|RMG – From the Feast of the successor of Don Bosco an invitation to the radical approach of the gospel|
|RMG – The Feast of the successor of Don Bosco in 2012|
(ANS – Rome) – On the eve of the Nameday of Don Bosco, which over the years has become the feastday of his successor, we offer a short historical account of this custom. Fr Francesco Motto, former Director of the Historical Institute has drawn on the pages of the Biographical Memoirs and the recollections of the more elderly confreres in the Generalate.
At Valdocco various feastdays were organised with solemn liturgies, academies full of poetry and music, and with distinguished guests. One of these was on the occasion of Don Bosco’s name day. At his baptism he was given the name of St John the Apostle (27 December). But in Turin the feast of John the Baptist (24 June) was the feast of the Patron of the city and of the diocese, celebrated with a large bonfire and massed troops firing off a salute. The youngsters of the earliest years of the Valdocco Oratory began on the occasion to congratulate Don Bosco and offer him bunches of flowers thinking that it was his nameday. Don Bosco let it go then and throughout his life.
That is how our Biographical Memoirs describe it and also give an account of a well-known episode. In the early years of the Oratory (1849) two of the better boys, Carlo Gastini and Felice Reviglio, secretly agreed together for several months to cut back on their food and to save up what little money they could. In this way they were able to buy two silver hearts to give to Don Bosco without their companions knowing about it. On the eve of the feast of St John getting up from bed while their companions still slept they knocked on Don Bosco’s door, who told them to come in. It is impossible to describe his amazement and emotion when he was presented with the two silver hearts, and heard the few but heartfelt words of congratulations of those two marvellous boys of his.
The following day the “secret” was on everyone’s lips. Envious of the great idea of their two companions, they all decided that in subsequent years the feast would be celebrated by the whole Oratory. And so it was. For the occasion at Valdocco crowds gathered of youngsters, ecclesiastics, lay people, religious and civil authorities, benefactors, to the point that in the 80s two other celebrations had to be organised on the following days, one for the lay past pupils and another for the past pupils who were priests. Naturally Salesians and youngsters from the houses spread throughout Italy, France and Latin America were present in spirit and with very moving congratulatory letters and poems written specially for the occasion.
After Don Bosco death when Don Rua succeeded him, it was decided to transfer the celebration of his nameday to 24 June, so that that of Don Bosco became the nameday of his successor. The celebration on 23-24 June 1891 was of epic proportions, given that after the singing, playing, poems and prose, either serious or comic all the workshops competed to give him the best of their products: a pair of shoes, a cassock and cape, a small decorated iron-gate, a kneeler, a richly bound book, a large wooden statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, a plaster one of the Sacred Heart, medals and diplomas.
In 1911 it was the turn of the new Rector Major Fr Albera for the first time. Music played the major role with several choirs and instrumental music, the words of Fr Lemoyne and the music of the Maestro Cav. Dogliani. The formal speeches were given by Prof. Fr Albino Carmagnola and Pietro Gribaudi.
In 1922, among other things, Fr Rinaldi was able to enjoy more music by Dogliani and special addresses for the occasion by the elderly revered Fr Francesia for the Salesians, by Marchese Amedeo di Rovasenda for the Salesians-Cooperators, by the President of the Past Pupils Dr Masera, by the Provincial of Argentina Fr Luigi Pedemonte for the missionaries and by Prof. Alberto Caviglia for a solemn historical commemoration. He was also to give an address in 1928. On that occasion there was an exhibition of sumptuous vestments from all round the world organised by the Lady Patronesses of the Work of the Don Bosco dedicated to Her Majesty Queen Elena. The Academy in honour of Fr Rinaldi opened once again with the Hymn, with words by the veteran poet Fr Francesia, music by M°. Dogliani and performed by the Oratory Choir.
With 1929, and Don Bosco newly beatified, in some ways the feast on 31 January began to take the place of the celebration on 24 June, which nevertheless was never forgotten, especially for the conferences of the Salesians-Cooperators. In 1951 it coincided with the canonisation of Mother Mazzarello.
In the 80s when Fr Viganò was Rector Major, the tradition was taken up again. The feast began to be celebrated in the Italian and European Provinces which accepted responsibility for it. One held in the Province of Southern Italy became famous, on account of the talents of the young artists, which Fr Viganò described as simply “incomparable.”
At the end of the 90s Fr Vecchi continued the practice, also going outside Europe, to India. The current Rector Major, Fr Chávez, on the other hand, has always chosen to celebrate it on a more intimate level “at home” in the Generalate in Rome, given the fact that the whole General Council are present for the summer session, and also the new Provincials on their special course of formation.
This year, 2012, the IX successor of Don Bosco will find himself lovingly surrounded by the confreres of his house, of the Vatican community and representatives of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians and the Salesian Family and those of the Central Italian Circumscription.