Italy – Rector Major: "In Ukraine very harsh reality, but it is there that we must be and bear witness"

19 December 2022
Photo: Famiglia Cristiana online

(ANS - Turin) - "In almost nine years, much of it spent traveling around the world, visiting missions, I have been able to touch with my own hands the tremendous good that our confreres do, together with the whole Church and so many people of goodwill. I say this without triumphalism: I believe that today we are a serene congregation that can look to the future with hope." Thus Fr. Ángel Fernández Artime, Rector Major of the Salesians, describes, in a few but very clear lines, the present of the religious family that collects and continues Don Bosco's legacy.

The occasion was a meeting with a group of journalists from Italian and foreign newspapers (mostly Vaticanists and Church experts), who had come to Piedmont, from Rome, to visit the places of the Salesian charism: first and foremost the "citadel" of Valdocco (where Don Bosco's dream began with the first boys), but also the birthplace of the Saint and the places of his childhood, in Castelnuovo (Asti). The meeting with the Rector Major is part of this journey and is an opportunity for a wide-ranging discussion on decisive issues for the Salesian Family and for the whole Church.

Fr. Á.F. Artime, 10th Successor of Don Bosco, elected Rector Major for the first time in 2014 and then reconfirmed at the General Chapter of 2020 for another six years, speaks of "a serene congregation," also in light of some data. There are currently 14,000 Salesians of Don Bosco, present in 134 countries around the world. There are between 440 and 460 novices who join the family each year with the pronouncement of First Profession. And about one in four religious is young. We are talking about a widespread presence, covering five continents and proving to be as valuable as ever in the poorest lands or those of conflict, such as the tormented Ukraine. "We are attested both in the South, in the Latin Rite area, with five presences, linked to the Province of Poland, and in the North, in the Greek Rite area, in Lviv and Kyiv." There, on December 22, young Salesian Maksym Ryabukha will be ordained a bishop: a great responsibility, but also a sign of hope, in a tremendous time. In this year of war, "we have welcomed thousands of families into our homes, in Poland and Slovakia, but also here in Italy. And our brethren in Ukraine have been very brave, sometimes coming almost to the firing lines to bring help and medicine. I have personally seen pictures of a bus hit by artillery shells. It is a very harsh reality, wounded by actions of brutality and inhumanity before which it is difficult to resist. But it is precisely there that we are called to bear witness to hope today."

Among the many difficult situations is China: the Salesian Family is present with its own province in Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan, where it runs several schools and youth centers. In addition, some Don Bosco religious work in mainland China, assisting the poorest and those suffering from leprosy, always within a very delicate and indispensable relationship with the local authorities.

There is also room during the meeting for sensitive and uncomfortable topics, such as the tremendous issue of child abuse. "For us, who have promised God, publicly, to give our lives for young people, a case of abuse is a terrible wound and a great pain. I assure you that when faced with any report or complaint, we take the firmest and most prompt action. Justice must be pursued by all means. And it is not easy: unfortunately, there are also realities that exploit the situation, to profit from it, and publicly accusing an innocent person means condemning him to carry a burden that will remain forever. But when evidence emerges, the process, the trial, is carried out with the utmost rigor. Also, I am a great believer in restorative justice: meeting the victims, trying to understand what they need, what their demand for justice is."

Asked to comment on gender theories and the dangers to the integrity of the person, the Rector Major replied, "We start from an outlook, or gaze, of mercy, which welcomes and does not condemn. This, of course, does not mean justifying everything, but starting from the person in his wholeness, with his mystery and also with his frailties."

In a time when, at least looking from our perspective, a great crisis of faith seems to be rampant among the younger generation, that of Fr. Á.F. Artime is nevertheless a message of hope: "Compared to the time of Don Bosco, everything has changed, but, at the same time, nothing has changed." So, even in a society that has been profoundly transformed, and much more secularized than that of the mid-nineteenth century, "our center does not change: a faith lived in transparency, with declinations that, of course, change from reality to reality. Let us not forget that, in many of the countries where we operate, Catholics are a tiny minority and, among our children, there are Muslims, Hindus, and people of many other faiths. Whenever possible, however, and always with respect, we offer a proclamation that is not proselytizing, but freedom. So many young people welcome it; I can testify to that from having met them. They may not make noise, but they are there."


ANS - “Agenzia iNfo Salesiana” is a on-line almost daily publication, the communication agency of the Salesian Congregation enrolled in the Press Register of the Tibunal of Rome as n 153/2007.

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