Italy – Valuable source for identity: "Cronichetta" of Fr. Giulio Barberis, SDB

31 October 2022

(ANS - Rome) - The "Cronichetta" of Fr. Giulio Barberis, SDB, is a document of great historical and charismatic relevance. The “little chronicles” cover the period from May 1875 to June 1879, decisive years for the Salesian work, which was beginning its worldwide expansion. The fifteen notebooks of the first Salesian Novice Master bring readers into direct contact with the real Don Bosco and the daily life of the Oratory, with the spirit that animated it and with the problems and labors of a rapidly growing community. Massimo Schwarzel edited the critical edition in a meaty 770-page volume published by the Istituto Storico Salesiano, the Salesian Historical Institute (ISS), and presented to the public on Monday, Oct. 24, at the Salesian Pontifical University (UPS).

Organized by ISS and the Don Bosco Study Center, the meeting was moderated by ISS Secretary Fr. Stanisław Zimniak and was well attended.

After the opening greeting by Fr. Thomas Anchukandam, ISS Director, three speakers illustrated the value of Fr. Barberis' work. Their presentations are available online at this link.

In the first talk, Fr. Massimo Schwarzel, editor of the volume, highlighted the figure of Fr. Barberis and the historiographical importance of his work. Born in 1847, Barberis entered the Valdocco gymnasium in 1861. Ordained a priest in 1870, he completed his formation in 1873 with a degree in Theology from the University of Turin. Don Bosco entrusted him with the formation of novices in 1875. He was just 28 years old. He held that position for twenty-five years. Then he was the Provincial and spiritual director of the Congregation. A tireless and exacting worker, strongly attached to Don Bosco, he had opportunities to speak frequently and at length with the Founder. The fruit of these conversations are the Cronichetta notebooks, inspired by a concern to keep in mind "the deeds and words of Don Bosco," the educational style of Valdocco, and the spirit that animated the Congregation's first house. Fr. John Baptist Lemoyne, SDB, the saint's first biographer, drew extensively on this rich material, but filtered it into a hagiographic and edifying perspective. The direct reading of the Cronichetta, instead, allows a direct approach to the historical Don Bosco, the concrete man, with his mentality, his style of action, and his ideal perspectives.

In the second talk, Fr. Aldo Giraudo illustrated some details of daily life in Valdocco. Those were years of constantly increasing numbers. The house was overflowing: 700 internal poor boys, aged 12 to 20, plus a hundred Salesians, all very young. The environment was marked by a frenetic operational fervor, a characteristic of the Congregation's spirit. Such industriousness stemmed from a desire to consume themselves for the greater glory of God and the good of the young. A second peculiarity of the Valdocco house was the intense spiritual climate in which young people and Salesians were immersed, naturally, without any compulsion. The result was a fervent spiritual experience, fertile with excellent fruits. One of these is the impressive vocational flowering. The speaker pointed out that the Cronichetta does not highlight "supernatural" facts. Fr. Barberis does not present Don Bosco as a thaumaturge. He describes the intelligent and enterprising man; the zealous and courageous priest; the virtuous and devout, but very normal person with no obvious extraordinary phenomena. He takes care, however, to narrate what seems extraordinary to him in the life of the community, to demonstrate God's protection and Mary Help of Christians' assistance on the Salesian work.

The third speaker, Fr. Samuel Amaglo, dwelt on the missionary expeditions of 1875 and 1877, illustrated extensively in the Chronicle. The Salesian mission from its origins involved the entire nascent Congregation. Fr. Barberis describes the preparation of the First Expedition in detail and testifies to the fervor aroused by the event. It was a project long cultivated by Don Bosco, who knew how to create a permanent state of mission in the environment. The staff was carefully selected, beginning with Expedition leader Fr. Giovanni Cagliero, preferred "for his sweet disposition, conciliatory character, amiable manner." The solemn farewell function had a strong impact on young people and public opinion. Don Bosco valued this enthusiasm from an educational, spiritual and vocational perspective, suggesting to the boys: "Begin to prepare yourselves by prayer, by being truly good, by serving as missionaries for one another, by setting a good example; then also by studying hard, doing your duties of study and school well." The fervor inspired by the saint, and especially the climate he prepared for cultivating missionary vocations and training those departing, are elements that still serve as a lesson for a renewed missionary outreach according to Don Bosco's charism.

At the conclusion of the event Fr. Michal Vojtáš, Vice-Rector of UPS, offered some insights into the pedagogical, spiritual and identity fruitfulness of documents such as this for an operational rethinking in today's Salesian identity and mission.


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