Not for what he was but what he made of us...

by Castilino  

Not for what he was but what he made of us...

Last night (or I should say, early this morning) after being surprised by the news of Fr Benji passing away, passing on the information to the Province, friends and well-wishers, posting the news on the website and mailing the same to others interested, I hit bed again. Only this time, sleep evaded me. It was only then that the fact that he was no more, really started to sink in. To have met him, spoken to him personally, driven him around the city, helped him with his talks and presentations and given him a bear hug at the airport before he left for Chennai, to imagine that he was no more, was a very uneasy feeling. No fear or sorrow, just heightened anxiety!

The day just passed by in trying to convince people/confreres that Benji really passed away and in the sudden manner that he left us, made this all more difficult. Anyhow, after all the hustle and bustle, I took up today's newspaper and my eyes fell on a beautiful quote about Nelson Mandela: "Every time Nelson Mandela walks into a room we all feel a little bigger, we all want to stand up, we all want to cheer, because we'd like to be him on our best day."

Thank you dear Fr Benji, not so much for what you were, but for making us what we are!

Benji is no more!

by Castilino  


The one and only Benji, passed away last night ... Fr Benjamin Puthota, the 7th Provincial of the Salesian Province of Chennai (then Madras, 1976-1982)and the first Provincial of the Salesian Province of Hyderabad (1992-1998) passed away around 22.00 hrs (IST) all of a sudden while in his community at Istanbul, Turkey. He was one of the first Salesians to set foot on Andhra soil, way back in 1964, along with Fr Panampara Abraham and the late Br Gabriel Fernandez.

Fondly known to all as Benjy, he was an epitome of Salesian spirit and a true son of Don Bosco. Known for his passionate love for Don Bosco and the Salesian charism his death comes as a shock to all especially those of us in India. Besides the several other qualities that made him someone outstanding was his far-sightedness. He was a visionary and he knew no obstacles to make that vision a reality. In this process he also knew how to get all those around him become passionately involved in what he dreamt for others. That is what made him a great leader and animator. He would set us ABLAZE with his mere presence!!

Moving out of 'I, me and mine'

by Castilino  

The community reflection on the theme of return to the young took a very interesting twist this evening when it came to the situation and Salesian involvement at the Province level. We are really proud to say that all - literally, all - our institutions cater directly to the poor. There is no institution about which we can say that it caters to the elite, "and also to the poor"... none!! However most of us felt that though we have the infrastructure and the setup to cater to the young in need, our focus is not the poor, not the young. Most often we end up doing the administration work (putting up new buildings, purchasing land, hunting for property, collecting rent, erecting compound walls, repairing structures which are not even 5 years old!!). Young people are not the centre of our mission. Secondly, we pamper ourselves! It is sometimes shocking to see that the running expenses of three or four confreres equals that of maintaining 80 to 100 of our boarding boys!!

In this context 'Return to the young' would primarily mean shifting the focus from ourselves, from our buildings and structures to others. Only when we can think of others before ourselves can we prioritize the lives and dreams of young people.

A living monument to Don Bosco!

by Castilino  


I've always admired Fr John Lens. He has always been someone whom I really looked up to, right since my school days. In fact, when I joined the Salesians and began my study of Don Bosco, I had no difficulty in understanding who and what 'Don Bosco' was because I knew Fr Lens! Today I feel elated for at last I have found one small way of showing my respect and admiration for someone I adore... together with my helper, Ms Sheeba, we published online (through Lulu) the major works of Fr Lens (most of these are abridged versions of the originals found in Italian or French).

Not one to know what 'free time' is, he has been busy (and is so today too!) translating texts from foreign languages into English, with the sole purpose of making known Don Bosco and his love for God and young people, to as many people as possible, especially those aspiring to be his sons! His body is 87 now but his heart, mind and eyes are still that of a teenager, passionately in love with Don Bosco and Christ. (Of course, his ears are a bit shut now!! But never mind, his walking stick is handy for those who take too much of an advantage of his hearing!)

May the lives of such living role models inspire and encourage us all to a greater commitment to Christ and Don Bosco!

Age, wisdom and history

by Castilino  

It is said that when Don Bosco began his "society" - for he was cautious to name it a 'Congregation' - in 1859 there were only 17 members in it. Fr Alasonatti was the eldest (47). Imagine the age of the councillors?! Just 21 and 24!! Cagliero and Bonetti were 21 while Ghivarello was 24. Today by that age one barely gets past the post novitiate formation. Though the Brothers in Practical training manage the boys, I wonder if they have the sense and the wisdom to manage the house. On the other hand, I've known several diocesan brothers - some of them, my students - who would be put in-charge of vast farm land (nearly 40 to 50 acres of fruit trees and forest) all by themselves. No priests or seniors, just farm hands. Either because the Bishop did not trust his priests or he found it is better that Brothers manage the farm and priests be left for pastoral ministry, whatever be the case, the Brothers ended up knowing life the hard way. By the time they are ordained, they know to manage any given situation. I wonder if we are ready for such a risk.

However, what makes all the difference is experience, learning and faith. Perhaps this is the reason there are some appointed Rectors in their early 40s while some in their 70s have never ever been Rectors! Must remember that even the three councillors in 1859 were chosen only after some hesitation! (Don Bosco in his times by Francis Desramaut and translated by Fr John Lens, p. 103)

History in bits...

by Castilino  

My reading of the history of the Congregation surprised me with two small instances today:
It is said that when Don Bosco died, Vatican thought of fusing the Congregation with another one!! Now given the fact that we were already 768 perpetually professed members in the Congregation, this idea of merger sounds a bit ridiculous. Maybe Rome was unsure if the Salesian society would continue without Don Bosco. Well, this fear cannot be ruled out as irrational. Given the charismatic towering personality that Don Bosco was, it would surely have taken a great amount of faith to see someone else (anyone, for that matter) take his place!

The second discovery was that the Holy See's decree of appointment (I think, of Don Rua as Rector Major) could not be traced! I thought that was my problem (I really wouldn't be able to tell you where the decree of appointment of Fr Provincial is, in my archives!!).

Poverty & inner freedom

by Castilino  

Truly speaking our vow of poverty has more to do with a sense of inner freedom than with money. Either an over-emphasis on the latter (or lack of it) or a total "modern" interpretation of the vow itself, renders religious life meaningless. I have heard several Salesians say that having money in hand is no big deal - I'm taking of personal money - as long as you are detached from it. I have my reservations about this concept of 'personal money' altogether! If one is really detached why have it at all and then find ways and means to justify having it!

Anyway, with most of our discussions and debates centred around money/currency, we reduce our vow of poverty to having or not having money. In the bargain we lose out on the very essence of it: a sense of inner freedom in order to be available for works of the Kingdom. Say for example, the prudent and fruitful use of time, talents, human resources, our own potencies suffering from inertia... most of which cannot be immediately calculated in terms of money!


by chris valentino  

Just trying out how this drop of honey looks, feels and works out at the global level....

honey by any other name would taste just as sweet??? I suppose so... and i have just been ruminating this great produce of nature... how very important it is, especially in India for not only its sweet taste, but also for its medicinal properties... it is also called by many names.. divine nectar, miraculous sweet, and the like.

Whether it is eye irritation or acidity or even a severe cough and cold... chest congestion... maybe a bout of asthama... bruised, cuts, etc... there it is... honey... the natural curative... the magic remedy.. I remember those early childhood days when I was handed out a generous two teaspoons of honey mixed with ginger juice.... before I could put brush to teeth... to help me rid of my bouts of wheezing and severe chest congestion...!!

also the very usage of the word 'honey' in the lingua inglese refers to something/someone sweet and so very delectable.. probably that's why couples refer to their partners as honey.. moms call their daughters (however brash) honey... The genius of St. Francis De Sales possibly is this .. he recognised the virtue / value of honey and proposed that a spoonful of honey would do the trick rather than a barrel of vinegar..

How very true.. how very fundamentally correct... and with good reason to... for in the present scenario when there is around us so much confusion, chaos, perplexity, tension-atmosphere, distress, wars, violence, terrorism... the youngsters.... are in this throes of congestion, cut, bruised, irritated, frustrated... and are seeking, searching for a soothing balm, a divine nectar that would wipe away the many ailments that threaten and defeat the purpose of life.... we can.. and we ought to offer them... as SDBs... generous dollops of honey.... and this is one venture we can take up .. and so let it begin with us.. with a drop of honey!!

The humane-ness of Ruth

by Castilino  

Among all the stories of the Old Testament in the Bible, the one of Ruth appeals most to me. Reflecting as to why this is so, I realise that the story of Ruth is one of common man. It is a story that tugs at your humanity. Nothing supernatural or extravagant, but a simple and straight story of love, concern and fidelity. Perhaps the divine element is there, (may be emerges later, when we see the connection between her offspring and Jesus Christ) but certainly not over emphasised.

This leads me to postulate that Ruth did have a good family upbringing. She sensed the pain and the loneliness of Naomi and therefore was willing to give up her comfort (and right?) to stand by her mother-in-law in her need. It is good to take note of this, lest we have a narrow idea that only the 'chosen people' were the most virtuous. Graces are bestowed upon all, irrespective of any distinction. It is up to us to appropriately respond to them. This response is what makes us sinners or saints.

Most important lesson from the life of Ruth: humanity precedes/channels divinity.

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