by Fr. Vinod Mascaranhes sdb
MATUNGA-MUMBAI, NOVEMBER 10, 2014: The final day of NECDBS 2014 commenced with morning prayers in the Crypt of the Shrine of Don Bosco's Madonna on November 9, 2014. The Eucharist that followed was presided by Fr Maria Arokiam Kanaga—the Regional Councillor for South Asia. Fr Maria Charles introduced the principal celebrant and highlighted three of his traits: Fr Arokiam is open to new ideas, has daring and consistent ideas, and gives emphasis to collaboration and networking. In his homily, Fr Arokiam reflected on the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica. He lamented the fact that our «temples» are not sanctuaries and are not maintained well.
He affirmed that Jesus chased the traders because they made the Temple a den of thieves, and cautioned the principals against making our temples of knowledge dens of thieves and lucrative businesses; our schools will remain/become temples of knowledge when we keep the centrality of God. He also looked at temples as symbols of consecrated life; quoting Henri Nouwen, he said: religious (and temples) are «spaces wasted for God's sake in a utilitarian world.»
The Province of Chennai animated the Eucharist, and Don Bosco Matunga choir led the delegates in singing. At the first hour of the morning session in the Bianchi Hall, Fr Fabio Attard—the General Councillor for Youth Pastoral—addressed the delegates via video conference from Melbourne. He thanked all the delegates for their presence at the Conference, and for the work of Salesian animation. He conveyed the prayers and wishes of the Rector Major, and assured the delegates that Fr Fernández Artime is showing a keen interest in the Salesian processes started in South Asia.
Fr Attard said that the «Salesian Youth Ministry - Frame of Reference» is a process that started from the grassroots of the Congregation and is a reflection brought forth by the whole Congregation. All need to be committed to it, and to pick up our Salesian heritage—which is a gift and a responsibility, and a guiding light to all—with pastoral zeal. He noted that, in a school, the Principal has the fundamental role for Salesian animation; if the Principal is convinced, committed and lovingly available for the mission, the school will be Salesian. We need to receive the heritage in a proactive manner, and have the faith that God accompanies us.
He opined that when they followed this heritage and frame of reference, they entered the shoes of Don Bosco—not alone, but helped and accompanied by the reflection. He urged the delegates to put students and their well being at the centre, because they deserve the best. He cautioned them against getting trapped in an efficiency that puts people on the backburner. He encouraged the delegates to remain united because the strength of the Salesian identity lies in its communal aspect. Fr. Fabio spent some time answering queries of the delegates on school related issues. Fr Maria Charles thanked Fr Attard for addressing the delegates.
At the next session, Fr Maria Charles led the discussion on «Suggestions to take forward the Association of Don Bosco Schools». He presented the priorities that the Provinces had put forth. A lively and passionate sharing of ideas followed. The delegates then discussed the Adhyayan Assessment of Salesian schools, and its pros and cons. A well renowned stage artist and film actor, Mr. Boman Irani addressed the delegates. He recalled the challenges he faced as a child, and highlighted the role of priests who understood him and his issues of dyslexia, dyscalculia and a speech defect, and who nurtured and encouraged him. Further, when many gave up on him, he decided to be the best in whatever he did. For all that he had received from priests, he had come to say «thanks».
After a tea break, Fr Arokiam addressed the delegates. He said that he had come to spend time with them and to listen to them, and he had done that. He appreciated their efforts in the schools. He stated that the General Council had decided to keep stressing the GC 27 theme of Gospel radicality, which is returning to the roots. He raised several fundamental questions on the theme and its key aspects, and presented them to the delegates for their meditation and reflection.
The delegates broke into their Province groups to decide the way forward: one line of action for the national level and two lines of action for their Provinces. They reconvened and shared their decisions. Fr Savio Silveira—Executive Director of the Mumbai Development Office—moderated the sharing. Fr Savio Silveira then presented the draft of the concluding statement of the Conference. The delegates suggested a few minor corrections, and the assembly passed the concluding statement with a show of hands.
At the closing ceremony after lunch, the students of some of the Salesian schools in Mumbai city put up a scintillating performance of music and dance. The ceremony began with the Don Bosco Matunga band comprising budding musicians performing three pieces. The students of Don Bosco, Borivili put up a fusion of folk dances from Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Next followed a brilliant rendition of the song «My God is so Big» by the young boys from Dominic Savio, Andheri. The concluding item was a fusion dance by the boys from Don Bosco, Naigaon. The ceremony concluded with Fr Bernard Fernandes proposing a meaningful and heart-filled Vote of Thanks.
The Conference closed at 3:30 p.m. with the delegates expressing their appreciation and congratulations to the Salesian Province of Mumbai, the collaborator and sponsors for a job well done. The baton has been passed on to the Salesian Province of Guwahati, the hosts and the venue for NECDBS 2016.