Don Bosco

A Fascinating Saint

Staying with Don Bosco

Among the factors contributing to our unity as a Congregation and Salesian Family, the first and most powerful is love for Don Bosco. It is an empathy, an admiration, a feeling, an attraction, a kind of instinctive energy which leads to his imitation, the desire to remain with him spiritually and be involved in his work.

We know that grace is at the origin of our vocation. By directing us to Don Bosco as our Father, Teacher and Friend, the Holy Spirit has led us to the religious consecration characterized by his mission to the young and his educative concern.

In salesian tradition our affection has always been manifested without shame, almost with youthful enthusiasm, prolonging the admiration of the first young oratorians who wanted 'to stay with Don Bosco' and formed the first nucleus of the Congregation. It is the sign of a filial rapport which is deeply felt.

From the Salesians this enthusiasm and admiration passes in the first place to the youngsters themselves, who express it in many forms according to their style: with songs, scenarios, T-shirts, celebrations, pilgrimages, reading of some biography, presentation of films and videocassettes, pleasure at being in or linked with our houses, friendship with confreres: a common collection of songs and hymns which by now has spread around the world and is heard in every language.

I have seen at first hand two results of this affection. In the young it gives rise to initiatives, thoughts, desires and projects in the line of commitment and growth in faith; it is a powerful vocational factor. In the communities it is a source of joy, of confidence in our work, of serene identification and membership. Even in cases in which a critical observer might discern a bit of ingenuity or exaggeration the results are positive. Coldness and detachment, on the other hand, seem entirely unproductive.

The admiration is not confined to our own environment. We hear comments, necessarily of a general kind, about the genius and originality of Don Bosco in ecclesial circles, from civil authorities and from ordinary people. Many expectations rely on the application of his methods and on the setting up of educative initiatives like those to which he gave origin.

I found interesting the study on the formation of Don Bosco's image. It was certainly influenced by the adherence of his youngsters, who had been won over by his ability to love them and open them to life. They collected and spread anecdotes, dreams and enterprises with extraordinary narrative verve when modern means of communication were nonexistent. As they passed on their experiences, they seemed almost to bring the fascinating fatherliness of Don Bosco to life again. It is something that has remained among our charismatic and pastoral characteristics: the enthusiastic love for the Founder and its communication to the young.

It was also influenced by the manner in which his enterprises were presented by the Salesian Bulletin, under his direction and in line with his own criteria. Good was to be spread and presented in an attractive way.

But especially it was influenced by the direct impact of the style and educative results in a society becoming more and more concerned with the phenomenon of youth.

At the origin is a typical holiness, marked by pastoral charity capable of reaching a person?s heart and attentive to the questions of his time. Congar, in a well known comment on the Council, referred to Don Bosco in these terms: "The greatest novelty of the Council lies in this: if the Church is in the world and in the world there are problems, then holiness is a phenomenon which is of concern to culture. This may seem a debatable concept, but a central point of the Council's intuitions is that there is a connection between holiness and history." With the Incarnation human history becomes the place where the love of God is expressed; holiness therefore is not born of flight from the world or its rejection, because it is in the measure that I immerse myself in the world to save it that I find the great gift of God.

Who are the saints? I like to recall in the first place one who preceded the Council by a century: Don Bosco. He was prophetically a new model of holiness through his work which distinguished him from his contemporaries manner of thinking and judging.

'We study and imitate him', say the Constitutions. The two seem linked together. Today a great deal is said about creative fidelity with respect to consecrated life. A serious approach and renewed attention in this sense not only takes nothing from the image of our Father, embellished by affection and by a tradition which has kept the memory of his deeds alive, but endorses the validity of his permanent place in the historical and ecclesial context.

(ACTS 364 Fr Vecchi)