Council Resources

Feast of Blessed Michael Rua

" To become Don Bosco day after day "

Feast of Blessed Michele Rua
Rome, 29 October 2014


Dear Confreres,
today celebrating the feast of Blessed Michael Rua, first successor of Don Bosco and patron of this community of ours, let us pause to meditate on his figure. From it we can draw inspiration to live fruitfully the bicentenary of the birth of our dear father and founder: looking at Don Rua, we will learn to imitate Don Bosco.

1. The first reading, taken from the second book of the Kings, presented us the handover between the prophets Elijah and Elisha. Elijah, the prophet of the living God and of fidelity to the covenant, was about to conclude his ministry. At that juncture Eliseo, who had lived with him and shared his mission, had made a demanding request to him; so he told him: "Let two thirds of your spirit become mine". Now while Elijah was kidnapped in a whirlwind into the sky on a chariot of fire, he left his mantle to Elisha, through which Elisha immediately performed a miracle. Then the sons of the prophets said: "The spirit of Elijah has settled on Elisha." The mantle left in inheritance was the sign of the passage. Elisha thus became the continuator of the prophetic work of Elijah.
In the same perspective, Blessed Pope Paul VI expressed himself during the beatification of Don Rua, which took place 42 years ago on October 29, 1972. He thus said: "Don Rua was the most faithful, therefore the most humble and at the same time the most valiant son of Don Bosco " [1] . The Pope thus sculpted the human and spiritual figure of Don Rua, identifying his fundamental characteristic in fidelity. He added: "Successor of Don Bosco, ie continuator: son, disciple, imitator ... He made the example of the Saint a school, of his life a story, of his rule a spirit, of his holiness a model; he made the spring, a current, a river ”. Fr Rua is the coherent development of Don Bosco's charism.
Alongside Don Bosco, Fr Rua learns his spirit, apostolic initiative, dynamism, loving kindness. Let us now turn our gaze to Don Rua, especially in the years in which he lived near Don Bosco until his death in 1888, because we too, like Don Rua in this Bicentennial, can learn to "become Don Bosco day after day". The knowledge and study of Don Bosco, his familiarity with him and the imitation of his life will make us, like Don Rua, authentic Salesians and therefore his successors today. At the school of Don Rua, "like Don Bosco we will live with young people and for young people".

2. The story of Michael Rua next to Don Bosco began in the autumn of 1846 with a strange gesture. Eight years old, an orphan of a father, with a wide black band fixed by his mother on the jacket, he had held out his hand to get a medal from Don Bosco. To him instead of the medal Don Bosco had delivered his left hand, while with his right he made the gesture of cutting it in half, repeating: "Take it, Michelino, take it". In front of those wide-open eyes that stared at him in amazement, he had said some words that would be the secret of his life: " We two will do everything in half ".
Thus began that formidable work shared between the holy master and the disciple who was halfway with him in everything and always. Michele was beginning to assimilate Don Bosco's way of thinking and behaving. "I was more impressed - he will say later - to observe Don Bosco in his actions, even minute, than to read and meditate on any devoted book". [2] According to Don Bosco, he had to accumulate so much strength to be enough for his whole life, in which he should have expressed a continuous energy.
Don Giulio Barberis had been chosen as the first teacher of Salesian novices, because Don Bosco had discovered in him a fine educator of souls. Ten years younger than Don Rua, he lived next door for 49 years as a confrere, confidant, friend. In the process of beatification he described his personality: "His commitment was always to enter into the ideas of Don Bosco, to renounce his views and opinions, to conform" to Don Bosco's vision. "As soon as he learned that he intended to found the Salesian Congregation, he immediately, first, made him a vow of obedience." It was March 25, 1855, Michele was 18 years old. "From then on, he no longer thought of anything other than putting his will aside to do the will of the Lord expressed by Don Bosco." [3]

In 1863Don Bosco had his work take a decisive step. It worked well in Valdocco, because it was supported by the charismatic and paternal figure of Don Bosco. But transplanted elsewhere, without Don Bosco, would it have worked? In the spring of that year, Don Bosco had an intense encounter with Fr Rua, who was 26 years old. "I have a big favor to ask of you. In agreement with the Bishop of Casale Monferrato, I decided to open a small seminary in Mirabello. I think I send you to direct it. It is the first work that the Salesians open outside Turin. We will have a thousand eyes on us. I have full confidence in you. I give you three aids: five of our most solid Salesians, including Don Bonetti who will be your 'vice'; a group of boys chosen among the best that will come from Valdocco to continue their school there, to be the leaven among the new boys you will receive;
Don Rua leaves in October of that year. Don Bosco wrote four pages of valuable advice which will then be transcribed for each new Salesian director: they are considered one of the most clear documents of Don Bosco's educational system. Among other things he wrote: "Every night you must sleep at least six hours. Try to make yourself loved before you fear. Try to pass among young people all the time of recreation. If questions arise about material things, you spend all you need, as long as charity is preserved. " Don Rua summarizes all these tips in one sentence: "At Mirabello I will try to be Don Bosco".
In the autumn of 1865Don Rua will return to Valdocco, at the request of Don Bosco who says to him: "You did Don Bosco in Mirabello; now you will do it here, at the Oratory ”. Among all his duties, in all those years Fr Rua is always the Director of the very many young people who flock to Valdocco: students, artisans, aspiring Salesians, very young Salesians. Don Rua strives to 'become Don Bosco' in everything. "His manners, his voice, his features, his smile, did not have that mysterious charm that attracted and chained the young to Don Bosco. But it was for everyone the caring and affectionate father, anxious to understand, encourage, support, forgive, enlighten, love ”. [4] And the young men of Valdocco proved by deeds to recognize him as a paternal friend.

Don Giuseppe Vespignani, who will be a great missionary in South America, arrived in Valdocco in 1876. A young priest aged 23, he had come from Faenza to be with Don Bosco. In his simple diary, "A year at Don Bosco's school", he gave us a vivid picture of the activity of Fr Rua, of whom he was one of the secretaries. With rare sensitivity he photographed the atmosphere and environment of Valdocco, animated by the presence of two saints: Don Bosco and Don Rua. "From the first day - he writes - I put myself at the orders of my dear superior Don Rua. How many things I learned at his school of piety, of charity, of Salesian activity! His was a chair of doctrine and holiness; but it was above all a Salesian training ground. Every day I admired in Don Rua the punctuality, the tireless constancy, the religious perfection, the self-denial combined with the most gentle sweetness. How much charity, what a nice way to set off an employee in the office he wanted to entrust to him! What a delicate study, what a penetration into knowing and experiencing their attitudes in order to educate them in order to make them useful to the Work of Don Bosco! ".

In 1888 , when Don Bosco died, this direct learning ended. In Rome, more than one Cardinal was convinced that the Salesian Congregation would be rapidly embittered; Fr Rua was just 50 years old. It was better to send a pontifical commissioner to Turin to prepare the Salesian union with another already consolidated congregation. "In great haste - Fr Barberis testified - Mons. Cagliero gathers the Superior Council of the Congregation with some of the older ones and a letter was written to the Holy Father in which they declared that all agreed would accept as Superior Don Rua" . [5]Don Rua was the only one who could guide Don Bosco's work and such was the consideration and trust of all. On 11 February the Holy Father Leo XIII confirmed and declared Fr Rua in office for twelve years according to the Constitutions.

3. The gospel invites us not to worry about the future, food and clothing. Jesus says: "Look at the birds of the sky; watch the lilies of the field. Your heavenly Father feeds them and dresses them. Aren't you worth more than them? Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow. " With this trust Fr Rua assumed the leadership of the Congregation for 22 years until 1910; between trials and successes, but always relying on God's help, he led her on the path of fidelity. With the same confidence we look to the future of Don Bosco's charism. Work and temperance are the guarantee of our future: "Work and temperance will make the Congregation flourish; the pursuit of comfort and ease will be its ruin "
Like Don Rua we also try to be and become Don Bosco day after day. Becoming Don Bosco is exactly what the Constitutions indicate to us. Recalling how Fr Rua, driven by the passion of "da mihi animas", gave a great impulse to the Salesian mission, let us imitate him in his evangelizing action. Like him, we draw from the daily sources of fidelity to our vocation: Sacred Scripture with the "lectio divina"; the Eucharist in celebration, adoration and frequent visits; entrustment to Mary Help of Christians. Like him we live fraternity in the life of the community, opening ourselves to the laity, to the Salesian Family, to the life of the Church.
Let us be inspired by Blessed Michael Rua in his radical testimony of evangelical life. Let us focus on the "more than gratuitousness" of our Salesian consecrated vocation. This is the path that the GC27 indicates to us; this is the future of the Congregation. Our vocational response requires the languages ​​of gratitude rather than those of pure duty, the decision to dedicate time to prayer rather than the frenzy of initiatives, the joy of fraternity rather than the stress of organization, the essentiality more than the multiplication of words, the communication of an experience rather than the search for consensus; in a word, the radical testimony of evangelical life rather than activism.

In my Salesian experience, I have found that love and admiration for Don Bosco produce positive fruits of Salesian consecrated life, apostolic fruitfulness, diffusion and growth of the Salesian Family everywhere. The affectionate study of his biography and spirituality keeps fidelity alive; really we grow in contact with him. I hope that this jubilee year will lead us, like Fr Rua, to be spiritual sons, convinced disciples and faithful imitators of Don Bosco, to continue his dream for the poorest, most abandoned, excluded and therefore to reach them in any periphery they are. Fr Rua intercedes for us and for our Congregation. Amen

[1] PAUL VI, Homily for the beatification of Don Rua , Rome, 29 October 1972

[2] A. AMADEI, The Servant of God Michele Rua , vol I, SEI Turin 1931, p. 30.

[3] The position p. 912.

[4] A. AUFFRAY, o. c., p. 151.

[5] The position pp. 54-55.