Interview with Br Joe Ferrer, SDB
Paranaque, the Philippines, 8 July 2018 -- What does sustain your Salesian Brother vocation?
At the early stages of my vocation, what attracted me was the activities the early pioneer brothers were engaged in. There was one particular brother who was the head of the technical workshop I was enrolled in. He was well versed in his trade (electronics and electrical technology), he was a fairly good swimmer (my favourite sport) he was driving a big “Ducati “ motorbike (my teenage image of a “cool person”). In short I quasi idolized him. As the shop head, he very often gave us short talks after the prayer prior to the start of the workshop period. Invariably, in these short talks, he would come up with some advise about being honest, industrious, generous, pure, etc. He often talked about St. John Bosco. He talked about God and the things of the spirit. These were topics I normally associated with “the priest’s job” . Now here in front of me was someone I considered “cool” talking to me about God, virtues, heaven, saints, things spiritual. If I heard the same things from a priest, I would have simply told myself “that’s his job”. But here was a lay man just like me, talking to me about God and things spiritual. Somehow, it had a greater impact on me, and I think it would be safe to assume that it had the same impact on many of my companions. This experience sort of started me looking at the Salesian brothers in a more serious way.
Could this initial attraction sustain my vocation after all these years? I would like to underline the word initial. I am now convinced that it would not. If my response to my vocation is simply my mission, or what some writers term “my doing”, then at this stage of my life when my activities are greatly reduced due to age and failing health, or when failures in my targets and goals come around, I would tend to get discouraged and give up. No. What sustains my Salesian Brother vocation is both my consecration or what now is also termed “my being” and my mission, or as stated earlier, “my doing”. My being a consecrated person makes me feel closer to a God that truly and greatly loves me. Being consecrated to God for a mission - the mission of Don Bosco enshrined in his motto “da mini animas” keeps me going and hoping that I would one day merit the third element in Don Bosco’s promise to his followers: “paradise”.
How can we improve the Salesian Brother vocation visibility in the SF or in the Filipino Church?
Visibility could be a two-edged sword. If what is being made visible is of inferior quality, then it would be counter productive. It is imperative therefore that the Salesian brothers make their formation and qualification one of their top priorities. One’s “quality” is greatly influenced by one’s self concept. Good and well planned formation and professional qualification boosts the brothers self-concept.
Now, on the effort at visibility, the brothers being the fruit of this vocation, must not shy away from opportunities of exposure to both the Salesian family and the Filipino church. They have to exhibit a contented, happy and fulfilled life. To be able to do this effectively, they must really have a contented, happy and fulfilled life. Having said all these, what is really essential is that the brother live a holy life. An authentic holy life cannot be hidden.
Many appreciate the FIN as one of the ‘Salesian Brother friendly’ provincial communities. What are the elements that contribute to this beautiful reality?
I would attribute this “Salesian brother friendly” atmosphere first of all, to the great pioneer Salesian brothers who made a great and lasting impact on the early salesians - an effect that somehow has by osmosis affected even the current confreres who may not have known them personally. One of the present effects of this impact is the way priest and cleric confreres treat the Salesian brothers - a true equal and this treatment is done without any form of condescension. And of course, the current breed of Salesian brothers have shown by their life, their dedication to their assignments and interest in their formation, their being worthy partners of all the confreres of the province.
How do you feel as one of the Blessed Steven Sandor community formators?
My assignment as a formator in the Steven Sandor community could perhaps be summed up borrowing the “catch words”of the FIN vocation campaign: “ hard, happy, holy”. Hard - because of the constant need for being an example of living an authentic Salesian life. Happy - due to being in the midst of a significant number of kindred spirits: the Salesian brothers. And holy - because of the need to be an example, growth in Salesian holiness is imperative and thankfully, the atmosphere and rhythm of the formation house greatly enhances this.
Since 1975 you have participated in many EAO Congresses. Could you briefly describe the progress of Salesian Brother vocation through these gatherings?
The first few EAO congresses were, in my opinion, mainly “feel good” fellowship gatherings with some attempt at some salesianity inputs. (There even was a joke around the 3rd or 4th congress that every congress has an input entitled “Salesian Brother Identity”). This is quite understandable since a big number of participants did not have the opportunity of receiving the theology of religious life course that is now an integral part of the Salesian brother formation process. With the later congresses, the participants’ demographics has changed. There is a good number of young brothers with a good basic knowledge of the theology of religious life, enabling the organisers to introduce input topics that contain a deeper theological and spirituality content. This development gives the brothers more self confidence and insight into Salesian consecrated life.
At the end of each EAO Brother Congress are some resolutions made. How can we make them fruitful in each provincial community after the Congress? [‘Re-echo’?]
I recall at the start of the Brothers Congress in Australia, a phrase borrowed jokingly from a rural American farming family, who responded to a visitor’s query: “what do you do with the produce you harvest?” The response was “We eat what we can, and we can what we cannot”.
Many resolutions have been generated by the past congresses. Some of these, we have “eaten” or put into practice. Many others, for one reason or another have been “canned” or put on hold. I believe one of the important things we have to do at this stage of the evolution of our EAO brothers congress is to revisit our “canned” produce - take a look once again on the past resolutions taken. I now realise how important proper documentation of proceedings is, which enables us all to look back on our past resolutions and see what still needs to be done.
Looking forward, a re-echoing of the Congress is important. This session should be participated in by all the rectors, local vocation promoters, brothers who because of one reason or another was not able to participate in the actual congress, and young Salesians in initial formation. In this way, a greater appreciation of the Salesian brother vocation could ensue.
Suggestion for the incoming 2018 EAO Brothers Congress?
Having seen the proposed schedule of the 2018 congress, I really have nothing significant to add. It is well planned. Even the informal congress activities were well thought out. I could just perhaps underline the aforementioned need for good documentation and a strong encouragement to all participating provinces to do some form of re-echoing. I thank first of all God for having inspired the EAO leadership to hold this congress. I also take the opportunity to thank St. John Bosco for his “wonderful creation” - the Salesian Brother. Thank you too Vietnam Province for a great planning and the continuing unstinting support.