Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Year with Pope Francis; the "Pro-Salesian Jesuit”

(ANS - Rome) Today, 13 March, marks the first anniversary of the election of Pope Francis. It has been a very full year. Pope Francis has provided many good ideas and good examples that are valid for everyone, but especially for those who spend their lives for the salvation of youth. This "pro-Salesian Jesuit,” as he says he was once described, has been for all of us an excellent source of inspiration.

People who knew him well were already aware that he was a great devotee of Mary Help of Christians, and a fan of San Lorenzo de Almagro - the team founded by Fr Lorenzo Massa, SDB; that in his youth he studied for two years at a Salesian college; and that he had great admiration for the Salesian missionaries in Patagonia ("I see in them the story of a fruitful life") and devotion to Blessed Zephyrinus Namuncurá and Blessed Artemide Zatti. All this became public knowledge shortly after his election as Pope.

What perhaps we did not expect was that, even as Pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio would continue to show gestures and expressions of esteem towards Don Bosco and his spiritual heirs. Yet he has done so right from the beginning. On 21 March last year - a few days after his election - he welcomed the Rector Major and his Vicar with great cordiality when they paid a private visit. A week later when he had lunch with some Roman priests, he invited two Salesians - Fr Maurizio Verlezza and Fr Antonio Petrosino - out of a total of seven guests.

On the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, as other popes had done traditionally, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at Castel Gandolfo and met the Salesian community that serves the Church of St. Thomas of Villanova. Then on 19 January 2014, the Pope paid a pastoral visit to the Salesian parish of the Sacred Cuore in Rome. Even though it is located in the centre of the city, it is a parish that serves many people who are seriously marginalized. 

Meetings are not the only thing that matters. It is above all in his words and gestures that we can see the Salesian style of Pope Francis. Think, for example, of the expression "fate casino (kick up a racket)“ that he addressed to young people on World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, or his constant advice to young people to not let anyone steal their hope, or the affectionate grandfather attitude that he always shows to small children, especially if they happen to be sick.

Words and gestures like these reveal to the world the spirit of Don Bosco: “it is enough that you are young for me to love you very much."

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