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THARAKAN John, Hyderabad says,
AN OPEN LETTER TO GC 28 PARTICIPANTS FROM THE SALESIAN SOCIAL FORUM
By John Tharakan
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Hyderabad, Feb. 15. 16 February 2020
Dear Confreres at GC 28,
A group of confreres from Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad provinces in India had come together from 3rd to 5th February 2020 to discuss ways of making human existence and Salesian life more consistent and meaningful for us. Jesus who became human and remained human calls for conversion and to join him to usher in the kingdom of God. This call of Jesus is to everyone: the ordinary people, the anawim, to the Am`hares, the mob, the outcastes, every person of goodwill, even priests, scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees.  The call to conversion is a call to a paradigm shift, of our thinking, life and relationships without losing the human identity. In choosing to set the example, by becoming human, and remaining human (Phil. 2, 7), Jesus` identity was not changed. He was born of a woman, totally dependent, was cared for by Mary and Joseph, grew up into a toddler, an adolescent and then an adult and ultimately, as Paul would put it in Ephesians 4, 12-13, into the fullness of humanity becoming a model for us to follow. All who are born human are called to grow into the fullness of humanity.

The 14 Salesians who came together from 3rd to 5th February 2020 are convinced that the call to be human is our primary vocation. It includes the call to stand up for and to promote the humanity of others, especially of the disadvantaged.  Jesus followed in the footsteps of the prophets till John the Baptist. Being prophetic is a call for every human being. Historically, since Vatican II and also the Special General Chapter for the Salesians, this call to be prophets took the centre stage for a while. There was enthusiasm to go to the roots of the prophetic all in the OT, to the Gospels and to the Charism of Don Bosco. The initial enthusiasm waned over a period of time (See in ``New Wine in New Wineskins, the Challenges for the Religious after 50 years of Vatican II). Unfortunately, from the beginning, there was also resistance to change both in the church and in the religious congregations. The resistance often led to conflicts and division. Those still enthusiastic, found themselves in a minority, and painted themselves into a corner. At first those involved in social ministry in the past were satisfied that they managed to carry on despite all odds. But now they realise that they do not need any permission or endorsement to follow Jesus and the prophetic tradition. The call is addressed to all, to every human being.

Unfortunately, both those enthusiastic about change as well as those who resisted change followed the business model or a command and control structure that facilitated greater efficiency. In the business model, the basic constituent of the system, the human being is presumed to be a rational, self-interested person as against the model of a human being created in the image of God, as brothers and sisters, meant to love and respect one another as equals. Everyone in the church and in religious congregations, profess by the Gospel and the prophets (Espoused Theory) but follow the business model of control and self-interest (Theory in use). The majority are uncomfortable when the discussions lead to taking sides with the dis-advantaged and their human rights, and preventing abuse or violations of rights of the vulnerable, be they children or women or those discriminated against, on the basis of caste, religion, race, gender, ability, status, language, culture or any other.

Concern for the poor and needy, the victims of injustice and human rights violations are the concern of every human being. Thus it needs to be the concern of Christians and people of every faith or religion, of priests or religious, and of Salesians and the Salesian Family. This is everyone`s concern, whatever the task one is entrusted with, be it pastoral or academic, administration or governance, formation or educational, social or technical, communication or management. The list could go on. This concern for human rights, justice and equality is to be THE NEW NORMAL and duty of everyone to understand those affected or those working for the affected and contribute their share by understanding, encouraging and doing their part.

The basis for the new normal is that we are human beings. Again as the document New Wine in New Wineskins puts it very succinctly, we need to give up ALL PRIVILEGES, along with concentration of POWER and accumulation of POSSESSIONS.  Privileges are the royal road to all abuses including sexual abuse, abuse of power and abuse of resources. The call of the new NORMAL is that all contribute personally and as communities to support justice, human rights and equality of all.

The General Chapter is an opportunity to make a paradigm shift that challenges everyone to take note of the way the society today is turning more and more individualistic, consumeristic, exploitative, authoritarian and unethical. Technology and innovation, including artificial Intelligence (AI), digital technology and internet, are increasing disparities, dividing people into opposing camps, spreading falsehood through the social media, deluding the vulnerable, especially the young through gaming, pornography and gambling, into addictions, delusions and even suicide. Technology and business does not maintain ethical and sustainable boundaries and need to be regulated rationally and ethically.

It is in this context that the call of Pope Benedict the XVI at the 60th anniversary of UDHR on 10 December 2008, later cited by Fr. Pascual Chavez during the International Congress on the Preventive System and Human Rights on 2-6 January 2009, and being spoken of day in and day out by Pope Francis, needs to be understood: Human Rights are the modern equivalent of Gospel values.

This call to make the practice of human rights and working towards the equality of all and sharing of earth`s resources equitably and with justice is repeated almost daily by Pope Francis. It would therefore be most appropriate that the chapter bases its deliberations on the Gospels and the current Human Rights documents such as UDHR to ground the human basis of our lives, works and relationships for the common good of all. The chapter members also need to have a common understanding on terms such as secularism and religion, theology and ideology, Marxism and Liberation Theology, evangelisation and proselytising, so that prejudice could be addressed and discrimination based on varying connotations of these terms in different geographical regions, and political or historical contexts can be avoided.

The present General Chapter should be a renewal of Christ`s call for conversion, meaning a call to a paradigm shift, to the practice of the Gospel values in our individual and community life and mission leading to the establishment of the kingdom of Good. A paradigm shift also means change of all that goes against the old paradigm, all that goes against the Gospel values.

The Rector Major, while convoking the 28th General Chapter with the theme, ``what kind of Salesians for the Youth of Today?``, identified the fundamental aim of the chapter as helping ``the whole congregation to examine the profile of the Salesian responding to the young people, especially the poorest and most in need, the excluded and rejected, the weakest and those deprived of their rights. This is the Paradigm Shift specifically expected of the General Chapter. This is a call to accept Human Rights as equivalent to Gospel Values today and to initiate the practice of HRBA as a practical application of the Preventive system. We are appealing to the good will of the chapter members to understand these concerns and to translate these as the new NORMAL.

The working document from the Pre-capitular Commission outlines the process of discernment as speaking frankly and listening attentively, resisting the temptation to reduce the new to what we already know and being open to the guidance of the Spirit. Along with the Young man from Samoa, the invitation is that we are with both feet in ``the same canoe and seek together a better world.`` We cannot go on with our legs in both the boats, following Jesus and following the values corporate / business world.

HRBA can be the common approach to the three themes identified by the pre-capitular commission.

1. Youth Today

a. We need to go to the youth where they are. We take with us the Human Rights Based Approach. While following HRBA with the youth in contact with us, we promote it as an approach to youth everywhere and of children and youth among themselves. HRBA journey should ultimately lead to the point where the law of God will be written in our hearts.

b. We have long misunderstood the healing ministry of Jesus as medical ministry today. We fail to notice that human rights violations lead to trauma and depression, often leading even to suicides among the young. There could also be reaction formation, resistance, violence and/or counter-violence.

c. Unethical use of technology, including information technology along with the all-pervasive internet, AI and the digital revolution, is leading to increasing inequality, unethical practices, substance addiction or process addictions. The children and youth need protection from these overwhelming forces and need to be supported to recover and be healed.

d. In the context of abuse of minors and women, whereas there is the need to heal the survivors of abuse, and action need to be taken against the perpetrators so that they too will be healed and reform themselves, so that both should not be put back into a situation where abuse will continue.

e. Structures and Systems that facilitate abuse, patriarchy and a dominator model of society, need to give way to alternate structures and systems where sexual or, for that matter, any abuse cannot be the normal. Servant Leadership should not be just a catch phrase; it should be something that everyone will strive constantly to realise. Through the practice of Equality as part of HRBA, a new type of socialisation needs to be evolved beginning from the family and continued in the educational and formation praxis.

f. We need to join the youth where they are, even as they are spearheading struggles as human rights defenders. Here the paradigm shift is to join the youth where they are to ENABLE them and re-structure institutions to sustain the new reality that will evolve in the line of justice and human rights. There is need to shift focus from the Salesian / Don Bosco Institutional focus to the youth as the SUBJECTS.

2. Formation of the Salesians for the youth today

a. As Jesus formed the disciples, the formation process needs to be servant based. This incarnational approach is the paradigm shift that needs to replace the hierarchical approach that is sinful, even if it is all pervasive. Our formees are from among the youth today who have to be challenged to take up the challenge of HRBA, Preventive System, and the Gospel call for conversion.
b. The present formation style smacks of a sinister preparation for future privileges, where present suppression is borne willingly to receive the rewards of power and privileges in future. For a paradigm shift to take place, the formators must give up every privilege, as the document ``New Wine in New Wineskins`` challenges the Post Vatican II religious.

c. Self-formation proposed in Vita Consecrata and reiterated by the SDB Ratio along with the practice of equality and HRBA need to be the new normal. The formees need to become self-directed and motivated to take initiatives.

d. Formation is for mission. New avenues of formation will be explored for the ministries / services for the youth of today as counsellors and healers and as experts in HRBA.

3. Collaboration with People of Good Will

a. Jesus called his disciples his friends. Among human beings, and among the followers of Christ, all are equal. We could avoid using the term laity for six years! We will also not be called clergy either. With St Paul we accept different roles or functions, but one Church.

b. There are no positions or ranks in the humanistic or incarnational sociology of Jesus Christ. Clericalism will just dissolve and disappear when an HRBA approach is initiated, servanthood is practiced and equality is realised.

c. Theology is the ideology of any religion. Any ideology is at the service of power. Let us initiate steps to see one another as people of God (LG, Chapter 2). Let us use the liberty of the children of God to initiate these changes in our way of following Christ today, inspired by the Spirit, and reclaim our right to exist as a congregation to take forward the mission of Christ in the world today through a renewed commitment to the adolescents and young people through the practice of Preventive system by following HRBA.

d. Our collaborators are our equals in every way, though fulfilling different roles or functions. Among us, let nothing that smacks of hierarchy or privileges be practiced. This approach will resolve definitely what was for long considered as intractable, the confusion on the relationship of Salesian brothers and Salesian priests. There is only one core vocation - To grow into the fullness of humanity like our model Jesus who became human and remained human. Priesthood is to be seen as a role that the Christian community decides according to its need, and not a coveted position in the hierarchy that has to be defended at all costs.

May GC 28 be a simple, grounded and practical chapter that will initiate a PARADIGM SHIFT to walk together for the coming 6 years, accepting everyone at their stage of development, understanding one another, listening and discerning together, and allowing the Spirit to fill us and lead us on the path of human dignity, equality and fulfilment following the path shown us by our shepherd and master Jesus.

PS: Don Bosco has not been mentioned specifically. Let us not fossilise him as an Icon or a brand. He took initiatives that were needed in his day. Encouraged by his creativity, courage and even temerity, let us walk the HRBA path facing the challenges today. Let us stop spiritualising. Instead, let us be spiritual persons. Let us not pretend to be people who have arrived. Let us be willing to struggle and strive, falling and rising, on the path towards a common goal, each in one`s own unique way. We have begun our journey. We wish that the chapter will encourage us and lead us and the rest of the congregation on this path to the fullness of our humanity like Christ did for his disciples.

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THARAKAN John(Hyderabad) tdjohn1@gmail.com
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