Thursday, August 18, 2016

What Jorge Bergoglio Learned from the Salesians

What Jorge Bergoglio Learned from the Salesians
Address for Teacher Orientation Day

Holy Cross School, Champaign, Ill.
August 16, 2016

In an article in America early this year, Jesuit historian Fr. John W. O’Malley is cited for a list of “five hooks that unify Jesuit teaching”:[1]

        1. help students examine their assumptions about life;

        2. help them understand the past (personal and larger);

        3. communicate faith that does justice, that serves others;

        4. study great literature, teaching how to put ideas into words;

        5. teach prudence by sharpening critical thinking skills.

There’s some great stuff there, as we’d expect from an order that has given the Church and society many great educators since 1540.

Other teaching congregations have their own approaches and styles, of course, e.g. the LaSalle Christian Brothers, the Irish Christian Brothers, the Marists, and countless societies of religious sisters.  I enjoyed eight grammar school years with the School Sisters of Notre Dame, who were wonderful educators, catechizing us, teaching writing skills, fostering my love for reading—and of some relevance here, thru our 6th grade world history text introducing me to St. Thomas More, who became one of my favorite saints.

We Salesians, too, have our educational approach and style.  You’ve heard and experienced some aspects of that in the last three years, e.g., reason, religion, and kindness; Communion and confession; the three “white devotions” (Eucharist, Mary most holy, and the Holy Father).  Another key phrase or summary often used by Don Bosco was that we aim to make of our pupils good Christians and upright citizens.  That aligns very well with the Jesuits’ “five hooks,” but it’s broader in that it accommodates non-scholars, such as pupils in trade or agricultural schools or people of all ages learning basic life skills—as Salesian ministry does in many parts of the world.  You can imagine that would be the case, since our presence in more than 130 countries ranges from Amazonian jungles to high tech First World universities, from refugee camps in Kenya to hostels for university students.  We cover a wide range of educational needs.

I’d like to look with you this morning at how we answered the needs of and left lasting marks on two parishioners from different parts of the world, from very different contexts, who went on to distinguished careers—to understate it.

[Part I: What Karol Wojtyla Learned from the Salesians, was posted previously.]

A second distinguished former Salesian parishioner, also a past pupil, is Jorge Bergoglio.  Jorge’s father Francesco, like Don Bosco, came from the province of Asti in Piedmont, northern Italy.  He met his bride-to-be after emigrating to Buenos Aires, like thousands of Piedmontese in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  (We usually think of the millions of immigrants who poured into New York in that period, but lots and lots of them also went to Argentina, especially Italians.)

It was to minister to those immigrants that the first Salesian missionaries left Turin in November 1875.  In Buenos Aires they were given Mater Misericordiae Parish in the Italian neighborhood, staffed by three of the missionaries, while the rest headed to a parish on the boundaries of rugged, uncivilized Patagonia—Argentina’s equivalent of the Wild West, a region of 311,000 square miles, roughly twice the size of California.  Within two years, and with additional missionaries having arrived from Italy, the Salesians took on the parish of San Carlos Borromeo in the Almagro neighborhood of the capital and ventured into the frightful La Boca slum to start youth work.[2]

Maria Regina Savori was a young Argentine woman living in Almagro whose parents were from Piedmont.  One of the Salesian assistants at San Carlos, Fr. Enrico Pozzoli (†1961), introduced her to his fellow Italian Francesco Bergoglio.  Before long the young couple were engaged, and Fr. Pozzoli witnessed their marriage in December 1935 at San Carlos.  A year later their first child, Jorge Mario, was born, and on Christmas Day 1936 Fr. Pozzoli baptized him at San Carlos.[3]

To be honest, the Bergoglios weren’t precisely parishioners of San Carlos but worshipped at San José in the Flores neighborhood.  But they were close enuf to San Carlos for Jorge to take part in the annual processions in honor of Mary Help of Christians—San Carlos was and is popularly called the “basilica of Mary Help of Christians” [4]—and in youth center activities and to confess to the Salesian clergy.  At San Carlos he picked up two lifelong passions:  devotion to Mary Help of Christians and soccer.  Whenever he was in Buenos Aires, even as cardinal archbishop, Jorge Bergoglio came early on the 24th of every month to celebrate Mass and pray for an hour at the shrine of Mary Help of Christians at San Carlos, before the image that Don Bosco himself had blessed before sending it to Argentina with his missionaries.[5]

Cardinal Bergoglio is thrilled to receive a jersey
from "his" San Lorenzo de Almagro soccer club.
In 1907 Fr. Lorenzo Massa (1882-1949), a young Argentine Salesian at San Carlos, realized that the neighborhood youths needed some activity to get them off the streets.  He organized soccer games, which led to the formation of a competitive team—now one of the best in Latin America—that the players insisted on naming San Lorenzo, nominally after the holy deacon martyr, of course, but really in honor of their founder.  Their jerseys, as Cardinal Bergoglio was always ready to point out, include the Virgin Mary’s colors; she’s their patroness.  Young Bergoglio became a huge fan of San Lorenzo de Almagro, and as archbishop was proud to own their fan club membership card #1.

Sixth graders, with Jorge Bergoglio circled,
at the Salesian school in Ramos Mejia, 1949.
For just one school year, 1949, twelve-year-old Jorge and his younger brother enrolled in the Salesian school in suburban Ramos Mejia, close to their father’s work.  Jorge took first place prizes that year in conduct and religion.  He recalled later that he also learned the values of study, sports, compassion, and forming good habits.  At this point Fr. Pozzoli was one of the school’s designated confessors, and he became Jorge’s spiritual director.[6]  It’s also probable that Jorge learned how Don Bosco used to give his boys a short talk after nite prayers, ending with his wishing them, Buona notte, “Good nite,” which has been a universal Salesian practice since Don Bosco’s Mama Margaret began the custom in the 1840s[7]; in day schools or youth centers it may be “translated” into a Good Morning.  Did you notice that when he was introduced to the world, Pope Francis ended his little address and request for prayer to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square by wishing them all, Buona sera?  Where did he learn that, I wonder!

Fr. Enrico Pozzoli
When he was 19, I believe, Jorge had some sort of conversion experience that he’s spoken of often.  Whatever that may have entailed—he certainly was no notorious sinner—it didn’t involve a Salesian church or confessor.  But not very long after, Fr. Pozzoli gave him some helpful advice regarding his recovery from pneumonia and the removal of part of one lung, and then helped him enroll in the diocesan seminary.  In the preface of Cardinal Bergoglio’s first book, Meditations for Religious, he refers to the “strong impact” that Fr. Pozzoli had on his life and the “example of ecclesial service and religious consecration” that he gave.[8]

Bergoglio didn’t remain long in the diocesan seminary, transferring in 1958 to the Jesuits.  And the rest is history.

But that wasn’t the end of his Salesian connections.  He developed particular connections with two Salesian blesseds, both from Argentina, and remains very aware of his Salesian roots.

Bro. Artemides Zatti (1880-1951) was another emigrant to Argentina from northern Italy.  He became a Salesian in Argentina and spent his life as infirmarian at the Salesian mission in Viedma in Patagonia, caring tirelessly for the sick who came to his clinic and riding his bicycle all over town to tend the sick in their homes.  He was beatified by John Paul II in 2002.

Bro. Artemides Zatti
As Jesuit provincial in Argentina from 1973 to 1979, Fr. Bergoglio noticed that his province, and the Jesuits in general, weren’t attracting vocations to the brotherhood, which he believed was an essential component of the Society of Jesus.  An Argentine bishop told him about Bro. Zatti, whose cause of canonization the Salesians had recently initiated, and gave him the brother’s biography.  “His example, that of a complete lay religious, made a deep impression on me,” Cardinal Bergoglio later wrote to a Salesian friend.  “I felt that I must ask God, thru the intercession of that great brother, to send us some lay vocations for the Jesuits.  I made novenas and got our novices to do the same.”  By 1986 their prayers had been answered with 23 vocations to the Jesuit brothers, of whom 18 persevered.  Cardinal Bergoglio described them as “hard-working, pious, happy, and level-headed.”  Bro. Zatti chose his candidates wisely!  “I repeat,” the cardinal wrote, “that I am convinced of Bro. Zatti’s intercession, because we have prayed so much thru him as our advocate.”[9]

Ceferino Namuncura'
The second blessed is Ceferino Namuncurá (1886-1905), whose feast in fact occurs ten days from now, August 26, which also happens to have been his birthday.  Ceferino was a son of one of the great native chieftains of Patagonia.  The Indians were often at war with Argentine settlers and the army—as I said, Patagonia was the “Wild West” in the 1870s and 1880s.  A Salesian missionary who’d won the Indians’ trust succeeded in mediating a peace treaty, and eventually he baptized Ceferino, who was named for St. Zephyrinus, a 3d-century Pope and martyr whose feastday is August 26, the boy’s birthday.  Ceferino went on to study with the Salesians, modeling himself on Dominic Savio and desirous of becoming a priest so that he could evangelize his own people.  But he contracted TB and died in 1905 at 18 years of age.

When arrangements were being made for the youth’s beatification—the first native American from Latin America to be canonically recognized for sanctity—the Vatican wanted to do the rite in Buenos Aires, the capital city.  But Cardinal Bergoglio insisted that it must be done in Ceferino’s hometown, a village of only 8,000 people roughly 600 miles from the capital, among his own people.[10]  The cardinal observed then, “The Salesians have done everything in Patagonia,” a tribute he later repeated in his famous interview for Jesuit magazines, including America.[11] 

After the beatification ceremony in faraway Patagonia, the cardinal joyfully presided at a procession and Mass in honor of the new blessed in Buenos Aires (photo above).[12]

As Pope Francis, he continues to admire and promote Salesian works, especially those with refugees and people on the margins of life, e.g., by visits to the center the Salesians run for migrants in Rome adjacent to the central railroad and bus station.  Last month, during his pastoral visit to Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, he visited the Salesian parish in Azerbaijan, a country 93% Muslim where the Salesians are the only Catholic priests.  When he visited Turkey in December 2014, one of his stops was the center the Salesians run for Syrian refugee kids in Istanbul.  When he’d returned to Rome, he told a general audience, “These Salesians work with refugees, and they are good!  The Salesian youth center for refugees is a beautiful thing.  It is a hidden work.”[13]

Last November 21, Francis received in audience the participants of an international congress on Catholic education who were studying issues we face in the 21st century.  He held up Don Bosco as model.  He told the audience:  “There are three languages:  the language of the head, the language of the heart, and the language of the hands.  Education must go forward in these three ways:  instructing students in how to think, helping students to feel well, accompanying students as they act.  The three languages must be in harmony:  the child thinking about what he feels and does, feeling what he thinks and makes, and doing what he thinks and feels.”[14]  This, as you know, is what Don Bosco did.

In June of last year, you recall, Francis went to Turin to venerate the Holy Shroud, which is brought out for public veneration only rarely.  This exposition of several months was organized in conjunction with the culmination of Don Bosco’s bicentennial.  Don Bosco’s Oratory—the Salesian motherhouse—is about 15 minutes’ walk from Turin’s cathedral, where the Shroud is kept in its own chapel between the cathedral proper and the old royal palace.  (The Shroud used to be the property of the House of Savoy, rulers of Piedmont and then kings of Italy.)

Pope Francis praying at Don Bosco's tomb, June 21, 2015,
in the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians, Turin.
So Francis made a triple pilgrimage in June:  to the Shroud, to Don Bosco’s Oratory, and to his own Piedmontese relatives.  In the basilica of Mary Help of Christians, crammed with SDBs, FMAs, and other members of the Salesian Family, the Holy Father recalled Fr. Pozzoli, Fr. Massa, and the year he studied at Ramos Mejia.  There, he said, he learned “to love the Madonna” and was educated “toward beauty, love, and affectivity” in Don Bosco’s style. “I am so grateful to the Salesian Family for what it has done in my life,” he summarized.  He praised the way Salesians, like Don Bosco, continue to meet the needs of the young, both different and the same as in the 19th century.  “Your charism is a great reality.  The Salesian is concrete, and he sees the problem, thinks about what to do, and handles the situation.”[15]

What are some takeaways from Jorge Bergoglio’s experience with the Salesians?

        1. As just noted, he was captivated by Don Bosco’s and the Salesians’ flexibility, adaptability to their situation, their context, the real needs of the people whom they served.  This requires, first of all, perception:  that we be aware of our world and the world of our kids (and of each other’s worlds, for that matter), and then it requires a readiness and willingness to respond to what we perceive, to provide the young with the tools they need to face life in this century, in this society, in this culture.

        2. Don Bosco and the Salesians addressed the whole person:  the three languages that Francis spoke of, or reason, religion, and kindness (appeals to head, soul, and heart).  We appeal to the young who thirst to learn, thirst for friendship, thirst for recognition and affection, and thirst for God.  We reach them with the three Rs, with music, with theater, with sports, with service projects, with opportunities to pray.  In words you’ve probably heard before, taken from the Salesian Constitutions, we try to make of every Salesian presence a school, a home, a parish, and a playground.  Obviously, Jorge Bergoglio found that at San Carlos Parish and in his brief stay in a Salesian school.

        3. Jorge observed that the Salesians had come to Argentina to minister to immigrants and to evangelize the native peoples—and to arrange for peace between those natives and the newcomers.  The Salesians went right to the margins of society, to the peripheries.[16]  He certainly carried that message away with him, didn’t he?  Champaign isn’t the 3d World, nor a ghetto or favela, but we still have a lot of kids, serve a lot of families, who are on the edges in one fashion or another—thru their family needs, their emotional needs, their educational handicaps, their financial situation, the distance they have to travel to get here, etc.  And we have an obligation to raise the awareness of even these kids of the wider world, those who are far less fortunate than they are in Haiti or South Sudan or the Amazon interior or the Pine Ridge Reservation; of people who’ve just lost their homes to wild fires or flooding, people who’ve been driven from their countries by persecution or violence or hunger.

        4. It seems that Fr. Enrico Pozzoli and Fr. Lorenzo Massa had the smell of the sheep.  They were present to the young and knew how to accompany and guide them.  That’s a challenge for us—a little easier with the kids, perhaps, because (I hope you’ve experienced this) so many younger kids worship their teachers (not so many older kids, to be sure!); but the challenge includes the kids’ families too.  They’re among the sheep whom we pasture at Holy Cross.  And it includes one another!  We minister to one another and accompany one another—call it mentoring or presence or a listening ear or a helping hand or anything else.

        5. Vocations!  Jorge got at least some of his vocational guidance from Fr. Pozzoli—and that guidance didn’t direct him to the Salesians, you notice.  Fr. Bergoglio prayed intensely for more Jesuit vocations, for brothers specifically.  Of course we need to pray for vocations.  We might pray for our students—the graduates as well as those who are here now—that they will come to know where God is calling them to serve him.  And we should be planting seeds for future vocational maturation, as I said in different words earlier when speaking about St. John Paul.

        6. Jorge Bergoglio became devoted to Mary Help of Christians as a youngster and kept that devotion faithfully for 70 years.  We’re never too grown up to need our Mother’s help, to thank her for a favor, to look to her for the example of the most faithful disciple of Jesus.

May we all find in this great Salesian “old boy,” Pope Francis, something to inspire us and help us be, not just better teachers, but better educators, better evangelizers, better servants of the young.

      [1] Raymond A. Schroth, SJ, “Teacher, Heal Thyself,” America, Jan. 18-25, 2016, p. 24.
    [2] Eugenio Ceria, SDB, The Biographical Memoirs of Saint John Bosco, trans. Diego Borgatello, SDB, vol. 12 (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Salesiana, 1980), pp. 190-192; Morand Wirth, Don Bosco and the Salesians, trans. David de Burgh (New Rochelle: Don Bosco Publications, 1982), p. 192.
    [7] Giovanni Battista Lemoyne, SDB, The Biographical Memoirs of Saint John Bosco, trans. Diego Borgetello, SDB, vol. 3 (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Salesiana, 1966), p. 142.
    [8] ANS March 14, 2013.
    [11] America, Sept. 30, 2013:

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