- Universal Church good
- Salesians awesome
- Blatant disregard for Church teaching bad
- Liturgical dance silly
Salesians have been around for about two hundred years now. The Salesian brothers and priests (SDBs) are the second largest order of religious men in the world, and the sisters (Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians, or FMAs) are third. They've been in the United States for over one hundred years. In that time, they have cared for and educated thousands upon thousands of children, and thousands of lay people like myself have been fortunate enough to join them in their mission.
The core of Salesian education is the Preventive System, which I am far to inept to condense effectively. The vastly over-simplified idea is to prevent kids from making bad choices, rather than punishing them after the fact. It has been said that "family" is a sort of synonym for the Preventive System, and since I arrived at St. John Bosco I've heard the term "Salesian family" almost daily. As I've mentioned before, one of the things I love about SJB is how truly a family it is, but I didn't realize the full depth and breadth of the Salesian family until I worked the Salesian booth at REC.
First, I re-met all sisters who were at the Chapter in November, as well as the young women in formation to become FMAs (who I shall henceforth collectively refer to as "pre-nuns"). As soon as I walked into the house in Bellflower, I felt at home and perfectly at ease (which never happens to me in new places), because it was Salesian. They, likewise, welcomed me right in and treated me like I'd been there all along.
The first day of congress, Jonathan met up with us. He's a VIDES who did his formation here in January, and in no time flat we were chatting it up as if no time had passed. Jonathan and I are both, at this point, sort of superficially Salesian, still being pretty new to it, but we've both lived with them for a few months and immediately had that to talk about, as well as how awesome the Salesians are.
Then on Friday when we got to the booth, I saw Patricia, a former VIDES who helped do my formation last summer, and who has worked with the Salesians in California for years. It hadn't even occurred to me she would be there, but it made perfect sense and I could hardly have been more excited to see her again. She introduced me to all the SDBs floating around the congress, and again, in no time flat we were all old buddies.
I met some of the collaborators, the tertiary order. I saw some other lay delegates who'd been at the Chapter. I met Adam, the director of the SDBs' volunteer program out east, and a bunch of the other lay people who work with and for the Salesians in California. Then there were the droves of current and past pupils who just wanted to linger around the booth to soak in the Salesian juices. The whole Salesian hoard of us -- VIDES, FMAs, SDBs, colaborators, teachers, students, and miscellaneous -- were one big happy family. It was as though we had known each other for years, and while some of them had, what was incredible to me was that we all felt that way.
It was absolutely amazing.
At one point, I was talking to a young guy who was curious about VIDES when in my periphery I saw a woman stop dead in her tracks as she saw out big poster of Don Bosco. Her friend, in Spanish, said, "What?"
The woman didn't say anything at first. Finally she took her hand from her mouth and pointed. "Salesians!"
Her friend laughed. "Yes, good reading."
"No," the woman said, coming towards us, "You don't understand."
Brother Al smiled at her and greeted her. "You know us?"
"Yes! You taught me when I was a little girl in Colombia. I grew up with the Salesians." Her eyes started to well up, and her friend chuckled.
"For God's sake, don't start crying."
"I haven't seen the Salesians in years... forty years." One of the other SDBs scrambled to get her some contact information for the Salesians in L.A. The woman was crying for real now. "I'm so happy you're here. I'm so happy to see you."
At that point, of course, the kid I'd been talking to and I were just transfixed by this. After a few minutes talk and hugging, and her friend teasing her, the woman moved on, still wiping her eyes. I looked back at the boy I was talking to and smiled.
"So, you wanna join us?"
"That was incredible," Brother Al said, rather dazed. "That's what this is all about."
At the end of the day on Sunday, as congress attendees and Salesians alike are dispersing, I looked at someone and said, "You know that feeling you get at the end of a party you wish wouldn't end?" He smiled and said, "I was just thinking that." As we cleaned up the booth after close of business and got ready to go, several of them said to me, quite seriously, "So you're coming back next year, right?"
"You should just move out here," one said.
As I left, I felt I was leaving people I'd known for much longer than three days. Even so, I can't say I was sad, because I am positive our paths will cross again. As people scattered, no one said goodbye -- everyone said "See you soon!"