At the time of Saint John Bosco’s ordination, Italy was very anti-clerical. A lot of this stemmed from the clerics’ Jansenist behavior, which caused them to remove themselves physically and emotionally from their flock. Don Cafasso fought to end the grip Jansenism held on northern Italy. One way was to have the students in the Theological Institute walk among the people, in an effort to become more aware and involved in what was going on. For Don Bosco, this was a revelation. He knew, his apostolate was children, but he really had no conception of their plight, until he began to walk the streets of Turin.
The charming city with the beautiful boulevards had become a hell-hole, a giant ghetto for the working class. Two and three families lived together in a single room, under the most unsanitary conditions. He could walk anywhere in the slum section of the city and see the horrors of the young who were left on their own. One time, during an evening walk, he came upon a field. Hoardes of children were running around, filthy, half-clothed, screaming, cursing and generally acting offensive. For a moment, his mind flashed to the dreams he’d had, first at nine years old and then again in the seminary. It was as if he were standing in the middle of his dream. He tried to reach out to them, but they ignored him. This was not the way the dream ended; they had all turned into little lambs. What was happening here? They were not working with the script. Then he realized that he was not approaching them with a kindness and love they had never known before. He was on the brink of jumping into his life’s work, but he was not ready yet.
His real beginning came, as it should, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8th. He was waiting to begin Mass, when he noticed a sacristan chasing a dirty young boy in rags out of the church. Don Bosco made him bring the boy back. He tried to put the nervous youth at his ease. He asked him many questions; could he read or write, were his parents alive or dead. The boy stiffly tried to answer. Then Saint John Bosco, with a straight face, asked him could he sing or whistle? The boy let out a big smile. John Bosco had broken the ice.
He began to teach this boy catechism. At the end of an hour, he asked if he would like to return the next week? The boy answered yes. John Bosco told him not to come alone; bring a friend. That was how it started. The next week, he had nine, and then twelve. Pretty soon, he was the pied piper of Turin. He had over a hundred children coming to him every week. Where was he going to put them? This became his battle cry for the rest of his life. He had too little room, and too little help. This is also the cry of our ministry. We have so much work to do and so few to do it. And we are quickly running out of room. We always wondered what it was that drew us to John Bosco so strongly. We have so much in common.
Saint John Bosco brought these young people together each Sunday, for Mass and Catechism. But in addition, there was much fun, playing, picnics, a version of the acrobatics and juggling that the younger John Bosco had become famous for. It was relationship. It was someone caring about these young people, in a world where they were barely tolerated. They had street smarts. They could tell very quickly who was sincere, as opposed to who wanted to exploit them. And they reacted accordingly. They could see love in this young priest. He genuinely wanted to make their lives better. It was their souls he was after, but he was not beyond helping with their physical necessities in any way he could. He called the meetings Oratories6. To John Bosco’s way of thinking, an Oratory was an actual building or complex, with a playing field, classrooms and a chapel. But for many years, the Oratory only existed in his mind. However, Don Bosco was a man of vision, and great faith. He knew what he was being called to do, and the Lord would provide the means to do it. It was just that simple!
For more about Saints like Saint John Bosco go to http://www.bobandpennylord.com/roman-catholic-saints.htm