Sunday, November 15, 2009

Celebrating Blessed Michael Rua (1837-1910)

It's 3 weeks since I've posted, and that's because I was in Europe for 2 of those weeks with limited computer capability.

The main reason for this trip was the Fifth International Convention of ACSSA, the association for Salesian historians. It took place at the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales, the Salesian motherhouse in Valdocco (Turin), from Oct. 28 to Nov. 1.

That venue was chosen because the meeting was all about Blessed Michael Rua, Don Bosco's first successor, whose centennial will occur next April 6--the centennial of his "heavenly birthday," i.e., the day he entered eternal life.

Rua was a native of Turin and began coming to the Oratory around 1846, about the time it settled at its permanent home. From the beginning Don Bosco marked him as special, and eventually he became his hand-picked vicar. The meeting brought together more than 90 Salesians, Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (FMAs), other religious, and lay people who are interested in Salesian history either professionally or as a hobby. (Most of us are pictured above, in the courtyard of the Oratory below Don Bosco's rooms. I'm seated in the front row, 7th from the right.) We came from every continent--Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, South America. By far most of the folks were from Europe and Latin America, where the Salesian presence is strongest; and of course the meeting was in Europe.

One of the best parts of these kinds of meetings is just being with other Salesians from all over the world--and in this case, one's fellow historians, many of whom I've met at previous such gatherings. One of the special features of this particular meeting was the presence of so many FMAs(Salesian Sisters).

41 papers were presented on almost as many topics about Fr. Rua. I was asked to give one on his dealings with the Eastern U.S., and so I did. It was the only one given in English and, as far as I know, the only one not given in Italian. (We had two afternoons with split sessions, so it's possible some papers that I missed were given in Spanish.)

The topics included Fr. Rua's relationship with the FMAs and with various parts of the SDB world; sacred music; hearing confessions; the theater as an educational tool; the 1st and the most recent biographies of him; the beatification process; and more. Strong themes that emerged from the papers and discussions included the differences between Don Bosco and Fr. Rua, despite the latter's nickname as "another Don Bosco," and the fact that Fr. Rua's personality was not nearly as stark or stern as it has sometimes seemed to Salesians: too much emphasis on him as "the living Rule," and not enuf on his fatherliness, patience, flexibility, practical side, and so on.

Celebrating his centennial, an exhibition on Blessed Rua opened in some side rooms of the basilica of Mary Help of Christians. Fr. Adriano Bregolin, the SDB vicar general, inaugurated the exhibit on the 28th.
Since Blessed Michael's liturgical memorial falls on Oct. 29, we were able to celebrate that--along with very many Salesians from the 2 local communities of Valdocco and perhaps elsewhere. Fr. Bregolin, who is Fr. Rua's successor as the vicar of the rector major, presided at the Mass and preached. After Mass, we all descended to the crypt of the basilica to pray at Blessed Rua's tomb.

A variation from the days of presenting and listening to research came on Oct. 30, when most of us got into 2 large buses and went to the hamlet of Sant'Anna di Caselle, not far from Turin, where Fr. Rua was ordained in 1860.

We received a royal welcome from the locals, including the mayor and the pastor (our arrival at the village entrance, above), celebrated Mass (literally filling the tiny church),
and then had a huge feast in town (Caselle proper) at the oratory that these devoted lay Salesians run.

The hospitality of the Salesians of Turin was wonderful.

On the final day of the convention, we elected a new board of directors ("presidency") for the association. Outgoing president Fr. Norbert Wolff of Germany is pictured above, presiding at that general assembly. The new president is Sr. Grazia Loparco, FMA, of Rome.

Painting of Blessed Michael's "first Mass," in the church of St. Francis de Sales at the Oratory, assisted by Don Bosco.

Since I arrived in Turin about 26 hours before the start of the convention and, due to airline schedules, was compelled to depart about 16 hours after it ended, and since we had one free afternoon (the 30th), I was able not only to visit the Salesian sites of the Oratory (the basilica, the church of St. Francis de Sales, the Pinardi chapel, Don Bosco's rooms) but also to visit some sites in the city. I opted particularly for Turin's cathedral, linked to Don Bosco's archbishops, the Holy Shroud, and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. At left (I hope!) is the memorial in the cathedral to Abp. Louis Fransoni, who ordained Don Bosco and was a great supporter of his work in its difficult beginnings.

I also opted to visit the Consolata, the church of Our Lady of Consolation, patroness of Turin, where Don Bosco often went to pray and where his mentor, St. Joseph Cafasso preached and heard confessions (including Don Bosco's every week) for some 20 years, and where Cafasso is entombed.

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