Don Giovanni Bosco, a life in the service of the Church and youth

Translation of the original Dutch text of 12-04-2012

Just a boy from an underprivileged farming family, fatherless from the age of two, handyman to pay for his studies, imitator of clowns and magicians, deeply religious child of a deeply religious mother, he became one of the greatest and most influential educators of the century of industrialization, today we would say “a self-made man”. Doesn’t that sound modern, adapted to our time? Far from floaty hassle? Apart from unnecessary church affiliation? Beautifully secular?

The truth is different.

His life:

Giovanni Bosco was born on August 16, 1815, in a village on the outskirts of Turin, Castelnuovo d’Asti, at the time when Napoleon was finally defeated in Waterloo and the then great powers were trying to build a new Europe, with great hope for long-term peace and stability (sounds rather contemporary). His father Francesco Bosco, a poor farmer, died when the boy was two and he owed his upbringing to his mother, Margherita Occhiena (who was recently beatified by Pope Benedictus XVI).

As a little boy, Giovanni was excited by what he saw on the street: young people playing, circus performers passing by and travelling actors. He was obviously very good at portraying and retelling what he had experienced. His environment saw him as very intelligent but studying in the then Kingdom of Piemonte was not easy, because it was very expensive for ordinary people.

From the age of ten, Giovanni wanted to become a priest. By earning extra money with all kinds of jobs and professions (baker’s boy, shoemaker’s assistant, carpenter) he managed to finish his humanities, and then go to seminary. Giovanni was ordained a priest in 1841. His first position was that of chaplain in a Turin suburb with many workers and neglected street youth. From his first steps as a priest, he tried to meet these young people. This soon resulted in the foundation of a meeting place or oratory, where these street youths (often too young, illiterate, and exploited workers) were also given catechism lessons in addition to healthy relaxation and possibly training. The aim was to provide sound vocational training, hand in hand with knowledge of the Church’s teachings. His own experiences in the working class marked  his further life and apostolate.

I can already hear some of my contemporaries talking about patronisation, false mercy, paternalism, religion als opium for the working people…, while that was not the case at all with Don Bosco. After all, he himself came from the poor working class and has never lost the connection with his upbringing and social environment. On the contrary, he has always fulfilled his apostolate between the poor and the most vulnerable, albeit from his vocation as a Christian and priest of the Catholic Church. Starting from that position and influenced by Minister Rattazzi and Pope Pius IX, Don Bosco founded the Congregation of the Salesians and the Sisters of Don Bosco, establishing and expanding his work throughout Italy and far beyond.

In all his educational work, his apostolate and his publications, there is always the care for the deprived youth, the care of young unemployed, together with the commitment to honesty in concluded employment contracts and a fair wage for work, knowledge, and commitment. Don Bosco has often made a personal effort to achieve this.  In addition, and in the first place, he fulfilled his role and vocation as a priest, as proclaimer of the Word and minister of the sacraments.

Don Bosco died on January 31, 1888, but his work was and is continued by many hundreds of Salesians and Sisters of Don Bosco, who today still form one of the largest congregations of the Catholic Church. They also have the largest number of vocations today.

Exaltation to the honor of the altars:

Don Giovanni Bosco has been venerated as Venerable since July 24, 1907, after the proclamation by Pope Pius X. His beatification by Pope Pius XI followed on June 2, 1929.

On April 1, 1934, he was canonized, also by Pius XI.

Patron saint:

Of course, Don Bosco is the patron saint of the congregations he himself founded.

He is revered as the patron saint of all apprentices, of boys in general, of publishers, of workers and of all schoolchildren and youth students.

Continuation of his life and work:

As mentioned above, his work is continued by, among others, the Priests and Sisters of Don Bosco, who until a few years ago were also very popular in Belgium and known for the high quality of their educational institutions, especially in the field of vocational and technical training.

Some of our youth movements would never have existed without his example of youth education and care.  This certainly applies to the Chiro youth, which arose from loose patronage activities in individual parishes, usually under the leadership of a young chaplain. In the course of time they have united in the Chiro youth. The objectives: an offer of healthy relaxation, in a structured framework away from street life, and until the sixties with a solid discipline (adapted to the time). The fundamentals herein came from the gospel and the doctrine of the Church.

Cardinal Joseph Cardijn (“Mr Cardijn”, for the former members of his youth movement) also found his inspiration in Don Bosco and his Salesian work when the KAJ (Flemish abbreviation for “Young Christian Workers”) was founded.

Texts and statements of Don Bosco for consideration:

“Stay far away from bad companions like from the poisonous bite of a snake. If you have good friends, I am sure you will later share in the joy of heaven. However, if you are constantly in bad company, you will go down the wrong road yourself, at the risk of losing your own soul.”

“Enjoy yourself as much as you can, but stay away from sin.”

“Do you hope to obtain much grace from God? Then visit Him a lot. Your visits to the Blessed Sacrament are powerful, and are a not insignificant way to overcome the devil’s attacks and evil. If you visit Jesus regularly in His Blessed Sacrament, the devil will have no power over you.”

L.P.

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