PASTORAL VISIT BY THE HOLY FATHER, FRANCIS
MEETING WITH THE SALESIANS AND THE DAUGHTERS OF MARY HELP OF CHRISTIANS
HOLY FATHER'S ADDRESS
Basilica of Mary Help of Christians Sunday, 21 June 2015
Holy Father's address at Valdocco 21 June 2015
(transcription from a recording. At times to help the reader understand this unscripted address, some words are added in square brackets)
Dear Salesian Family, I thought of so much I wanted to say to you. And I have written something down I want to say. But it is too formal. I am giving it to the Rector Major so that he can let you know about this text. I came to know this Rector Major in a confessional . But I wasn't going to confession to him nor him to me; it was a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Lujan. He had only just arrived in Argentina, in October. A friend from the Salesian Province was with him, and he saw this pilgrimage of young people up to a million of them over 48 hours. When a penitent left they came over to me and said: “The new provincial”. And I said to him: “Ah, this is the one who has come to tell us what to do.” Then we were on good terms including at difficult times … we saw some difficult times, myself as well, but I was always struck by his service and humility. I recall once we had to do something in a parish … And he signed eveyrthing.
Then he came here to the Chapter, all calm, ready to go back to Spain because he had finished … But they set a trap for him instead … one with the Holy Spirit. However, I would like to talk to you about my experience with the Salesians. My family is very attached to the Salesians. My father, who had just arrived in Argentina, had gone to the Salesians in a Church in Italy. The Basilica of Mary Help of Christians, San Carlo parish, and he knew many of them there. My father also became very attahed to a footbal team that was founded by a Salesian!
500 metres from the San Carlo Basilica, the Salesian founded a football team with Our Lady's colours, red and blue. But with the street kids eh? Immediately. For me it is the best team in Argentina, very often the champions … Then he got to know my mother who lived close by, and they were married by a priest who followed me up as well as my parents throughout their life. A Salesian missionary from Patagonia, born in Lodi, a good man and a great confessor for the Salesian Family. I used to go to confession to him, he baptised me and he helped me in my vocation. He helped me as I was going to the Jesuit Seminary.
I am so grateful to the Salesian family. My mother was in difficulties for a year after the fifth birth so they sent us older boys to the Salesian College. I did my final year of primary there and it was there that I learned to love Our Lady. The Salesians formed me to beauty, work – this is one of your charisms. With love they formed boys emotionally, got them to grow emotionally.
I recall great and merciful Salesian confessors. There were always many of them in the basilica there. But then my father died, this father of mine, but I always went to Mary help of Christians every 24 May. I brought flowers and prayed to Our Lady. This is something I received from you. But one thing has always made me think: affection. I believe Don Bosco was able to educate boys to this because he had a mother who had educated him this way. A good, dear and strong mother. She educated his heart with so much love. We cannot understand Don Bosco without Mamma Margaret. We cannot understand him.
I wonder if the Salesians today and the Sisters, the whole family when it comes to educating a girl, show her what this woman was doing, how she formed the heart of her son. And I wanted to stress that.
But there is one other thing. At that time, at the end of the nineteenth century, this region of Italy was Masonic, 'mangiaprete' (literally, priest-eating'), anti-clerical, even demonic - yes, even demonic! Turin is one of the demonic centres - but how many saints have come out of here! Just do the maths! The Lord has given a mission to the families born here. Today many things have improved. There are computers, many things ... But the situation of the young is more or less the same. What did Don Bosco do? He worked with the boys who were there, without work and without study, on the streets. He risked his ministry. And that's why so many people have talked about him.
He risked his ministry there: "These kids are second class, nothing can be done..." Today the situation is that here in Italy 40% of young people aged 25 and under are unemployed. They neither study nor work. You Salesians have the same challenge that Don Bosco had. Take these boys and girls. And what did Don Bosco do? Sport, because sport leads you to be social, to healthy competitiveness, it leads you to the beauty of working together. And then education. Don Bosco didn't talk about big things. No, small schools to educate to a trade. Those Salesians schools that at the time could be called de arte y oficio, were where young people learned a trade.
But are Salesians today able to educate in these urgently needed professions? I really don't know, I'm asking the question. I don't know if learning to be an electrician or a plumber because taps always break, can be done in six months. Education, yes, but education which measures up to the crisis. We do not think that these street kids today – I am thinking of my homeland - can go straight to high school. Let's give them something that is a source of work, even small jobs – even they are useful today but not tomorrow. An emergency education, I think this is what street kids need today. A short term but practical job and then you will see. This 40% needs something. Let Salesian creativity take up this challenge.
Also bring them to joy, to Salesian joy which is another thing I learned and never forgot. It is the joy that comes from all that the Lord has given us, that is beautiful. Animation, education. Let's feed the street children: it's true, that with an empty stomach you can't praise God! But we should promote them, yet how? With creativity. Education tailored to the crisis. That's what I am saying to you.
What did this priest, Fr Lorenzo Mazza, who founded the football team in 1908, do? Sport. He gave a mystique to these street kids. They could have been drug carriers, they could have fallen into addictions, or many boys could have commited suicide ... but [he gave them] the joy of something to go on with. That's what I have to say. we are in a time of a bad crisis, even anti-Church. But Don Bosco was not ashamed to speak of the three great loves: Our Lady, the Eucharist and the Pope
These three loves: he was not ashamed of Our Lady. Because he was never ashamed of his mother. Today so many ... I remember something that has hurt me so much. In the 'eighties, I went to Belgium for a meeting with the benefactors of the Catholic University of Cordoba. And then I was invited to dinner: it was the wedding of a couple of professors, both practising Catholics, with four young children. And at the table they began to speak about theology, Christology, the situation of the Church. And at a certain point they said: "Our Lady doesn't work for us today, thank God we have passed that stage". Yet they were good people...
Even today, not among you, but there are people who are not really ashamed of her, yet they do not speak about Our Lady with love as Don Bosco spoke about her. Don Bosco's first love, Our Lady. He entrusted himself to God by praying to Our Lady, and he risked so much. The second love, the Eucharist. Liturgical practice today in the Salesian family is done and explained well, the children are led into the Eucharistic mystery. And also adoration, which the Salesians do so often. This is good, even the Pope does it. Because Don Bosco loved the Church, Our Lady and his mother. And to you, consecrated women, the mystery of woman in the Church. Love for the Pope is not love just for a person; it is love for Peter as head of the Church. As the representative of the bridegroom of the Church. But behind that love for the Pope there is love for the Church.
I don't know how Don Bosco could hide or explain certain scandals but he got them to love the Church. Yes. Think of this connection: the Church, mother; Our Lady, mother; Margaret, mother. You form girls to become mothers, but to raise their children in love with Our Lady and the Church. Sometimes they ask me: don't we need stronger decisions about women in the Church? Of course. But do you think that appointing a head of department is a strong decision? The woman in the Church has the same job, so to speak, that Our Lady had with the Apostles on the morning of Pentecost. The Apostles without Mary wasn't going to work: Jesus wanted that.
Do not forget these three great loves. Do not be ashamed to speak of Our Lady, to celebrate the Eucharist and do so well, and do not be ashamed of the Holy Mother Church. What a poor thing, she always ends up under attack every day ... And from there she learns the role of women in the Church. Don Bosco's three great loves always lead us along this road. Then trust in God: I said, Don Bosco always prayed to Mary Help of Christians and went on. He didn't do so much calculation.
My Salesian experience is what I said, that of the college and that's all. I did the rest in public schools. And my family, so attached to the Salesians and to Mary Help of Christians. I asked the Salesians "give me the blessing of Mary Help of Christians" ... For this experience I thank God, they helped me to grow without fear, without obsessions. To go on in joy, in prayer. Your charism is of great relevance today. Look at the streets, look at the children and make risky decisions. Do not be afraid. Do as he did.
I thank you so much for what you do in the Church and for the Church. I thank you so much for your missionary character. So many Salesians hidden in Africa ... I think of the early days of Patagonia, when the nuns went there with the habit of that time - how did those women on horseback manage it? - and they evangelized Patagonia. Then there were the Salesian martyrs of Patagonia...
It's not like I'm obsessed with Patagonia. But Don Bosco dreamt of it! And he sent people there. The first Salesians did so well. And perhaps the Rector Major remembers when he came to us for a beatification meeting with the bishops of the Permanent Commission in Aparecida to find the place where to celebrate it it. And there was a good proposal, to do it in Buenos Aires so that all the former students could come. And I opposed it, remember? No, you have to do it in Patagonia! But it wasn't a city. Cardinal Bertone, who did the beatification, remembers ... It was a camp!
Salesians who don't have this kind of practicality ... they're missing something. The Salesian is practical, sees the problem, thinks about it and takes it into his hands. In the end I said "as an archbishop I wouldn't give permission"... but regarding this missionary character let me tell you one thing: one of the regions of Patagonia was abandoned by priests. There were no Salesians there. For 15 years [Protestant] evangelists had gone there ... They were a religious people there, but isolated. They wanted to hear the Word of God and went to the [only] pastor. They more or less converted. A cultured lady - there were no Salesians there but they had had many missions there - when a new parish priest did came back, she treated him badly [when he visited her]. She accused him of having abandoned them. And in the end she put him through quite a lot. Ultimately the priest asked for forgiveness and while he was going out the woman called him back. She showed him the statue of Mary Help of Christians: "I am Evangelical now, but I will not leave her. I have hidden it so that the pastor doesn't see it." This is your missionary character. Thank you so much for what you do in the whole Church.
Holy Father's prepared address
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In this, my pilgrimage dedicated to the veneration of Jesus Crucified in the sign of the Holy Shroud, I chose to come to this place which represents the heart of the life and work of St John Bosco, to celebrate with you the second centenary of his birth. With you I thank the Lord for giving to the Church this Saint who, together with so many other Saints from this region, are an honour and a blessing for the Church and the society of Turin and Piedmont, of Italy and the entire world, in particular because of the care he had for all the poor and marginalized young people. One cannot speak of Don Bosco today without seeing him surrounded by many people: the Salesian Family founded by him, the educators inspired by him, and naturally so many young people, young men and women, from all parts of the world who praise Don Bosco as “father and teacher”. So much can be said about Don Bosco! But today I would like to remark upon only three distinguishing features: trust in divine Providence; vocation to be a priest to the young people, especially the poorest; loyal and diligent service to the Church, notably to the person of Peter’s Successor.
Don Bosco fulfilled his priestly mission until his last breath, sustained by an unshakable trust in God and in His love, and through this he did great things. This trusting relationship with the Lord is also the substance of consecrated life, so that the service to the Gospel and to our brothers is not a remaining prisoner to our line of sight, to the fleeting realities of this world, but a constant surpassing of ourselves, anchoring ourselves to eternal realities and immersing ourselves in the Lord, our strength and our hope. And this will also be our fruitfulness. Today let us ask ourselves about this fruitfulness and — allow me to say — about the very “good” Salesian fruitfulness. Are we up to the task?
The other important aspect of the life of Don Bosco is service to young people. He achieved it with determination and steadfastness, amid obstacles and struggles, with the sensitivity of a generous heart. “He took no step, he said no word, he took up no task that was not directed to the saving of the young.... Truly the only concern of his heart was for souls” (Salesian Constitution, n. 21). Don Bosco’s charism leads us to be educators of the young by carrying out that teaching of faith which is summarized thus: “evangelize by educating and educate by evangelizing” (General Directory for the Catechesis, 147). Evangelize young people, teach young people full time, starting from the most frail and abandoned, by offering a teaching style built on reason, religion and loving kindness, universally appreciated as a “preventative system”. That powerful meekness of Don Bosco, who surely learned from his mother Margaret. Powerful meekness and tenderness! I encourage you to continue with generosity and trust the multitude of activities for the younger generations: oratories, youth centres, professional institutes, schools and colleges. But without forgetting those which Don Bosco called the “street children”: they have such need of hope, of being formed in the joy of Christian life.
Don Bosco was always docile and faithful to the Church and to the Pope, following pastoral recommendations and directions. Today the Church turns to you, spiritual sons and daughters of this great Saint, and in a concrete way he sends you to go out, to set out ever anew to find the youth and young people there where they live: on the outskirts of metropolitan cities in the areas of physical and moral danger, in social contexts which are lacking in so many material things, but above all are lacking in love, understanding, tenderness, hope. Go to them with the overflowing paternity of Don Bosco. The oratory of Don Bosco was born out of the encounter with children on the street and for a certain time wandered around the neighbourhoods of Turin. May you proclaim to all the mercy of Jesus, making an “oratory” in every place, especially in the most impervious; carrying in your heart the oratorian style of Don Bosco and aiming at ever broader apostolic horizons. From the firm roots that he planted 200 years ago in the soil of the Church and of society, many branches have emerged: 30 religious institutions live its charism for sharing the mission of bringing the Gospel to the limits of peripheries. The Lord then blessed this service, creating among you, throughout these two centuries a wide range of people whom the Church has proclaimed saints and blesseds. I encourage you to continue on this path, imitating the faith of those who came before you.
In this Basilica, so dear to you and to all the People of God, let us invoke Mary Auxiliatrix that she may bless every member of the Salesian Family; may she bless the parents and educators who spend their lives raising young people; may she bless every young person who is found in the works of Don Bosco, especially those dedicated to the poorest, in order that, thanks to well received and educated youth, the joy of a new humanity may be given to the Church and to the world.