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Zefferino Namuncurá, a fruit of Salesian youth spirituality



Zefferino Namuncurá, a fruit of Salesian youth spirituality

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Letter of the Rector Major to all the Salesian Family

Dear Brothers and Sisters, all the members of the Salesian Family, dear young people,

I am writing to you with a heart full of joy for the beatification of the Spanish martyrs, at which I was able to take part on Sunday 28 October in St Peter’s Square. The Lord has blessed us with 63 new beati who confirm what Don Rua said: “The holiness of the sons is proof of the holiness of the Father.” They are an incentive to us in our efforts to make holiness a programme of life, especially at this time in which society needs passionate witnesses to Christ at the service of men..

The joy increases like a river in flood with the approaching beatification of Zefferino Zamuncurá, on Sunday 11 November, this time in Chimpay, where he was born and which over the years has become the destination of pilgrims. His reputation for holiness goes back to 1930, when  Fr Luigi Pedemonte began collecting and publishing testimonies and was recognised first of all when he was declared Venerable by Pope Paul VI in 1972 and afterwards by the decree for his Beatification signed by Pope Benedict XVI on 6 July 2007.

The holiness of Zefferino is the expression and the fruit of Salesian youth spirituality, that spirituality of joy, friendship with Jesus and Mary, the fulfilment of one’s duties, giving oneself to others. Zefferino represents the convincing proof of the fidelity with which the first missionaries sent by Don Bosco succeeded in reproducing what he had done  at the Oratory at Valdocco: forming young saints. This continues to be our task today, in a world in need of young people inspired by a clear sense of the meaning of life, daring in the choices they make and firmly concentrated on God while they serve others.


The life of Zefferino is a parable of scarcely 19 years, but full of lessons.

He was born at Chimpay on 26 August 1886 and was baptised  two years later by the Salesian missionary Fr Milanesio, who had negotiated a peace treaty between the Mapuce and the Argentinean army, making it possible for Zefferino’s father to keep for himself the title of the “Great Cacico” and for his people the territory  of Chimpay. He was eleven years old when his father enrolled him in the government school in Buenos Aires: he wanted to make his son the future defender of his people. But Zefferino was not happy there and his father transferred him to the Salesian College of  “Pius IX”. Here grace began its work and transformed a heart not yet enlightened by the faith into an heroic witness to the Christian life. He at once showed a great interest in his studies, was enraptured by the practices of piety, loved the catechism and was appreciated by everyone companions and superiors alike. Two experiences launched him towards the highest peaks: reading the life of Dominic Savio, of whom he became a fervent imitator, and his first communion, when he pledged himself to complete fidelity to his great friend Jesus. From then on this boy who had found it difficult to “line up” and “be obedient to the sound of the bell” became a model student.

One day - Zefferino was already a Salesian aspirant at  Viedma ─ Francesco De Salvo, seeing him ride up at the gallop called out to him: “Zefferino, what would you like best?” He expected a reply connected with horse-riding, an art at which the Araucani were experts. The boy, however, reining in the horse replied: “To be a priest,” and then rode off again.

It was in these years of growth in the interior life that he became ill with tuberculosis. They arranged for him to return to his native climate but it was not enough. Bishop Cagliero then thought that it would be possible to find better treatment in Italy. His presence in the country did not go unnoticed: news papers wrote admiringly about the Prince of the Pampas. Don Rua had him dine with the General Council. Pius X received him in a private audience, listening to him with interest and giving him his ad principes medal. On 28 March  1905 he had to  enter the Fatebenefratelli hospital on Tiber Island, where he died on 11 May leaving behind him  a memory of his inimitable kindness, diligence, purity and cheerfulness.

He was a mature fruit of Salesian youth spirituality. His remains are now in the Sanctuary in Fortín Mercedes in Argentina, and his tomb is the goal of constant pilgrimages, because of the reputation for holiness he enjoys among the people of Argentina.

Zefferino incarnates in himself the sufferings, the distress and the hopes of his people the Mapuce, the people who in the years of his adolescence were introduced to the Gospel and opened their hearts to the gift of faith under the guidance of wise Salesian educators. There is an expression that sums up his whole programme of life: “I want to study so as to be useful to my people.” In fact, Zefferino wanted to study, to become a priest and return to his people in order to contribute to the cultural and spiritual development of his people, as he had seen the first Salesian  missionaries do.
A saint is never like a meteorite that unexpectedly flashes across the sky of humanity, but is rather the fruit of a long and silent gestation in a family, and in a people whose best qualities are expressed in that son of theirs.

The beatification of Zefferino is an invitation to believe in young people, even in those scarcely evangelised, to discover the fruitfulness of the Gospel that  destroys nothing that is truly human, and the contribution made by education to this stupendous work of shaping the individual person so that he reproduces in himself the image of Christ.

Whoever thinks that religious faith is a form of adjustment or a lack of commitment to social change, is mistaken. On the contrary it is the force that makes the transformation of history possible. Holiness, which by some is considered a peculiar condition little adapted to everyday life, in fact signifies mankind at its fullness translated into fact. The saint is someone who is genuine, fulfilled, happy. The testimonies of the contemporaries of Zefferino are unanimous in affirming the goodness of his heart and the seriousness of his commitment. “He smiles with his eyes,” his companions said. He was an admirable, holy adolescent who today, can and must be proposed as a model and example to the young. Grateful to God for the extraordinary gift that in Zefferino He has given it, Salesian Argentina has the obligation of feeling responsible for keeping his memory alive, convinced that it can continue to propose to young people valid paths of holiness.

While we praise and give thanks to the Lord for this new piece in the beautiful mosaic of Salesian holiness, let us renew our faith in the young, in the inculturation of the Gospel and in the  Preventive System.

Affectionately,  in Don Bosco

Rome, 1 November 2007
Solemnity of All Saints

Fr. Pascual Chávez Villanueva, SDB
Rector Major