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Pope Francis: St. John Bosco “changed history”

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Aleteia

Isabella H. de Carvalho - published on 01/31/24

The Holy Father has remembered Don Bosco's spiritual children as those who trained him "in beauty and in work" and who taught him to be "very cheerful."

January 31 is the feast day of St. John Bosco, a 19th-century Italian priest and teacher who dedicated his life to educating children and young people. Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has often expressed his closeness and concern for children and young people and has thus cited St. John Bosco as an example to follow on multiple occasions.

In a recent interview with Italian daily La Stampa, Pope Francis praised this saint once again, highlighting his ability to give young people the right tools for them to grow intellectually and in the faith, despite sometimes difficult circumstances: 

“Apparently Don Bosco once said, ‘If you want to have and help young people, throw a ball in the road.’ The founder of the Salesians and the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians was able to call, engage, and enthuse kids with no future, and give them a future. How? With the oratories. There young people played, prayed, and learned. For thousands of abandoned, desperate little ones, destined for an existence of hardship and exclusion, Don Bosco traced the path to a future of dignity and hope. He provided them with the intellectual and spiritual tools to overcome obstacles and enhance their lives,” the Pope said. 

Persistence in a tough context

St. John Bosco was born in 1815 in the Piedmont region in Northern Italy. Having himself grown up in a poor family with little access to education, once he became a priest in 1841 he decided to dedicate himself to helping young boys from disadvantaged backgrounds through recreational, educational, and catechetical activities. He then went on to found the Society of St. Francis de Sales (also known as the Salesians of Don Bosco) as well as the Daughters of Our Lady Help of Christians (Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco).

In the interview, the Pope also remembered St. John Bosco’s persistence in the face of adversity and opposition, as he was living during a difficult historical context where his native Piedmont was affected by freemasonry groups and an anti-Church sentiment. 

“In that hostile environment he was able to transform the social attitude of the area for the better, toward young people. Don Bosco changed history a bit. Also through cultural reflections. And also through conversations with those who opposed him,” the Pope explained

Pope Francis’ affection for St. John Bosco

Francis has praised the Italian saint on several occasions, including when he went to Turin in 2015 for the 200th anniversary of the saint’s birth. “With you I thank the Lord for giving to the Church this saint who, together with so many other saints from this region, are an honor and a blessing for the Church […] and the entire world, in particular because of the care he had for all the poor and marginalized young people,” the Pope said to the followers of St. John Bosco. 

The Pope also mentioned in a preface to a book on St. John Bosco, released in 2019, that he attended sixth grade at a Salesian school in Argentina and praised the charism of this congregation. “The Salesians trained me in beauty, in work, and to be very cheerful,” he wrote.

In September 2023 he made the Rector Major of the Salesians, Father Ángel Fernández Artime, a cardinal.

During the Sunday Angelus prayer on January 31, 2022, the Pope also rememebred St. John Bosco on his feast day with remarks that are still relevant today. “Let us think of this great saint, father and teacher of the young. He did not shut himself up in the sacristy, he did not close himself off in his own things. He went out into the streets to look for young people, with the creativity that was his hallmark.” 

Tags:
EducationPope FrancisSaintsYouth
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