Rome (Italy). On 28 and 29 October 2023, the Presidency ACSSA (Association of Salesian History Scholars), made up of representatives from every continent, gathered in Rome to reflect on the theme of missions, stimulated by the upcoming anniversaries: the 150th anniversary of the first expedition of the Salesians of Don Bosco (1875-2025) and of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (1877-2027).
Sister Maria Maul FMA, President; Sister Maria Imaculada Da Silva FMA and Mr. José Sobrero Bosch SDB, Councilors for America; Sister Maria Rohrer FMA and Sister Inácia Chaquisse FMA, Councilors for Africa -Madagascar; Fr. Mathew Kapplikunnel SDB (connected online), Councilor for South Asia; Fr. Nestor Impelido SDB, Councilor for East-Oceania Asia; Sister Paola Cuccioli FMA and Fr. Bogdan Kolar SDB, Councilors for Europe; Fr. Thomas Anchukandam SDB, Director of the Salesian Historical Institute; and Fr. Stanisław Zimniak SDB, Secretary-Treasurer, verified the first of the six stages of preparation, the organization of the five Continental Seminars to be carried out by the year 2025, and the International Conference to be held in the year 2027.
Coinciding with the anniversaries of the 150th anniversary of the first missionary expedition of the SDB (1875) and the 150th anniversary of the first missionary expedition of the FMA (1877), research and studies on the theme of missions will be presented during the Continental Seminars and the International Congress. During the meeting, the topics and names of the researchers were shared.
What is meant by mission? Who should we consider as a missionary?
Some national offices of the Association have already asked themselves this question, as over the years a different awareness has developed and some, like the Italian one, have contacted experts to clarify it.
The definition of some criteria regarding the historical understanding of mission and being a missionary was attempted. These were: being a member of a missionary expedition, receiving the missionary cross, being considered a missionary by the Country of origin, writing of letters, reports… and defined self as such; letters and reports were published in the missionary press… For now, these are just some indications that will certainly have their ‘exceptions’.
The time limitation of the field of study was also the subject of reflection. It was decided to stop before the opening of the Second Vatican Council, even if the missionary history of the two Congregations includes very recent aspects such as “Project Africa”. It is worth starting to collect material also from direct witnesses in order to one day be able to construct the story.
The Presidency’s reflections were enriched by meetings, including the visit to the FMA Central Archives with an exceptional guide, Sister Maria Luisa Nicastro, General Secretary of the FMA Institute, and her team, who showed some typologies of documents preserved in the Central Archive, explaining who produced them, how they were preserved, cataloged, and according to which procedures and conditions they are accessible to the public. There are Case Chronicles; thesis; material with testimonies and documents of the deceased Sisters, necessary to develop the biographical profile for each one; general lists; photos; special materials.
There was also the opportunity to discuss with Mr. Marco Bay, new Director of the Central Salesian Archive, and with Fr. Guido Garino, General Secretary of the Salesians of Don Bosco, who shared the recent vicissitudes of their Central Archive. These meetings made us reflect, once again, on the need to continue collecting documents even today to make them accessible to future ACSSA members, who will be able to tell how the Salesian Charism is embodied over time.
The activity of the six National Sections is very lively: Argentina, Brazil, India, Italy, Spain, and Poland. In them, the members work profitably by organizing on-site conferences, book publications, and activities aimed at disseminating the history of the two Congregations.
The dissemination of activities, both global and local, required the renewal of the ISS (Salesian Historical Institute) and ACCSA websites and the resumption of publication of the information Bulletin. The site is already active and can be consulted at the address https://iss-acssa.org/ and is the fruit of the work of Sister Imaculada Da Silva and her team. The annual information bulletin will be available from January.
Two new members have been added to the ranks of Salesian History Scholars, with the hope that someone else will be encouraged to follow them.