World, VDB, 10 August 2022 -- One of the largest Secular Institutes of Pontifical Right (since 1978) - Don Bosco Volunteers (VDB - Volontarie di Don Bosco) was founded 105 years ago at Valdocco, Turin - Italy. The VDB and 3 other Secular Institutes are among the 32 Salesian Family groups. We are grateful to their Supreme Moderator for this interview, to make this rather not-so-well known vocation in the Catholic Church better known 'from inside'.
VDB-Interview (DK) August 7, 2022
1. Can you introduce your background, Faith and Vocation journey?
I am from Slovakia and my faith grew in the atmosphere of socialism as a political situation, but in a family of practising Christians, where, despite everything, we were brought up to love the faith, the Church, and I also practically experienced the witness of the faith of my parents and grandmother and grandfather, and the suffering and persecution they experienced for their faith in God. After the ‘Spring’ revolution in 1968, I met the Salesians for the first time. They spoke to me powerfully through the energy of their ministry in the parish, the witness of personal prayer, suffering, courage to work for Christ for all age groups, but with a special educational view of the young. I was with them for the first time on retreats in the mountains and experienced the power of encountering a personal God. I am grateful to these SDBs whose witness of life "speaks of God" to me even now that they are all with the Lord in eternity. I am reminded of the words of Hebrews 13:7-9: "Remember your leaders who preached the word of God to you. Note well what the end of their life was, and imitate their faith....it is best to strengthen the heart with grace..."
Perhaps that is why when, as a 13-year-old, I was offered the opportunity by one of the Salesians to be consecrated in the world in the future, to live fully in secular terms and at the same time not a religious - it immediately appealed to me and I prayed faithfully daily for my journey through life. In retrospect, there were 3 basic moments that spoke to me and later shaped me the most: living in the world for Christ and with Christ; with a competence for serving others in secular conditions - that's why I became a medical doctor; in a Salesian way: here I was most fascinated by the family spirit that the first Salesians I knew personally spread around me with their presence. I also immediately liked to become ‘non-assuming’ in the world, not to speak of one's consecration in words, but by living joyfully amidst of others - a reserve.
2. What is the present situation of the VDB - 5 years after the VDB 100th Birthday in 2017?
If anyone is interested in knowing the numbers of VDB - there are over 1168 of us in the world, and we are in every continent, except of Oceania (Australia-Pacific). According to the continents: Africa 65, America 366, Asia 153 and in Europe 544. Among the 1168 members are 60 aspirants (= novitiate in religious congregations), 70 temporary and 998 perpetually professed VDB. Don Bosco Volunteers are living their communion in 186 local groups (= twice a month coming together for recollection and formation meeting) organized in 27 regions. It means also that some 200 SDBs are journeying with us as ‘Ecclesistical Assistants’ at the central, regional and local group level.
3. What does it mean to live chastity, poverty and obedience 'beyond the walls' as a secular person?
All our vows are protected by God's extraordinary love if we are interested in it. To live in the world, we need to cultivate the contemplative dimension of our presence - to live a deep sacramental life. This protects us together with a prudent vigilance, without losing the tenderness of the feminine presence to live a chaste life. Our poverty is expressed by moderation in the use of material things in accordance with our conscience, our social status, and in sincere dialogue with our VDB President General, especially in the acquisition of costly things that are meant to serve us in life: an apartment, a car, or other important material goods. Our poverty includes also the observance of ‘reserve’ regarding the sharing of information about our secular consecration- only to be able to fulfill effectively and everywhere the apostolate in accord with the mind of our Founder, don Philip Rinaldi. For this purpose each of one of us maintains a responsible reserve in regard to our own consecration in the world and all the more so to that of the other members of the Institute. In this way we can work effectively in missionary settings - if we live consistently and joyfully our Christian, consecrated life. Secular obedience is also lived in dialogue with our superiors, where we honestly share our attitudes and our actions in order to move forward in the spirit of our Constitutions.
Years ago, the Salesian Rector Major Fr Egidio Viganó compared our life to a life lived on the edge of a knife: one more step and we may fall. We can be fully present in all environments of the secular world, but always protected by the grace and presence of God within us. The world influences us with its secularized thinking, but we must all the more strongly "translate" into our life attitudes the attitudes of the Gospel, the attitudes of Jesus: mercy of the Good Samaritan, being a neighbor to the one who needs me; attentive listening like Jesus to the disciples of Emmaus; accompanying on the stretch of the journey where and at what point I meet the other as Jesus with Nicodemus; of being tender and attentive to the "hunger" or “thirst” of the one next to me. These are all daily challenges for us.
4. How do you manage vocation promotion around the world?
We have different experiences in different parts of the world - most vocations have come to us in the past through personal contacts from SDB or FMA, or through the witness of our lives. Today, when due to age many of us are out of direct contact with the young, it is more also the way of the social networks where the young today spend so many hours of their precious time. Our founder, Don Bosco's third successor, Blessed Philip Rinaldi, a man who also knew how to dream big dreams and realise God's desires, has left us his vision, which I personally strongly believe in: "Do not call anyone, your example will suffice". So perhaps we need to correct something in the witness of our lives when we have fewer vocations - that is the challenge for each one of us.
5. Many SDBs are struggling to understand the meaning of your 'reserved' lifestyle…
I understand that to fully grasp the charism of another vocation is difficult from one who has not received it. Our VDB Constitutions call us to follow the hidden life of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Jesus was the son of a carpenter and Mary, played, worked, celebrated with others, learned Torah, and was obedient to his parents like so many other boys in Nazareth at that time. However, he was different in his deep relationship and obedience to Heavenly Father and His desires. And no one knew about Him, that he was God..
Every manner of religious life in the Church is God's response to the needs of the time. In the Old Testament it was the prophets who were to stir up the people to return to the living God. After Jesus' coming to earth in the following centuries, God aroused various desires in the hearts of those who loved him - to emphasize some trait of Jesus and to make it palatable. It is the dimension of His poverty like St. Francis of Assisi. Our charism is aroused by the Holy Spirit so that He can be present through us wherever people are not interested in God, wherever they reject Him or do not believe in His presence in people's lives.
While to many religious congregations children and youth come to receive education, or the sick are coming to receive healthcare or be healed, we, on the other hand, are to "go (reach) out" to all those who need to be helped to find the way to salvation. Because the social status, the political situation... is different in different countries, and our sisters work also in areas where an initiated person would not be accepted, we do not disclose ourselves as initiated persons, but we try to live fully our Christianity and the competence of our work assignment. I personally am deeply convinced and have this experience as well - where this dimension and particularity of our consecration is also lived into the consequences - we have vocations as well. New vocations are always born out of the faithfulness of those who are already walking this path or have already walked it.
6. What is the VDB specific contribution to the other 31 groups of the Salesian Family?
We are a specific component of the Salesian Family - and we offer it the dimension of our contemplative prayer and the missionary dimension of "extended hands" in the environments where we work or live or otherwise serve. Our SDB brothers, and in some places our FMA sisters, have made an important contribution to our formation /as was the case at the birth of our Institute/, for which we are very grateful. Our living and vibrant presence in the ordinary conditions where the world lives day by day can enrich them by sharing with them the experiences and needs of the people of today. The richness offered by the Salesian charism, expressed in so many ways, is always also a motive to give thanks for the greatness of a God who cares for all, according to the particular needs of the destination.
7. What do you expect from the 200 SDB ‘ecclesiastical assistants’ who accompany the VDB?
First, I want to express my great gratitude for their generosity in giving us their strength, prayers, and wisdom in guiding me and my sisters. We expect from them their priestly ministry, their formative help especially regarding the Salesian charism, their living example of fidelity and Salesian joy.
8. Your message to the East Asia – Oceania region Salesian Family?
The East Asia Oceania region is peculiar to Christianity in that is living in the most populated continents where the disciples of Jesus are only a small minority and in many countries offers a good model for inter-religious dialogue as a lifestyle, inter-religious cooperation.
First I would like to give thanks to God for the gift of Faith and for all of you, who are living your Faith in this part of the World, in many not-so-easy circumstances.
I never forget to thank the Lord for you all who have patiently given us for decades your service. We feel that you care for us, enjoy our growth, serve us many times as translators, share with us our joys, expectations, dreams and downfalls and always watch over us with your prayers. May the Lord be your reward here, but especially in eternity, where we will understand everything better, and glorify the Lord for all He has given us.
VDB Regions (web-FB)
- Korea (Web)
- Korea (FB)
- BOP region - Latin America
- BOP region - Latin America
- Philippines (PPT slides presentation)
- Hong Kong-China
- Related resources: Blessed Philip Rinaldi - Novena 2021 (video)
- VDB interview collection (2016-2022)
- Related news article: AustraLasia 4210: Smile in the heart of the world (VDB interview, 2016)