The following is the text of the speech prepared by Pope Francis for his meeting with the Salesians and the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians in the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians. “Dear Salesian Family, I was thinking of what to say to you and I wrote what I wanted to say, but it is too formal so I am giving it to the Rector Major and he can let you know what it says.”
Dear brothers and sisters,
In my pilgrimage for the veneration of Jesus crucified in the image of the Holy Shroud, I chose also 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 the Church this Saint, who together with many other saints of the region, are an honour and a blessing for the Church and society of Turin and Piedmont, of Italy and the world whole, especially because of the care he had for poor and marginalized young people.
You cannot think of Don Bosco today without seeing him surrounded by many people – the Salesian Family he founded, educators who are inspired by him, and of course many young people, boys and girls, from all parts of the earth who acclaim Don Bosco as “Father and Teacher.” You could say so much about Don Bosco! But today I would like to emphasize three aspects: his trust in divine Providence; his vocation to be a priest of the young especially the poorest of them; and his loyal and hard-working service to the Church, and in particular to the Successor of Peter.
Don Bosco lived his priestly mission to the last breath, supported by an unwavering trust in God and in his love, and in this way he achieved great things. This relationship of trust with the Lord is also the substance of consecrated life, so that the service of the Gospel and of our brothers and sisters does not remain limited to our own views or the passing things of this world, but becomes a continuous transcending of ourselves, anchoring ourselves to the things that are eternal and losing ourselves in the Lord, who is our strength and our hope. And this will be the source of our fruitfulness. We should reflect today on our fruitfulness and – if I may say so – on the great fruitfulness of the Salesians. Are we up to that level?
The other important aspect of the life of Don Bosco is his service to young people. He realized it with firmness and perseverance, among obstacles and hardships, 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 Constitutions, n. 21). The charism of Don Bosco challenges us to be educators of young people by implementing the teaching of the faith that can be summed up as: “evangelizing by educating and educating by evangelizing” (General Directory for Catechesis, 147).
He evangelized young people, and educated young people full-time, starting from the weakest and most abandoned, offering a style of education based on reason, religion and loving kindness, which is universally acclaimed as the “preventive system”. Don Bosco combined gentleness with strength, something he certainly had learned from Mamma Margaret. Gentleness, tenderness and strength! I encourage you to continue with generosity and trust your many activities on behalf of the new generations: oratories, youth centres, vocational schools, schools and colleges. But do not forget those whom Don Bosco called “street children”: they are in such need of hope, they need to be trained to the joy of the Christian life.
Don Bosco was always docile and faithful to the Church and to the Pope, following his suggestions and pastoral guidelines. Today the Church turns to you, spiritual sons and daughters of this great saint, and specifically invites you to go out, to go out again and again to search for children and young people wherever they are: in the outskirts of cities, in areas of physical and moral danger, in social contexts where they lack many material things, but they lack especially love, understanding, tenderness and hope. Reach out to them with the immense fatherliness of Don Bosco.
Don Bosco’s Oratory was born from his meeting with young men on the streets and for some time he had to wander from one district of Turin to another. You can proclaim the mercy of Jesus, by starting an oratory in every place, especially the most difficult places, carrying in your hearts the oratorian style of Don Bosco and aiming always at ever wider apostolic horizons.
Many branches have sprung from the solid roots he put down in Church and society two hundred years ago. Today there are thirty religious institutions that live his charism and share his mission of bringing the Gospel to marginalized areas. The Lord blessed his work by raising up among you, in these past two centuries, a large number of people whom the Church has proclaimed Saint or Blessed. I encourage you to continue on this path, imitating the faith of those who preceded you.
In this Basilica, so dear to you and to the whole people of God, we invoke Mary Help of Christians to bless each member of the Salesian Family; to bless the parents and educators who spend their lives for the growth of young people; to bless every young person who is helped by the works of Don Bosco, especially those for the very poor, so that, thanks to well-formed well-educated youth, the Church and the world may discover the joy of a new humanity.