St. John XXIII
and the Salesian Charism
(ANS – Rome) – On April 27 Pope John XXIII was declared a saint. Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was born in Sotto il Monte (Bergamo) on Nov. 25, 1881, elected Pope on Oct. 28, 1958, and died on June 3, 1963. He is best remembered as the Pope who called the Second Vatican Council.
John XXIII liked to recall often that as a boy he read the Catholic Readings (something akin to The Catholic Digest, founded by Don Bosco), which he called “the first and most effective complement to my religious and civil education.” He also read Don Bosco’s biographies of the adolescents Dominic Savio, Michael Magone, and Francis Besucco, and when he was still a child he learned about Don Bosco’s death from the Salesian Bulletin, which came into his home.
He cultivated a special devotion to Mary Help of Christians. He took a picture of her from the Salesian Bulletin and hung it on the wall near his bed. He proclaimed her patroness of the Council with the titles of Auxilium Christianorum and Auxilium Episcoporum. On May 28, 1963, when he was already seriously ill, with deep emotion he blessed the two crowns intended for the picture of Mary Help of Christians in the basilica of the Sacred Heart in Rome.
During his life and throughout his pontificate he always showed great love for Don Bosco and the Salesians. He admired their prodigious spread all over the world. He spoke of Don Bosco as “the son of Mama Margaret, in whom God’s grace brought about a simple, good, and innocent nature that inspired great deeds that still amaze mankind” (Jan. 31, 1959). His love for Don Bosco had roots deep in his heart. A wonderful spiritual affinity existed between the two great men of God, both of them optimistic, open to all that is good, always understanding and lovable.
In a talk he gave to the Salesian Cooperators on May 31, 1962, the Pope revealed the charm that St. John Bosco always exercised over him: “Don Bosco was the perfect churchman in his practice of prayer, personal witness, and action. His deeds aroused such enthusiasm in me as a young man that I decided at the age of 14 to enter the priesthood in order to emulate his example.” In 1960 at the solemn conclusion of the Roman Synod in St. Peter’s Basilica, he said: “Today, Sunday, Jan. 31, marks the liturgical commemoration of St. John Bosco. This name is a poem of grace and apostolate. From a small village in Piedmont he brought glory and great deeds of Christ’s love to the farthest ends of the world.”
But the most extraordinary manifestation of Pope John’s love for Don Bosco was given in 1959, when he decided to honor Don Bosco along with St. Pius X. Emotions were already high on Sunday May 3, 1959, when, to the joy of a vast multitude, the Pope went to St. John Bosco Church at Cinecittà (Rome) to pray to the saint who had influenced him so much in his youth. But the emotion and joy reached their peak on May 11, when the Vicar of Jesus Christ decided that Don Bosco be carried in triumphal procession along with St. Pius X through the streets of Rome and St. Peter’s Square. Speaking to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope altered the sentence often said of Don Bosco by his sons, “Rome admires you, Turin loves you!”; turning to St. John Bosco, the Holy Father exclaimed, “The whole world admires you, the whole world loves you!”