Sts. Louis Versiglia, SDB (1873-1930), bishop,and Callistus Caravario, SDB (1903-1930), priest
On February 25, 1930, Salesians Bishop Louis Versiglia, vicar apostolic of Shiu Chow, China, and Fr. Callistus Caravario, pastor of the Lin Chow mission, was murdered at Li-Thau-Tseul in the district of Lin Chow by Communist pirates while journeying in the company of several female catechists, whose human dignity they defended successfully at the cost of their own lives. The Salesian Family observes their feast day every year on their “heavenly birthday.”
On October 1, 2000, St. John Paul the Great canonized 120 martyrs who shed their blood for the Faith in China between 1648 and 1930. Of these, 87 were Chinese and 33 were missionaries. Their collective memorial day is July 9.
Chronologically, the last two of these martyrs—the only ones after the Boxer Rebellion of 1900—were Bp. Versiglia and Fr. Caravario.
Born in 1873 in the Italian province of Pavia, Louis entered the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales at Turin in 1885. After making his profession as a Salesian in 1889, he earned a degree in philosophy at the Gregorian University in Rome, was ordained in 1895, and served as master of novices in Rome from 1896 to 1905.
Then Fr. Michael Rua, Don Bosco’s successor as Rector Major, tapped Fr. Versiglia to lead the first Salesian expedition to China, which arrived at the Portuguese colony of Macao in 1906. When the Salesians ventured onto the mainland to open a mission at Shiu Chow in 1918, he led that group, and when the mission was erected into a vicariate apostolic in 1920, he was chosen as its bishop.
Bp. Versiglia displayed personal holiness, wisdom in his government, and tireless activity as he organized and developed his vicariate. He set up his episcopal headquarters and opened schools for boys and girls (with the Salesian Sisters), a minor seminary for Chinese youths, a formation center for local catechists, an orphanage, an old-age home, a medical clinic, and some 20 mission stations.
Fr. Caravario, born in 1903 in the province of Turin, was still a “baby priest,” having been ordained by Bp. Versiglia in May 1929. He too had studied at the Oratory, and after his profession in 1919 and his postnovitiate studies had gone to China in 1924 as a missionary. He was transferred to Timor for his practical training but returned to China and was assigned to Lin Chow in Bp. Versiglia’s vicariate.
Fr. Caravario was characterized by his virtuous life, pursuit of holiness, and missionary zeal. In February 1930 he traveled from his mission to Shiu Chow in order to accompany Bp. Versiglia and his new catechists upriver to Lin Chow—the fatal trip interrupted by Communist bandits.
The cause of canonization of the two sturdy missionaries was initiated in 1953. Recognized as martyrs by Blessed Paul VI in 1976, they were beatified by St. John Paul II in May 1983, who also took the initiative to add them to the roster of the Chinese martyrs to be canonized in 2000.
St. John Paul’s homily at the canonization Mass: http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/homilies/2000/documents/hf_jp-ii_hom_20001001_canonization.html
Most of this article is based on the entries by Domenico Garneri and Guido Bosio in the Dizionario biografico dei Salesiani (Turin, 1969), ed. by Eugenio Valentini and Amedeo Rodinò.