by Karen Laurie 

MUMBAI, NOV 7, 2016: Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation 'Amoris Laetitia' speaks of families as the primary setting for socialisation, helping the future generation learn issues of primary importance, namely of 'faith', 'hope' and 'charity'. 

Father Fabio Attard, the Salesian General Councillor for Youth Ministry, in the South Asia Youth Ministry Regional meeting held at Don Bosco High School in Matunga from November 1 to 3, stressed on the importance of the Salesians expanding their scope of focus by including the family unit to their already existing youth-centric ministry. 

"First and foremost we need to strengthen our sense of journeying with families," Father Attard said while reflecting on the importance of Salesians pushing for more family involvement in their institutions to help raise a generation with stronger values. 

"They need to know that we are there for them," he said. "We will come and visit your house, we send you that card, we say 'how are you keeping'. There is a second level that is more engaging and the parents would need to help and get involved, to organise experiences which are consistent, systematic in a way that they become systemic, both in relation to family life and in relation to the school itself."
Salesians of 2016 are urged to use the Holy Father's encyclical as a prism to challenge pre-existing perceptions, processes and proposals. "How are we allowing our processes to facilitate, to empower our parents, to be agents with us in educating their children," Father Attard questioned, "That is hugely challenging for us as Salesians. Look at the problematic situation of our young people, not as something that we lament about but as an opportunity. If we believe that love is generative. If we believe that love is fruitful, how is that influencing our pastoral approaches."

Salesians are urged to connect not just with youth, but also with the hearts and minds of their parents so that, 'the school becomes a family and the family becomes a school.' "Whenever young people see that my parents or guardians are in alliance with the school," this goal is achieved Father Attard added. 

Schools must seek to capture the different areas where interest and possible connectedness can be garnered in a bid to tap and bring forth the right values in future generations. "How are we allowing our processes to facilitate, to empower our parents, to be agents with us in educating their children. You might have parents who are not believers but are ready to help, you might have parents who are not practicing Catholics, or any other religion, but if you tell them you have a parent-education programme, they would come. Now, we need to create various spaces, where convergence can be created in view of synergy."

"Let's take this school, for example, If I as the head master, I have parents who are both working because they have mortgage to pay and they need my help and say 'Father, can I come at 8'o clock at night? If I am an office-minded person, I'd say 'Oh, I'm so sorry, the office is closed at eight. Can a Salesian school limit its answer to saying 'the office is closed'? It's a heresy, a scandal. I need to say, 'Is 8 O'clock okay for you? Excellent'. When they come to our house I don't take them to the office, I take them to the refectory and offer them a cup of tea. What's the message I am giving? We do a lot of talking about welcoming but we need to walk the talk."
Making a strong connection with youth and their parents is essential. Delegates at the Youth Ministry Regional meet were reminded of the approach that a young Don Bosco took when he began his ministry.

"When Don Bosco came to Turin, his mentor Father Cafasso didn't ask him to organise Catechism lessons, he didn't ask him to organise games, he said go to the prisons to get to know the malice and misery of human kind."

Connecting with youth, even in the times of Don Bosco, was crucial. "Our call today is to put ourselves at the service of young people. And hear their story. And in the measure that I listen to their story, they listen to my witness. Otherwise we are just creating formal situations. Once this formality is over the chapter is closed," Father Attard said.

Today, books have given way to Think pads, post cards to emails and telegrams to Watsapp-like instant messaging platforms. In times of constant change in communication models world over, Salesians are urged to ideate new responses to new problems, chart new paths to new destinations. 

"What we are doing is we are offering answers to all the questions that are not there anymore as we have new questions. So, we are using a language that young people respect but do not understand and they don't see the reason why they should understand it," Father Attard added.

"We risk being near, yet so far. Not intercepting their desires and their expectations. The moment that I connect with young people today, I discover a beauty that I am not able to connect with unless I have the desire to be part of their story."

Pope Francis, through his encyclical, has shone a flashlight on the importance of family life. The Salesians, through discourses given by Father Attard and other senior figures in the congregation, have followed the Holy Father's cue to be more inclusive in their day-to-day activities of moulding and guiding not just the youth but the family unit in general to make for a better tomorrow.