(Vatican Radio) To mark the bicentenary of the birth of St John Bosco, founder of the Salesian family, Pope Francis has sent a letter to the head of the order, Don Angel Fernandez Artime. In the message, the Pope describes the Italian saint as a ‘youth pastor’ who developed a model of education and spiritual growth for young people, especially those on the margins of modern societies. Philippa Hitchen reports:
In the letter, dated June 24th, the feast day of St John Bosco, Pope Francis recalls his recent meeting with members of the Salesian family in the Basilica dedicated to Our Lady Help of Christians in Turin, where the 19th century saint is buried. Over the two centuries since Don Bosco was working with street children and disadvantaged youth in the northern Italian city, the Pope said Europe and the world has changed significantly, yet the aspirations of young people have not. While they are searching for an encounter with God and with their neighbours, the Pope said, they face the same challenges of “discouragement, spiritual anemia and marginalization”.
Speaking of the legacy of Don Bosco, Pope Francis said he taught us not to stand on the sidelines but rather to work on the frontline in offering inclusive education, firmly grounded in faith and spirituality. This broad and demanding vision, he said, can be summarized by the phrase ‘educate through evangelisation and evangelise through education’.
At the heart of Don Bosco’s vision, the Pope continued, is love in action, reaching out to those most in need. This tireless missionary impulse, he said, has helped to develop a vast movement of poor people serving the poor, crossing boundaries of language, race, culture and religion. This work has always been characterised by a spirit of joy and celebration, he noted, offering young people ample space for sports and games, theatre and musical activities.
Today, Pope Francis said, the Salesian family continues to reach out across new boundaries, using new means of communication to develop education projects in places marked by migration, injustice, ideological colonisation and the idolatry of money. The Pope appealed to Salesian men and women today to listen to young people and to speak to them in a language they can understand. Educators, he said, must help them navigate the social networks which so profoundly shape young peoples’ views of religion and human life. Finally he urged them to encourage young people to engage in voluntary work, contrasting the ideology that markets and productivity take precedence over human dignity and the value of work.