Rada Zasoby

Don Bosco and the missions (Fr. Luc Van Looy, SDB 1988)


Don Bosco and the missions

Fr. Luc Van Looy, SDB
Salesian missionary spirituality III
Roma – Salesiani, Dicastero per le missioni, 1988 – March
(p. 67-86)


To understand the missionary activity of the Salesians, we want to look into the mind of Don Bosco. How did he insert the missionary project into his works and what did he want to achieve by his missionary activities in the Salesian Congregation? He “made up a plan for his first missionaries, the opening of secondary schools and of hostels at the boarder of the Pampas and of the Patagones, this was the purpose of taking in the sons  of the ‘savages’ to educate them in a Christian way and put some of them on the way to the priesthood, and through them bring the adults to the faith and to civilization.” (A.Favale, in ‘Il progetto missionario di Don Bosco, LAS Roma, 1975).

Today in some parts of the world the boys who are being educated by the Salesians are doing exactly this. Every year thousands of men and women are evangelized by youngsters who, having received the faith in Salesian houses, desire to hand this faith on to their relatives, even though they reside in zones where evangelization is not permitted by the civil authorities.

In most countries of the world the message of the Gospel is brought to knowledge througs missionaries coming from so called “Christian countries”; we can see that Don Bosco wanted the people recently evangelized to take care of the evangelization of their brothers and sisters. Just as he wanted his boys in Valdocco to become apostles, we can say, that he saw the education to the faith completed only if that person himself became an active disciple. In areas where Salesians start their activities for the first time, it often happens, that people will advice them to take care preferentially of the adults and the leaders of the people, since in a particular culture setting the frame of mind of the people is not ready to accept the fact, that adults care for the young and for the children. Experience proves, though, that even in this type of context, the way of starting with the youth and with children is extremely effective. Salesians who have lived – also literally – the recommendation given by Don Bosco to ‘take special care of the sick, of the young, of the old and of the poor” have achieved great things in the service of people and of the Kingdom.

1. Growth of the missionary idea in Don Bosco

Don Bosco was very deeply involved in al what concerned the Church and its growth. He took active part in the preoccupations of the Church and of the Holy Father. A wish of the Holy Father was for him an order. He discussed important matters with the Pope and taught his boys and followers to be attentive to the needs of the Church.

On May 3rd 1822 the ‘Work of the Propagation of the Faith” was founded in Lyon (France), and this brought new enthusiasm for the missions. The Church in Piedmont had always been a very missionary Church, and because of this, the new dynamism given by this newly founded institution caused a revival of the missionary ideal in Northern Italy. Only in the year1841 alone, 68 missionaries from the ‘Sardo - Piemontese’ church province left for the missions. The Holy See insisted with all religious congregations to search for ways to be more involved in missionary activities, and particularly Pius IX asked Don Bosco to consider the missionary dimension for his newly founded Congregation. Missionary bishops, statesmen of missionary countries as well as founders of missionary congregations were looking all over to find missionaries (Don Bosco had contact with Comboni, Lavigerie, Allamano and others). Due to the popularity of the work that Don Bosco was doing in Turin, many also found their way to him. The public opinion about the work of Don Bosco had grown in such a way that not only his work among the boys in Valdocco was appreciated, but also his capacity of finding collaborators and benefactors interested some of these people.

Don Bosco himself had always a keen interest in the missions; as a boy he had desired to go to the missions, and this was probably one of the reasons why he had asked to enter the Franciscan Order. He gave up this long-desired dream of going to the missions the very moment Fr. Cafasso told him that he had better forget about it. God wanted him for other things.

Don Bosco had as strong will to put all the institutions he founded at the service of the Church. He did not found his Congregation or any of his houses for any other reason but for the greater Glory of God and the salvation of souls, and this always in an ecclesial context. This we will also be able to see in the way, he organized his missions in Patagonia and in the way he answered the needs of the people he wanted to evangelize.

A clear sign of his missionary endeavour can be seen in his missionary dreams. The spiritual way of Don Bosco was definitely marked by dreams, and his planning was often very clearly influenced by these interventions, as he himself recounts several dreams with reference to his future missions and to the missions land. Through these dreams he came to have a very accurate knowledge of situations and needs in countries he had never visited. In his five great missions dreams he tells how he visited these countries – spread over the five continents – and how he needed to send missionaries to save the many youth and people who were still waiting for the light of the Gospel. Many times he expressed himself about wanting to save many people. “If only I had a great number of priests and brothers,” he told Giacomo Belli in 1848, “I would send them to Patagonia and to the Tierra del Fuego.” His concern for the salvation, the conversion of the protestants and especially that of England, as well as his work done through the ‘Catholic readings’ (Letture cattoliche-since 1853), are other signs of his interest in the missionary activity of the Church.

The whole environment, as well as the formation and guidance from above, had given this missionary spirit to Don Bosco, is such a way that the whole activity of this educator and founder took on a missionary character. His pastoral style became missionary, also in an environment where direct missionary work as first proclamation of the Gospel was not needed. All those people who did not recognize themselves in the Church as an institution or all the people who, because of social circumstances, did not attend church activities, Don Bosco considered as his particular objectives. He wanted to be the ‘parish priests of the young who were without parish” (MB III,197).

Don Bosco has had the intuition of uniting evangelization with human promotion, of uniting the light of the Gospel with secular values; and therefore he created houses in situations which did not really seem religious, he opened institutions which did not immediately show a religious aspect, but rather that aspect of care for the more materials needs of the people and of the boys. He felt that he was sent not just to the Turin of his day or the religious environment in which he himself was living. His interest was wider, he felt to be sent rather to a field of action that embraced the future of the faith and of the Church in the whole world. Herewith we need also to draw our attention to the fact that he felt himself called and sent to the poorest among the poor. For him, the greatest poverty consisted in the fact of not having received the light of the Gospel; this was for him a greater poverty than lacking bread.

2. The initial objectives

Don Bosco proposed two major objectives to the missionaries that he sent to Argentina.

(1) Assistance to the Italian migrants

 In the period between 1857 and 1875, Argentina had received 210.000 Italians, and in the city of Buenos Aires alone they were more than 50.000. They were well organized, but abandoned as far as religious life and culture were concerned. From Piedmont alone, 710.000 people emigrated in the years between 1976-1900. The fact of being isolated, living in a new cultural context, showed the need for particular assistance. The Church in Italy was concerned about the migrants, and different initiatives we take to care for their spiritual well-being. There was, however, a great need for good priests and good educators among them, since the community in La Boca (Buenos Aires), caused a good deal of worry to the civil and ecclesiastical authorities in the Argentina of those days.

(2) Evangelization of the indigenous people (aborigines)

 So many people in the Argentina of that time had not yet been brought to the Catholic faith, and were not receiving an education. Don Bosco used to call them ‘selvaggi’ (savages), a word commonly used in his days, to indicate non-educated, non-civilized groups of people in far away countries. The idea of savages caused fear in the heart of the European people, because of the stories of those being killing the whites etc. The two elements, of education and of evangelization, prompted Don Bosco to do whatever he could to reach them, and to make the Gospel known to them through a program of civilization.

The fact of coming in contact in this way with social settings different from the city inspired him to found parishes, the first ones in the history of the Salesian Congregation, and to set up boarding schools for humanitarian studies and professional training, as well as to set up various services to assist the people in all their needs by organizing various charitable activities.

We rightly say that the missionary planning of Don Bosco was in essence no different from his work in Italy, that his growth as a missionary was no different from his growth as a founder – educator, and that the goals and activities in mission lands were no different from those at home, but only that the practical circumstances inspired him to embody his work in different ways, such as for example by founding parishes. It could be said that he was a missionary at home as well as abroad, and that the missionary activity of his sons are actually nothing else but a crown to the work that he did here, and a privileged and concrete manifestation of the work that he had always been doing. Privileged then because of the fact that the people he cared for in those distant lands were more in need than those at home, and in this way expressed in a more eloquent way his Charism and his care.

3. The missionary concept of Don Bosco

 Don Bosco wanted his Congregation to be essentially missionary, and the constitutions of the Salesians state clearly that “we look upon missionary work as an essential feature of the Congregation” (C 30). The mission given by Christ to the disciples (Mat 28,18-20) is definitely basic in the thinking of Don Bosco as an apostle; basic also in his notion of the Church as the unity of faith, of the gathering of the Christian people into one body, of the obedience to the Pope, and of the need for salvation for so many people who are still outside the Church where no salvation can be found. He is a son of his times when he says that ‘outside the Church nobody can have the religion of Jesus Christ... and the one who is not with Jesus Christ is against Him” (in: Maniera facile per imparare la storia sacra,… 1852).

As the goal of missions for Don Bosco can be described under various aspects, we want to have a look at some of the most important ones. These goals are:

The glory of God. As in all his activities, this is his basic concern, He it is clear when we examine the letters to the missionaries. To Cagliero he writes “The missionary must be ready for everything, even to offer his own life, in order to announce the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” (Ep III,17). In his homily for the departure ceremony of 1875, the first time Salesian missionaries left for foreign lands, he says: “The Gospel is the same whether preached in one place or in another; in this way we all work for the glory of the same God and Savior Jesus Christ, united in one spirit, even though we may be bodily separated.” (MB XI,386-387)

Search for souls. Ultimately all his efforts land on this – his only desire and concern. Since the day of his first dream at the age of nine, in his contacts with the boys of his own age at Becchi, as in the seminary at Chieri, or in the early days of the incipient Oratory, his first and only thought was always for those in need of salvation. Again this is demonstrated in almost all his dreams. Before dying, he says to Bishop Cagliero: “Work with all your strength for the salvation of souls.” (MB XVIII,477) In the advices to his first missionaries, he starts off saying: “Seek souls and not money, honors or dignities.” (n.1) And to Luigi Calcagna in 1885, he says, “Work, save many souls and help me to save yours!” (MB XI,385).
Go to the‘savages, among them the light of the Gospel has not yet penetrated’ (MB XI,385)
He sees this work as the completion of a great desire, as the ‘seed of a great tree, as the mustard seed, which will expand to do a lot of good. Who knows”, he goes on, “if this departure will not have awakened in many the desire to dedicate themselves to God in the missions. (MB XI,385).
Animation of the boys of the oratory.  By sending out his missionaries, he wanted the whole Oratory to become missionary. The event of the first expedition was lived in a climate of great joy, and we can see that the period (1875) is looked upon as a time of extra-ordinary fertility for the work of Don Bosco and his Oratory. It goes without saying that from then on, the expeditions to the missions both of the Salesians and of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians were never interrupted. And, what is more, at the time of Don Bosco’s death, 20% of all Salesians were in the missions.

A prize in heaven. The closing recommendations he gives is: “In time of fatigue and suffering, do not forget that we have a great reward prepared for us in heaven.”(n.20). As he himself had continually his eyes on heaven, he wished his sons to prepare themselves and others for this great moment in which one would meet with the heavenly Father. This thought of heaven was often for himself and for others an encouragement not to give up to keep up one’s courage in difficulties and in suffering. His work for evangelization as well as his ascetic attitude had ultimately this heavenly perspective.

Evangelization and civilization. Today we would say, “Evangelize while educating, and educate while evangelizing”. He wanted to bring the preventive system to the ends of the earth. Giving the young an opportunity to acquire ability and to gain their livelihood in a honest way, and instructing boys in professional trades, in agriculture, in human sciences, and in Christian doctrine was his way of evangelizing them. He wanted to bring along religion at the same time as civilization, faith at the same time as education. This explains the variety of activities in the missions: he could put up schools, open professional centers, build roads, develop printing shops, work at the social development of the people, and at the same time have a meteorological observatory. His work might at times be highly scientific and at times very material and down to earth. He could move from the area of religion, to education, to physical work with en extreme liberty and easiness.

There is nothing new, we can say, in his missionary goals if we compare them with his perspectives in Valdocco. This is where his work in Italy proves to be essentially and fundamentally missionary, and where his missionary work proves to be a logical continuation of his basic inspiration. The missions are a more advanced way, a frontier situation in which the Charism of Don Bosco is expressed. Together with the Gospel message, he offers the spirit, the mission, the educational methodology and the preferential options of the Congregation to the people who are still awaiting the Gospel message. In other words, the missionary work of Don Bosco “mobilizes all the educational and pastoral means proper to his Charism” (C 30).

4. The mission strategy of Don Bosco

Continuing the work entrusted to him in his dream at the age of nine, a dream which often was repeated during his lifetime, he took special care for youth, for vocations, and for the human promotion of people, and we may say, even in a more accentuated way, in the missions. We need, however, to specify his missionary strategy, as it is a particular way of presenting the Gospel to a people and to a culture.

4.1 The boys become evangelizers of their own people

 As he did in Valdocco, Don Bosco wanted his boys to share in the responsibility of the education, the evangelization and the atmosphere of the community. He appointed leaders, had group-activities, encouraged initiatives and in this way, made everybody contribute to the scope of the house. He was particularly sensitive to the special gifts of each one, and was able to put to use every little capacity one had in function of the well-being of all.

Don Bosco did not want his missionaries to put themselves in situations, they might not be able to handle. He was afraid, that the ‘savages’ would not accept the missionaries, that they would not accept the missionaries, that they would consider them foreigners, and that they would do harm to them. He warned his missionaries against the taking of too great risks, as he was afraid the savages might kill them even before they were able to start evangelization. He says: “To die a martyr is a honor, because he goes straight to heaven; but in this way, one does not go ahead with the conversion of maybe thousands of souls. Instead, they could be saved if one would be a little more careful.” (MB XI, 280).

Therefore, Don Bosco was convinced that the young, formed in a Christian way, would be the most adequate instrument to bring adults to the practice of religion and to give a more human and Christian outlook to society. (A.Favale, 1975, p.34)

Indeed, this is the core of the strategy of Don Bosco: if you want people to be converted and to follow the road indicated by the Gospel, begin with the young and the children and automatically they will bring their parents and relatives to church. The young form the basis of the Christian community, even after this community has been built up. “Gather the children,” he says, “especially the most abandoned ones, and you allow the missionaries to get in touch with their savage parents through the children, so that, with the help of God, the Indios may become the evangelizers of themselves.” (MB XIII, 935). To Pope Leo XIII, he wrote in 1880 that he wanted to work “through the young, to open the way for the diffusion of the Gospel amidst the Indios-Pampas and Patagones, by bringing them into hostels.” (Letter to Pope Leo XIII, Ep. III 569).

4.2 Vocations

 “By opening houses and hostels, you can assure morality and religion among the aborigines, you can give scientific and Christian education to children of all ranks, and you can cultivate ecclesiastical vocations which you discover among the students. In this way, we hope to prepare missionaries for the Pampas and for the people of Patagonia. This means that the ‘savages’ will become evangelizers of their own without running the risk of seeing repeated the massacres of the old times.” (Circular letter of Don Bosco, 1876, cfr. C.Chiala, Da Torino alla Repubblica Argentina, Torino 1876, p.251).

The fact that he gave priority to the way of evangelization through the boys themselves led him directly into the concern for vocations. His Church-feeling also gave him this attention for vocations, as vocations are fundamental in the building of the Church. A special advice was offered to this vocational aspect when he sent out his first missionaries: “In order to cultivate ecclesiastical vocations, constantly inculcate: (a) love of chastity, (b) horror of the opposite vice; (c) avoidance of bad companions; (d) frequent communion. Always be charitable, gentle and kindly.” (n.18) His first thought was not for vocations for his own Congregation, but for vocations for the Church. His concern for the Congregation entered in the sense that he wanted the charism and the preventive system to spread in the territories which the missionaries were exploring.

In planning his works, Don Bosco always kept in sight that special concern for vocations. When he would write to his missionaries, he would often speak about the importance of vocations, for Salesians as well as for the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. “Among the things to have in mind, you have to look for a place for a novitiate and a studentate. Do all you can to have some Indio who you can prepare in the line of an ecclesiastical vocation.” (to Cagliero, on Nov 14,1876; Ep. III,112). In this effort to promote vocations for the Church and for the Congregation, he stressed two cardinal points: (1) to make oneself loved and not feared; and (2) not to spare any effort with regard to personnel and money. (Letter to Cagliero on February 10, 1885; Ep IV, 313).

He wanted the Indios to be evangelizers of their own people, and therefore he insisted on their formation while they were staying with the Salesians. Through local converts who would become priests and religious, he wanted to overcome the diffidence towards the Europeans. He stressed continually to look for vocations, but he urged them also to be prudent in the whole matter. His evaluation of the reality in those countries made him insist upon prudence in his orientations. Don Barberis writes in his private notes what Don Bosco said: “You have to open many houses, but priests and clerics send from here will be appointed as Rectors long before one can think that those who are growing up now in those places can be found ready for such an office. Those who have lived for a long time among us will convey our spirit to others, and before any of the Americans can have great authority among the confreres, the Salesian spirit will be naturalized and have put solid roots in the new world.” (Quaderni di Don Barberis, 12 Agosto 1876; Central archives – SDB, 110, Cronache). His insistence with the confreres to form them to the Salesian spirit ins one of the things we may have to examine further on. In this letters to all first missionaries, be it Cagliero, Fagnano, Costamagna, Lasagna, the (Salesian) Sisters or others, he comes back to this important element of vocations. On the occasion of his missionary dream of January 1885, he expresses this as follows: “The basic thought that remained in my memory after the dream was that I had to communicate to Msgr. Cagliero and to my dear missionaries one advice of the greatest importance for the functioning of tour missions: that all the efforts of the Salesians and of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians must be directed towards the promotion of ecclesiastical and religious vocations.” (ASS I,510)

Concluding the topic of vocations, we may say that the fact of having opened parishes in Argentina did contribute to this aspect of searching for vocations. Working in parishes was new for the Congregation of Don Bosco. This new activity, stimulated through the necessities in the missions, brought the missionaries in close contact with the people, and opened them also to the great need of priests and religious in this field of action.

4.3 Faithfulness to the Salesian spirit

Don Bosco had an unlimited confidence in Divine Providence, and he saw the work he had started in Turin as something particularly wanted and guided by our Lady. So it was with his missionary work, and he saw it in perfect continuation of the work begun at Valdocco. If he wanted the Salesians to go to the missions as his sons, he wanted them to trust in Providence just as he did. “Let put our trust in the Lord,” he says. “In this enterprise we do as we did in all the others. All our confidence we should put in God, and we hope for everything from Him; but at the same time, we explain all our activities. Let us not neglect any means, let us not spare any effort, let us not leave out any holy shrewdness, let us not worry about expenses in order to have our mission work succeed well. Whatever human prudence suggests, that we should put into practice” (MB XI, 210). He wanted his missionaries to remain faithful to the way he had commenced in Valdocco. He, therefore, recommend a close contact with the center of the Congregation, to preserve the Salesian spirit.

The foreword of the constitutions of the Salesians carries the words of Fr. Michel Rua, Don Bosco’s first successor, who remind us of the event at the moment of the first departure of the missionaries and of the way and Charism of the Salesian Congregation: “When Don Bosco sent his first sons to America, he had himself photographed in the act of handing to Fr. John Cagliero, head of the expedition, the book of the Constitutions as though to say: I would like to go with you myself, but since I cannot do so, these constitutions will take my place. Keep them as you would a precious treasure!” (Constitutions; quoted from Don Rua, 1st Dec,1909).

5. Preparation of the missionaries

 Don Bosco sent his missionaries out to the missions only after having spent a good period of time with them. This he did to give them the possibility of learning his spirit well aware about that they had to bring his spirit to those people far away. They were to go to implant the Church, but also at the same time to establish the Congregation founded by Don Bosco. The choice of his missionary candidates was done with a lot of prudence, and nobody was to go to the missions against his own desire. “The first criterion in the selection was freedom. Whoever wanted to go to the missions was asked to write a regular application to Don Bosco. This application would then be examined by the Superior Council of the Salesian Congregation, which would select from among the different candidates the ones who gave greater guarantee of good results due to physical, intellectual and moral qualities. The ones chosen had to devote some time to the study of the language and of the customs of the people to whom they would be sent.” (Letter of Don Bosco to the Salesians, Turin, February 5,1875, in Ep. II,451).

To acquaint himself with the missionaries and to prepare them well for their new task, Don Bosco brought them together in Varazze for some time. “During several months, immediately before their departure, he brings the first missionaries together in the school of Varazze to have them dedicate themselves full time to the study and practice of the Spanish language. As professor, he had nobody less then then the Consul from Argentina, Mr.Gazzolo. This course embraced also comments and explanations of the culture, history and geography, etc. of the Argentinian Republic and, as far as possible, also of the Patagonic region.” (ASS, I, 253) Don Bosco wanted his missionaries to be prepared. An interesting element in this preparation is also the fact, that he wanted them already to dress just as the priests dressed in Argentina. At the moment of the imposition of the missionary crucifix, the missionaries presented a remarkable picture: “The priests were dressed in Spanish style holding their boatshaped sombreros in their hands; the coadjutors wore black suits and carried top hats.” (MB XI,383).
The fact of this first step of inculturation done together with the close link with Don Bosco himself wants to indicate the importance given to the unity of the both elements. Although they would go far away, and not be able to keep close watch of what Don Bosco did or to hear what he said; although they would be working in different situations, cultures, ways of expression, etc.. they would be concerned about their fidelity to the Charism of their founder.

With regard to the formation of his missionaries, it is important to mention here the foundation of minor seminaries specifically for future missionaries. He founded two of those seminaries, one in Genova and the other in Turin, and he also planned to found one in Marseille because there they would be close to Lyons, where the Propaganda Fide had its offices; he even studied the possibility of founding one in Spain, where he founded the first house in 1881. He saw Spain as particularly adapted for this, “because the language is exactly the same as the language of the government in Argentina, as that of the schools, and as that which the savages would have to learn” (Letter to Leo XIII, Ep III, 574).

6. Recommendations to the first departing missionaries

The recommendations Don Bosco gave to his first missionaries would need a detailed study. We do not want to go into this here; let only these few remarks suffice. Interestingly with regard to the content of the recommendations is the fact that most of them refer to the behavior of the missionaries themselves, rather than treating pastoral themes or indicating a way of pastoral action. Only the numbers 1, 5, 16, 17, 18 and 19 refer to ways of performing the apostolate. In n.1, he says to seek souls and not money, honors or dignities; in n.5 he says to take care of the sick, of the young, of the old, and of the poor; in n.16 he invites the missionaries to promote the devotion to Mary Help of Christians and to the Blessed Sacrament; in n.17 he urges them to recommend to the boys frequent confession and communion; n.18 speaks of the care for vocations and n.19 tells the missionaries to hear both sides before making judgments regarding matters in dispute. All the other fourteen (14) recommendations speak of the personal attitudes and relationship of the missionaries to others or among themselves, if not about their practice of the devoted life. Here we discover the concern of Don Bosco for the behavior of his sons and for the good relations with the people together with whom they will have to work in the new mission. These recommendations are particularly important if one remembers that Don Bosco used to refer to them often in his regular correspondence with the missionaries. He gives great importance to the fact of integration in the new setting, of dealing correctly with the authorities and with other religious institutions. Does this reflect his own experience in Italy? Don Bosco wants to give his testament to the missionaries; his points of advice are mostly of an ascetical order, but they also “put in evidence the sacramental and Marian accents of the pastoral pedagogy of Don Bosco and of the Salesians, without forgetting the cultural formation (schools) and the promotion of vocations, in particular of the aborigines”. (Jesus Borrego, I ricordi ai missionari, in Don Bosco: Scritti pedagogici e spirituali, LAS Roma, p.120)

7. The preventive system

In his correspondence with the missionaries, Don Bosco manifests a great concern regarding the fidelity of the way of action he wanted them to follow. In the regular comments of his letters, he gave special attention for poor youth, for the care of ecclesiastical and religious vocations and of the safeguarding of the Salesian spirit in the houses of America.

Fundamentally Don Bosco is an educator; he is a master in Christian education at Valdocco, and in all the houses that he opened, education is his object. He wants his missionaries to be educators, too, especially by putting into practice the educational method he himself designed for his Congregation. He knew this method would serve well in the missions field. The characteristics which make it adapted for the missionary context are: (1) the great Christian humanism on which his relationship with the person in education is based, following the spirituality of Saint Francis de Sales and (2) the notable capacity of adaptation. Don Bosco start from the reality of the person, and in dialogue with him and with his environment he comes to an elevation of both. His objective is not just to evangelize in the sense of “baptizing” the people in Latin America, but rather to make of them honest citizens and good Christians. Both values are looked for at the same time, in one educational-evangelizing movement. He wants to form mature and responsible Christians, people who are useful in society. Here a full understanding of what he wants to achieve in his “Oratory” explains his goal also in the missions. Through an open and flexible type of institution, he wants to reach not only the boys, but also their brothers and sisters, their friends and relatives, their parents and the whole context of society in which they are living. Today we could refer to his method of evangelization as ‘evangelization of culture’. He says that ‘the sole reason for founding his Congregation is to teach catechism.” (MB IX,61), but this has to be understood in the sense of an integral promotion.

He insists continually on the method of dealing with the boys. He is aware of the fact that the missionaries are far away from the fountain of the preventive system and that this may create difficulties for them to continue practicing this system. He wants by all means that they give themselves to the application of the educational system he wanted to introduce into the Church by founding his Congregation. In the conclusion that he draws from his missionary dream of 1883, he says: “With the sweetness of Saint Francis de Sales, the Salesians must bring the peoples of America to Jesus. It will be a difficult undertaking to Christianize these savages, but their sons will surrender easily through the application of the preventive system”. (ASS I, 432)

In his concern for the right application of the system, he stressed the importance of the Rectors. He wanted Rectors who were capable of forming local boys to be ready to take up the task of being themselves educators according to the preventive system. When he had heard that not everything was going the right way in Buenos Aires, and that a strict and rigid discipline had more or less taken the place of kindness and the family spirit, especially in the relationship between superiors and boys, he wrote to Don Costamagna the following: “The preventive system has to be really our own; never allow penal punishment, never humiliating words, never severe scolding in the presence of others. In your classes only words of sweetness, love and patience should be heard. Never rough words, never a slap - neither strong nor light. Make use of negative punishments, and always in such a way that those who are called to attention become our friends even more than ever before, and never let them leave in a humiliated manner. Never allow grumbling against the decisions of the superiors, but let everything that is not according to our own personal taste be tolerated. Every Salesian makes himself a friend of all, never does he look for vengeance; let him forgive easily, and never return upon things which have once been forgiven… our announcements will win everything and everybody. This should be the content of the next spiritual retreats you and the others are going to preach… Letters of one who want to write to the superior, or of one who receives a letter from the superior should never be read by others, unless the person concerned would desire so. In the most difficult aspects I advise warmly that the Provincial and the Rectors give appropriate conferences. I would also insist that Father Vespignani be clear in these things and explains them well to his novices or candidates with the necessary prudence.” (MB XVII, 627-630)


Don Bosco was very much aware of the historical importance of the first missionary expedition he sent out to Argentina. Not only for the missionaries and for the mission itself, but also for the Church of his day, and maybe, in a very special way, for the works he had just began in Europe. He wanted his missionary initiative to have a definitive influence on his boys and on the people whom he had engaged in various ways around his works. (1)The keen planning of the departure ceremonies, joyful atmosphere created around them, his personal interest given to each of the departing missionaries show us how Don Bosco wanted this project to form an integral part of his work. (2) His focus on boys to be evangelized in such a way that they might become the evangelizers of their own people, and the importance given to foster native vocations is significant in his missionary approach. (3) Finally the concern for the continuity of his system, and the uniqueness of his vocation in the Church as a Charism to be given to all show us how he valued these elements as given to him by his very vocation.

Don Bosco was an educator and evangelizer who wanted the various elements involved in his activity to be one and complementary. Therefore, we can conclude by saying that he wanted his missionaries to be evangelizers who at the same time educate, and educators who at the same time evangelize. ©