John Baptist Scalabrini is being canonized on October 9: Here's his story and why he's especially important to the Church today.
Today, Sunday, October 9, 2022, in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis will canonize John Baptist Scalabrini (1839-1905). This shepherd of souls, originally from Como (Italy), became bishop of Piacenza when he was only 36 years old and served the people of his diocese, especially the poorest, with passion. He was particularly moved by the waves of Italian emigration to America.
To help the poor, he founded the Congregation of the Missionaries of St. Charles in 1887, and in 1895 the women’s branch, the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo. Today, these two congregations are present all over the world and continue to help migrants.
Sister Lina Guzzo has been a religious for 57 years in this congregation, which has 500 sisters present in 27 countries on all the continents, and she is the vice postulator of the cause for the beatification of Bishop Scalabrini. She ministers to migrants in Sicily, after having taken care of migrants in Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and Albania.
She tells I.MEDIA how the man who is to be canonized a saint inspires Pope Francis and the Church today.
Caring for migrants is a fundamental pillar of Pope Francis’ pontificate. What does it mean to you that it is this pope who will canonize Blessed Scalabrini?
I have a strong feeling of gratitude. When the pope speaks, he does not say a thing without including migrants, and in this I would say that he has fully embraced the spirit of Blessed Scalabrini. The context has changed, but in spirit – care and compassion – Pope Francis is fully identifiable with the charism of Blessed Scalabrini.
Scalabrini rolled up his sleeves and took on, in his person and in his heart, those who were last and the rejected, as the pontiff says. The pope is canonizing our founder because he wants to give a father to migrants.
Would you say that Pope Francis is prolonging the legacy of Blessed Scalabrini?
Blessed Scalabrini’s motto was to bring migrants the smile of the homeland and the comfort of faith. Pope Francis doesn’t say it in these terms, but he applies these same concepts in everything. For example, one can see this spirit in his apprehension and concern for the terror of war. He does nothing but think of all the poor people who must flee or die.
In 1880, Bishop Scalabrini was struck when he saw a group of poor emigrants in the Milan train station ready to leave for the Americas. Pope Francis made history when, on July 8, 2013, in the first year of his pontificate, he went to the port of Lampedusa to visit the migrants. In this event, I saw and felt very strongly the figure of Bishop Scalabrini at the Milan train station, who saw these poor people and said to himself, “Who will defend them? Who will help them? Who, above all, will help them to keep the faith?”
In 1905, a few months before his death, Blessed Scalabrini proposed the creation of a Central Commission for all migrants, which many consider the precursor of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Travelers, created in 1907. Today, that body has become the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development. How do you perceive Scalabrini’s legacy in the Vatican?
Blessed Scalabrini was prophetic. With a forward-looking mind, he died leaving as part of his legacy the project of this commission, which is now in the hands of the pope himself. The project at the time concerned Italians abroad, but Bishop Scalabrini already foresaw that the Church would be interested in all migrants in the world, of all religions and ethnicities.
Bishop Scalabrini died prematurely, but he left this encouragement to us, his children, members of his Congregation, and also to the Church in general. Indeed, in 1952, when Exsul Familia [Pope Pius XII’s apostolic constitution on migration] was published, the spirit of Archbishop Scalabrini was very much present.
Blessed Scalabrini will be canonized on Sunday with a dispensation from examining a second miracle. Why?
Almost a year ago, in January, the postulator of the cause of canonization, Scalabrini priest Graziano Battistella, asked the bishops of the world in a letter if Blessed Scalabrini was known in their dioceses, if there was devotion to him, and if there were graces granted by him.
This resonated with the bishops, and they responded that Bishop Scalabrini was both known and revered, but they also asked for his canonization. In fact, Bishop Scalabrini was and continues to be a model of holiness for bishops. He is a bishop who, in the second half of the 19th century, took into consideration the most needy and urged the Church and the Italian State to do the same. He’s a model because he encourages bishops to work, to stand by those left behind.
The pope, heeding this request from the bishops and the 400-page positio prepared by the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, decided that this Blessed was very relevant to today’s social context. He thought there was no need for a second miracle for canonization, which is the rule in canon law. The pope cited solid reasons, namely that Blessed Scalabrini serves as a model for the Church and for bishops, and for us religious, to be faithful to our charism and to be ever more committed and responsible, and also to give a father to migrants.
Do the migrants with whom you work feel touched by this canonization?
I live in Messina, where we work mainly with two fairly large communities, one of Sri Lankans and the other of Filipinos. Of these, 95 will come for the canonization on Sunday. They felt the responsibility to come with us because we represent their Church which is close to them. They want to show their solidarity with us during this great feast to celebrate this saint, whom they will have as a father.
We Scalabrinians have a bit of that “suitcase spirit” – the fact that we move our tent to wherever there’s a need. The migrants we work with perceive it. They see that we don’t just go home at a certain time. They feel that we are their companions, and they rely on us. They want to celebrate with us but also to feel that Blessed Scalabrini is close to them.
How is your congregation experiencing this particular moment?
We want the canonization to be a great moment for the Church and a great impetus for us to be more faithful to our charism, and we feel it will be so. We think that this moment can also be an invitation, especially for young people, to consider a vocation to religious life, to consider the total gift of one’s life to God in order to be at the service of suffering humanity. Migrants are not only in Italy or in Europe, but in all the continents – as we are too – and we hope that God will bless us with vocations throughout the whole world.
Bishop Scalabrini is a model who enlightens our mission. We must be active and pray on our knees that those in need will let us be their companions. The great spirituality that runs through us is the three loves of Bishop Scalabrini: the crucifix, the Virgin Mary, and the Eucharist. This is the spirituality that animates us, the religious, but also all those who collaborate in our works, such as the Scalabrinian laity or the volunteers.