Did you know that the Salesian Family Youth Center is the product of a dream?
By Luis Chacon, MHR and Jc Montenegro, PhD
In January, all of us who work for youth under Don Bosco's educational system celebrate his feast day. YES, we Salesians are celebrating! We celebrate the birth into heaven of Saint John Bosco (on January 31st). To celebrate with you, we are happy to share one of the main events in Don Bosco’s life—his dream.
Don Bosco was a dreamer both asleep and awake. Let me reflect on Don Bosco's dreams when he slept. The Biographical Memoirs written by three different Salesians encompass 19 volumes which record Don Bosco’s life. Each volume averages around 300 pages.
These 19 volumes contain 159 dreams of Don Bosco. He did not give importance to his dreams at first. However, as time went by, he realized that his dreams not only had meaning, but most of them, with time, came true with remarkable accuracy!
Don Bosco did not consider writing down his dreams at first. But Pope Pius IX, realizing Don Bosco's dreams were both prophetic and educational in nature, ordered him to write them all in great detail. Some of his contemporaries affirmed that the dreams of Don Bosco bore more fruit among the young than the sermons they heard elsewhere.
Today let’s consider the first lines of the dream that Don Bosco had when he was only nine years old. It is the most important dream, and in it we can discover the elements of our Salesian Family Youth Center already within this dream:
Don Bosco writes:
It was at the age of nine I had a dream.
Dreams can be revelations of the subconscious, our desires, and how we see reality.
The mission of some characters in the Bible are revealed to in dreams (Jacob, Abraham, Joseph, Jonathan, Ezekiel, Daniel, Amos).
All my life, this dream remained deeply impressed on my mind.
Since he was a child, he was clear about his mission; he knew the subject but not the form.
In this dream, I seemed to be near my home in a fairly large yard.
The dream that reveals his mission is not in a temple or a school; it is in a yard (playground), where everyone can go in and out and where everyone is welcome.
A crowd of children was playing there. Some were laughing, some were playing games, and quite a few were swearing.
When I heard these evil words, I jumped immediately amongst them and tried to stop them using words and fists.
John reveals a high moral level; for me, it is a bit difficult to imagine a nine-year-old boy trying to stop many children by himself. He shows a lot of courage and a strong desire to fulfill his ideals.
He jumped in the middle of them; he did not yell at them from outside, a sign of the preventive system, to be among them, where they were.
At that moment, a dignified man appeared a nobly dressed adult.
● Only after John was among the young tried to do his best, felt overwhelmed and frustrated, is when Jesus appeared to him.
He wore a white cloak, and his face shone so I could not look directly at him.
● The shining face of Jesus reminds me of the transfiguration. Jesus asks his disciples to take off their shoes because the ground they walked on was sacred. The place where the children are is a sacred place, and among them, we will see the face of Jesus shine.
● It may be that our human incapacity does not allow us to see it at first glance. But that does not mean it is not there.
He called me by my name, told me to take charge of these children, and added these words:
● God speaks by name to John and gives him his mission (like Samuel).
"You will have to win these friends of yours not by blows but by gentleness and love.
● John's authority does not come from a title or hierarchical level. His authority must be earned with kindness and love. Authority by appointment is free; John’s authority over the young has to be earned.
Start right away to teach them the ugliness of sin and the value of virtue,"
● It is easier for a child to understand the good through the beautiful (harmony, balance) and the bad through the ugly (unbalanced).
As we feel excited reading about Don Bosco's dream, there are some nightmares for many parents. A 14-year-old boy was killed in our neighborhood at the beginning of December, and this incident occurred less than 24 hours after a shooting in Wilmington that killed a 12-year-old girl on a school playground. These are two separate incidents, but there are others that put our children and youth at risk. I wonder what Don Bosco would do?
The answer to this question can transform the lives of so many children, including the two authors, now adults, who are writing this reflection. How Jesus Christ guided Don Bosco in his dream became a system that Salesians use today. "Not by blows but by gentleness and love," is how we can win the children's hearts. We are living in a culture of violence. We see a culture where school shootings and violence through social media are challenges that harm children and young people. It is precisely in this culture where Don Bosco's dream must become a reality.
We are called to create the playground where Don Bosco had that dream, the playground where so many children and young people can grow as good Christians and outstanding citizens. It is the dream of Don Bosco, who is still fully alive in our society.
Every day at the Salesian Family Youth Center, we create this environment of gentleness and love. It is not an easy task; youth culture, technology, society consumerism, among other things, renders life more complicated than it needs to be. However, love overcomes every difficulty and yields results with time and patience.
As we write this article, we can see how this dream is passed through generations by the same people who experienced the love that Don Bosco experienced in his dream. It is the same love that we want to share with other children, so that they may experience a better future.
Are you ready to share your dream? To share your love?