Today, 31st January, the church celebrates the feast of St John Bosco. We, on the other hand, have already been celebrating this feast for nearly a week. Lessons ended on Wednesday to be followed by three days of events and activities with the students, Sunday was family day, and yesterday the whole staff headed to the beach to swim in the sea, eat (a lot) and play mad games. By comparison to the goings-on of the last few days, today is fairly quiet. Time perhaps, to reflect on this saint who we are celebrating.
There is no doubt about it, Don Bosco certainly gets his name about (partly owing to the Salesians’ lack of originality in naming their projects – of the twenty or so in this province, I think all bar two are called Don Bosco something!). It is a name which, this time last year, I knew of vaguely, and in a short space of time has become incredibly familiar. Along with the name, I have come to know something of the story of this holy and pioneering spirit.
In the midst of the industrial revolution, John Bosco became a priest and dedicated his life to working with those most other clerics of the time wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. He called to him the boys from the streets, brought to the cities in search of employment or wealth but finding instead only poverty, destitution and abandonment. He welcomed those who were unwelcome elsewhere, he offered them a place to call home, a chance of an education and skills. He invited them to play and have fun and be children. He offered them the gospel of a God who loves them just as they are.
Mixed up in his story are tales of magic and miracles, incidents we might doubt through our 21st century eyes, but which were perhaps much more easily accepted by the people of his day. Irrespective of whether they happened as written, or have a more rational explanation, there is no doubt in my mind that the true miracle of Don Bosco’s life was his absolute commitment to the poor and destitute children, migrants to the growing industrialised cities, abandoned by society at large. The miracle of his life was to pray holding nothing back, and so be willing to give up everything to serve these kids whose existence everyone else would rather forget.
And the miracle to which he calls us, is not to perform feats or tricks but to place those who are most excluded by society at the very centre of our thoughts and lives.
The need he saw then, for someone to show these poor, destitute, unloved children that there was someone who cared is just as real today. There are still children displaced by poverty, damaged by abuse or abandonment, scarred by war. There are still children searching for a place to be themselves, to run and to play. There are still children who need to hear someone say “you are loved”
St John Bosco has left a legacy in his name plastered on schools and youth projects around the world: but a greater legacy will be the day when the rest of the world wakes up to the call to care enough so that no child dies of a disease that could easily be cured, no child starves on the streets, no child is dragged into the misery of war, no child is left abandoned and alone, no child descends into a spiral of depression and fear.
If we live in a civilized world, surely that shouldn’t be beyond our reach?