RMG – 5 June 2023: 150th anniversary of the birth of Saint Louis Versiglia, SDB

05 June 2023

(ANS – Rome) – Oliva Gessi, a welcoming village in Oltrepò Pavese, which gave birth to St Aloysius (Louis) Versiglia, is celebrating: because on 5 June it celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of its most illustrious fellow citizen. Together with St Callistus Caravario he is recognised as a Salesian saint and protomartyr. The celebrations include a procession from the saint's birthplace to the parish church, followed by the Eucharist celebrated by Bishop Guido Marini, diocesan Bishop of Tortona. An exhibition dedicated to the Olivese saint and the screening of two films on life and martyrdom was also set up for the occasion. In addition, the book, currently in Italian, called San Luigi Versiglia, Protomartire Salesiano in Cina will be disseminated. It is a chronological account containing the words of Versiglia himself, and was published in 2020 (Ed. Velar) on the occasion of the ninetieth anniversary of St Louis Versiglia's entry into Paradise.

From Oliva Gessi and at the age of twelve, Louis Versiglia arrived at Valdocco in Turin for his studies, and was won over by Don Bosco's charism. This led him to profoundly change his plans for his life, transforming his dream of becoming a veterinarian into that of becoming a Salesian priest and missionary. He was ordained a priest in 1895 at the age of 22. In 1906 , when he was appointed head of the missionary expedition to China, he gave his leadership a Salesian imprint, basing his relationship with children and young people on loving-kindness, and using play, song and music as fundamental educational tools.

In the years between 1911 and 1918, in the difficult work of evangelisation of the vast Chinese district of Heung-shan, torn by the civil war between imperialists and republicans and raging epidemics, his great Christian charity and continuous self-giving to help others and save souls stood out. These virtues grew when he was entrusted with the Vicariate of Shiu-chow; he was consecrated bishop in 1921.

Despite dangers and hardships of all kinds, he managed to carry out an intense apostolic work In the Vicariate of Shiu-chow, also by virtue of his great trust in the protection of Mary Help of Christians and Don Bosco. He brought the first missionary group of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians to China. They were essential for the evangelisation and education of girls. These were the years of another civil war between Chang-Kai-Shek's nationalist troops and Chang-Fat-Kwai's communist ones. An anti-European movement spread, abuses and devastation were carried out, missionaries were no longer tolerated, and they became targets of Bolshevik xenophobia. Despite the enormous difficulties, the harsh living conditions, the strong hostilities and the dangers that arose as a result of Bolshevik propaganda, thanks to his gifts and great apostolic zeal, Bishop Versiglia was able to design and build schools, residences, small churches, shelters for the elderly and medical dispensaries.

On 25 February 1930, during a pastoral visit to Catholics Lin-chow together, with the young missionary Fr Callistus Caravario, two young teachers, their two sisters and a catechist, while going up the River Lin-chow by boat,  they were stopped by a dozen pirates who asked for money and tried to kidnap the girls. The bishop and Fr Caravario resolutely tried to protect the dignity of the young women. The pirates then lashed out at them, insulting religion, and beat them savagely. Then they led them into a bush, shot them, and hid their bodies. Martyrdom thus became the epilogue of the life of Bishop Luigi Versiglia and the newly-ordained priest Callistus Caravario.

St Louis Versiglia dedicated himself entirely to the Chinese people, and by giving his own life saved that of the young catechists. He loved to the end, without measure. He loved with words, deeds and his entire life. He is therefore a model of pastoral life lived in fully holy way, achieved through great sacrifice and determination, day after day. At a time when the Church is wounded by scandals and immorality, his figure and that of his companion in martyrdom, Callistus Caravario, are resplendent for their great virtues and the exemplary nature of pastoral charity lived to the point of the gift of life.


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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