Italy – Occimiano and Fr Evasio Rabagliati, apostle of the lepers

02 November 2020
Photo: Rabagliati Family

(ANS - Occimiano) - Occimiano is a burgh located at the foot of the first gentle hills of Monferrato. Due to its position, it has always enjoyed widely varied agricultural production. The passage of Don Bosco to Occimiano on the evening of 12 October 1861 was definitely significant. There, six years prior, a boy had been born who would carry the name of Don Bosco to the ends of the world: Evasio Rabagliati.

He was born on 20 January 1855.  His first meeting with Don Bosco took place at the age of 14, in 1869, in the Salesian house of Mirabello. The very young Evasio was conquered: from that moment he never left Don Bosco, becoming one of the intrepid and valiant pioneers of the first Salesian mission era.

A year after his perpetual profession, made in the hands of Don Bosco on 15 September 1876, he embarked from Genoa for Buenos Aires with a group of missionaries led by Fr Francesco Bodrato. Here, on 22 September 1877, he was ordained a priest, the first Salesian ordained in the Americas.

Shortly before departure, the whole Rabagliati family was received in a special audience by Don Bosco. After a moment of prayer, our Saint, in an inspired tone, whispered these prophetic words: “I bless four Salesian priests and a Daughter of Mary Help of Christians and the whole Rabagliati family gathered here”. That date marks the last time the Rabagliati family found themselves all united. Many of its members, in fact, then left for missions around the world.

Religious obedience subsequently brought Fr Evasio to Argentina, Chile, Colombia. Zealous apostle, great communicator, first in Argentina and then in Chile, in Colombia he started the Salesian work by dedicating himself to poor youth.

The country's particular situation led him to devote himself mainly to the care and assistance of lepers in Agua de Dios and in other areas of Colombia. He also traveled to Norway for them to meet Gerhard Henrik Hansen (1841-1912), who in 1873 had discovered the bacterium responsible for leprosy (called Hansen's disease). Agua de Dios is still today a luminous testimony of Salesian charity and hope among lepers, where Fr Evasio was the pioneer animator and with him Fr Michele Unia, Fr Crippa, and the blessed Fr Luigi Variara.

When his health began to suffer, he was transferred to Chile. Here he died on May 2, 1920. On the day of his death, he left in his room a sealed and stamped envelope addressed to Fr Luigi Variara for the feast day of Mary Help of Christians with this concise and concrete testament: "Always and everything for lepers". On the death of Evasio, the Colombian government proclaimed a day of national mourning, such was the esteem for the great missionary.

In this 2020 Occimiano commemorates the centenary of the death of this extraordinary fellow citizen, a witness to the enterprising and generous courage of his people in the midst of the most fragile and discarded people.


ANS - “Agenzia iNfo Salesiana” is a on-line almost daily publication, the communication agency of the Salesian Congregation enrolled in the Press Register of the Tibunal of Rome as n 153/2007.

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