Dear Friends, I have been in Cairo for some days, a guest of our confreres at “Don Bosco” in Rod-el-Farag, and am about to head off with some of them to Alexandria or thereabouts, for the confreres’ Retreat. In the context of what has been happening over these days the following thoughts come to mind by way of reflection.
Don Bosco (1815-1888) lived at a time of great change, we might even say “revolutions”: the incipient industrial revolution in Turin, the ‘Risorgimento’ movements which led to Italy’s unification’… He had already been a priest for 6 years when the first of the wars broke out that would rock the northern part of the Peninsula (“the ‘48” !). Many saw military force as the only way of achieving their goal. Some priests in Turin were already training their young people to send them into front-line combat.
Others, and this included Don Bosco, were convinced (did not let themselves be caught up in passions, looking realistically beyond the immediate) that young people needed to be equipped with some very different tools. Most young people were illiterate, poor, and would have been victims of other areas of life were they not adequately prepared from a professional, cultural and religious point of view.
Thus Don Bosco enters the scene with all his energy in so many areas. He writes school texts for them of primary import: The metric decimal system to familiarise them with the passage from the old to the new measurement system …; The History of Italy, to let the Piedmontese know something of their new common homeland; the Bible History and Church History so they could be not just upright citizens but also good Christians. Evidently these were not academic works but handy pocket-sized (almost) books, some written for use ‘viva voce’ … – and his other front was to open workshops for printing, boot-making, tailoring, mechanics… where youngsters could learn a trade (at the beginning directly from him, since he’d been a shop or trade assistant in his teenage years…). – And then finally his direct involvement with the owners or those who offered work, so they would respect the rights of their young workers.
The success of these initiatives of his demonstrates that they responded to concrete needs. But they needed continuity. For some time Don Bosco appealed to his closest helpers, priests and lay, and then in 1859 put the question to a group of his own boys, young adults barely, to ‘enrol’ in a new “army” of individuals who would dedicated themselves to an all-round education of poor youngsters in the spirit of St Francis de Sales. Thus the Salesians came into existence …
The story continues today.
Here at “Don Bosco” in Cairo (but also in Alexandria, and in our school in Fidar/Jbeil, or in Bethlehem, Nazareth …) the Salesians are doing what he did back then albeit in updated fashion: giving youngsters the cultural, professional, technical tools which, along with human and religious values, enables them to set up a family, earn an honest living, and contribute to the future of their country of origin.
Over these few days I have been speaking with the Rector, Fr Renzo Leonarduzzi, with Fr Erando Vacca, Fr El-Prince and one of the Egyptian lay coordinators, Maged. They are fully in harmony with Don Bosco’s vision and they are carrying out his mission in the socio-economic, cultural and political context of contemporary Egypt. Thanks to their work (intelligent and full of sacrifice) “Don Bosco” has gained excellent results and remains at this level of excellence. Some facts: the current ITI and IPI students number 600. Over the last 20 years around 850 have graduated and more than 50,000 have obtained qualifications from short courses (mechanics, electricity, numerical control, refrigeration, PLC, and also Italian). They have all found a place in industry, local crafts, tourism … Last year 9 gained an Engineering Degree by following an online course run by an Italian University.
The Bishops of Upper Egypt are asking the Salesians to come to their dioceses to exercise their ministry. The Government is insisting that the “Don Bosco Model” (for many years now the flagship of Egypt-Italian cooperation) be replicated in other schools. Various international development organisations are sending their future instructors to be formed by us here
So…if, amongst those reading these lines, there is someone who is ready to “give a hand” (NGO, Past Pupils, friends…) he or she only needs to write to the Rector, Fr Renzo! email@example.com
Meanwhile, you can all say a prayer for this ‘young’ country which needs God’s help but also people’s help to overcome the crisis it now finds itself immersed in. And Happy Feast of Don Bosco on the 31st!
Fr Gianni Caputa”