Contribution to the reflection of the Forum , Rio de Janeiro 25.10.2006
SONS OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE
IN A WORLD WITHOUT DREAMS
Fr. Flavio Peloso
Don Orione Youth Movement – Forum, Rio de Janeiro 25.10.2006
The search for the ideas that stem from today’s world to the Don Orione youths, could be done by reading the present situation in the light of the charismatic traits of the Don Orione youth, portrayed in the Don Orione Project of pastoral work for youth (pp. 22-29). The main features are listed almost like a Decalogue: 1. “God alone!”, 2. charity, 3. love of the Church, 4. trust in Divine Providence, 5. creativity and daring, 6. a simple life, 7, joy, 8, devotion to Our Lady, 9, the Cross, 10, love of work.
If these are the characteristics of the Don Orione Youth, what are the challenges of the world of today that provoke the feelings and the action of the Don Orione youth?
This is not the subject for a lecture or a conference, rather the topic of research and group reflection.
As a small contribution to the reflection of the Forum, I will focus on an aspect of the historical and cultural climate at the beginning to the Third Millennium which calls for, stimulates and tests a particular contribution on the part of us, Don Orione People and of young people especially.
WHO STILL HAS THE COURAGE TO DREAM, AFTER THE XX CENTURY?
One of the most characteristic and also worrying aspects of today’s world is that of the lack of hope and planning, when looking at the future. The challenge that ensues concerns the ability to live our history with hope. I would say that this is “the mother of all challenges”. Without hope, civilisation turns on itself and decays.
It is a challenge that provokes and stimulates all the Don Orione Family, which’s a Little Work of Divine Providence, a Family that finds its vital force and its typical outlook in trust in Divine Providence. It questions, in particular, the Don Orione Young people who – owing also to the young people’s own charism – are, and are called to be, the forward wing of hope.
We know that hope flourishes and grows on the horizon of a history that embraces the past and looks to the future. Well, today the vision of the future is in crisis and with it there is a crisis of hope. Post-modern times are not at all favourable to hope: the weak “thinking” admits of being incapable and not interested in understanding who we are and where we are going; it falls back on “the present”¸ in the “here and now” to be enjoyed, consumed and defended; it renounces to place the today within a vision of an interesting, loveable and thought-provoking future.
“When I was young” (60s/70s), in the dominant culture – not just that of the printed word and of meetings, but among the people, groups of every kind, speeches, homilies as wells as songs – one could breathe a belief in the progress of humanity. “We will walk together toward a better world” was a typical song of my youth. We even used to sing it in English, in the chapel of Villa Moffa. People like John Kennedy, who dreamed of a “new frontier” or Martin Luther King or Pope John XXIII, were launching space dreams that pooled together feelings and put in motion energies and projects.
In such widespread optimism, some thought that mankind was moving towards a new, capitalist paradise, others still towards a humanism without ideological, political religious and ideological traits, a reasonable, fraternal and peaceful humanism at last. Whichever way the better future was thought of, East and West, left and right, believers and unbelievers, and above all the youths of the “new generation” (the new generation of the 60s), shared the conviction, the enthusiasm and the desire for a humanity heading “towards a better world”, even if “the road is long, the journey is hard”.
Such optimism today, perhaps a little naive, has vanished. We are not quite sure of walking “towards a better world”.
The demise of the Berlin Wall, in 1989, and the attack on the Twin Towers of New York, the 11th of September 2001, are the tragic and real sign of the downfall of two systems of life on which people placed their hope of happiness, safety, well being and peace for the whole mankind. Even Latin America, in the last decades, was taken by the vision of a better future to be reached through a process of global liberation, by making people aware of and transforming themselves and the structures; today, it finds itself less optimistic as it looks at the plans and consequences of globalisation. Entire continents, such as Asia and Africa –continent of hope -, are caught up in a poverty that seems insurmountable and the only vision of the future for the people seems to be one of survival.
So, the future seems to set aside more threats than promises. No one today speaks of messianic visions of a better future. In the XX century itself, hope was dashed by those who had a “vision”, who claimed to know what the better world is. Millions of people died in the soviet gulags, killed by those who knew where humanity was heading to. I remember the feelings I had visiting the Lager of Auschwitz and the graph of the railway lines from Norway and Greece, from France and the Ukraine, all leading to that dead track. It was the product of people who had planned, in a scientific and affective way, the future of mankind. Pol Pot too massacred a third of the people of Cambodia, because he knew which the history to tell in the future was. The power holders of finance have imposed their own vision of the future by impoverishing to death entire populations.
We live at a time without visions of the future, without a goal towards which to move. How can we be Christians (“those who have hope”) and how can we be of Don Orione (“sons of Divine Providence”) today?
Let us recall that Christianity offers a hope that crosses time and history, but without any specific historical vision to attain. We cannot open the Book of the Apocalypse and say: “There you are, lads, five plagues have occurred, and there are two more left. Soon there will be new heavens and a new earth in which justice will always dwell”.
Without doubt, the disciples who had gone to Jerusalem for the feast of Easter had great hopes (vision) that something good was going to happen: Jesus would reveal himself as Messiah; the Romans would be chased away from the Holy Land, or something like that. As the disciples on the road to Emmaus confessed to Jesus: “We had hoped that he would liberate Israel” (Lc 24, 21). The past tense of the verb disclosed their disappointment. No matter the event they talked about, hope had collapsed. Judas had sold Jesus; Peter had betrayed him; the other disciples had fled in fear. After his passion and death, they had nothing to tell and no hope to live for.
At the very time in which the fragile community was about to fall, “Jesus took the bread, blessed it and gave it to them, saying: “This is my body, which is given up for you”. They did not understand the gesture. After his resurrection, he appeared to the Twelve and to the crowd. Some understood, and hope was rekindled in the world.
At a time in which many are attached to the present “to be eternalised” as much as possible (buying it, defending it, consuming it, etc. ) and others are telling stories of a disquieting future, we Christians offer a good news, a hope that is not tied up with any particular vision of the world and of the future. Our hope is Jesus, risen and made present in that mysterious sign of the broken and shared bread and of the chalice of wine handed around the disciples. It is a sign that offers communion with Christ and at the same time opens the thoughts and the desires towards future fulfilment, a future banquet of the new kingdom, “where every tear will be wiped away” and “God will be all in all”.
IN TODAY’S WORLD, HOW CAN WE BE PEOPLE OF HOPE?
HOW TO BE A SON OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE TODAY?
I think that Don Orione would begin by answering and telling us immediately: “It is not enough to bemoan the sad times and sad people and it is not enough to say: ‘Lord, Lord!’ We must pray and work. We imagine the Saints to be reactionary people. No! They are the most progressive people. The true Saints employed all their talents and very well. Let us throw ourselves in the fire of the new times in order to do good, let’s be among the people in order to save them. If we do not work for human ends, we will always find new faith and new courage. Let’s plough the ground and plant Jesus Christ again, in the soul of the people: mankind today has an absolute need of the heart of Jesus. (Writings, 79. 286-287)
Some practical suggestions.
Hope has many aspects. It is linked to the Church and to the society in which we live. “Frater qui adiuvatur a frater quasi civitas firma. How beautiful it is to love the Lord and to work together, united and in harmony, for the Lord and in the hands of Holy Church” (Writings 48, 216). Personal ways of being united with Jesus, of trusting in Divine Providence, of being available to the plans of God, must become community attitudes, always wider and embracing the family, one’s own surroundings of life, the parish, society, the Church. Everything that we do in order “to create family”, to make community (lay and church), to join a movement, to make Church,…. strengthens hope.
Together with the up to date action of “doing good always, to everyone”, we need community plans, common goals, common routes. We know that this is what the Church has done, for instance, with the II Vatican Council and with the great church meetings (synods = seeing and walking together) dedicated to discerning and deciding common routes, in order to respond to the Lord in our own times. Our own Congregation is doing the same thing through its Chapters, Secretariats and Movements.
In this context, how providential it is, dear young people, even your being “on the way” with Don Orione and with the Don Orione Family. It is a school of life. It is a journey of hope.
Even this Forum, with its specific aims of “realising” a project of Christian-Don Orione life and of “coordinating an international Don Orione youth movement” is an act of hope that responds to the challenges of today’s world and to the expectations of the people and of the Churches you come from.
Forward, then, because you are doing something good and holy that goes beyond your own hopes and, in Christ, will be a little work of Divine Providence in the journey towards a better world.