The first visit of Benedict XVI to a Salesian house occurred in July 2005, during the first year of his pontificate. Inheriting a tradition already started by John Paul II, the Holy Father spent about 20 days in the Aosta Valley, a guest at the Salesian house of Les Combes. It was in that small, secluded spot in the shadow of Mont Blanc, and on the long walks through the woods, that the Pope began to develop his first Encyclical, Deus caritas est.
|Fr. Pascual Chavez, Rector Major, welcomes the Holy Father to Les Combes in 2005|
The Pope returned to the Salesian house of Les Combes for the summer holidays of 2006 and 2009.
As bishop of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI met the Salesians for the first time on February 24, 2008, the Third Sunday of Lent, when he went to visit the Salesian parish of St. Mary Liberator, in the working-class Roman neighborhood of Testaccio. The visit also served to celebrate the centennial of the church’s consecration and opening to worship, November 29, 1908. The Pope also recalled one of the parish priests of that community, Venerable Fr. Luigi Maria Olivares, SDB, and invited the whole parish community “to persevere in the educational efforts which constitute the typical charism of each Salesian parish.”
|Benedict XVI presiding at Mass at St. Mary Liberator Church in Rome in 2008|
In the following year, during the apostolic journey that touched Cameroon and Angola, Benedict XVI celebrated Mass in the Salesian parish of St. Paul in Luanda, on March 21, 2009. Because the celebration was directed particularly to the clergy, religious, catechists, and representatives of Church movements of Angola and São Tomé, approximately 3,000 people, the Pope, with deep humility said: “Finally, let me offer a particular greeting to the Salesian community and the faithful of this parish of St. Paul; they have welcomed us to their church, without hesitating to yield the place which is usually theirs in the liturgical assembly. I know that they are gathered in the field next door, and I hope, at the end of this Eucharist, to see them and give them my blessing, but even now I say to them: ‘Many thanks! May God raise up in you, and through you, many apostles modeled on your patron.’”
|The Pope during his visit to St. Paul's Church in Luanda, Angola, in 2009|
In his apostolic journey to Benin, instead, by the end of 2011, Pope Benedict XVI, despite not visiting any Salesian building, in a certain way could benefit from the same Salesian attention: the bed on which the Pope rested in those days was constructed by young men from the Salesian works in Porto Novo; while the kitchen of the apostolic nunciature, where the Pope resided, had involved the Salesian Sisters and their students.
|The Holy Father greets youngsters at the Salesian parish of St. Anthony of Padua in Cotonou, Benin, in 2011|
To these occasions of particular closeness must also be added the many Masses celebrated by the Pope at the parish of St. Thomas of Villanova in Castel Gandolfo on the occasion of the solemnity of the Assumption of Mary each August. The Mass in the parish, run by the Don Bosco’s sons since the time of Pope Pius XI, was an appointment to which Benedict XVI proved very faithful, unless he was engaged in other parts of the world.