'Our family was born missionary and cannot cease to be so!'
For our Lenten reflections this year, in partnership with our Mission Office, we have taken the theme for Salesian Mission Day 2017. We will be returning to the roots of the Salesian missionary vocation by learning more about our missionary presence with the indigenous peoples of America.
Jesus provides us with the perfect model of the missionary: he lived with the people, taking on their values, speaking their language, and remaining with them until his earthly life ended on the Cross. Like Jesus, missionaries reach the people because they are not just passing through; they remain with them, becoming part of their society and proclaiming the Gospel in a way that respects their different cultures. In this way, the faith and those who teach it become an integral part of their culture.
Don Bosco said 'give me souls, take away the rest,' and it is natural that he was passionate about introducing the Gospel to those beyond his own land who were in need of salvation. In his letter on this year's Mission Day theme, Fr Ángel Fernández Artime, our Rector Major, said: 'Our family was born missionary, and cannot cease to be so!'
Our theme this year is a reminder of these missionary roots, an invitation to re-engage with them and to look in a spirit of love and solidarity beyond our own context to our brothers and sisters across the nations.
On 11th November 1875, the first Salesian missionaries were sent to Argentina by Don Bosco, fulfilling his dream. In his letter, Fr Ángel describes their approach, and links it to this year's Strenna, 'We are a Family':
'We realise ... just as the first missionaries arriving in America knew, how to create a family spirit and atmosphere of a home in each one of the peoples and cultures with which they came into contact with. They dearly loved all the indigenous groups to whom they were sent. They respected them and made their own all of their joys, their frustrations and their dreams. They defended them to the point of giving their lives for them.'
In 1964, the Second Vatican Council's decree Ad Gentes (To the Nations) set out the future for missionary work in exactly this way, encouraging missionaries to live among the people, understand and respect their culture and values, remain with them, and work to ensure that the Gospel become part of their cultural fabric.
The Salesians in Britain have a strong missionary connection, with many confreres serving in overseas missions, but we should not forget that when the first Salesians arrived in Battersea in 1887, they came to England as missionaries, a vision Dominic Savio had treasured.
Today, our Province continues to benefit from the Salesian missionary charism, with the valued presence and service of the men who volunteered to come to us as part of Project Europe.
We give thanks for them and for all Salesian missionaries past and present, and keep their work and the people they serve in our prayers this Lent.
Prayer for Salesian Missions Day 2017
Father Creator, we praise you,
For the seeds of sanctity and beauty,
sown among the American peoples.
Grant us to contemplate, appreciate and defend
your wisdom in the indigenous cultures.
Help us to proclaim with the light of the Spirit
the unfathomable riches of your Son, Jesus Christ
that transfigures and fully fills every culture.
Lord Jesus, we praise and thank you
because you have made each one of us,
really sharing our lives,
loving us until the end,
so that we may have Life in all its fullness.
Help us to welcome and give life
on behalf of all our brothers and sisters.
Send us your sanctifying Spirit,
raise up in this continent missionaries,
witnesses of your love and of your resurrection,
proclaimers of your fraternity and truth,
prophets of your justice and unity.
Lord, you who are One in diversity
with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
help our peoples to live
with respect for diversity,
united in the same charity.