Formation, from woes to wows!

KOLKATA, (C.M. Paul) – A provincial superior dashing from one meeting to another sends an SMS on his Blackberry “bye for now…  must meet the confreres now… listen to their ‘woes’ and …. wish they were ‘Wows!”… most are stuck in woes … in agonies and tortures…! i want to RESURRECT THEM … tough… most feel more comfortable in complaining than in doing something to make a difference!”

If this is the out come of our formation – years spent in the aspirantate, prenovitiate, novitiate, post novitiate, practical training and theology studies and “on going formation” we definitely need to re-think on our “formation program.”

There is no better time for this urgent task than NOW on the eve of the upcoming preps for Don Bosco’s birth bi-centenary. Visit of the formation team from Rome (the Pisana) headed by the General Councilor for Formation Fr Francis Cereda and his right (or left) hand man, our own Fr Chrys Saldhana and his men could be a time for us to re-think on the Salesian formation praxis!.

Another provincial writes commenting on his creative formation programme experiment starting with the pre-novices. He says, “I am planning a new type of formation at our Pre Novitiate — FORMATION IN MISSION.

He explains, “I am planning to make the pre-novices involved three hours daily in teaching, assisting the children in three poor schools. I am going for a revolutionary curriculum instead of teaching them long hours Salesiana and Church History which today could be delivered in brisk modules. However, there is need of CHANGE for the TIMES.

Life and spirituality of Dominic Savio can be taught in a two hour session instead of a treatise. DB can be lived out with a three hour session, a film and projects thereafter to implement his vision. Apply the time tested formation strategy which Don Bosco himself used: learning while doing!”

We need men and women (formation of the Salesian Family which is hugely neglected) who love Jesus, his Church, loves DB and the poor (economically, spiritually, emotionally, etc) youth, and knows the world and its languages.

This is ‘formation’ for youth workers according to Vatican Council II. [no footnote]. We need to recreate the church (a community of believers and non believers, NOT ‘the Salesian garden”) not so much in the spirit of the commandments (to be observed for sure) as in that of the Beatitudes that invite us to go beyond the commandments. [no footnote].

Hence, the Indian provincial who is planning the above integrated formation programme which is coupled with theory and praxis, must be heard in his lab to land experiments in new ways of implementing Don Bosco’s charism in the 21st century… If any where else in the world this experiment can happen, it is only in India!

To end, I must add this humour which just came in: To hell with old, out dated “formation” ways of —– and his ilk… the Indian variety!!! Lock, stock and barrel we should throw out the present set up in majority of formation houses… new wine in new skins… most of our guys in the formation houses are old skins with “expiry dates” in their reading of the signs of the times…
There are no NEW SKINS! That’s the pity. We are recycling the whole lot.
The question is: where do you find the new skins?



Filed under Salesian formation

20 responses to “Formation, from woes to wows!

  1. Thanks for thinking ….you have touched upon a very vital topic. No one can give what he does not possess. To pass on a conviction one need to be convinced first.

  2. M Charles

    As usual you are damn good.Learning by doing is certainly what we need today. Keep it up! Some food for thought for the formation commission meeting with the Provincials.

  3. Help Young people discover Jesus as their “first love” especially through the Scriptures and THEN HE will tell them what to do with their lives. This cannot be achieved through set patterns of so called “formation”.Help them get to the roots of Christianity and fall in love with Jesus.The rest HE will do.

  4. Felix Fernandes, sdb

    I work in a formation house, myself. However, it would be presumptious from my part to claim that I can form anybody at all. HE alone does the formation, like the potter at the wheel. (Moreover, both require to be formed by Him, the formator and the formee.)

  5. M.C. Francis

    Dear Paul,
    Thanks for thoughts on formation. You have hit the nail on the head. I have always felt for a long time the same thing. We must get people to fall in in love with Jesus and that’s the thing I think.I could never understand the whole fanfare of a Rector’s day celebration in the past. Instead Christmas and Easter went without much ado. Imagine one month perparation for a Rectors day and not much for Easter and Christmas. Wish you all the best.
    Affectionately, Francis

  6. Francesco Cereda

    Young people are changing and also young salesian. In each moment and in each place it is very importan the question: how can we have a better formation? To know the best practices can help us to change our formation.
    Strong love for Jesus, commitment for the poor young people, fraternal
    sharing are fundamental element of our formation. We have to find the
    conditions to do experience in these areas; for thet we need well formed
    formation Guides. Thank you for your suggestions. Fr. Francesco Cereda

  7. Jose Chunkapura

    The shift from ‘wows’ or even ‘vows’ to ‘woes’ need not all be attributed to what happens or does not happen in what we love to call ‘formation house’. It is futile to think that all the moulding and shaping and the inspiration and the sustenance comes from that ‘formation house’ and all the hardware and the software that goes with it.
    The hoped for formation or the lack of it takes place in a much wider context of which the formation house is just a part, though a significant part. That context has to be seen as the Church, the Congregation and the world at large. Nothing happens anymore out there far away or in limited closed-in or protected environment.
    Even when I live in the privacy of my room, the world and the Church and the congregation are all around me and present to me with all that the real life and values of all these represent and propose.
    How the leaders and the elders, the prophets and the teachers live, with all that is inspiring as well as disillusioning about them, is all there for me to see and know and understand.
    If the ideal proposed in the ‘formation house’ is not real, realizable and realized in the congregation, the Church and the wider world, it will never be welcomed and adopted by those in the formation house except as a temporary ‘processing ‘ requirement for moving ahead.
    What does not come across credibly as an ecclesial, congregational, or ‘universal’ value that is valued, lived and sustained by the whole body/community will not be assimilated and lived joyfully by you or me today as a community value.
    The simple but sincere question asked is, “If you dont believe in it why do you propose it to me, if this is not important to the rest of you , elders and teachers and supposed-to-be models, guardians and sustainers, why should it be important to us youngsters? You insist that we obey…we will, to satisfy you for the moment, but just like you we will live our real life when we can!
    So then focusing on the so called ‘formation house’ may not take us far except to the false and fleety sense good feeling that someone else or something else is to blame. We are all in it together, and so if we really wish to return from woes to wows, it will have to be our united effort to live by, sustain and witness joyfully to the heights and depths of praying, believing, loving, serving, sharing, forgiving and denying ourselves etc, that we propose to our youngsters in the ‘formation houses’. Jose Chunkapura

  8. Vaclav Klement

    I am grateful, this topic is of vital importance, although we are moving slowly
    from Patagonia of Cagliero which would need also some Indian Salesians
    Fr.Vaclav from ESQUEL

  9. P.T. Joseph

    … if that is how the present formation is, then we have Salesians who are half-baked ‘world-man’ and half-baked ‘God-man’, with the vital elements in the missing halves. They would often pretend to be good Administrators of money, while searching for meaning within them. We need leaders who have God experience to listen to the prompting of the Spirit that leads to pro-action, here and now. It’s time to patch up the missing halves to witness Salesians who are ‘Contemplatives in Action’. It calls for a rigorous Discipline!

  10. P.O. Jose

    Are you endorsing the throw out ”lock, \\stock and barrel\\” the current formation system view? Doesn\\’t appear to me to be a great idea. What \\”system\\” do you have in place before throwing the old/current one out?

    I could not pick up any from my reading of your blog. The example you quoted of the provincial does not provide any new system, just a wee bit change! Anyway, his trying some innovation is very welcome.

    I like what Chunkapura wrote. I think he provides a more global and realistic view of the \\”woes\\” that afflict the current system.

    More important point to note: A formation system that has produced a large number of Salesians of great calibre (include yourself in this group!)who so often stand out in a motley crowd of religious of all varieties could not be all that bad!

    True, that calibre may not be there in the current generation. This shows some changes are needed. But throw the old/current system \\”lock, stock and barrel\\”? I think there are some very disgruntled people (Salesians?) out there! And the reason for this can\\’t be the formation they received!!

    A serious discussion on the topic, with concrete and practical suggestions and not just the \\”blame game\\” would be welcome!

    • Hai guys
      First of all thanks for your large heartedness in accepting the musings of one from ‘out”.That itself goes well for Salesian formation. Thanks.
      I had the great fortune of having seen the likes of Fr Gesu the pioneer of DB Vaduthala (1956-59) watching him sit on roof tops of thatched houses, including my own, as he helped to thatch the leaking roofs of the poor and watching Fr Commandeu his successor play in Ekm Dis Foot ball Club matches wearing full cassock.
      Later it was the likes of Fr (Bp) Mathew Broi carrying mud from the pond with the boys, Fr Leo Heriot swinging his head looking here and there even as he prayed kneeling on the pews,(No one doubted that he was distracted… Fr LoGroi Fr (Bp) Mathai Fr..Puchakunnel and scores of other inspiring models… I consider myself fortunate to have been under these giants of Salesianity and holiness..most of them involved in the formation of the middle–age-and-past Salesians of today.
      I am eternally grateful for what I received by way of education, training in games and sports, music and drama and the ALL the opportunities for mission and work… and the fellowship and love from ALL… I know where I am now Is solely because of what they gave me and still continue to receive by way of friendship guidance and encouragement…
      Through it all I believe God placed me where I should be at each period of my life for His own purposes .Absolutely sure of that and Glory to God!
      At a time when SDBs are examining hard their formation I have two humble suggestions to place.
      1.Terminologies. Terms such as aspirantate, prenovitiate, novitiate, philosophate…etc while they have practical values, for ‘formation” they do not seem helpful for the simple reason that they do not help one to focus on the only important thing that matters ie.- TO BE DISCIPLES OF JESUS. If we consider the whole process of formation as DISCIPLESHIP TRAINING” .. I am sure we can come up with more Gosepl based terms and trainings which will carry over into the consecrated and non-consecrated life.

      2.Include more of the HOLY SCRIPTURES into EVERY SPHERE of “formation”. Scriptures as you know contain Word of God and they have the power to TRANS “FORM”. If “formation” is seen as a process of “transformation” then who or what can have more power to transform lives than the very Word of God ?.
      The formation programme for any one is summarized in this verse from Romans 12:2 “Do not conform yourself to the standards of this world but LET GOD TRANSFORM YOU INWARDLY by a complete change of your mind.Then YOU WILL BE ABLE TO KNOW THE WILL OF GOD..”
      For a 10 mnts comment on this check Youtube “ How can I discover God’s will for my life “ by Mark.
      God bless you all.

    • C.M. Paul

      I liked your fresh angle in the discussion… swallowing “hook, line and sink” the bait I provided for triggering a discussion… in deed provoking it!

      Amazed at the number of comments too…

      Actually speaking, I do not endorse any system, old or new.
      I believe in working within a system and moving toward best practice…
      The woe or wows — are just indicators… to be attended to…

      In the corporate sector they call it “attitude” we call it “formation”.
      In the corporate sector there is on the job training, internship, articleship, whatever. Where attitudinal change is seen and required in behavioural (performance) patterns… and the system in place is “hire or fire”, “perform or perish”.

      While “formation” is more abstract as it deals with values which need not show up in praxis… and has seemingly no immediate consequence in this life (?).
      Hence, I endorse the approach of “learning while doing” than learning by “insulated formation” and doing it with no attitude…

      In your comment, you seem to have caught the bull by the tail.
      In the humour, the guy is telling to throw out the current formation fellows “lock stock and barrel” (not the system, but the guys who run the system) and put new guys as most of current folks who give formation are out dated old skins with expiry dates…
      The humourist also concludes the humour with a question… where do you get the new skin! So be it.


    Great Paul! Keep up your loud thinking. We need challenging re thinking of our formation set up. I was in formation for 9 years: 2 in the aspirantate, 3 in the novitiate and 4 in the prenovitiate, besides my own.
    Some changes are needed… rethinking is valuable. But let us realise that overnight changes will not come.
    I feel that the formators should be “committed” totally to their mission. It can’t be a part time job… it can’t be a stepping stone for other agendas. There has to be “the loving presence” among the formees to make them good “christians” and good “human beings”. Spiritual life and salesian life will naturally follow.
    Unfortunately I feel that at present we are concentrating more on “Psychology”, “training in Rome” of the formators… I have my doubts.
    I think of my/our formators of years ago. Mathew Baroi, PJ Sheehy, Leo Heriot etc. They never had any degree in Psychology or a Phd from Rome. But they were always with us. They were committed. There was no fear…

    When there is fear, and punishments are meted out even for small small infractions (even denying meals!), and favouritism is shown, revenge is displayed, we will have only “woes”…

    Let us face another reality: we are not getting the best raw material now… so we have to work harder. We may have to sacrifice much more. It is easier to declare holiday for a month and close up the house, because we want to be free for a foreign trip; but it is more demanding to be with them, and more rewarding to teach them by our life the meaning of celebrating Christmas and Easter together… that demands committement and sacrifice…
    I wish all the best for the forthcoming meetings and subsequent documents. But where are we heading without committed formators? (No offence meant to anyone… just airing ideas!!!)

  12. Paul,
    Your opening lines are telling! And a clue to what ails the system. A provincial dashing from one meeting to another and using his blackberry to communicate with people.
    Looks like Provincials have little time these days to sit down, think, assess, plan … I would be interesting to do a study of the amount of time Provincials spend in their office against the time they are on the road.

    The same provincial, the hero of your story, wrote: most are stuck in woes … in agonies and tortures…! i want to RESURRECT THEM … tough… most feel more comfortable in complaining than in doing something to make a difference!” Most? Is that real? If yes, we are really in bad shape. But I disagree. It is easy to see the woes, especially when you are a Provincial.

    Basing yourself on what the provincial said, you write:
    If this is the out come of our formation – years spent in the aspirantate, prenovitiate, novitiate, post novitiate, practical training and theology studies and “on going formation” we definitely need to re-think on our “formation program.”

    Is that really the outcome? Could you place the outcome of one provincial writing off a comment in a hurry on his Blackberry? A wider, objective study (despite what Champanil observes about psychology and assessment meetings) might be worthwhile before reaching facile verdicts.

    PS. I have no animosity towards provincials! I don’t envy their situation! They actually have no time for anything else than “putting out fires!” – at least in the way I seem them operating. And they are not to be blamed for that.

    yes, I admit formation might have something to do with creating such a situation….

  13. Fr. Michael Makri sdb

    What is formation?
    Its ridiculous for me to ask that question…. am not a formator as well.. Fr. Paul, thanks for the article…!! To the point now… For me formation is as I see it…. we make “NORMAL PEOPLE ABNORMAL”… A lot can be said on this… As i have experience it myself… In formation we are curtailed our talents, gifts that God has given us, Creativity in many thing is stop as its not in line with formation……IN SHORT WE MAKE NORMAL ASPIRANTS ABNORMAL.. etc… etc… I believe ‘OLD WINE SKIN’ is fine, but NEW WINE should be allowed to ferment well as well..

  14. Maria Arokiam Kanaga

    Dear Fr. Paul,
    Thanks for kicking up this timely discussion on formation. I would like to add three comments:
    1. Our formation happens to be, without intending to be, for the upkeep of our institutions – to administration, power, position, superiority, etc. It is for the institution. But it should be consciously more and more in view of Discipleship to Christ according to the charism of Don Bosco. This is not to say that Institutions are not important. But as I see it, we are controlled by our institutions, more than freed by a charism, which is an original inspiration from the Gospel. Well established institutions have their own dynamics and slowly they become our masters, and later it becomes tough to serve two masters. We must learn how to keep our institutions subservient to the Gospel values. Assuredly this is not easy.

    2. I like the comments of Fr. Chunkapura Jose. I have been saying for years in various fora, that formation takes place primarily in the province and not in the formation houses. The formation houses try to do their best, with all their limitations. But it is the general culture of the province that becomes the leveler at the end. Confreres coming out of formation houses will take on the same standards of their elders in the ordinary houses. Whether we like it or not, all of us are formators, all the time, of our younger confreres. They will mostly adjust themselves to the general culture.
    You have been quoting great examples of your formators. They are only samples of great Salesians who lived in the provinces. Today too we have great Salesians, but their visibility is less. What is visible is the average value system that is lived out by the communities. This value system is the key to formation.

    3. The Congregation has been calling for contextualizing formation according to various situations. Hence surely we can and should have the courage to experiment. Formation houses, commissions and formators should think out changes starting from the fruits they see at the end of the formation process. What is the end result that we desire? and for that what should be the strategy? Starting with the goal in mind could help.
    But I hold on to what I said in point no.2. Formators and formation houses can change and experiment. But unless all of us become conscious of our own influence on the young priest and the brother coming out of the formation houses, not much is likely to change. Hence we must be the change that we desire to see!


    • John Thomas

      Happy to read again on BIS about the post you had made on this blog about formation.
      The recent meeting of the superiors and formators discussed the issues in the national and congregational level. The news of the same had been posted Vincent C sdb.
      One of the issues of concern was on erosion of vocations and the conclusion I read from the post by VC is ‘n an attempt to counter this phenomenon, it was stressed among the proposals made, that candidates needed to be accompanied in personalising the formation process, and that the family background ought to be taken into account while recruiting and in the process as well.
      Whether we like it or not there is a kind of domesticating process in religious life which we call formation and some others may call it a brain washing or indoctrinating. While the latter is for a specific period or a short term function the former is for the entire life. So what I feel, if the person formed does not feel satisfied with the life that was so gloriously presented before him at one time or sees it collapsing in front of him and there is no satisfaction of living a life of a religious (pastorally, intellectually, emotionally) the daring ones will opt out. Even before the erosion of vocations basic human qualities, concern, love etc has eroded from most of us. We have too many documents and interpretations of Salesian way of life, preventive system etc… but these documents have failed to stop the erosion of Salesianity…..

      • Alfred Pinto

        “So what I feel, if the person formed does not feel satisfied with the life that was so gloriously presented before him at one time or he sees it collapsing in front of him and there is no satisfaction of living the life of a religious (pastorally, intellectually, emotionally) the daring ones will opt out,” comments John Thomas.

        My contention is, if John Thomas is taken seriously … a candidate who feels ‘cheated’ after the so called “formation’ phase he could sue the congregation for his ‘unhappiness’.

        On the flip side, this will call for a more ‘realistic and down to earth human formation’ where people learn (accompanying) to live and work together as a team … with MISSION as the focus. This is very much in the corporate sector too… people who can’t work in the team and accomplish its mission or GOAL are shelved or sacked… there is no question of ‘divine call’ to keep the person in the company just because he once belonged to it!
        This is the meaning of the call, which is mutual, God calls, person responds, the congregation forms as per its charism, the person sees if it does suit him and signs up. If later it does suit, he moves elsewhere, or accepts VRS (Voluntary Retirement Scheme) or takes the Golden Handshake… and if he feels cheated (when the tall claims made during formation phase seems a mirage) he opts out or he is referred back to HRD (Human Resource Department) to be re-cycled or fired.
        This opens up to the old debate: is the calling to be a priest or religious, life-long or temporary, as it happened to some prophets of olden days and happens to even modern day prophets.

  15. Dominic Fdz

    Hai Elders.
    This is a new comer on this. But years have I spent in Salesian formation and I have gained in life skill, language,communciation and attitudes and they have taken me hights in the world outside. Thank you Don Bosco and Salesians for the wonderful formation. (But was it the formation that I really needed.)

    But in the world, I am posed with a lot of questions daily and I really am sick of the fact of erosion of the “witness value” & “radical following of Christ” that my Novice Master doctored on to us. Concepts they are true and necessary and to be practised in life, but is not practised which invites a huge lot of criticism and a lot of tuanting from general public (from from Christians & catholics).

    I often wondered why the relious & priestly life held in high esteem has been lowered down. My musings are:
    1. I have been to a retreat centre recently. What years of formation couldn’t do to me, happened in just 3.5 days. Yes “THE WORD OF THE LORD”. I loved the word and the word changed me and HEALED ME, even without my asking for it. Formation needs to “BREAK THE WORD, SHARE THE WORD and BECOME THE WORD”. (Holy Bible needs to be the major reading source and it needs to be read with life and in a manner that will change life.)

    2. The Experience of the “LORD” “Come and see” and stay close to his heart. Such an experience is missing in formation houses. ( I have lived at least 9 years in formation and 3 yrs in practical training). But what I got in 3.5 days why I could not get in these 12 years is still a mystery. But once he touches you, then you will become different.

    3. Call back the “witness value” (we have Pope Francis, whose life style witness in poverty has taken the world with him) in religious life. “Radical Following of the Master” is the need for the day… can you really do that……

    If you want to do the RADICAL FOLLOWING OF CHRIST (I keep seeing many ordinary people who do that) first get a Christ Experience. Give such an experience to those in formation. ‘Cause, if ordinary christians, without formation can follow Christ & Proclaim him with their lives (on a simple life excperience of Christ), why can’t those who are formed for years…….

    I really need an answer……… (& loving) answers.

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