The Rector Major was 'pleasantly surprised' to hear a young person utter such a phase

My dear friends and readers of the Salesian Bulletin, we have begun a new year. We find ourselves in 2023. At least to me that sounds like an unimaginable number, perhaps ‘galactic time.’ I don’t know if it is, but certainly we are living in the 21st century.

Nowadays many ways of living, of expressing oneself, of communicating have changed greatly. But we can still be surprised by something we experience, something we see, something we hear.

A few weeks ago, I visited the Salesian works in the United States of America and spent several pleasant and enriching hours with hundreds of students talking about their personal plans and dreams. At the end of the morning, the young people and I ate lunch on the patio. At one point two young men came up and sat with us.

Naturally, I spoke to them and struck up a conversation. Not even two minutes had elapsed when one of the young people said to me, “What do I have to do to become Pope? I want to be the Pope.” I said that from among the 1,600,000,000 Catholics it is not so easy to become the Pope. Then I added something else to my answer. I said, “Look, you could start by becoming a Salesian.”

Pope Francis is a fantastic role model for any person.

In response to what he heard, the young man told me, “Well, I won’t say ‘NO,’” adding, “because, without a doubt, my passion is Christ.”

I have to tell you that in the face of such an answer, I was absolutely surprised, pleasantly surprised. I think it has been many years since I have heard that expression from any young person, in such a casual context, and in the presence of his classmates. I told my friend that I really liked his answer since I saw that he was absolutely sincere. 

At that moment my thoughts turned to Don Bosco. Surely Don Bosco would have greatly enjoyed a dialogue with a young man like this and the desire of young people to do something beautiful with their lives.

I thought about how important it is still today to believe deeply that young people are good, that they have so many seeds of goodness in their hearts.  They have dreams and plans that often carry with them much generosity and self-donation. 

It seems to me that today, in our times, we run a very great risk of becoming practical and efficient when looking at everything that happens to us and what we experience so that we lose the ability to surprise ourselves and others – and what is more worrisome – not to allow ourselves to be “surprised by God.”

That young man said he was fascinated by Jesus, to the point of saying that He was his passion in life. That same thing has happened, I think, with many of us, and with millions and millions of other people.

I invite you, friends who are readers of the Salesian Bulletin, friends of Don Bosco's charism, to join this numerous group of people who perhaps could be described as “naive” or “gullible” because we believe that there is so much good to look forward to and so many beautiful things of which to dream, to wish, and to commit ourselves.

I think that, just as it was with Don Bosco yesterday, today there are thousands and thousands of young people who want to see Jesus, who need to experience friendship with Him, and who want others to accompany them on this beautiful journey.

This story originally appeared in the Autumn 2023 edition of the Australian Salesian Bulletin