by Fr. Bernard Fernandes sdb
MUMBAI-MAHARASHTRA, INDIA, NOVEMBER 7, 2014: The much awaited NECDBS (National Educational Conference of Don Bosco Schools (NECDBS) 2014 was off to a memorable start with the inauguration ceremony at 1630 hrs on 06 November 2014 in the Bianchi Hall of the Don Bosco International School, Matunga. Prior to this, the delegates arrived from the 11 Provinces across India at different times of the day (and night) to get themselves registered for this epic event.
At the impressive opening ceremony, the chief guest, Mr. Piyush Goyal, the Minister of State for Power and Energy and an alumnus of Don Bosco Matunga, was accompanied by the guests of honour - Fr. Godfrey D'Souza, Salesian Provincial of the Province of Mumbai; Fr. V. M. Thomas, Salesian Provincial of the Province of Guwahati and SPCSA Delegate for Education; Fr. Ajoy Fernandes, Vice Provincial of the Province of Mumbai; Fr. Maria Charles, South Asia Coordinator for Education and Culture and AIDBES Secretary; and Fr. Crispino D'Souza, Provincial Delegate for Education in the Province of Mumbai. After the prayer dance by the students of Don Bosco Nerul, the dignitaries lit the lamp. The Don Bosco Matunga choir performed a couple of pieces.
Fr. Ajoy Fernandes, the Vice Provincial of the host province, welcomed the gathering. He highlighted the task that educators face, traced the path of the Conference, and emphasised the role of leaders in the task of education. Thereafter, Fr. Godfrey D'Souza, the Provincial of the Province of Mumbai, felicitated the dignitaries with an «ecological» tribute.
Mr. Piyush Goyal gave the KEY-NOTE ADDRESS. It was a very personal and extremely emotional sharing. He shared several reminiscences of his days as a student of Don Bosco Matunga, and recalled three principals who shaped his life - Fr. Peter Gatti, Fr. Boniface D'Souza and Br. Thomas Puttur - and were guiding hands at critical moments in his life. He repeatedly highlighted the positives of Salesian education - true secularism with no differentiation on the basis of creed or class; holistic development; value education; social responsibility and service. He closed his sharing by affirming that Don Bosco Schools have done the city and nation proud by the quality of education they have provided, and by expressing his deepest gratitude to Don Bosco.
After Mr. Goyal released the SOUVENIR, the students of Don Bosco Yerwada performed a cultural dance with a mix of the secular and the sacred, and the young ones from St. Joseph's High School, Wadala, enthralled the audience with a Bollywood fusion dance. Fr. Bosco D'Mello, Principal of Don Bosco Matunga, proposed the VOTE OF THANKS while the band from Don Bosco Lonavla provided a lively climax to the Inaugural Ceremony.
Following the opening ceremony, Fr. Crispino D'Souza, Provincial Delegate for Education in the Province of Mumbai, gave the participants an overview of the Conference. He stressed three key words of twenty-first century education—information, communication and technology; highlighted the challenge before principals today—the ability to attract, engage and retain talent; and emphasised the importance of divergent thinking. He briefly presented the program schedule and explained the modality of the Conference. The participants, then, met in their Provinces to group themselves for the six themes for the panel discussions.
The Inaugural Eucharist that followed the meeting in the hall, commenced at 1900 hrs in the Shrine of Don Bosco's Madonna, Matunga. Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the Archbishop of Mumbai, presided at the celebration. Dominic Savio Andheri animated the Eucharist and the Tej-Prasarini choir led the singing. In his homily, Cardinal Gracias highlighted the role of the Church and of the Salesians in education, and noted that we are pioneers in education, which is our apostolate and our service to the country and the world.
He stressed that the child is the centre of the educational process and is more important than results. He emphasized the importance of holistic education, the need for education to values, and the invaluable role of a mentor. He set before the Principals the following challenges: to remember that we are priests, who make Christ and his gospel present in the world; to strive for excellence without discriminating against the poor, and without losing our focus and option for them; to continue to provide quality education and not to live on past laurels; and to make our students people with values.
He urged them to remember that this is a vocation to transform girls and boys in whom the kingdom of God is first present, and who make the kingdom of God present. The Cardinal expressed his gratitude and the thanks of the bishops of India to the Salesians for not losing the focus and priority of the gospel, and being not just educators but also and especially evangelisers. The day ended with a sumptuous supper courtesy Mini Punjab, and the participants left the venue for their abodes to rest awhile.