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Saint John Bosco, commonly known as Don Bosco, is an Italian priest who was born in 1815 and died in Turin in 1888. 
He consecrated his life to young people, developing an educational philosophy and a spirituality inspired by Saint Francis of Sales.
That is why the congregation he founded is called Salesian and those who live his spirituality belong to the SALESIAN FAMILY.

by Pascual Chįvez Villanueva


This year I shall be speaking to you about Don Bosco, reflecting each month on some aspects of his multifaceted personality, as a man and as a pastor… He appears to us as a splendid blending of nature and grace...

A Man, Don Bosco, rich in the virtues of his people and filled with the gifts of the Spirit, someone who travelled as seeing him who is invisible (Heb. 11, 27). I want to speak about this incomparable father of ours, gazing at him  through the prism of the Word of God. Don Bosco is like a diamond, whose facets show us the features of an attractive personality, and allow us to discover in their totality the splendour of holiness.

“What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do” (Phil 4, 9) Writing to the Christians in Philippi, his favourite community; Paul dared to present himself as a model: rather than a teacher to be listened to, he wanted to be an example to be followed; he knew very well that the apostolic tradition that he had received and handed on as an inheritance to the communities that he founded, was made up of both the teaching that was given and a coherent way of life. For the words of the apostle to be effective they need to be accompanied by the witness of the life of the preacher, for the simple reason that the only credible language in which to speak of God is life itself. It is essential that the disciple has  heard what he has to learn, seen what he has to do, put into practice what he is going preach; a Christian is a teacher not because he knows but because he lives what he teaches. In this way  the  apostle becomes the “measure” for his followers: his best lesson  will be not his instruction but his own way of living it. A Christian community is well founded when it is established by an apostle in whom the Gospel and example and perfectly combined.

As Paul was for the Philippians, Don Bosco is the  model for us: what he said, what he did, his ideas, his life, his view of the world and his efforts to change it continue to be the source of our gospel inspiration and the basis of our creative fidelity. The Salesian Family, which in Don Bosco has its own apostle and founder accepts his teaching because for us he is not simply a memory from the past but a charismatic presence who is alive, working and pointing into the future. We are the sons and daughters of a man who has left us as his testament a “gospel” to preach and an “apostle” – himself! – to imitate. Our fidelity to this father/apostle is expressed in a heartfelt acceptance of his teachings and a creative imitation of his preferences, and implies the implementation of his project and conformity to his way of life. Our task is to live as his heirs: children trying to identify with their father. My predecessor Fr Viganņ said:: “The Salesian for these new times was born with Don Bosco”.

◙ The rich mosaic of  salesian holiness is the most eloquent testimony of what it means to be imitators of Don Bosco as he was of Christ. Our way of being saints is that of being Salesians. Salesian holiness is a real experience shaped according to  a model that is certain and saves us from either  retreating into the past, that is from nostalgia for times long gone,  or being too easily carried away by the future just because it has yet to come. In addition, since Don  Bosco is – “that genius of holiness”, as Paul VI called him – the expression of our way of being Christians, salesian holiness, we can find in him as a programme already tried out, a path already trodden, open, passable, “The ‘Don Bosco of the Oratory’ full of faith and dynamic, docile and creative, firm and flexible at the same time, remains the pattern of behaviour for all his sons.” (GC 20, 197). A hundred and fifteen years have passed since his death, and Don Bosco continues to be the model of life for those who want to make their own his experience of God among young people, and his apostolic project on their behalf. Today, as ever we need to learn from him the way to respond to the challenges of the present time so as to find solutions. In a word, Don Bosco lives today through us.



“The holiness of the sons proves the holiness of the Father”, wrote Blessed Michael Rua, the first successor of Don Bosco, to the Rectors when he sent them the Founder’s letter/testament, on 8 February a few days after his death.

A hundred and fifteen years have not been able to diminish  the force of the challenging statement of Don Rua the holiness of the sons is the proof of the holiness of the father. The task he gave the Salesians immediately after the death of Don Bosco continues today for those who see him as their father, as was reaffirmed by John Paul II at the recent General Chapter when he invited the Salesians to be “saints and formers of saints”. The first generation of Salesians, even though they had no doubts about the holiness of their “father and teacher” were unable to proclaim it with certainty until the Church recognized it  solemnly. In the meantime the holiness that was being lived in working for boys, putting into practice the extraordinarily simple but highly effective method used by Don Bosco would be the strongest argument in favour of the holiness of the founder. And it was  a great success: in the footsteps of the father a great number of his sons made their own that attractive kind of, almost “homely,” holiness, that is the holiness of work or of the playground.

¸ Precisely because we are the heirs of saints, in so far as we are part of the Salesian Family we are called to show by a genuine and full Christian life that our patrimony of holiness is still alive. This will certainly be the best gift we can offer to young people, as Fr Viganņ insisted in celebrating the conclusion of the centenary year of the death of Mother Mazzarello: “It’s true that there are many things to be done. But if we fail in this we won’t be evangelizers of young people today. We mustn’t deceive ourselves: holiness is the launching pad for everything we can do, for the effectiveness of our friendship and of our work with young people.. we have to get back to having holiness as our programme; we have to re-launch our holiness.

¸ It has to be something exciting, because Don Bosco has left us as his legacy  a special kind of holiness, one based on simplicity and kindness, that makes us good, pleasant, always on hand, and one that  is capable of attracting young people, as a magnet attracts iron. The Salesian Family is the trustee of this vocation to holiness that Don Bosco brought to the world: this was his gift to young people and it will be “the best gift that we can offer to our young people today.” I would go further: “poor and abandoned youth” have a right to our holiness. Paraphrasing Don Bosco I would say that it is fascinating to be saints because holiness is luminous, it has a spiritual ‘charge’, a radiance, a brilliance, an interior joy, a limpid quality, a transparency, it is love taken to the limit. Vatican II reminded us that “the whole Church is called to holiness” (LG 39); the extraordinary Synod that commemorated it twenty years later proposed holiness as the pressing need of our times; the present Holy Father pointed to it as the priority for the Church of the new millennium. “It would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity…The time has come to re-propose whole heartedly to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living.” (NMI, 31)

¸ The word "holiness" should not frighten us, as though it meant living at an impossibly heroic level, reserved for a few privileged souls. Holiness is not something we do, it is rather the free sharing in the holiness of God, and therefore it is a grace, a gift before being the result of our efforts. It means that the whole person (mind, heart, hands and feet) becomes part of the mysterious sphere of the purity, the goodness, the generosity, the mercy, the love of Jesus. It is a total handing over of ourselves in faith, in hope and in love to Jesus, to the God of life; a handing over that takes place day after day with love, serenity, patience, generosity, accepting the daily trials and joys with the certainty that everything makes sense in God’s eyes, that for Him, everything has value and is important.   ¸




  For everyone Don Bosco was a gift from heaven: for the Church, for the Salesians he founded, for the countless boys he knew personally and for the millions who have come after him down until today, and for all the branches of the Salesian Family...
  Everything we want to know about the “salesian spirit” we can find incarnated in Don Bosco. He is the model, the father the teacher. We all need people on whom to model our lives. For us he is the way to human completeness and to the faithful following of Jesus. Even though the actual circumstances in which we are living are very different from his, his image and his project continue to have a striking relevance.

He really was a father for so many boys who had no one in their lives they could hold on to and so experience the fatherhood of God. So he was too for the Salesians who at his side had discovered the meaning of life, and like him had learned to live it devoting themselves to the young. He continues to be so now as we see him the incomparable father of a great spiritual family.
If the fatherhood of Don Bosco evokes the divine fatherhood, his image as teacher recalls some features of the Divine Teacher who was his guide in the dream he had at nine and subsequently. From him he learned the language to use with the young: “Not with blows but with kindness”. Only in this way could they experience the love of God. We know that Don Bosco reflected a great deal on this, arriving at the point of discovering that “it is not enough to love, it is necessary that young people know they are loved.” Is it not a stroke of genius to describe education as “a question of the heart.”?

We consider him “father and teacher”... but young people too, especially those who most need to experience God’s goodness, as well as all those who have the mission to educate them: parents, teachers, educators, pastors...
Like all great men, he was someone with a single great cause: the young: they were his mission, his daily concern. For them he developed all his human resources, for them, under the action of the Spirit, he constantly transformed himself. It is said that when God sends a great saint into the world he gives him a mission with which he will sanctify himself. So it was with Don Bosco, who in educating young people and in seeking their salvation found his own holiness. And not so much as a reward for his labours and concerns - which were certainly great, but above all as a result of the unity within himself which led him to be at one and the same time all for God and all for the young; full of “dreams”, and at the same time with his feet on the ground to a remarkable degree.
In our days which are marked by the absence of a father figure, Don Bosco still offers himself as the model of a father with all the loving kindness of the Preventive System and the challenge of “Da mihi animas”, knowing that the young need in the first place love, but that this then translates into education, so that they grow to maturity and successfully face up to a life that is becomng always more competitive.

Having Don Bosco as father and teacher means preserving God’s gift. Allowing him to guide our life, making the effort so that his spiritual experience can guide ours, will make us live under the impulse of divine grace, experiencing God’s action within us. Whoever lives in Don Bosco’s house, learns at his school, lives the gift of God and knows how to be grateful. God has pointed out to his creatures a path that requires great effort so as to experience his closeness, and to experience his goodness; following the teaching of Don Bosco, his fatherhood is the salesian way to feel oneself in God’s arms. It is here that is to be found the capacity of cheerfulness -so typical of the salesian system - to lead to holiness.
Recognizing Don Bosco as a gift of God forces us to consider him as an instrument, a means for us to experience God, compells us to appreciate him much more and to know him better, to take his teaching seriously and to live his fatherhood in a radical way. •