On the afternoon of Thursday 5 March, the Chapter had a session devoted to the presentation of statistical data comparing the figures now with those of the last three six-year periods.
ANS gave some initial information a few days ago. Fr Horacio Lopez and Bro. Marco Bay, SDB, (lecturer in UPS), provided some additional information and offered their reflections on the data presented.
The Rector Major thanked them and also the Salesians from the Generalate and the Provincial Secretaries who had been involved in work. He said that we should heed the numbers as the word of God to us.
The numbers offer one piece of knowledge of the situation which must be seen in a broader context: in the last 18 years, the congregation has declined from over 17,500 to just over 15,000 members. This represents an overall decrease that should be viewed in the context of the decrease in other religious families. All in all, the average annual loss of more than one percentage point is not as dramatic as that of other congregations.
There is no need to repeat the numerical data. It is enough to read them and study them. It is more important to reflect on some of the questions posed by the editors of the research. For example, we need to pay particular attention to the steady decline in the number of Salesian Brothers. In the past eighteen years, their number has fallen by more than 30%.
Over the years the number of canonically erected communities has stabilized at around 1800 with a decline in the number of those not canonically erected. Over the past eighteen years the number of the latter fell from 268 to 97. This is probably due to the closure of some houses, the relocation of others and an increase in the number of confreres in many of them.
It is interesting to note the data concerning the change in the number of members in the communities. There has been a decline in the number of communities with only two members, an increase in those with three to five members (now 44% of the total), and a decline in those with more than six confreres (from 54 % of the total in 1995 to 47% in 2013).
The question arises: “to what extent does the size of the community influence the effectiveness of Salesian pastoral ministry and the witness we give to our charism and vocation?” Bro. Marco Bay responded by saying that the data do not explain or interpret a situation, but they help us to understand it with descriptions and clues that offer useful insights.
The statistics always refer to the past, but with a certain amount of caution, we can make predictions for the next six years. We can expect a further decrease in numbers in Europe, growth in Asia and Africa, and a moderate decrease in America.
What do the figures say about the Salesian of the future? They suggest that some Salesians need to be flexible with regard to their place of ministry, and to history and culture, and some need to be deeply rooted in a particular location in order to establish a tradition for the future.
While attention is given to the numbers we must not fail to continue to monitor the number of confreres in communities and to adjust periodically the criteria for the charismatic and educational effectiveness of our presence.Equally important will be our ability to “communicate, capitalize and disseminate good practice in relation to community and ministry.”
First Published by InfoANS