The Salesians


This week, John Allen uses the occasion of a Salesian becoming the new Vatican Secretary of State to devote half of his column to taking a look at that order, one of the Church's largest and most prominent, especially in the poorest areas of the world.

Some snips:

It's hardly an accident that the job went to a Salesian. In an era in which many of the great orders of the church have been rocked by internal ideological divisions, the Salesians are seen as robustly reliable -- not theological innovators, but down-to-earth pastors and educators, and generally with a good sense of humor.

"We're not complicated people," Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, another Salesian in a high place, told NCR June 25. "Our spirit is family, especially with the young and the poor."

Side note: Cardinal Maradiaga was on many commentators' papabile lists last year and at age 64 is on the younger side of the College of Cardinals. I don't know how credible that is, but the fact that he's a Salesian gives that possibility an added appealing dimension.

Back to Allen:

The great orders have usually been born in response to some crisis -- the Franciscans, for example, to urbanization and the need to evangelize the cities; the Jesuits to the Reformation, and the need for a Catholic counter-offensive.

For the Salesians, it was the Industrial Revolution, especially the zones of despair, turmoil and revolution on the outskirts of the great industrial cities.

St. John Bosco (1815-1888), known affectionately as "Don Bosco," was shocked by the plight of the poor in Turin, especially the young -- the peddlers, shoe polishers, stable-boys, factory workers, vendors, and errand boys who formed the lowest cogs in the wheels of the new industrial machine.

Bosco became a tireless catechist among the young, hearing confessions, saying Masses, and organizing "oratories" where his boys could play, study and worship. He was also something of a labor organizer, negotiating contracts for young apprentices insisting that employers use them only in their acknowledged trade, that corporal punishment be abandoned, that proper wages be paid, rest periods be honored, and that decent sanitary conditions be maintained.

Thus the Salesian pastoral model was forged: solid, orthodox Catholic piety; an "in-the-trenches" commitment to the young, the poor, and to education; and a smiling closeness to the people, as opposed to the rather foreboding and aloof profile of the typical Italian monsignore. (In this sense, Bertone's penchant for hanging out with young people in Genoa's discos, and offering color commentary for soccer matches, is considered classic Salesian behavior).

"Don Bosco wanted us to be religious with our sleeves rolled up, not afraid of hard work," [Fr. James Heuser, superior of the Eastern province of the Salesians in the United States,] said, "whether it's in the confessional, in the classroom, or on the soccer field."

Later in the column, Allen visits the scene of yesterday's Vatican celebration of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul and notes the presence of the Orthodox Metropolitan John Zizioulas:

As Benedict XVI processed into the basilica, he made a special point of spotting Zizioulas and smiling at him. Later, the two men exchanged the Sign of Peace. At the end of the Mass, Benedict and Zizioulas went down the stairs under the main altar together and prayed before what are believed to be the bones of St. Peter. The two prelates stood shoulder-to-shoulder, with no distinction in "rank."

Zizioulas pioneered the concept of "communion ecclesiology," the idea that the church is constituted by the celebration of the Eucharist around the bishop, which has had great influence also in Roman Catholicism in the period after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). In his own theological work, Joseph Ratzinger has written that the "ecclesiology of communion" is a useful point of departure, though he's warned that it must not exalt the local church at the expense of the universal. For his part, Zizioulas has argued that Orthodoxy can accept the universal primacy of the pope, if it is "fundamentally qualified," meaning that it respects the autonomy of local churches and acts through a synodal structure.


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This page contains a single entry by Papa-Lu published on July 1, 2006 8:42 AM.

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