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Reflection on the Letter from Rome

By Archbishop Francisco Panfilo, SDB

Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, 24 October 2018 -- The second chapter of the Salesian Constitutions talks about the Salesian Spirit, from which, obviously, we draw our spirituality.

When I was the Master of Novices, I wrote an article, entitled: “Playground for the Salesians.” I asked myself, ‘Can we talk about the Spirituality of the Playground?’. I was convinced then and I am still convinced today that we can. My guideline was the Letter from Rome (May 10, 1884).

The playground was for Don Bosco as important, if not more so, than the Church. For him the playground was the place:

  • For personal contact, the “word in the ear”
  • Where a student sees that we are personally interested in him
  • Where we manifest the family spirit
  • Where we can help the trouble-maker (Michael Magone’s was converted in the atmosphere of the playground)
  • Where Don Bosco carried out much of his spiritual direction, apart from the confessional
  • For evaluating the students when they are most natural

The First Scene: The old Oratory at Recreation time!

“It was a scene full of life, movement, fun … You could see that the greatest CORDIALITY and CONFIDENCE reigned between youngsters and superiors”.

The outcome of such atmosphere:

  • “FAMILIARITY leads to AFFECTION, and affection brings CONFIDENCE. It is this that OPENS HEARTS and young people express everything without fear to their teachers, their assistants and their superiors. They become frank both in confessional and out of it, and they will do everything they are asked by one whom they know loves them”.

The Second Scene: The Oratory at present!

Don Bosco writes: “No more could I hear the joyful shouts and singing, no longer was there the lively activity of the previous scene … There was boredom, a coldness, a suspicion that pained me … What an apathetic Recreation”.

The outcome of such atmosphere:

  • Coldness of so many in approaching the sacraments
  • Neglect of the prayers in church and elsewhere
  • Reluctance to be in a place where Divine Providence heaps every possible blessing on their bodies, souls and minds
  • Many do not follow their Vocation, why they are ungrateful to their superiors, are secretive and grumble, with all the other regrettable consequences

The Third Scene: What do we do?

Don Bosco writes: “How can we bring these youngsters to life again, so that we can get back to the liveliness, the happiness, the warmth of the old days?”

Buzzetti answers: “With charity”, in fact,

  • “The youngsters should not only be loved, but they should know that they are loved”. And the way to make them loved is by “taking part in their youthful interests”.
  • They will “lead them to see love in those things which they find less attractive, such as discipline, study and self-denial, and so learn to do these things too with love”.

The Fourth Scene: Where are our Salesians?

Buzzetti tells Don Bosco: "Look at the youngsters in recreation … where are our Salesians?"

Don Bosco: "I looked, and saw that very few priests and clerics mixed with the boys, and fewer still were joining in their games. The superiors were no longer the heart of recreation …"

Buzzetti: "In the old days at the Oratory, were you not always among the boys, especially during recreation?"

The outcome of such atmosphere:

  • By neglecting the lesser part (staying with the boys in recreation) they waste the greater, meaning all the work they put in” (Don Bosco had tried to excuse his Salesians who were so busy and overworked). “Many of the boys no longer have CONFIDENCE in their superiors” …


Don Bosco asks: “How then are we to set about breaking down this barrier?” (the lack of confidence of the boys in their superiors).

Buzzetti: “By FRIENDLY INFORMAL relationship with the boys, especially in RECREATION”.

Fr. Albera has this to say:

    “It was during Recreation, especially if they were most lively and noisy, that the wonderful fisherman cast his nets. The more a boy showed LIVELINESS and SELF-MASTERY in his games, the better he was slowly preparing him with his glance, with his confidential ‘word in the ear’ and wouldn’t you like to give yourself up to God to help him save souls?” (Circular, May 15, 1921).

You might say:

    Those were different times!True, they were different times, it was another society, but we could say that Don Bosco’s style and method of educating does not grow old. It goes beyond times and cultures, because the method of education of Saint John Bosco is based on LOVE! Nay, more, the method of Don Bosco is more applicable today than yesterday in as much as the youth seem to be in greater need of love today than in the past.

Archbishop Francisco Panfilo sdb, (75years) professed as a member of the Salesians of Don Bosco in 1964. He was ordained a priest on 27th April, 1974 and ordained Bishop of Alotau-Sidea on 8th September, 2001. He is the present Archbishop of Rabaul and has inspired many by his life of dedication and commitment.







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