To give a trade to those who do not have one or a meaning on how to spend one's existence improving the world. Affirming the right of every person and of the weakest to have a dignified life and transforming through these the society of adults. All this and more St. John Bosco can still give, provided we know how to bring him back not only in the words of a popular song still among his followers but in the method, virtues, and concrete planning of his dreams.
When – it was January 31, 1888 – Don Giovanni Bosco closed his human experience, not a few in Turin and elsewhere thought that his work in favor of young people would remain without a future. In reality, he had spent himself totally for his boys by being from time to time a juggler and a beggar, a friend, a father, and a teacher.
His life – he was born in 1815 – was distinguished by a whole series of difficulties in his family and surrounding environment that, however, failed to curb the irrepressible desire born in him at age 9 with a dream where he saw a celestial lady and some boys changed from wolves into lambs. Images and visions of boys that would return to him as film sequences throughout his existence. Now imprisoned and even hanged for their crimes by Savoyan justice, now as poor, starving illiterates, and now as young minds to be enlisted for his own mission.
For them, in Valdocco near Porta Palazzo he succeeded in creating the most crowded aggregation of adolescents in Europe. In his lifetime, he founded the Salesian Congregation and a vast spiritual movement made up of an interconnected network of relationships and intentions always in support of youth education. Today that method turned charism is materially present in 136 countries.
The personality of this Saint is quite complex and in it, human and Christian qualities merge. In him, faith, hope, and charity are translated into union with God, a desire for the Absolute, and concrete works of love for one’s neighbor with educational initiatives and projects of broad creativity. St. Giuseppe Cafasso, his confessor and spiritual guide, about him declared, “The more I study him, the less I understand him. He is simple and extraordinary, humble and great at the same time. He does not have a penny in his pocket and his brain forms immense projects, apparently unachievable, and which in any case it seems to me he is incapable of carrying out to completion. If I were not sure that he works for the glory of God, that he is guided solely by the thought of God, that God is the end to which all his efforts tend, I would say that he is a dangerous man, more for what he lets us glimpse than for what he makes known to us, Don Bosco, in short, is an enigma….”
Pope Montini, St. Paul VI – who in Milan and Rome got to know the Salesian world closely – said that to find a figure like Don Bosco in the Church, one must go to the great founders like St. Benedict and St. Francis.
Today we are faced with discouraging educational poverty and faced with young people who do not seem to have a desire for the future and determination to make choices. Neet or post-pandemic depressed youngsters, digital natives alone with their cold electronic gizmos: what to do? Don Bosco’s proposal with his example is relaunched and can be revived and conjugated in this new reality only if we have the same passion as the Saint, his capacity to bet on what it is worth, starting with God.
Giving a trade to those who don’t have one or meaning on how to spend one’s existence improving the world. Affirm the right of every person and the weakest to have a dignified life and transform adult society through them. St. John Bosco can still give all this and more, as long as we know how to bring him back not only with the words of a popular song still among his followers but in the method, virtues, and planning concreteness of his dreams.
Fr. Giuseppe Costa,
Co-spokesman of the Salesian Congregation