The Strenna of the Rector Major for 2018 invites the Salesian Family to look more closely at its role in accompanying the young at a more personal level. The Salesians in Ireland saw this as an opportunity to come together and reflect on how we can better connect with our young people. It was for this reason that a Day-Seminar was held on the 20th of January on the “Spiritual Accompaniment of Young People as inspired by the thought and praxis of Don Bosco”. The seminar was given by Fr Louis Grech SDB, who has just completed his doctorate precisely on this topic. As a Salesian priest from Malta, he has had a vast experience in working with young people, and is currently Director of Youth and Vocation Ministry in Malta.
His input proved to be very interesting and insightful and he made us aware of how Don Bosco was very much instrumental in changing the Church’s attitude towards young people. He showed that it was possible for young people to reach high levels of sanctity, even though they may still be young in age. While he respected the growth of the young as they go through their developmental stages, yet he acknowledged their capacity that irrespective of age they could reach a high state of sanctity.
Don Bosco believed that it is not so much ‘what we do’ for young people, but rather ‘who we are’ for them that is important. In the first Oratory and hostel that he opened, he was able to create a youthful environment in which young people felt cherished, could develop their skills and deepen their faith. This created an environment that was conducive to stimulating spiritual growth in the young. Don Bosco himself became for them that “someone” who could offer guidance to each individual.
Fr Louis helped us to reflect on how we, like Don Bosco, can respond to young peoples’ deepest desire to have guides and mentors in their search for meaning. In many ways we are asked to accompany them by creating an educative environment and giving them group experiences. It is, then, in this context that we can connect with them at a personal level: informally in recreational activities; and formally in one-to-one direction.
In his own ministry with young people in Malta, Fr Louis sees the results of applying don Bosco’s method of accompaniment to young people as they discern their life choices, some of whom even consider Salesian consecrated life. He firmly believes that in the context of contemporary western culture, Don Bosco’s style and praxis of accompaniment is as relevant as ever.
There was a good response to the Seminar and there was a wide spectrum of participants from the Salesian family – FMA sisters, SDB’s and Candidates for Salesian Co-operators, Teachers and University Students, Retreat Directors, volunteers, youth workers and past pupils. The day went very well and in his concluding remarks the Provincial Fr Eunan McDonnell said how much it helped to bring us to awareness of the great heritage we share as a Salesian Family and that it has helped to bring us closer together.
The following day he also had the opportunity for a workshop with a smaller group of Salesians in initial formation whom he helped to reflect on how to reach out to young people in the challenging context of today’s society in Ireland.