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(ANS – Colle Don Bosco) – Once again this year the Rector Major went to Colle Don Bosco to preside at Mass at the birthplace of little Giovanni Melchiorre who became for everyone: Don Bosco. The celebration officially marked the transition from the first to the second year of preparation for the Bicentenary of his birth; from the first theme (his history) to the second: getting to know his pedagogy. The homily raises interesting points for reflection and action by Salesian educators.
“Having spent the last year getting to know him more deeply, loving him more intensely and imitating him more faithfully in his absolute giving of himself to God and his total dedication to the young”, said the Rector Major in his introduction, “we are invited this year to contemplate him as the educator and then to improve our understanding of his Preventive System and update it and inculturate it.” The homily went on in the first person, in the words of Don Bosco.
Don Bosco spoke of his experience of education based on “real joy, the joy that springs from the heart of someone who allows him or herself to be led by the Lord”, joy which is free of sin, which “comes from peace of heart”; joy which trusts in the Providence of God: “It was one of the many lessons of life I learned from my mother.”
He underlines some of the characteristics of Don Bosco’s work:
In Don Bosco’s experience, joy and cheerfulness became the way of being holy and the family atmosphere he shared with the boys. The reference is to two boys whose biographies Don Bosco wrote, Dominic Savio and Francis Besucco. This cheerfulness, combined with work (study) and religion (piety), builds up the educational environment and does not distance people from reality: “When I started out at Valdocco I had a dream in my heart: To create a family atmosphere for the many youngsters who were far from home because of work or who perhaps had never even experienced gestures of affection. Joy helped create this atmosphere. It helped overcome the many restrictions of poverty and gave serenity back to many hearts.” For Don Bosco joy founded in Christ “was a very serious thing indeed!” and he wanted his boys to know it. In this light the playground, feast days, drama, music, song, Autumn walks have a significant importance and make the educator both a teacher and a pupil.
The purpose of the Companion of Youth, a book of Christian formation first published in 1847, was expressed in the opening pages “serving the Lord and keeping cheerful”. Don Bosco’s joy was not ignorance or superficiality; it flowed from optimism and loving, childlike trust in a provident God. “I wasn't content with the boys just being cheerful. I wanted them to spread this atmosphere of festivity, enthusiasm, love of life; I wanted them to be builders of hope and joy, Missionaries to other young people through an apostolate of cheerfulness. A contagious apostolate.”
The full text of the homily is available in English on sdb.org