic society and a society that no longer shares a common experience of faith - though many of our European Salesian Centres would not have the experience of working with other faith groups that perhaps the British experience offers. However, increasingly many of our communities are now working with migrant communities who come from an Islamic experience. What training and formation does the Salesian system offer to confreres involved in such ministry?
We need to learn a new language so that we can all effectively 'speak' to the people of Europe in a way that hits them. We cannot work with other faiths if we do not know anything about them - we should be aware of their sacred books. (Thus the importance of solid religious education programmes that take this into account)
It is important that Christian communities show unity as a divided 'face of Christ' is not healthy; however, we have to admit that Christians are divided by their understanding of the Gospel. In the UK context, we need to be seen to work together in areas such as 'Bootle Churches Together' and give witness on important days such as the Good Friday Walks.
We share a common baptism as we have been baptised 'in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.' He urged that Salesian parishes 'twin' with Orthodox or Protestant communities so that we can see what unites us, but also be aware of the differences in Christian traditions on a daily level. In this way we help to remove prejudices.
We need to have not only a sociology of religion but a 'sociology of knowledge' in appreciating the texts and sacred writings of other faith communities; this helps us to understand the context and the setting in which they were written.
We need to be open to the reality of learning another language, for example, as it helps to fully achieve a personal 'conversion of heart' This allows us to be a greater appreciation of 'the other' and forces us to think outside our own nationalistic boundaries - in doing this we can come to a gradual appreciation of the daily struggle that so many of our brothers and sisters experience. Our way of moving forward is by being open to the gift of unity that God offers each of us; this must happen first in our own local communities and among the young people were are called to work with and for. Once we have achieved a unity from where we have come from, we can then effectively move out to share that unity with other faiths.
Christianity Judaism and Islam are all open to the gift of unity; biologically we are not created by one reality but by two in an act of ultimate unity and love. Therefore, in our very DNA is the desire to find unity with others. We need to experience reconciliation with 'the other' for a healthy integration of positive ecumenism in our own lives.Websites: www.geii.org - www.prounione.urbe.it
Monday Session 3
Sr Valentine FMA, France
- In France there is a very strong separation between Church and state.
- Any kind of social action comes under the 'state' so it makes it very hard to speak about faith.
- Having a religious affiliation makes it very hard to work in the social field.
- Given France's history of occupation in North Africa, there is already an encounter/dialogue with Muslims. However, distinction needs to be made between the older Muslims and their grandchildren, who would be 'secular' but would keep festivals such as Ramadan or Eid.
- This younger generation of Muslims tends to live in the poorer areas and tend to have poor educational and employment prospects. They are ideal 'victims' and can be targeted by Islamic extremists.
- Salesian family work with this poorer group of young North African males that have few educational opportunities.
- They act as 'adult' presence for these young people who often do not have good role models in their own experience. There is a good mix of religious and social practitioners in the Team.
- They use the Salesian method of friendship and kindness in trying to reach out to these young people.
- A key concept is that of FORGIVENESS and it is essential that this community experience this gift in their own lives.
- In a practical way, there needs to be a respect for Islamic eating traditions. Thus this needs to be factored into any Salesian activity. The Salesians use this as a way to help the young people understand their faith at a deeper level: to go home and ask their grandparents why they eat certain foods in certain ways.
- They use the feasts of the different traditions to help the children have an appreciation of their culture. They also use a game based on Abraham that emphasises our joint tradition.
- They have taken all children to Mosque, Synagogue and Church to deepen their appreciation of the concept of 'faith' and hopefully help children to value their own specific culture.
- There is need to appreciate the concept of LIBERTY that lies at the heart of the French state; Muslim students enjoy the liberty that their nationality gives them, even though this might contradict their traditional living out of their faith, especially in the home.
- Conflict between a God who is presented as LOVE and FORGIVING and a traditional picture of God who is prescriptive and the enforcer of strong rules.
- If someone wants to CONVERT to Christianity, especially a woman, then they need to leave everything in order to make that change of faith. The Christian convert is then an outcast to family and the Islamic community.
- There is respect for the FMA from the Muslim community as they are seen to be women of God; while the Sisters cannot initiate evangelisation, they can respond to inquiries.
- The new film about monastic life, 'Men of God' shows the monks finding God in their silence - we too have to look for God in our emptiness.
A short discussion followed on whether we can do anything specifically evangelical in situations of multi-faith Salesian experiences. We reflected on the experience in Tunis where Salesians cannot explicitly preach the Gospel; yet their very presence in schools 'preach' in a powerful, yet silent way. They same is true in parts in India where Salesians schools may have an intake of 98% Hindu. We need to ensure that our message is simple, uncomplicated and clear. Learning to live side by side in political situations that do not allow Christian evangelisation means that we have to work to ensure that we do not end up just propping up a political system that could be corrupt. There is also the issue of 'Christians' who have been baptised and yet still remain close to their old cultic-pagan practice. RCIA should be a serious attempt to help converts to be involved in a complete change of mind. Be careful not to place Christian-Jewish relationships on the same level with Christian relationships with other faiths. Cardinal Kasper calls Christians in Europe to be open to their own faith and re-discover their Christian roots.
Monday Session 4
Co-existing with other Christian denominations. What does it demand?
- An attitude of sensitivity and openness to the other. It is important to approach the other to learn and not only to teach.
- The importance of understanding one's own identity and that of the other. This breaks down fear of the other.
- What gives me the authority to approach the other? Is it good for me to do this?
- Is there much I can do with those who believe in nothing? If I set out on this road I must recognise that it will be a long journey: is this really a priority for me?
- We are Salesians and I ask myself how we can help people and live in dialogue.
- We can initiate a dialogue but just let ourselves be questioned by others.
- How can we involve young people, teachers and youth leaders in sharing this work with us?
What are the main challenges?
- To understand the differences between us
- To be clear and aware of our own identity
- To approach the other after praying about it, so that I am at peace with myself and approach the other in a peaceful frame of mind
- Important to know our theology well
- To be objective, free from prejudice... Sometimes we listen to people but we are not well-disposed within ourselves and fail to take account of the deepest questions of the other.
- To care more about 'being' than 'doing'... The contemplative dimension of our charism must speak through us.
- The need to be open to the goodness in the other
- To listen and dialogue needs time... Often silence is better than a hurried discussion without a proper conclusion.
- We must be humble. When we initiate dialogue we must not think of our religion as better than that of the other. Sometimes young Christian converts wish to convert others. There are dangers here.
In what ways can we work together?
- We must be aware of what we can do together and what we cannot.
- Often we do not have the option of dialogue because we live with people of different faiths.
- It is possible to use the great religious feasts. Example: on Good Friday Christians of different denominations come to the parish church in procession carrying a cross. It works well.
- In schools where there are Hindus Divali can be celebrated with Christian friends. We can at least suggest this type of encounter.
- We bring students of several different faiths together to do works of charity.
- The protestant church has asked Salesians to talk about the life of Don Bosco.
- Going to a place of pilgrimage such as Taizé, with Catholics, Protestants, Anglicans. During the year they prepared for the journey and so learned a lot about each other.
- Preparing together games about peace or other common values for the children. We can use the feast of Don Bosco for this, because he typifies a person who is open and does good to all, and who is attractive to people of all faiths. To work with friends from various cultural backgrounds and share about their roots.
- We can express solidarity when there is a great crisis in the world, such as Haiti.
- VIDES volunteers who work in situations of social need can reflect on their faith. We send them to places where there is faith, but also to places where there is none. There is a possible way forward there.
- Conversion of self before conversion of others
- Very clear idea of personal faith
- Accepting the other as one we can talk to
- To raise up the capacity to question and to be open to new horizons
- Find a 'common ground'
- To accept basic truth that we all need to be open to questions
- What is my Christian identity all about?
- To be open to study about other religions
- To find what unites us as well as being aware of what divides us
- To know Islam as not just a faith but also a world geo-political view
- We should be able to bring up the true face of God with our partners in dialogue.
- An attitude of personal conversion
Central Europe Region
- We must know who we are talking to in this dialogue.
- We can feel 'oppressed' by other denominations/faiths.
- Urgent need to form laity in this effective dialogue.
- Formation of clergy is crucial to instigate and promote this type of dialogue.
- Some religious groups are easier to talk to than others.
- We should work together in those areas where we are at the moment, such as Prison Chaplaincy.
Tuesday Session 1
Sr Maria Ko FMA led Lectio Divina on the encounter between Philip and the Ethiopian. It is in the pain of persecution that the Church experiences growth and life, as the missionary endeavor of the Church mirrors the Paschal Mystery. God calls Philip to ENCOUNTER and conversation with the Ethiopian who is open to God's word.
This scripture passage gives us a good way of becoming EVANGELISERS in our own specific terms, as Salesians immersed in the world of the young. Throughout scripture there are strong examples of ways to evangelise and 'proclaim the Gospel to all'.
Philip & the Ethiopian
- Sitting beside/relationship
- Get up and GO!
- The Ethiopian is MOTIVATED, while many we work with are UNMOTIVATED
- The heart of this positive experience is the UNFOLDING of the Gospel: they ask the right questions at the right time
- We COME in order to GO OUT - evangelisation has to be DYNAMIC
- We need to GO not only to new frontiers not only in terms of geography, but especially to new areas of heart. The Gospel is a call to be involved in a life-giving relationship
- Need for structured catechesis in the more formal programmes of RCIA and ALPHA
- Jesus was only able to EVANGELISE once he had first listened to the story of the disciples
- Woman caught in adultery
- She is called to GO and sin no more
- Relationship in the SHARING of meal - Conversion
NB: strong plea from English speaking group that we build into all Salesian gatherings more time for personal reflection, to really help to internalise the reflections and discussion.
- We need people to walk the journey of faith with us.
- The Spirit has given us the 'right' to proclaim the Gospel.
- We need to 'grab the moment' just as Don Bosco did in his encounters with the young.
- Our Salesian method allows us different ways to talk to different people at different stages in their journey of faith.
- We do not need to go from Prague with a huge 'to do' list of strategies to take home with us. We need to ask the PERSONAL question: What stops me from taking opportunities.
- Our hearts need to be ON FIRE as we go from here.
Tuesday Session 2
WHY HAVE WE BEEN CALLED HERE?
- This meeting has been planned as STUDY days.
- There has already been some discussion on the need for evangelisation of Europe (2004 European Provincials; 2006 European Mission Lands).
- 2010 Joint FMA/SDB Mission Departments.
- This is the START of the journey as we examine the MISSIONARY aspect of Salesian mission in Europe.
- We need to deepen this reflection in our particular provinces and regions.
1. Purpose of our Gathering - we are called by God to evangelise
In a Europe that is becoming more pluralistic, more multi-ethnic, more multi-religious and more secular, and which is experiencing extensive migration, Christian communities are experiencing today an urgent need for more convinced missionary conversion. The Synod of Bishops of Europe (2-23 October 1999), which had among its own goals to "provide guidance to foster a new proclamation of the Gospel" (Ecclesia in Europa 2) has highlighted the need and urgency of initial and renewed proclamation of the Gospel (EE 46, 47) to bring all the baptised to Jesus Christ across the continent.
In this vein, convened by the SDB Mission Department and the FMA Department for Mission ad/inter gentes, we gathered from Salesian Provinces in Europe to explore the challenges of Initial Proclamation (IP) in Europe today and identify some key strategies for a more missionary pastoral activity. (Project Europe is a specifically SDB project.)
2. The Concept of Initial Proclamation (IP)
One of the most important steps was to agree on a common meaning of IP. It was necessary to recall briefly the evolution of the broader concept of evangelisation which, from Vatican II until today, has had varied interpretations. In fact it is possible to identify two different ways of understanding evangelisation from two major documents of the Magisterium, Ad Gentes (1965) and Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975). There have been further developments in contemporary thought.
In the first document evangelisation appears as a specific 'moment' of the mission of the Church, precisely, the action which leads to conversion and the first act of faith, which precedes the entry into the catechumenate (AG, No 7); Evangelii Nuntiandi was a major turning point. This document, which shows a marked missionary tendency, offers a broader concept of evangelisation and defines it as "a complex process and various elements: the renewal of humanity, witness, explicit proclamation, internal adherence, entry into the community, reception of signs, initiatives of apostolates"(EN, n. 24). In this way, evangelisation is identified with the mission of the Church: every church activity may, indeed must fall in its scope.
Evangelii Nuntiandi contributes more than any other document to the deep understanding of evangelisation, but, paradoxically, it has also been one of the causes of difficulty in interpretating the term, especially since its use in the narrower sense was never entirely abandoned. However, it needs to be re-named, especially at this historical moment in which the action takes on new importance, so that the Church can help to inspire faith in non-believers and revive the faith of the baptised.
Today various formulations are used, but it should be immediately noted that added adjectives or prefixes (first evangelisation, pre-evangelisation and new evangelisation, re-evangelisation) do not seem to resolve the issue and actually multiply the variations. Among the different expressions, Initial Proclamation is likely to be preferred due to its constant presence over time in a large number of documents; as the term more often used among those with more or less equivalent meaning; due to the 'unequivocal' meaning given to it. At any rate it is the preferred term of the General Directory for Catechesis (No. 51).
Redemptoris Missio (1990) distinguishes certain situations regarding the process of evangelisation (33) and stresses the importance of the mission ad gentes in old and new contexts (37). It then reiterates the permanent priority of IP in the life of the Church, its 'central and indispensable' role (44) in building the Church and that all peoples have the right to know the Good News of 'new life' offered by God in Jesus Christ. This proclamation is to be done in the context of the lives of those who receive it, in an attitude of love and esteem for the listener, using concrete language and adapted to circumstances. It is carried out in the certainty that the Spirit is at work and establishes a communion between the missionary and his hearers. Even if the missionary is working alone, proclamation is never a personal matter (45).
In the light of Church documents and the results of the most advanced specialised reflection, we considered two main forms of IP:
- As a collective and institutional attitude of the Church in all its public events. Like it or not, these are the image of IP that the world receives. Because of this, they must be treated carefully especially in frontier situations and in encountering people and situations outside the usual channels.
- As concrete individual and communitarian action in everyday life with individuals and groups.
Our discussion has focused on the second aspect. We recognise the complementarity of the different phases of the process of evangelisation (EN 24). This makes it necessary to make the proclamation in the context of the entire journey and with a common purpose. We define IP as "statements of Christian faith, in various forms, which, in certain contexts, encourage and make possible the first steps in faith in those who are far from it."
Although it is only one step in the whole process of evangelisation, IP has its importance as a gateway and as a permanent foundation for Christian experience: "One does not become a Christian through an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but through an encounter with an event, a person who gives life a new horizon, and with this, a decisive direction "(Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 1).
IP is just the start of the process of evangelisation. It comes first chronologically but is not extended in time. Its goal is "to stir [in listeners] an interest in Jesus Christ that may lead to an initial adherence or a revitalisation of faith in Him and the desire to deepen their knowledge". This refers immediately to a successive process of maturation in the faith.
In living the mission in a concrete context, the subject of IP is the Christian community as such, through its members: in this sense, every believer in his daily context can and should be a subject of IP. There are also members of the community to whom this mission is entrusted in a specific way.
While all Christian communities are obliged to make permanent the proclamation of Jesus Christ if they want to be faithful to the Lord's command (EN 14), it should be noted that IP is primarily for men and woman who, under certain circumstances, faced with words and actions relevant to them, through the action of the Holy Spirit, hear the good news of God's love incarnate in the Son, dying on the cross and rising for their salvation.
The usual content of IP is the short, joyful and engaging account of the death of Jesus on the cross, his resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit. It responds to the expectations and hopes of women and men of all time and to their questions about the meaning of life and history. Jesus has saved all mankind from evil and death and has made possible a vital communion with God. He, Jesus, is Lord of all, the Christ, the only Saviour and the final and irrevocable Word of God. This announcement cannot be separated from the positive existential guarantee of the one who makes the announcement.
Since we belong to the European continent, while recognising the wealth of contributions that can come from other contexts, we must pause to consider what the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Europe calls 'first proclamation' and 'renewed proclamation' (EE 46, 47). IP is intended for those who, for various reasons, are strangers to the faith, who are far away or have fallen away from Christian practice.
Whoever is involved, IP is an offer that takes into account the freedom of the recipient and does not refer to a relationship of force or conquest.
3. The European cultural and religious context
Just as each story in the New Testament is closely linked to the cultural environment that supports and explains it, every definition of IP is in a historical-theologically determined context: "The principle of inculturation is a fundamental premise: You can not ignore the existential situation, cultural background, age and capacity of the recipient."
This leads us to address the issue of the context in which to carry out IP. We do not stop at the arid numbers in sociological surveys, but, through the eyes of faith, we try to capture not only the challenges but also the opportunities in this terrible and promising time.
Of course we are faced with formidable challenges - cultural, political, economic and religious. We live in a climate of insecurity and fear of the future, unemployment, frustration at unfulfilled opportunities, effort invested in training that is not valued, together with distrust of politics, and its concentration on private interests, or the use of illegal forms of patronage... At the cultural level, the instruments of social communication exercise a presence in contemporary life so pervasive and invasive that it is difficult to escape their influence.
Travel within Europe and the growing migration have led our society to face a 'cultural hybridization', unthinkable until recently, that has happened very quickly, without any gradual transition. It provides opportunities for multiple forms of encounter, but also frequent tension and conflict. We are also facing dramatic changes in the way of understanding the family and its role in society and in the faith of their children. In general, society is facing a dramatic loss of values.
We live in an increasingly secularised environment, in which an underlying pluralism, religious indifference and secularism are openly opposed to any form of public expression of religiosity. It is a culture that, with rare exceptions, views the Church and faith as marginal and insignificant, obstacles to integral human development and human freedom.
Christianity is challenged by the presence of other religions, especially Islam. Forms of "nomadic" religion are spreading, offering new experiences and religious emotions. The challenges of ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue are particularly alive.
It an environment in which, however, questions of meaning and identity, as well as the search for authentic values constitute a fruitful field in which to sow IP.
4. Towards the operational aspects
These days of study have offered an opportunity to identify courses of action to guide the activities of the Salesian Family.
Who are the recipients?
- Those who do not know God, from those in a sincere search to the agnostic or the hostile atheist.
- Those who in their search for the religious or spiritual (perhaps in new forms of religiosity, spirituality without God, new age...) have not yet met Jesus.
- Those who have been baptised but live away from the faith.
- Those who are baptised, but live as cultural or sociological Christians.
- Those who practise the Christian faith occasionally through the sacraments or acts of popular piety.
- Those who regularly practise the faith, but have not yet met Christ as their personal Saviour.
We Salesians and the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, at this historical moment, feel the need to focus our thinking and our actions on the first three categories of recipients.
What are the objectives of IP?
- Immediate aim: Arousing curiosity in the recipient and an interest in Jesus that could lead to a life devoted to him, to a true conversion and to a faith recognising Jesus for the first time as personal Saviour;
- Ultimate goal: Invite those who have already experienced the first commitment in faith to Jesus to the course (re-) entry with full Christian initiation in the ecclesial community, discipleship and commitment as a disciple of Jesus for the life of world.
When is the time for IP?
- From the perspective of the community that makes the announcement, IP is always to be proposed at every opportunity to those recipients who want to hear, always discerning the times and ways and methods.
- From the perspective of the recipient it can be said that he or she is in a situation of initial proclamation until the decision to accept Jesus or to decline the option.
How do we carry out IP?
It is appropriate to distinguish between two aspects: the one who makes the proclamation and the form of the proclamation.
About the attitude of one who announces;
- Believing firmly what is proclaimed
- With the witness of a life as consistent as possible with the proclamation
- With love, generosity, beauty and in the style of a dialogue
- Respecting the freedom of the recipient and the rhythms of life
- Walking with the recipient, asking the same questions and sharing life experience
- Discerning in prayer when the time has come to begin IP
- Choosing the most appropriate language and images for the recipient
- Presenting IP openly and clearly in a spirit of courage and humility
- Witnessing a humble and joyful experience of personal encounter with Jesus Christ in the proclaimer's search (and occasional loss)
- Regarding those of other denominations and religions, knowing their own and others' identities, looking for what unites us more than what divides us, studying other religions.
As for the forms to make the proclamation, these depend on the context and characteristics of the recipient. We must become mature "announcers" because occasions for IP may be normal or exceptional, real or virtual. The following list of situations where IP can take place is far from exhaustive:
- IP in inter-personal dialogue between friends;
- IP in the crucial moments of life: birth, a pressing decision, choosing a vocation, the path of fidelity, and times of crisis (pain, death, ...) [cf. Letter to the seekers of God].
- IP in small meetings convened in private homes;
- IP in public meetings to respond to some media event (movie, book, debate on TV) in relation to faith or religion, "chair of the unbelievers," "porch of the Gentiles"...
- IP to target groups within the parish (family, children, youth, boy/girlfriends, parents, sick, unemployed, disabled, prisoners, migrants, marginalised...).
- IP commitment of Catholic associations, communities and movements;
- IP in the school, educational centres;
- IP in leisure, sport, tourism, pilgrimages, open spaces;
- IP mission in the city;
- IP through culture, art and music;
- IP by singers and songwriters, artists, and Christian communicators and their CDs, and DVDs;
- IP in the media and internet;
Keeping in mind the fundamental themes of freedom, truth, and that conversion to the Salesian Fmiglia proposals must be augmented by the quality of the educational proposal.
It is essential to raise awareness in our communities, involving them with prayer, and the sympathy that comes from information. The renewal can only be global and therefore also involves:
- so-called 'traditional' ministry (celebration of the sacraments, baptism of children, marriage, pilgrimages)
- attention to new realities (migration, multicultural and multifaith) and new spiritual situations that characterise our changing culture (individualism, fluidity, secularist vision...)
- choice of ways to present the faith to adults in the catechumenate which offers a progressive path to faith and an inspiring model for all catechesis
- enhancement of a "communicative imagination" to learn how to express ourselves in new languages (eg, multimedia, etc...) and in simple terms, through which to reformulate the basic principles of preaching faith in Jesus
- the creation of an atmosphere in which young people are accepted and can express their questions.
The missionaries must also be prepared to be:
- humble people, willing to make sacrifices and to obey what God asks through the mediation of the needs of young people in different situations, environmental, social and economic;
- able to go looking for young people where they are, in and out of our usual environment;
- serene, joyful, lovers of Jesus, not full of problems;
- ready to change their ways and adapt their language to the situation;
- with a clear awareness of their own identity and that of the Church;
- able to go to others to learn and to teach;
- people who know that faith grows day by day and are convinced that it is God who converts and not them;
- trying to help young people to think;
- able to help young people build a personal identity that is the foundation of the choice of faith.
Summary from the British contingent
We identified as key elements:
- Gospel Hospitality
- Need to look at formation in Europe around evangelisation - what do we need to do?
- Stress community dimension of mission as evangelisation
- The documentation needs to stress initial proclamation through the lens of the Salesian vision of the Church
- Needed involvement of the Salesian family
- Key groups that we, as Salesian family in Europe need to concentrate our efforts:
- Those who do not know God or want to know God (even hostile in their atheism)
- Those who in their search for the religious or spiritual (even in new forms of religiosity, spirituality without God, new age,...) have not yet met with Jesus
- Those who were baptised while now being away from the faith (I suspect, in the British context, this will form the biggest group and the ones that we are in daily contact with)
- We need not be afraid to move forward and offer that initial proclamation to those we work with and share our ideals.
- We need to re-ignite the missionary flame and return to our foundations/roots as 'missionaries'
- We need to link into the meetings that have already been held in Europe so that we can catch that missionary fire
- We are part of institutional, but prophetic, Church and so we need to link to our Bishops' Conferences and what they are saying on this topic. In FMA provinces, each has outlined this response.
The Youth/Mission Department will produce materials that can be used in communities in, for example, evenings of recollection. If any community would like specific feedback on these reflections, please contact Bernie, Connie or Gerry. It is interesting to note that the Spanish SDB Provincials have asked that ENGLISH be the language of Europe as this is the language that unites the young people of Europe. Therefore, it is important that English be used as the medium through which all European meetings should take place! Fr Vaclav Klement SDB, General Councillor for the Missions, thanked the GBR Province for their 'Prague Blog' - an example of instant communication to the Province.