Rome (Italy). On 31 January 2022 the Solemnity of St John Bosco, Father and Teacher of young people, is celebrated throughout the Salesian world, whose educational charism is inspired by the 32 Groups that make up the Salesian Family.
In the Strenna 2022 “Do everything through love, nothing through constraint”, on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the death of Saint Francis de Sales, the Rector Major, Fr. Ángel Fernández Artime, underlines the aspect of charity as a guiding principle in life and in Don Bosco’s work:
“‘May the charity and sweetness of St. Francis de Sales guide me in everything.’ This was one of the resolutions taken by the young Don Bosco on the occasion of the spiritual exercises before his priestly ordination. (…) The charity and sweetness that St. Francis de Sales showed in his relationships with people had a convincing impact on Don Bosco and marked him throughout his life”.
Charity truly guided Don Bosco in the founding of male and female Congregations that will take care of boys and girls, especially the poorest. This is what emerges from the Minutes of the Conference of adhesion to the Salesian Pious Society, which took place on 18 December 1859, the historic date on which the first members gathered at the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales, in the room of Priest Bosco Giovanni, “all with the aim and in a spirit of promoting and preserving the spirit of true charity that is required in the work of the Oratories for abandoned and at-risk youth. Therefore, the Congregates themselves pleased to establish themselves in Society or Congregation which, having as their aim the mutual help for their own sanctification, would propose the glory of God and the health of souls, especially those most in need of instruction and education (MB VI 335 -336)”.
Commenting on this document, the Animator of Mary Help of Christians Community of the Generalate (RCG), Sr. Carla Castellino, in a conference to the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians for the Triduum of Don Bosco on the theme “Charity, the specific face of the Salesian charism“, observes:
“This official act seals a long and tiring journey and, at the same time, marks a new start. The atmosphere is the fruit of a pedagogy based on patient, constant, trusting love, full of faith and hope. A respectful love that educates to freedom and choices, knows how to involve, knows how to wait and indicates high goals. But what is most striking is the fact that when the first group of Salesians is constituted, the vows are not yet taken, but there is a commitment to ‘promote and preserve the spirit of true charity’ and the aims of the Congregation are highlighted, ‘mutual help for one’s own sanctification’; ‘The glory of God’; and the ‘salvation of souls’. Can we say that the Salesian Congregation was born with a vow of charity and therefore, that charity is our only vow? The Feast of Don Bosco can be an opportunity to renew this unique ‘vow of Charity’ with new enthusiasm and with greater awareness”.
Another passage from the Salesian sources quoted by Sr. Carla speaks of charity. It narrates the meeting with all the members of the Society, professed and aspirants, which took place on 11 March 1869 on Don Bosco’s return from Rome, where he had obtained the approval of the Salesian Congregation from the Holy Father:
“Our Congregation is approved; we are bound to one another. I am linked to you, you are linked to me, and all together we are linked to God. It is beautiful to live united with the bond of fraternal love, we must love each other as brothers, bear each other, support each other, help each other, esteem each other, compassionate each other. In our Congregation, the good of one remains divided among all, as also the evil in a certain way remains the evil of all. We work in common and enjoy in common. Therefore, there will be unity of body.
What is the spirit that must animate this body? Dear ones, it is charity. Let there be charity in tolerating and correcting one another; never complain about each other; charity in supporting each other; charity especially in never gossiping about the members of the body. This is a very essential thing to our Congregation because if we want to do good in the world, it is necessary that we are united among ourselves and enjoy each other’s reputation”.
Sr. Carla observes, “We can deduce that charity, in the Salesian tradition, has the color of the family spirit. It is expressed as a sense of belonging, mutual help, diligence in one’s duty, respect and clarity of roles, unity of purpose”.
Charity is the ‘special’ characteristic that distinguishes the Salesian Congregation, as highlighted by Cardinal Lucido Maria Parocchi on 8 May 1884 in a discourse to the Salesian Cooperators in Rome, in the presence of Don Bosco, whom the Cardinal defines as a ‘man of God’:
“So, what is special about the Salesian Congregation? What will its character, its physiognomy be? If I have well understood, if I have well grasped its concept, its purpose, its special character, its physiognomy, its essential note is Charity exercised according to the needs of our century. ‘We have believed in charity; God is charity ‘(1 Jn 4: 1-16), and He reveals himself through Charity. The present century can only be attracted and led to good with works of charity” (MB XVII 91-95).
Sr. Carla Castellino says that “From the testimony of Cardinal Parocchi, we can deduce that our characteristic note is therefore, charity, but a charity within the reach of the people, a charity that makes itself read, makes itself understood, makes itself perceived, knows how to adapt to the times, and above all, manifests itself in preventive education”.
The Animator of the Generalate concludes with some references to the Constitutions of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, which trace a path in the dynamism of the Spirit, “in a continuous striving for love” (C 53). “The face of the FMA that the Constitutions present, is the face of love with Salesian features, a love accepted, lived in the following of Jesus, witnessed in the community, radiated with joy in the educational mission”.