I thought: what a sad figure, this priest ignored by the young people to whom he was consecrated!
The technological and values scenario of the millennials generation is radically different from their predecessors'. This profoundly influences the kind of relationships they have with their educators and, consequently, our way of being among them and, above all, our meaning in their lives.
This type of situation concerns not only the Salesians, but the entire Church. Unfortunately, young people distance themselves from us. They often point out that they do not even understand what we are saying when we propose them our faith. There seems to be a gap between their interests and values - and our life proposal.
In view of the 28th General Chapter, the Rector Major invited us to ask the young people of our centers directly what they think of us, our testimony, and how they see us today. They will be questioned about the sort of Salesian figure they dream of, or would like to see, and also about the shortcomings in and of our service, about what they would ask us to do so that we may fulfill, or better fulfill, our mission ... The results of this survey will be of great help to obtain information on the point of view of those who we we serve.
It is not something new to our Congregation - listening. Don Bosco himself always listened to his young people. For him, listening was an act of respect and sincere affection: you listen to those you love, pay attention to those who are important in our lives. And Don Bosco loved young people with all his might.
Love requires one to tune into the other in order to communicate.
Surely the time has come for us to be a little silent and to stop thinking that we know everything they, the young, need. Maybe it's time for us to listen and try to understand what our young people ask us.
Let's not expect to find roses only in their answers to our questions. Instead, it will be important to pay attention to the thorns, because if the young people really respond openly and honestly, they will tell us things that we may not like and that will cause us pain. Surely for many young people of our houses we already mean little to them and we have become invisible in their lives, simple administrators of the spaces wherein they live and spend their time.
In some countries our oratories are closing. The courtyards are territories that no longer belong to us. The presence of young people in the sacraments decreases and we are ignored. In other places, young people are present alongside Salesians, the Congregation is growing and young people and adults are committed to collaborating in our mission.
They are very different realities. In the first situation, dialogue will serve to see the causes of the distance of and from young people; in the second, dialogue will help to explore new forms of apostolate and verify how we can respond better to new contexts.
There is a question for young people that is fundamental: "how can you help us in our mission?" It is a central question as it asks these young people to dream together with us new ways to reach their peers, new methods to evangelize ... Above all, it invites us all to walk together: Salesians, young people and lay collaborators, in one single movement.