The boy couldn't help him as an altar boy as he had no idea how. He couldn't read nor sing, but he could whistle, just like Don Bosco!
Don Bosco taught the boy, whose name was Bartholomew, how to make the sign of the cross and told him to return the following Sunday with some of his friends. The next Sunday, nine young adolescents came to the sacristy, and so began Don Bosco‘s Oratory.
Don Bosco knew very well what he wanted to do: help young people, teach them to pray and to read and to give them something to do in their spare time ... but where?
For three years, the courtyard next to the church of St Francis served as a playground for the boys from the Oratory, but more and more were coming every day - by the summer there were eighty of them! He took them all for a walk down to the river, wondering what he would do come winter.
The boys in his group were made up mainly of apprentices from far away towns; they couldn't return to their houses each night. Others didn’t have jobs yet and some had only just been released from prison. They didn’t just need teaching, but clothes and food, too.
Illustration by Jordi Vila Delclòs
Don Bosco looked for jobs for those that didn't have one, and he spoke to the bosses of the apprentices to ensure they were treated well. Throughout the week he would visit the workshops to see how they were getting on. The boys saw that he really cared tor them, and the owners saw that these boys were not alone.
On Saturdays. he took fruit and bread rolls to the prison and encouraged the young thieves to he better people, telling them that when they left prison he would be waiting for them.
What did Don Bosco have that made him so popular with the young?
He was goodness personiﬁed, so friendly and cheerful, and he only cared about others. He was intelligent and he knew each and every one of his boys, what they liked and what they were capable of doing - this was how he was able to help them so well. He always shared everything he had with them. He was devoted to Jesus’ teaching of absolute kindness. He would tell his boys: "How happy we will be when we're all in paradise!"
Don Bosco believed that God didn’t create paradise for it to be empty.
From The Life and Work of Don Bosco, Told to Children, by Rosa Navarro Duran, translated by Josie Bland and illustrated by Jordi Vila Delclòs
Lent is an opportunity to look again at everything that inspires and motivates us in living Christian lives.
Don Bosco’s aims were quite simple, but he had many obstacles to overcome. His faith and his cheerfulness inspired the boys who came to trust him, and the people who helped him in his work with them.
Young people were drawn to him because he saw their value, when so many others didn’t; he showed them kindness, when others hurt and neglected them. They knew he cared about them; he let them see he was interested in them. He gave them confidence, self-esteem, hope, opportunity - and love.
By looking back at Don Bosco in the early years of his first Oratory, we can reconsider how we relate to our brothers and sisters, especially the young and the poor, and taking new inspiration from him, set out again, refreshed and strengthened.
Don Bosco, pray for us!
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