|RMG – Salesian Presence among the Muslims: a new Road Map|
|Albania – 20 years of history with the Sons of Don Bosco|
(ANS – Rome) – Fr Matteo di Fiore, an Italian Salesian, class of 1950, is currently Rector of the Salesian community in Kosovo, which has a house in Priština and another set up recently in Gjilan. During the ‘Study Days on Salesian Presence among Muslims’ we asked him a few questions.
You have been in the Balkans for about 14 years, first in Albania and now in Kosovo. Has there been any change in climate regarding tolerance and religious respect?
The conflict between Kosovo and Serbia was mainly for ethnic reasons. Today Kosovo is an independent republic with a fine Constitution which prescribes respect for ethnic minorities and religions. On its flag, in fact, there are six stars which represent the six ethnic groups in the country. The social, economic and religious situation is characterised by living together in mutual acceptance. Only in the north west of Kosova, at Mitrovica, is there a strong Serb community which does not recognise the state of Kosovo; the ill-defined border in this area makes things easy for smugglers.
In our school in Priština the staff is mixed: nearly all the teachers are Muslim but for the other staff we have chosen Catholics, who incidentally tend to be less well-off for historical reasons. Among the students, 90% are Islamic, but as some of the teachers here say, ‘for the first six months they are Muslim, then they all become Salesians of Don Bosco’. I usually say that if we put quality into our work as educators, friendship, sociability and harmony follow. We are responsible for our own professional work and we can share other values through that.
Your works are open to young people from every religion. How do you speak to them about God?
In our context we have rephrased the well-know saying of Don Bosco into ‘honest citizens and good believers’. We normally begin each day with a ‘Good Morning’ when we offer advice and suggestions for living as good citizens and good religious people. And then everyone knows that we are Christians and that I am a priest, a Salesian … but they know this because all our structures are based on the principles of the Preventive System: reason, religion and loving kindness.
Last year, for example, as we commemorated the 10th anniversary of laying the foundation stone of our school in Priština, we said a prayer together for the first time. We have to overcome some of our preconceptions about the secular nature of a school institution and how to get Catholics and Muslims to pray together. We prepared a prayer together and something very beautiful came out of it.
Again, on 30th December, we have a common celebration of thanks to God and on Friday afternoons, after school, the Catholic teachers and students pray together in the chapel.
Twenty years in Albania and eleven in Kosovo: what are the fruits of the Salesian charism?
The best thing has been the consolidation of the work in Shkodër, Tirana and Priština: these are very significant situations because of their locations; Don Bosco was not known there, but today his name is familiar, especially to those involved in education.
Even the decision to open a school in Tirana for displaced Kosovans during the war of ‘99 was one of those ‘yes’ moments, one of those decisions which develops, enlarges, changes, gives new direction to Salesian presence.
We now have fifteen native-born Salesians. More fruits can be seen in other groups of the Salesian Family: at Shkodër an Association of Salesian Cooperators has been set up, while in Priština there is a group of Past Pupils, people who feel they have been helped by Don Bosco. We have also had two adult baptisms, at their request, and the reason they gave was the type of life they had experienced with us.