Who is Don Giovanni Bosco?

Saint John Bosco, a priest, educator and an author, is remembered as a man who dedicated his life to the service of abandoned children and youth, establishing oratories and houses, and creating a family – the Salesians. More than hundred and fifty years ago he battled against ill-treatment of the young in the desperate poverty that existed those days in the city of Turin (Italy). He was driven by first-hand experience of the effects of dreadful poverty and hunger on the young people he came across. He was determined to change their condition. Others followed his inspirational  example in responding to the needs of children and youth. The Salesians of Don Bosco were founded in the poverty of a city which today we consider to be one of the most flourishing financially in the world.

During Don Bosco’s time, Europe was going through great political and social upheaval, such as radical changes in world politics brought by the liberal revolution, crumbling of dynasties, enactment of new Constitutions, and so on. Nevertheless, a very different kind of revolution arose in the heart of a nine-year old boy, John (Giovanni) Bosco, as he lay dreaming in the outskirts of Turin, Italy. In this dream, a man spoke to him about the great deeds he will do later on in his life, and a beautiful woman shining like the stars promised him her ceaseless help.

“At the right time, you will understand everything”, said the woman before he woke up.

Indeed, sixty-three years passed before the boy truly understood the meaning of his dream. Don Bosco was celebrating Holy Mass at the altar of Mary help of Christians in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Rome. Now a withered old man nearing the end of a wearisome but amazing life, he was overwhelmed by this realisation and stopped and wept several times throughout the whole Mass. Don Bosco passed away seven months later, surrounded by hundreds of youngsters whom he had loved and who loved him back so deeply. What happened between these two astonishing events, a story lasting sixty-three full years, is so profound that volumes of writings would not do it justice, let alone this brief explanation.

It is a story of a boy born into immense poverty, but raised by a graceful and loving mother who would teach him about the love of God and about his duty to give away the little he had. It is a story of a priest who would pursue a vision that the world did not always understand; a vision that would find opposition from politicians, social classes and even the Church itself. It is a story of a teacher who would realise before any theorist or academic that the way to educate a child is through religion, reason and loving kindness. It is a story of a saint. Because of course, the man and the woman in the dream were Our Lord Jesus Christ and his Mother the Blessed Virgin Mary, and they were sowing in the soul of that child a mission that would change the lives of so many millions. With Our Lord as his strength and Holy Mary as his guide, Don Bosco offered, and still offers, to the youth of the world a very simple but deep message, one that emphasizes the joy of the gospel, the need of regular sacramental life and the importance of prayer.

Today, the work of Saint John Bosco, continues in hundred thirty-two countries across the world, through the Salesian family, which consists of the Salesians of Don Bosco, the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, the Salesians Co-operators and many other movements and groups which follow the charism of Don Bosco.