Rivoli Veronese, Italy, October 2020 -- Roberto Lorenzini was world Coordinator from 1994-2001. He was preceded by Luigi Sarcheletti (1974-1987) and Paolo Santoni (1987-1994), and has since been followed by Rosario Maiorano (2001-2012), Noemi Bertola (2012-2018) and currently, Antonio Boccia (2018- ).
What makes you full of joy as a Salesian Cooperator?
Joy is a characteristic of Salesian spirituality and living it is the result of a journey of interiority through the events of daily life. Joy springs up inside me when I weave with the Lord Jesus the threads of my existence and I feel that it is He who holds them by the hand. When I think, speak and act together with Him, everything acquires serenity, flavour, the desire to do good, to do good... So my spending myself for the family, the parish, for society, the Association... gives me joy because I see that I am useful to someone, that I am able to facilitate a common work or to carry it out together to everyone's satisfaction. And here I have to thank Him who has given me simple gifts such as the possibility to reassure the family, to animate the children's singing, to make a formative encounter, to make a great Salesian event succeed... The most beautiful side is to share the journey with others who in the end rejoice with me, in the small or in the great result. But it would seem too easy to rejoice at something that has had a positive outcome. Sometimes things don't go right at once or not at all. Then I return to that path of interiority where I put everything before Jesus and everything becomes an offering and acquires meaning. Then joy does not disappear but is transformed into a serenity that is trust, optimism, the desire to begin again. With Him.
What did you learn from young people as a teacher-Salesian Cooperator?
My commitment as a junior high school teacher ended eleven years ago, but it marked my life. I am reminded of this by the dreams at night that almost regularly take place among young people and colleagues in school (as well as dreams of conferences with Cooperators).
It's true: being with the children is a learning experience. Along the way, first in a Salesian school and then in the public school, I learned to recognise that the boys expected a personal relationship from me. Life in class was full of questions: What do you think? What would you do in these situations? Why do you behave like this? The children are demanding: they demanded that I was consistent between what I said-teach and what I lived. At the end of the day they helped me to be more myself, not to use the role to impose myself. And at the same time, as I was saying, I felt the invocation, especially from those who had some problems, to take care of them. Fragile because they had family difficulties, learning deficits, disciplinary difficulties... Everything was linked. I learned to listen to them, in class, during playtime, sometimes visiting them at home and talking to their parents. Not only that: I learnt that the children demanded a teaching taylored on them, returning to explanations already made, asking questions. It was the thing I liked the most: helping them to ask questions, not to remain passive in the face of reality, to give the best of themselves, with responsibility, sharing and collaboration. I confirmed within myself that the Salesian method of dialogue, reasonableness and loving kindness were winning and capable of conveying values in line with the Gospel. I learned to grasp the human in them and to respond with my humanity. I learned to pay attention to the person. And if someone was determined to remain closed in his or her apathy, I would present him or her to Jesus in prayer so that He could move what seemed to me to be immovable mountains. For this I always thank you for the gift of Salesian educational spirituality.
What do you give thanks for after more than twenty years after your service of World coordinator?
This has also been facilitated because in my travels, while continuing my work as a teacher - 7 in Italy, 7 in Europe and 7 on the other continents - I have always found a welcome that made me immediately love Cooperators from different nations, races and languages. And there were many episodes to thank the good Lord for, such as that night of adoration in Cebu, in the Philippines, where very young cooperators prayed intensely around a crucifix lying on the ground and surrounded by dozens of small lights. People at different latitudes touched me inside: their faces are still indelible in my mind. I found in many co-operators, but also in the delegates and delegates (I remember especially the world delegates: Don José Reinoso, Don Patrick Laws, Don Julio Olarte), a very deep human and spiritual richness. The dialogue with these people, their example, their words, their way of praying, spurred me to respond with ever greater determination to Jesus' call. I also thank them because I have caught a "visceral" love for Don Bosco in many cooperators, and this not only in speaking but with concrete experiences of giving to the least or of socio-political commitment that I had not even imagined. And all this was the reason for a personal enrichment that I in turn transmitted in other meetings to other cooperators so as to make the multiform beauty of the Association known on a planetary level.
I also thank God for my wife Vittoria, who actively supported me for seven years even though she had some health problems and our son Samuele in his teens. Don Bosco has helped us by transforming the many renunciations of life together into opportunities for growth. Humanity, spirituality, self-giving: unforgettable life experiences.
Today, how do you read your article in COOPERATORES which was very passionate about 'Autonomy in Communion' in 1997? What progress or not do you see now?
The awareness of this responsibility of everyone towards our Association has grown in these decades. The study then in all the Provinces for the renewal of the "Regulations of Apostolic Life" until they become Statutes and Regulations of the "Project of Apostolic Life" in 2013, has allowed a more convinced rooting of the vocational choice of the Salesian Cooperator. This was followed by a decisive enhancement of formation, in particular initial formation. Thus the Promise became the point of arrival of a serious period of formation and the starting point for living the Salesian choice consistently through ongoing formation. It must also be said that the world reality, particularly in advanced societies, has suffered the setback of a pressing secularisation: that is, a substantial abandonment of the young people of the Church and the growth of indifference to the question of God. Thus, like the priestly and religious vocation, the Salesian lay vocation suffers from a growing lack of acceptance. I do not have the situation at the world level in front of me, but it is comforting to hear that in some parts of the world there is a flourishing response to the vocation of Cooperator. I will give one example among many: at the recent provincial congress of the Cooperators of the East Asia and Oceania Region held in Vietnam, as many as 47 young men and women made their Promise of Salesian Cooperators.
Thus a growth in awareness of the Salesian lay vocation even though the response to the call is diversified in the various Regions of the world.
What are your dreams for the Association of Salesian Cooperators worldwide?
In particular, it is by walking with young people that we discover that the Spirit is moving the Church towards new ways for the education and evangelisation of young people.
I dream of the Salesian Cooperators committed to anticipating the future through conversion of heart and creative fidelity to Don Bosco's charism, experimenting new approaches to the world of youth and poverty in all its forms. We have a sure guide in Pope Francis for an integral ecology, for holiness within everyone's reach, for a fraternity without limits... He really knows how to guide our dreams.
In order to live these dreams, I see positive integration between the groups of the Salesian Family to seek together the paths that the Spirit suggests to us at this crucial moment in human history. It is a return to the origins of our Salesian history by recovering the courage and solicitude of Don Bosco, anchored in Heaven and with his feet firmly on the ground, trying to answer together a question that spurs us on: "Don Bosco, what would you like your Salesians to be today as co-operators in the Church and in society? And the story continues. With the power of the Spirit.