Don Bosco Volunteers (VDB)
Identity card of a simple and ordinary life that hides a fire
For download: ITALIAN or ENGLISH version
Salesian Bulletin (Italy)
June 2022, p.26-29
Full name: Secular Institute "Volunteers of Don Bosco" (VDB)
Are we missed nuns? Half-sisters? Lay nuns? No: we are consecrated Salesian secular sisters. What does that mean? We have surrendered our whole lives to God through the evangelical counsels but nothing distinguishes us from other Christians: we live in a house, we go to work, we shop, and we live in the spirit of Don Bosco.
Date of birth: May 20, 1917
Don Bosco had envisioned the existence of outsiders who could share in the fullness of the Salesian charism, but he failed to focus on the idea of secular consecration, which would have been incredibly visionary at the time. The insight came from Fr. Rinaldi. "All he lacked from Don Bosco was the voice," was his third successor, but among his many assignments he always found time to spend the first hours of his days in the confessional. I like to think that our vocation was born there. The confidences of some girls prompted him to look for a new way to live the Salesian charism. He formed a small group of affectionate Oratorian girls and proposed that they "make the desire to spend themselves for God and for Don Bosco" a life choice, continuing to lead a normal existence but with the radicality of total self-giving. Their model was to be Mary, who "had nothing extraordinary, although there was everything extraordinary in her." The beginning was marked by humility and precariousness: the first meetings took place while Italy was still engaged in World War I and the first to profess were three. The small group walked through the initial difficulty of shaping a hitherto inconceivable way of living consecration.
Photograph: the VDBs today
Today there are about 1,200 Volunteers, scattered on almost every continent. Some live fairly close to each other, while others find themselves in difficult situations, such as being hours away from the nearest one or living in states that frown upon the presence of Christians. Therefore, our way of life cannot be summarized in a single image because each one expresses the charism in an original way, depending on the reality in which she lives. Each of us belongs to a Group that meets for monthly retreat, with the guidance of a leader and the assistance of a Salesian priest. The Groups meet in Regions, and all the Regions in the world report to a Central Council led by a Major Leader. Our journey in the Institute begins with a period of Aspirancy and continues with Profession of Vows, first temporary and then perpetual.
Although many work in the educational or social-health field, any profession can be a means for us to witness to faith through dedication, competence and care for the people around us. We approach work with the awareness that it is an opportunity to sanctify ourselves, to practice loving and to discover the beauty hidden in every human reality.
Citizenship: the Salesian Family
The Salesian charism shapes our belonging. Although we cannot expose ourselves too much, our connection with Don Bosco and Don Rinaldi makes us feel at home in the Salesian Family. With other members of the Salesian world, we share the traits of Don Bosco's spirituality and pastoral charity. For some of us, the Salesian charism has always been like the air we breathed since childhood. Others, on the other hand, met Don Bosco precisely when they discovered this vocation and began to appreciate him through the words of Fr. Rinaldi. Our founder often pointed the early vdb to the example of Don Bosco, trying to discover his inner traits. To the first girls who tried to follow Don Bosco in daily life he would point in particular to goodness, purity, dedication to work, and commitment to the little ones. At the same time he recommended prayer and conveyed the need to live meditation every day. For us today, too, embodying Don Bosco's spirit in everyday life means trying to behave like the candle that "aims high, illuminates around, consumes below." With this image Fr. Rinaldi urges us to seek union with God, with our gaze always turned to Heaven even in the simplest actions of the day; he asks us for a courageous apostolate, which, however, like the light, does not aim to be looked at but to illuminate the good that is hidden in realities; it is not afraid to consume itself by totally handing over to God all its energies for the good of the people entrusted to it. In practice? Fr. Rinaldi has given us the commitment to be the "reserve troops" of the Salesians and sisters; he has asked us to be where they cannot reach. That is why our way of embodying the Salesian spirit is not expressed through Works of our own, but is as if crumbled in our living environment: those who can devote themselves to children, to the poor, to the last ones; we all live our work and relationships as an opportunity to experience loving-kindness, attention, care for the people who are put beside us. We do this with the sensitivity that our femininity offers us: as Don Bosco was a father, we try to live a spiritual motherhood toward the people entrusted to us. We exercise it with small gestures and attention, nothing extraordinary but, small things that can make people feel listened to, respected in their dignity, valued, accompanied, loved.
Residency: in the world (but not of the world)
Our place in the Salesian Family is that of the vanguards, the extremities. We cannot be content to be in the realities where people are already reached by Salesian Works, because we feel the urge to go elsewhere, where a priest or a sister could hardly be welcomed in their explicit witness. The "Da mihi animas" sends us everywhere. Our life takes place entirely "in the world": each of us has a home, a job, the most varied service activities in every field of society. This condition of life unites us with the overwhelming majority of humanity, and our strength lies precisely in not being able to distinguish ourselves in anything from other people, in being able to be close to our brothers and sisters, accompanying them in the simplicity and toil of daily life. Our being among others is total and allows us to operate like the leaven in the dough. The weakness of often finding ourselves alone in our living environments spurs us to cling to God and seek communion with the people around us.
Marital status: consecrated women
Our presence in the world greatly exposes us to the risk of getting carried away by "Fan all like this," causing our hearts to stop burning, smothered by thorns or other thoughts, and settling down to a mediocre life. Consecration is the most radical way to affirm that, behind the everyday, there is a total and radical gift of self. We do not have a community to take care of us, we do not live the poverty of a religious (living in community), but we support ourselves with our work. We do not live the obedience of religious, but we are rooted in every place where we work and operate. Through discernment we seek obedience in God's will, and in civil laws; we try to read the signs of the times and listen to the cry of humanity. We surrender ourselves totally to God to stammer out a response to his love that has gone before us and that always surprises us with his faithfulness and closeness. For those of us who do not live in a religious community, the fullness of consecration is our only strength, even as we experience weakness, loneliness, and inability to resolve situations greater than ourselves. It is precisely in these weaknesses that God shows us his mercy, always starts over with us by giving us new opportunities and uses us, however fragile and unreliable, to manifest his love to the people we approach. Consecration, even if it does not emerge in the eyes of others, changes our outlook and our way of being in the world. Knowing that we belong to God keeps us grafted into Him like branches to the vine and sustains us in storms. If God is with us, our gaze becomes more good and able to find signs of good and hope.
Particular signs: reserve
We are often asked why we do not reveal our choice of life. The strength of reserve lies in hiddenness, humility and the freedom to bear witness everywhere. Where we cannot speak explicitly, we strive so that our gestures speak for us, in the knowledge that God can use any avenue and tool, even us, to ignite a spark in some soul.
Signature: my choice
Of course, I cannot put my signature on this identity card, however, I can mention why I decided to stake my life in this vocation. Since I have known Don Bosco, I have discovered that even I am not so unfortunate that I cannot have anything to give, that God can even use me to manifest his love. By taking care of the little ones, I discovered that this made me happy, I realized that if I loved "difficult" kids and always started over with them, in the same way God loved them and me, then I wanted to give them my whole life. Even though I did not understand how to do it, I repeated to myself, "I am with Don Bosco." When I discovered this way (because God finds the most original ways to show you a way, no matter how hidden it may be), I felt at home and asked God to make me always be united with Him: if I did not know how to be faithful myself, may He be faithful for me, so that my life could help at least one soul come closer to Him. Since I have been consecrated, I have not been living in the clouds, I have not solved any problems or saved the world, but I know whose I am and every single moment of my life has gained meaning. I have found "Sisters," who may be so different from me but with whom I can share a path that makes me happy and that I hope will spread God's love in the places where I am.