Pope Francis was speaking to the religious on a two day visit to the northern Italian city to join in the celebrations and for the Ostentation of the Shroud of Turin.
Describing his prepared discourse as “a little formal,” Pope Francis laid aside his written text and spoke off-the-cuff for approximately thirty minutes. The text of his discourse was to be distributed to the religious later.
In his remarks, the Pope drew inspiration from the Salesians’ Don Bosco, who travelled these parts, Francis said, “evangelizing to educate and educating to evangelize” - especially the most vulnerable.
Go out to the peripheries, “to areas of physical and moral danger”
Pope Francis described a “preventative system” of education, inviting the religious to do as their founder did: educate the abandoned and most fragile young people – those at risk of addiction, suicide and depression - by exposing them to an educational style based on “reason, religion and love.” And, he urged them not to forget those who Don Bosco called “street children… much in need of hope and of formation in the joy of Christian life.” Go out to the city peripheries, the Pope urged them, to areas of “physical and moral danger,” neighborhoods “lacking many material things but above all, where love, understanding, tenderness and hope” are lost.
The Pope’s childhood memories of the Salesian community
The Pope recounted fond childhood memories of his family’s closeness to the Salesians and how, when his mother was ill, he was taken out of public school to spend one year studying with the Salesians. And calling them to use creativity and sport to engage young people, he recalled how Salesian Fr. Lorenzo Massa created a football team for Argentinain street children in 1908.
The Pope spoke of how he grew very attached to the Salesian community in the year he spent with them and that one priest in particular followed him from Baptism to the realization of his vocation, accompanying him ultimately on his journey to the Jesuit Order.
North-west Italy’s dark past and how to deal with the current crisis
Pope Francis remembered this region of Italy’s dark past, saying it was “full” of the masonry – and he described the end of the 1800’s as “priest-eating, anticlerical, and even demonic.” But, many saints were to come out of this region too, he stressed.
Many things have improved since those times but the situation of young people has stayed more or less the same, he observed. To counter the 40% youth unemployment rates that have crippled Italy, he encouraged Salesians to even take “risky decisions” and to provide “emergency education” to respond to the current crisis – through providing skills training for “urgency jobs” to form electricians, plumbers or gas men – jobs that will give young people an opportunity now.
Such small job training schools come in addition to our giving food to street kids, the Pope stressed: “it’s true that on an empty stomach one can’t praise God. But this is a thing of urgency, of the moment.”
Do not be ashamed in moment of crisis that is “even anti-Church”
Pope Francis described the current situation as an “ugly moment of crisis, even anti-Church.” Looking again to Don Bosco, he said the Salesian saint was never ashamed of talking about his “three white loves: the Madonna, the Eucharist and the Pope.”
He invited consecrated women to ponder the “mystery of woman in the Church” and their love of the Pope, not only as a person but as head of the Church. “You teach girls [how to become] mothers, but mothers who raise their girls in love of the Madonna and of the Church,” the Pope added.
Women in decision-making positions in the Church
The Pope also spoke of how he is sometimes asked about women taking up more decision-making positions in the Church – including nominating a woman as head of a dicastery. This is “a functionalism,” he remarked and added that women in the Church have the “same work that the Madonna had with the Apostles on the morning of Pentecost. And the Apostles, without Mary, couldn’t have functioned [It:non andavono] and Jesus wanted it this way.”
“The Holy Mother Church must seek conversion every day, from the Pope down”
He invited Salesians to never be ashamed of speaking about Our Lady, and “to never be ashamed of the Eucharist, but to do it well and to have young people enter into the Eucharistic Mystery.” At the same time, he urged them not be “ashamed of the Holy Mother Church, which, poor thing, must seek conversion every day, every day – from the Pope down. We are all… But it is the Holy Mother Church, and from there, to learn the role of the woman in the Church. It’s another challenge, eh?”
Trust in divine Providence, a priest to the young, loyal to the Pope
In the Pope’s written discourse, he spoke about three specific aspects of the charism of Don Bosco: his trust in divine Providence; his vocation to be a priest of the young, especially the poorest among them, and his loyal and active service to the Church, particularly to the Pope.
Don Bosco’s unwavering confidence in God, the essence of consecrated life
The founder of the Salesian Family, he said, lived out to the end his priestly mission “sustained by an unwavering confidence in God.” This confidence, the Pope said, is also “the essence of the consecrated life, so that the service of the Gospel and of our brothers should not remain a prisoner of our views, of the realities of this passing world, but might continue to rise above ourselves.”
The service to the young, beginning with the most vulnerable
Another important aspect of the life of Don Bosco, Pope Francis continued, is “the service to the young, beginning with the most vulnerable and abandoned: this concerns the “pedagogy of the faith” which is taken up in the Salesian formula “educating to evangelize, and evangelizing to educate.” The Holy Father encouraged the Salesian religious to carry on “with generosity and confidence the multiple activities in favour of the new generations: oratories, youth centres, professional institutes, schools, and colleges.
Making “an oratory” of every place, aiming at ever wider apostolic horizons
Concluding his remarks, the Holy Father called on the Salesians “to proclaim to all the mercy of Jesus, making ‘an oratory’ of every place, especially the most inaccessible; bearing in the heart the ‘oratorian’ style of Don Bosco and aiming at ever wider apostolic horizons,” recalling the great many religious institutions which to this day continue to live the charism of Don Bosco “to share the mission of taking the Gospel to the furthest reaches of the peripheries.”