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Monday, 13 April 2015 12:50

Don Bosco: yesterday, today and tomorrow

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Fr Frank Freeman sdb“Remembrance is a form of meeting” said the poet Kahlil Gibran. And so the Salesian family joyfully gathered to rediscover their shared history and meet St John Bosco once again in a conference which officially launched the Australia-Pacific Bicentenary celebrations of St John Bosco's birth, writes Salesian Father Frank Freeman.

“Remembrance is a form of meeting.” observed the poet, Kahlil Gibran and so, in the fair Victorian city of Geelong, on the shores of Corio bay, we, 100 members of the Salesian Family, gathered to remember and meet once again St John Bosco in the bicentenary of his birth. We met in a conference which officially launched our Australia-Pacific Bicentenary celebrations.

The French writer Andre Malraux states that, “One day it will be realized that people are distinguishable from one another by the forms their memories take as by their characters.”

The variety and richness of our memories play a very important role in our sense of wellbeing. Our life story is fashioned, not only by the events and experiences that have come our way, but by the forms these take and by the way we place them in the totality of our own personal history.

In the five days of the gathering, our sense of wellbeing was certainly increased by exploring together the great variety and richness of our Salesian history since the birth of our Founder two hundred years ago.

Dwelling with and pondering the over-all arching theme of the conference, “Don Bosco: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”, we gained new insights into our shared history of the events and experiences that have come our way and, aided by our emotions, a greater appreciation of the part they have played in our own personal history.

In his homily at the opening Eucharist, the Provincial of the Australia-Pacific Province, Fr Greg Chambers, encouraged all delegates to the conference to tread this path of rediscovery: “I encourage you; I warmly invite you to explore the life, times and world of Saint John Bosco; to study, examine and reflect upon ‘Don Bosco – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow’; and to imbibe and internalise what is essential and life-giving about the Giovanni Bosco of history, so that you can live it.”

The conference reaped in abundance the fruits of remembrance, namely, greater understanding, increased appreciation and a clearer understanding of one’s identity.

Since the fruits of remembrance are greater understanding, Fr Joe Boenzi, our Keynote Speaker, brought to the minds of all present, new and challenging insights into the life and legacy of St John Bosco, thus refining and clarifying the forms our memories take. In the morning sessions, Fr Joe took us back to the times of Don Bosco and enriched our understanding of Don Bosco as a gift to the Church, the spiritual master who teaches life. Of special appeal were his historical insights into the origins of our historical documents and how they became so placed in the totality of our own personal history.
His explanation of how Don Bosco’s well-known treatise on the preventive system came into existence was revealing as he clarified the deeper meanings of the Piedmontese terms that Don Bosco used. He emphasized that it was not a treatise but a method of approach in the education of the young. This method he developed further when he wrote the lives of three of his pupils, namely Michael Magone, an example of conversion, of Francis Besucco, one of faith and ultimate sanctity, Dominic Savio. Underpinning the talks of Fr Joe was the presentation of an ever practical minded Don Bosco reacting to the prevailing culture and needs of his times.

So “we must be not with Don Bosco in his times but with Don Bosco in our times.”

The Afternoon workshops gave delegates time to discuss and reflect upon allied topics.

These discussions were led by Fr Frank Moloney “Like Don Bosco, in dialogue with the Lord”; by Sr Edna Mary Macdonald, Provincial of the Salesian Sisters, with the topic “Journeying together, moved by the Spirit”; by Fr Michael Court, parish priest of Engadine NSW, on “Experiencing fraternal life as at Valdocco.” Ms Beth Gilligan and Janine O’Hea, Principal and Deputy principal of Dominic College Tasmania, highlighted the need for “Availability for planning and sharing”; Deacon Charles Arun stressed the importance of “Going out to the Peripheries”; Mr Matt Humphreys, Youth ministry Engadine NSW, the way of being “Prophetic signs for the Young” and finally Fr Phil Gleeson, Rector of Don Bosco House, Clifton Hill, and Mr Rob Brennan, Principal of Salesian College Chadstone, outlined “Our way forward in the Australia-Pacific Province.”

Our increased appreciation gave rise to the need to praise and honour, and so the prayer life of the conference centred on the celebration of the daily Eucharist, Morning and Evening Prayer and the traditional Salesian “Good Night. The role of Mary Help of Christians in Salesian life and the Province’s jubilarians were honoured in a Mass presided over by Fr Ben Kim, on the first anniversary of his priestly ordination, with a thoughtful Marian homily given by Fr Lawrie Moate, while the feast of Blessed Laura Vicuna and the Salesian Family were likewise honoured by Fr Petelo Vito Pau and Fr Sefo Mulipola hailing from Samoa.

Deceased Salesians, Salesian Sisters and members of the Salesian Family were similarly remembered by Fr Mathew Vadakkevettuvazhiyil from New Zealand presiding and the homily by Fr Peter Hoang.

Archbishop Timothy Costelloe sdb of Perth was present with us for the last two days and celebrated the final Eucharist.

The joyful, harmonious bonds between the members of the Salesian family present at the conference were strengthened by a concert celebrating and featuring the national cultures of the Australia-Pacific Province, the remembrance of our 2015 jubilarians and sharing a final fraternal dinner. All enriched the conference participants, “since by an eye made quiet by the power of harmony, and the deep power of joy, we see into the life of things.” (William Wordsworth)

As we relived the memories of the two hundred years since the birth of our founder, the forms our memories took, the time and importance given to them, showed to all present, despite present problems and difficulties, the state of our wellbeing, and that we Salesians are truly distinguishable by our lived, shared memories.

This article was first published in the March 2015 issue of the Australian Salesian Bulletin, the quarterly magazine of the Salesians of Don Bosco, Province of Mary Help of Christians (Australia & Pacific).

Read more about the Salesians in the Province of Mary Help of Christians (Australia & Pacific).