Pope St John Paul II the great (1920-2005, papacy 1978-2005), on the occasion of the death-centenary of Don Bosco (16 Aug 1815 – 31 Jan 1888; venerable 21 Jul 1907 by Pius X, beatus 1929 by Pius XI and canonized 1Ap 1934) on 31 January 1988, in salesian parlance “DB88”, gave the magisterial exposition of the educative spirituality of Don Bosco in his apostolic exhortation Iuvenum patris (Father of the young). Through this exhortation, the church has once again reiterated officially the true spirituality of the great “preventive system” (reason, religion and kindness) of Don Bosco and declaring him universally the “father and teacher of the young”. This great recognition of Don Bosco from the part of the vicar of Christ is a cause of great pride and appreciation for the members of the whole salesian family especially as we approach the bicentenary of Don Bosco’s birth in 2015. However, this should not just become terminus ad quem (“limit to which something arrives, point to which;” in short: “point of arrival/end/terminus”) but in every sense of the word, it must be terminus a quo (“limit from which, point from which something starts, starting point of origin;” in short: “point of departure/starting/origin”) for a starting afresh and anew from the charisma of the great preventive system of Don Bosco as we approach the bicentenary of Don Bosco’s birth in 2015.
Preventive System is the great legacy of the ‘father of the young’ to the wide world of postmodernism that its validity cannot be downplayed. It is not just a ‘mundane system’ to achieve pragmatic results, but above all, a ‘spirituality’ – a way of life, a total U-turn outlook to life. The computer world claims to be reasonable in every way, having a religion of some sort (religious, secular) and above all, so-called ‘secular courtesy’ (kindness?) which envelops every type of international business deals, signing of MOUs on bilateral issues and numerous gatherings and meetings and especially at moments of ‘photo-shoots’. Notwithstanding, Don Bosco’s true preventive system of reason, religion and kindness in the Catholic sense of the word is a time-tested mantra for the youth of today in every walks of life, be they be Catholics, Christians or non-christians. For everyone is endowed by the creator with the faculties of reason, will and freedom. There is hardly anyone without a religion of some sort, or at least a belief system in the ‘Other’, or the ‘Absolute’. And above all, every religion preaches ‘kindness, thoughtfulness, courtesy’ to one’s fellow-beings.
Salesians are quite familiar with the famous “Rome Letter 1884” of Don Bosco, written on 10 May, in which he laments at the situation of the oratory at Turin. Preventive system was abused. Nevertheless, Don Bosco strongly exhorts his salesians to give their life for the pro-active characteristics of the preventive system which has its foundation at the famous ‘dream of nine’: “By kindness, you shall win them all.” Don Bosco was advised in his dream by the mysterious personage not to be a passive onlooker in the midst of the young, but a pro-active member, leader, mentor and guide – one who is active for and with the young to make them achieve and arrive at their life’s goals. Hence, we attempt a reflection on few incidents in the actual practice of the preventive system which will help the narrator and the reader to imbibe a little bit of the great charisma of Don Bosco, the father of the young and to fulfill the clarion call of the SDB General Chapter 27: “to be mystics in the spirit, prophets of fraternity and servants of the young.”
As I look back at my salesian life, down the years, especially from the time of my practical training (regency) from May, 1982, and the subsequent years, something that is uppermost in my mind is the authenticity and validity of the preventive system as a great spirituality. It is not just a theory in the clouds but down to earth practical and spiritual in every sense of the word, provided one has a little patience, understanding and courage in putting it to be pro-active. I have realized that with an exclusive headstrong attitude coupled with sufficient pride and prejudice (which sidetracks reason, religion and kindness) towards the young, one will achieve almost next to nothing except a truckload of enemies and evil-wishers for life. Tribals of Northeast India (and elsewhere as well) may be looked down upon as being too simple (or simpletons?) with no much of reason or religion, let alone kindness be shown to them, but in actuality, they seem to be more reasonable, more religious and more kind and thoughtful of others than we ourselves. Such youth must become our ‘target of life’, who deserve our reason, religion, kindness, understanding and service. There have been occasions in my life when I tried to be pro-active with a preventive system substitute, the repressive system, and something seemingly was achieved which later I discovered to my dismay that it was just transitory, for it was done out of fear, punishment, being reported to the higher-ups and eventual dismissal. Being pro-active with the young demands a cent percent practice of the preventive system. Lack of it causes and has caused suicides, murders, indelible wounds and hurts, estrangement, disillusionment, abuses and every form of negativity that one could think of. Precious young lives who dreamed to ‘make it huge’ have been disappointed, destroyed or shattered at the absence of this great spirituality of Don Bosco.
We are almost on the threshold of the bicentenary of Don Bosco’s birth in 2015. There is every danger that such traditional triumphal celebrations may overtake or overlook the foundational spirituality of the preventive system – to be pro-active for and with the young. Notwithstanding, let the bicentenary be truly terminus a quo for every member of the salesian family and people of goodwill who care for the young of the world, for the future belongs to them.
Fr. Aloysius (alu) Hemrom sdb : Don Bosco, Rongjeng, Garo Hills, Meghalaya