The Irish Province of Saint Patrick marking the Bicentenary of the birth of Don Bosco organised a pilgrimage to Turin. As a Salesian, I was honoured with the task of leading a group of pilgrims from Ireland in the ‘Footsteps of Don Bosco’ during this most important year. The five-day pilgrimage of 30 pilgrims set off from Dublin to Milan with a full and busy itinerary of the many places of spiritual interest in and around the region of Don Bosco’s home place of Turin. We visited and had Mass in the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians on two separate days, firstly in the Pinardi Chapel, where Don Bosco’s first Oratory met and during our second visit to the Basilica, we had Mass in the Chapel dedicated to Saint Francis de Sales. The pilgrims prayed before the Shrines of Mary Help of Christians, Don Bosco, Mary Mazzarello and Dominic Savio. The Basilica and the compound of the Mother House is a centre of so much activity with children, adults, students, families and Salesian Religious coming and going constantly with a busy shop, bookshop and restaurant also thrown into the mix. The pilgrims were so impressed by the hive of activity centred on young people and many remarked how the Salesian Charism was demonstrated right before their eyes!
We then set off by coach to visit the ‘Colle Don Bosco’ in the ‘Becchi,’ with Mass upon our arrival in the Lower Church of the Basilica and afterwards we visited the many places of interest within vast complex, that is surrounded by the beautiful countryside of Piedmont. This year is also a significant year for Ireland with another great Saint and Missionary, Saint Columbanus, who died 1,400 years ago, this year in Bobbio. Saint Columbanus, also known as Columban, brought the Gospel from Ireland to the people of Continental Europe during the ‘Dark Ages’ and we had the blessing of visiting and praying at his tomb in the Abbey Church that he had founded. We also, had another Irish Holy person of interest to visit and that is Blessed Thaddeus McCarthy who was Bishop of Ross, Cork and Cloyn in the 15th Century. Blessed Thaddeus was a man of profound holiness and poverty and he died on his way to Rome and is buried in the Cathedral of Ivrea. During the ‘Great Hunger’ of 1847, in which a million people died, the people of Ivrea sent much needed money to Ireland for Famine Relief. There is no doubt that the good Christian people of Ivrea were inspired, to help the starving people of Ireland, by their great love and devotion to this simple, humble and holy Irish Bishop buried in their local Cathedral and their kindness saved many in Ireland during those dark days of Famine.
The Pilgrimage then set off to Sordevolo, a small village nestled in the mountains and the setting of the 200th Anniversary of their ‘Passion Play.’ The ‘Passion Play’ was absolutely beautiful and most poignant for we had visited the Holy Shroud of Turin earlier that day! We spent our last day in Milan with Mass in the ancient Basilica of Saint Ambrose, viewed the ‘Last Supper’ at the beautiful medieval Dominican Church of Santa Maria delle Grazia and then we visited the beautiful shrine of Saint Charles Barromeo in the spectacular Milan Cathedral. Our pilgrimage journey of following in the ‘Footsteps of Don Bosco’ on the 200th Anniversary of his birth, was such a wonderful way of celebrating and sharing our Salesian story and the story of other holy people and places that surround the home region of our good Don Bosco.