Attention to young people from an educational and preventive point of view has always been at the center of the activity of the Salesians who recently wanted to question themselves about their mission by outlining new paths and perspectives based on listening to girls and boys themselves. The dean of the Pontifical Faculty of Educational Sciences “Auxilium”, Sister Ruffinatto, describes their work and what emerged from the Conference which was held in September in Rome
Sister Piera Ruffinatto
We Daughters of Mary Help of Christians are a relatively young institute. We were born in 1872 in a small town in the province of Alessandria in the north of Italy. A few years later, the founder San Giovanni Bosco with the co-founder Santa Maria Domenica Mazzarello pushed us to the missions. Therefore, the Institute had a very wide range of inculturation and we have reached many countries. Today we are in 97 countries with more than 1500 homes. We can say that there has been a crossing of the world by our educational work in all these years. And we have made a significant contribution in particular to the education of young women, because we were founded precisely for young women, but also with co-education aimed at young people and children in the five continents.
We want to be there to listen to the requests of the territory
In these 150 years there has been a commitment to reading reality, in which we have inserted ourselves with great adaptability and in an evangelical key, in order to respond precisely to the questions that came from the territory. Questions for education, but also for the promotion of women, for assistance, if one thinks of the really difficult period of the world wars, or of the moments of emergency all over the world. We always try to respond first of all with presence: being there to listen to the questions and then respond to what is the emergency, always with an educational promotional approach, with a variety of institutions – it can be schools, but also centers promotion of women, professionals, the oratory, schools of all levels, the university – which responds to a variety of recipients and questions.
In our future a renewed educational commitment
The future of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians will certainly be aimed at reviving once again this commitment to the education of an Institute which, like all religious Institutes, is decreasing in number in some parts of the world, but is growing in others. This means looking at where the young people are because in some contexts, such as Africa or Asia, there are truly impressive numbers of young people. So let’s continue with our preventive imprint aimed at education which, if I had to summarize, I see as walking on two legs. On the one hand, the contrast to everything that prevents the peaceful growth of young people: indifference, resignation, mistrust, the reason why Pope Francis asks to give confidence to the new generations and make them protagonists. On the other hand, more exquisitely educational-promotional educational paths that lead young people to encounter themselves and with others and to live a culture of encounter, an ecological spirituality that today is to be lived on a global level. So continue with the hope that young people give back to us, even when it seems to us that the scenarios are a bit difficult to deal with.
The Rome Conference on our preventive system
Looking to the future, we promoted an international conference which was held in Rome from 25 to 30 September last: “A contribution of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians to education: paths, challenges and perspectives”. It was above all a challenge for the Institute and for those who organized it, perhaps the only one in our history. There were nearly 300 attendees in attendance, then from 600-1000 connected online. The conference was not intended to be simply an appointment of pure study for academics or specialists, but to open the door to our Institute and its contribution to education. A first session on historical data, to outline some aspects, also offered statistical data, profiles of educators who have creatively interpreted the preventive system in different contexts. Then there was also a pedagogical reflection of the Institute in the course of these 150 years and also the contribution that our Faculty has given to systematize this preventive thought for women.
In dialogue with young people
We also carried out an impressive exploratory research conducted by an international team on the perception of Salesian education today, interviewing many educational communities around the world. On another evening boys and girls from the Salesian world connected, also because we Salesians like very much to hear what they think of us and of education. It was a window on the youthful cross-section in which we were able to dialogue with them, also through the language of music and dance.