Salesian Youth Spirituality

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Day of prayer - at the beach


Not the Church asking young people to come close to it, but the Church (through Don Bosco) coming close to the young. The salesian presence in the world today only makes sense if it is seen as proposing to young people a way to holiness. It is a proposal for every young person from the moment of entry into a salesian environment, but only explicitly to some, according to their capacity to receive it as such.


The salesian presence in the Church takes on meaning from that moment in which it is understood as an original spiritual experience which relives the Gospel in our time. Don Bosco understood this, giving life to a method of living the Christian life open to all young people, but more especially to those otherwise deprived culturally and religiously.

Salesian youth spirituality is the living out of the Salesian spirit, rethought for the young of today, and with reference to the theological understanding of the second Vatican Council.


  • a re-reading of the Gospel in a particular context

  • something able to hold together all those attitudes and actions which characterize Christian existence

  • the possibility of a God-experience in the context of ones own life and history

  • a path to holiness; a specific project of life in the spirit.


  • Gospel applied to the young; a new lifestyle

  • aimed at the lowest rung (the most deprived), but therefore available to all above, and with a view to advancing each to a better rung * effort to approach the individual in freedom and faith, helping him to become progressively more involved in his own growth

  • aimed at making a young person a protagonist for good amongst his or her peers.


  • Inspired by the intuitions, life and teachings of Don Bosco, not just in the sense of repeating his words and actions. The Gospel according to Don Bosco!

  • Inspired by the history of the Salesian phenomenon after Don Bosco

  • Centred on the Preventive system which is a pedagogy, a pastoral method and a spirituality.


The cardinal virtue of Salesian youth spirituality can be discovered in Don Bosco’s wish that educators teach young people to "serve the Lord in gladness".

Don Bosco’s holiness is a happy holiness. Happiness says "yes" to life, has a love, even a passion for life.

Not all spiritualities in the Church today can be said to be spiritualities of the love for life. Some seem to take a step back from life, or put in first place the belief that we are sinners and therefore little able to meet God.

Often, the "yes" that young people give to life seems a long way from the Gospel. Salesian spirituality offers important elements that enable one to keep the Gospel and a youthful "yes" together:

God as Father..he comes close to us by his own initiative.

A viewpoint about God which excludes distance.

Jesus seen as a model for daily life.

Daily duty as our most important appointment with God.

Importance given to work enlivened by charity (love)

Faith in human intelligence, education, culture

Strict relationship between gladness and service of the Lord.

An intuition about holiness as happiness (Dom. Savio)

 We can say that Salesian spirituality recognizes in the "yes" to life the most important meeting place for God’s gratuitous, saving action, and our free, responsible response.

To meet God:

it is not necessary to refuse life, or to ignore life in order to take on "sacred" activities.

rather is it appropriate to welcome life and all it offers.


We can love life as Jesus loved it. He is the prototype and model for every spiritual event. Jesus loved life by placing himself at the service of its growth around him (Kingdom of God): in miracles, words of hope, solidarity with those who had sinned, friendship with disciples, passionate struggle against abuses of all kinds.

Every time a young person welcomes life, and struggles to be constructive about it, this continues Jesus’ work: it becomes a spiritual event. "Yes" to life is like a seed that contains its own plant:

  • its first and most basic direction is that of discovering ones own self-awareness and that of others.

  • a second direction is the acceptance of ‘finitude’ as a decisive dimension of life; this enables one to hand over things to God

  • a third direction is the meeting with Jesus as Lord of life. This becomes an openness to the Gospel, the building up of the Kingdometc.

  • a fourth direction is to allow oneself to be transformed by this, by taking on Jesus’ own attitudes and ways of being and doing as revealed in the Gospel.

  • a fifth firection is to consider life as a "call" to work for the Kingdom.


On the basis of this "yes" to life, Salesian youth spirituality can be presented as follows:

a) Life as a place for meeting God.

Daily life for the young is a mix of duty, socializing, games, the tension that comes from growth, family life, development of personal abilities, future perspectives, cries for help, hopes. This is the material on which God’s light can be shed. To discover God as Father in all this is the very first proposal of Salesian spirituality. Holiness belongs to these situations.

According to Don Bosco, it is enough to do well what one must do to become a saint. He considered diligence and devotion to duty as the measure of virtue and a sign of spiritual maturity.

Behind this understanding of daily life and the positive evaluation of life in general lies faith and the Incarnation. In Jesus, God became man. The human condition is able to reveal God’s presence. Jesus, man, is the sacrament of the Father. Jesus has taught us that the place to meet God is in our humanity.

All this implies the taking up of daily life, accepting its

challenges and questions, its growth difficulties. Life becomes a

sacrament in which the young person can meet God. It means an openness

to the ‘beyond’ contained in life. Don Bosco taught that one does not

have to detach oneself from life to find the Lord. He demonstrated this

  • with a welcome for all young people

  • with his passion for the total salvation of the person

  • with his conviction that God was present in every young person’s heart, even those that seemed to be in the grip of evil

  • with his capacity to unite himself with God joyfully and in the midst of work

  • with that ascesis of duty which is prayer and penitence

  • with his genuine humanity


b) A life that conforms itself progressively to Christ

Spirituality means to live under the action and inspiration of the Spirit. Christ is the man of the Spirit. There is no Christian spirituality without the person and the mystery of Christ. We are all equal when we come to Christ, but all different when we grow in Him. His person is inexhaustible.

Jesus is also the revelation of God. To know and reveal the riches of Christ is not only an end, but a daily journey to the point where we are part of His paschal mystery. Word, sacrament, prayer, liturgy are all in function of this knowledge.

Jesus is presented by Don Bosco

  • as the friend of young people

  • as master of life and wisdom

  • as the model for every Christian

  • as redeemer who hands his life over to the point of death

  • as present in the small and the needy.

Don Bosco’s constant preoccupation was to educate to the faith, to walk with the young so as to lead them to the person of the risen Christ. He wanted them to discover in Jesus and in his gospel the supreme meaning of their own life.

Life in Christ for Don Bosco develops especially through growth in love, but its privileged moment of grace is in the sacraments:

the eucharist is the grand memorial of God’s love for mankind in Christ, in His joining our history so we could enter into communion with him.

Reconciliation is the sign that celebrates the mercy of

God and, through conversion, that transforms us in Him.

Both are a sure foundation for Christian growth

c) Life of Jesus Christ: joy and commitment

The basic desire of human beings is the desire for happiness. Joy is its most noble expression.

In the history of education, of spirituality, there are those who have tied our spiritual maturity only to commitment, task, responsibility. But God loves us and has said in Christ: "Happy are you!" The discovery of the Kingdom and the encounter with Christ are man’s happiness. Life is best understood as developing from a sense of fullness.

The Gospel is permeated with the fullness of joy, and expresses this especially through the beatitudes. Don Bosco understood this intuitively and helped his boys understand it. He linked joy and commitment, holiness and happiness.

As a boy at the Becchi he spontaneously linked the proclamation of God’s Word to the vital experience of games; as a seminarist at Chieri, in the "Happy Company", he put forward a unique programme of piety, devotion to duty, study and joyful outings. In his proposal for Christian life to the youngsters of the Oratory he joined in a unique experience of life the courtyard, the study, the chapel, commitmnet and, through it all, joy.

d) An experience of Church: communion and service

Each group cultivates in its members an image of the Church and an attitude towards it. The Church could be seen as a collection of religious services, or as a closed group of believers, as an agency for good initiatives etc.

The Salesian group helps its members to see in it the visible Body of Christ, His continuing Incarnation. Don Bosco taught his boys to know the Church’s mystery through its visible components: the building, the community, the Bishops, the Pope, the history of the People of God, the apostolate.

A spirituality that wants to call itself Salesian will want to ensure that from our love for God arises necessarily our love for his church, the people of God, the centre of unity and communion of all the forces working for the Kingdom. It will educate young Christians to an authentic understanding of the Church and to work assiduously for its growth.

e) A journey towards vocational choice.

Life seen as an encounter with God, a journey of identification with Christ, commitment to the Kingdom, the Church as communion and service where each has a place and a role - all this says that life carries on through a calling; it is a project to be discovered and realized.

Vocation is God’s initiative. The reading of reality that is done through eyes of faith helps us to see that at the origins of life as it is there lies God’s call.

To understand life’s meaning is not enough. God’s call demands to be heard and responded to. It becomes dialogue, communion with the Lord, conscious participation in His work.

Finding ones direction in life is partly an inner process, but it is also the combination of other factors of environment and by other people that help a young person to choose and respond generously. Don Bosco understood and lived out his own existence as a call which began from the dream at nine years of age.

As a priest he became the guide for many a young person’s choice of life; in particular he nurtured vocations to priesthood, religious and lay life, and left a legacy of such nurturing with his Congregation.

f) A life inspired by Mary, mother of Jesus.

Mary is the first and most perfect disciple of Christ. She gave him his humanity. All that happened then and subsequently happened in her daily life. The Lord chose her to collaborate as woman in the salvation of mankind, but this did not change her style of life.

For Don Bosco the presence and intervention of Mary in his life and work was extraordinary.  She was truly Help of Christians for him.