Father Chrys Saldanha sdb talks to Karen Laurie from Bosco Information Service (BIS) on the launch of his new book, 'Challenges in Salesian Life Today'
MUMBAI, MAY 14, 2017
BIS: Are you trying to build connections between your last book, 'Exploring Salesian Life Today', and your new book?
Father Saldanha: The first book was originally a set of nine conferences I prepared for a renewal course in Bangalore about three years ago. I added three more conferences, and the twelve articles came to be published in a volume entitled, "Exploring Salesian Life Today". On my return from Rome in January 2016, Father Godfrey D'Souza, the Provincial of Mumbai, asked me to write a second volume. I accepted, and here it is now with the title, 'Challenges in Salesian Life Today'. Yes, there is a continuity between the two volumes in so far as the two books are concerned with aspects of our Salesian life that need clarification and greater depth in the way we live them. The challenges we face are a call to renewal.
BIS: Your book draws a lot of inspiration from Church documents. Can you tell us more?
Father Saldanha: I know that some people have an aversion to Church documents. And yet, I find a lot of meaning in them. They are prepared by some of the best minds in the Church, and are the fruit of a lot of lived experience around the world. In a few pages, you receive a lot more knowledge and understanding of problems and solutions than you would get by reading a number of books.
BIS: There are fewer Salesian Brothers today than before and this has been worrying Salesians for almost 30-40 years. You have tried to address this problem in your book.
Father Saldanha: Yes, this topic comes up in two chapters, viz in the one on the Salesian brother and in the other on lay people, but the underlying problem is the same: we have a very clerical mentality. We hardly see the secular world as a place of apostolate. To be a doctor/nurse in a hospital or a teacher in a school is a wonderful apostolate, but so few Christians see and live it as such. Now, the Salesian brother's apostolate is connected with the secular world, the world of work, like, for instance, a professional school or the communications media. But if, as I said, the world of work is not seen and appreciated by all the members of the Church as a worthwhile and necessary apostolate, then there is a depreciation of the vocation of the Salesian brother. Pope Francis repeatedly decries the problem of clericalism in the Church. It is hurting the Church badly. Just think of the words we commonly use - vocation, evangelization, becoming spiritual, being holy – and you will notice that we spontaneously tend to relate all of them to the priest and what he does within the Church confines. But, aren't all of them very much related also to the secular world in which all our lay people live? Isn't the world of work a place where our Christians live out their lay vocation, grow in holiness and carry out their important mission of evangelizing the world?
BIS: Do you consider authority as a challenge to Salesians?
Father Saldanha: Most religious are persons in authority in one way or another. Sadly, however, there is little or no preparation for authority. They hardly see authority (in the Church context) as a service of helping people to grow - in faith, in love, in unity, in fidelity to Christ and to one's vocation, in holiness. They hardly realise what a precious service they are rendering through the exercise of authority. That's how I have developed this topic.
BIS: Your book speaks of the importance of the revival of Don Bosco's oratory.
Father Saldanha: I believe there are two ways of looking at our work. In the first way, we run an institution, like a school. Young people come to school every morning, we educate them, and they return to their homes in the evening. Another way of looking at our work is to tell ourselves that we are sent to incarnate the charism of Don Bosco in a particular locality. And so, the starting-point for our work is the young people of the area. Where are the young people? Who are they? What do they need? Many need education, and so we offer them a school. But, there are also college-going youth who would appreciate the possibility of a youth forum where they can learn more about things that interest them like love, faith, marriage, etc. And there are street-children who need a place to stay at night: can we do something about that? And there is the problem of drugs or of pornography in the area that is affecting our youth: can we involve lay people or civil society in combating the menace? And there are young people hanging out on street corners on weekends, bored with life and now knowing how to spend their free time; can some opportunities be offered them after class-hours and on weekends (if not every evening) for sports, games, and a variety of other activities that interest them? Seen this way, our school becomes a radiating centre in the locality, reaching out to all the young people of the neighbourhood, and through them, to their families. In this way we get everyone in the locality to work with us for young people.
BIS: Is institutionalization a challenge for the Salesians?
Father Saldanha: Yes, I think we are too institution-centred. We tend to focus on organisation – the time-table, roles and responsibilities, rules, order and discipline – and the good results are there for everyone to see. All these things are necessary and good in themselves, but we have to keep on reminding ourselves that we are not sent to run institutions but to serve young people. Of course, we do need order and discipline, but persons come first. Do we meet our young people in the playground? Do we talk with them in the school and become friends with them? Do we involve ourselves with them outside of class-hours? Are we available to them?
In my book I narrate an experience I had in Bangalore many years ago. I was asked for be on a panel of three persons – a priest and two lay persons – and the topic was 'Salesians and Lay People': it was meant to be a preparation for GC24. At one moment, one of the panellists, a lady, spoke up and said: "Dear fathers, I am not referring to you Salesians but to priests in general. Go to any parish residence and will you find a notice on the wall which says: Visiting hours: nine to five. That's all very well, but people cannot come to see the parish clergy during those hours because they are at work. And if they come at six or seven in the evening, they get a shout and a remark, 'Can't you read what the notice says?' Fathers, you need to be available to people."
During the interval some of us were sitting with her at table, having a cup of coffee, when one of the Salesians addressed the good lady and said: "Mrs….., it's all very well for you to say these things. But, don't forget that priests are human beings too; they work the whole day from morning till evening, and they too are entitled to some time for themselves and for some rest." Quick as a flash, the lady replied: "Father, my husband is a doctor, and if at one o'clock in the night he receives a telephone call to say that someone is sick, he will get out of bed and go and attend to that person." And she added, "See, Father, there are some professions which require you to be always available to people." One of them is the doctor, another is the priest!
BIS: You have dedicated a whole chapter to 'Anger' in your book: was it by popular demand?
Father Saldanha: Anger is a human problem that we all have to deal with. When we are in positions of authority, we tend to lose our temper when something goes wrong and to shout at people, and in this way, we alienate people from us. There are ways of dealing with anger by which we need not break our relationships. That is a skill we need to learn. Actually speaking, this topic was suggested to me by a Salesian after I had written the first book.