Feast of Mary’s Birthday, 8 September 2017
O humble handmaid, for whom the almighty has done great things,
we entrust ourselves to you,
that we may become for the young
witnesses of the inexhaustible love of your Son.
Today for many Salesians in Ireland and Malta, and indeed worldwide, we remember the day of our first profession. Whatever the date of our first profession, this feast of Mary’s birthday is a good day to renew our Salesian consecration. I invite us to celebrate this joyful day. In calling us, God says:
‘You are important to me, I love you. I am counting on you.’ Jesus says this to each of us! Joy is born from that! The joy of the moment in which Jesus looked at me… for him, we are not numbers but people; and we know that it is he who is calling us.
We know that with the passage of the years the light grows dim and our initial enthusiasm begins to wane, but the Lord promises to renew you by his love (Zeph.3:17). The Lord understands, but says, “I know all about you: how hard you work and how much you put up with… I know you have suffered for my name… nevertheless, I have this complaint to make; you have less love now than you used to” (Rev.2:2-5). Today let the Lord, through Mary’s motherly intercession, ‘draw you to himself… and speak to your heart… for I will betroth you to myself with faithfulness.’ (Hos.2:14,20) Let this be a day of personal renewal for each of us in the hidden depths of our heart.
The Provincial Council convened on 7-8 August 2017 to plan for the coming academic year. In the first place, we would like to thank Jack Finnegan, Val Collier and John Campion for their unstinted service to the Province for many years; secondly, we would like to welcome the new members to the council: Richard Ebejer (Formation), Lukasz Nawrat (Social Communications), Padraig Mc Donald (Salesian Family). Continuing on the council, but taking up different roles, are Paddy Hennessy (Vice-Provincial/Youth Pastoral) and Koenraad Van Gucht (Provincial economer). We were also privileged to have Paul Formosa (Provincial Delegate from Malta) join us for the two days of meetings and we are grateful for his significant contribution. Pat Egan continues as Provincial secretary and we would like to show our appreciation for all the unnoticed work he does behind the scenes on behalf of the Province. Dates have been decided for future council meetings until January 2018.
We discussed our Strategic Pastoral Plan in the light of the document received from Rome (Plan to Redesign the Province of Ireland, 29 July 2017). We hope to send both these documents to the Rectors in the various communities bearing in mind that the strategic plan is subject to amendment and finalisation. In the light of this, the Youth Pastoral Department will update the document and engage with each local community so as to design the relevant PEP/CEP. This process will begin for the Secondary Schools (Pallaskenry 21-22/09/17); Celbridge (29/09/17); and Agricultural School (Pallaskenry 21-22/09/17). The second stage will be the organisation of PEP/CEP for other communities with outreach to university students, parishes, marginalised etc. dates to be arranged. One of our conclusions as to the way forward from our SWOT analysis at our assembly day in Killenard (15/10/16) was “the need to network as a key to our re-dimensioning and collaborative ministry.” Such collaborative ministry with the people of God, is neither optional nor due to diminishing numbers, but a charismatic duty, as outlined by our Rector Major, Fr Angel. I had the privilege to attend The Summit in Croke Park (13-15/08/17) which showcased FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students). It was refreshing to see so many committed young lay missionaries from America, who are engaged in campus ministry, interacting with young Irish adults. Following through on our Assembly day recommendation that we ‘need to network with other groups engaged in qualified and trained peer ministry evangelisation,’ I am continuing to engage in dialogue with FOCUS.
We have established a Centenary committee to be co-ordinated by Br Padraig Mc Donald SDB for our upcoming celebrations in 2019. The committee will be composed of SDBs, Salesian Family members and friends. Feel free to contact us with your insights, inspirations, suggestions that might enhance our centenary celebrations.
Together, Ireland and Malta have formed one Province for the last 37 years which has been mutually beneficial and enriching to us all. We live in changing times and this requires on-going discernment as to what configuration our province may take over the next number of years. The Maltese Delegation have already begun a discernment process where their vote at an assembly day (4/02/2017) expressed unanimously a desire for autonomy. During our recent Provincial Council meeting we discussed this topic at length and various responses were given to be brought back to, and discussed at, the Maltese delegation’s next meeting. At a personal level, there was an interesting moment in our discussions that I now recognise as the movement of the Holy Spirit. A question was raised: What do the Irish have to discern? I must confess that this question stumped me, I was unable to give a satisfactory reply. Given my inability to answer, I spent time thinking and praying about it. During prayer, it became clearer to me that whatever decision we make it must be in the best interests of the young people on both our islands. It must be our service to the charism, not our desires (for autonomy) or fears (how this will impact us) that determine this process. In a discernment process, we begin with our ideas which reveal our desires and fears, but if it is to be truly authentic, then, the point of arrival must be different from the point of departure. In the process of discernment, the initial question often changes as the God-Question begins to emerge. At an individual level, and at a communal level, I invite each person to bring this discernment process into prayer. We invite the Salesian Sisters, past pupils, friends, co-operators, all members of the Salesian family and those who are interested in the faith development of young people on our islands to accompany us in prayer so that the God-Question may emerge and the will of God be done. We welcome the Rector Major to Malta who is due to visit 9 September and we ask prayers for him and his Council as they discern God’s will for the two islands.
SPRITUAL FOCUS: THE FATHERHOOD OF GOD AND DON BOSCO (1)
Our primary calling is to be signs and witnesses of the Father’s love for the young. But who is this Father-God, daddy-God, Abba that we are witnessing to? Are we growing in a relationship with the God of Jesus, experiencing ourselves as his beloved in whom he delights? The truth of the matter is that my own experience of being fathered will have a huge bearing on how I view God as Father. How has this experience effected positively and/or negatively God as Father for me? ‘Even if one becomes an adult, or an elderly person, even if one becomes a parent, if one occupies a position of responsibility, underneath all of this is still the identity of a child. We are all sons and daughters. And this always brings us back to the fact that we did not give ourselves life but that we received it.’
We need to begin with our own experience before exploring how we reflect the Father’s love to the young. Our view of God can often be ambivalent. The God of love that we talk about may not be the God who resides in our gut! In a recent conversation, a fellow Salesian shared how surprised he was to discover that when faced with a life-threatening illness the God whom he had come to believe in of mercy and compassion was displaced by an image of a demanding God who aroused fear. Someone explained to him, ‘don’t worry, this is a natural reaction because when we are traumatised we revert to our childish view of God.’
Q: What is my default position when it comes to God as Father?
When we speak of evangelisation, perhaps the first step lies here. How can I let Jesus ‘show me the face of the Father so that this experience of being loved and accepted by the Father transforms who I am for others, especially the young. Let us begin the conversation with one another, Salesian family members, friends and the young – Who is God the Father for us?
24 March 2018 – Informal gathering of Salesian Family at our national Marian Shrine (Knock) for a day of prayer.
19 May 2018 – PROVINCIAL ASSEMBLY DAY on YOUTH PASTORAL given by Fr Fabio Attard SDB;
20 May 2018 – Workshops on Youth Pastoral given by Fr Fabio Attard SDB.
3-9 June 2018 – PROVINCIAL RETREAT – at Milford. Retreat Director: Fr Michael Murray OSFS. Theme: Practical Holiness: Salesian Perspectives on the Beatitudes of Matthew’s
Fr Eunan McDonnell SDB
 Pope Francis, L’Osservatore Romano, 8-9 July 2013, p.6.
 SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats.
 See, Letter to Rev. Michael Casey and Conferes Salesian of St Patrick and Malta Delegation, Dublin, 18 Feb 2016, p. 7 ; The shared mission between SDBs and lay people is no longer optional – I say this in case anyone still thinks it is – and that is because the Salesian mission in the world today so clearly demands it. Chapter Documents of GC27. Address of the Rector Major Fr Ángel Fernández Artime at the Closing of the GC27. Rome 2014, p.128-129.
 See previous letter, 15 August 2017. We welcome any contributions, from all friends and members of the Salesian family, to this theme so that they can be included in subsequent newsletters.
 Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, n.108.