HOMILY TO THE 26th GENERAL CHAPTER OF THE SALESIANS
Turin, Sanctuary of Our Lady of Consolation 25 February 2008
Very Reverend Rector Major and Dear Confreres all those taking part as Delegates in this your 26th
General Chapter, which by happy intuition, you have chosen to begin with this stay in Turin, not
only because as a Religious Family you were born here, but also because Don Bosco, the glory and
pride of your Congregation was a well-deserving member of the diocesan clergy of Turin.
Meeting with you here to celebrate Mass together in the Sanctuary of the Our Lady of Consolation,
Patroness of our Diocese and to whom Don Bosco was particularly devoted, is for me as
Archbishop of Turin, a motive of great joy, as I welcome you, to pray with and for you, and also to
thank the Lord for all that the Church of Turin has received and continues to receive from the
pastoral presence of the Salesians and all the great spiritual Family of Don Bosco. Personally, and
don’t think this is simply an expression of courtesy, it comes very sincerely from the heart, I feel a
great affection for the Salesians as well as sincere gratitude for the spirit of shared friendship that I
have always experienced and for the wonderful collaboration there is at all levels between us.
1. A gaze towards heaven
The first thought that I should like to express is an invitation to raise your eyes in faith and prayer to
heaven where Don Bosco with all the saints of the Salesian Family is enjoying the glory of the
beatific vision. We feel united with them because of the communion of saints, through which
between us and them there continues to be an exchange of spiritual gifts: we invoke them to ask for
their protection, and they intercede to obtain Divine blessings for us on our journey of faith and on
the fields of our apostolate.
Thinking of Don Bosco in Paradise before the Holy Trinity with the great host of his Salesian Sons
and Daughters who have already reached their heavenly home, we cannot fail to recall the saints
and martyrs, and in particular the two great martyrs whose feast we are keeping today: Saint Luigi
Versiglia, Bishop and Saint Callisto Caravario, Priest. When a Congregation has arrived at
numbering among its sons martyr saints, it is a sign that it has reached the full maturity of the
Christian faith, because every stage of the earthly life of Jesus has been imitated and shared. Then,
how can one fail to remember at this moment, the holy young people such as Saint Dominic Savio,
Laura Vicuña and Zephyrinus, and the successors of Don Bosco, already proclaimed Blessed, Fr
Michael Rua and Fr Philip Rinaldi?
A General Chapter cannot begin without opening this great window onto heaven and with affection
and in prayer communicate with Don Bosco and with the great host of Salesian Saints.
2. The Word of God
The text from Wisdom, proclaimed in the first reading, is a clear invitation to raise our eyes to
heaven, where the souls of the Just are in the hands of God. Their lives have been tested like gold in
the furnace and have proved pleasing to God like a fragrant perfume. It is to them that we now look
to compare our lives with theirs to see whether we are worthy guardians of their inheritance. In the
eyes of many in the world nowadays, too superficial to open their minds and their hearts to the
mysteries of God, our life choices and the heroism of our saints seem an abdication of the great
dignity we have as human beings, whereas we know that, in fact, those who live their lives
following Christ are not failures but a source of grace for the whole human race.
In the Gospel Jesus urged us not to let ourselves be browbeaten by those who seem to dominate the
world, who even kill the servants of the Lord or try to silence them: “Have no fear! Do not be afraid
of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul, nor of those who seek to prevent the Word of
God reaching the utmost ends of the earth, because all shall be revealed, and what is still hidden
shall one day be bright, and what it is not now possible to cry out shall be preached from the
rooftops, so that everyone may hear.” This is the great challenge that faces us and that we have to
take up with renewed energy: the evangelisation of the whole world. There is a part of the history of
the Church that we are called upon to make, and that others after us will continue to carry forward.
Woe to us if we were to fail in our task of bearing witness to Jesus Christ before the men and
women of our time!
3. The General Chapter
I have spoken of the challenge and it is that that your General Chapter sets before you with a
subject so dear to Don Bosco and so essential for the Church of all ages: “Da mihi animas, cetera
tolle!” This theme challenges you to commit yourselves in three fundamental areas.
Holiness of life. Only if we are rich in faith and love for God will we succeed in hearing the
challenge to commit ourselves through our ministry, to continue in our own day Jesus’ work of
salvation. The “sitio” (“I thirst”) of Christ on the cross ought to become for all of us a programme
and a daily task. We too, in fact, have to want to live solely for the glory of God and the salvation of
souls. The rest doesn’t count: even the means used in the apostolate ought to be solely at the service
of the action of grace. A holy Salesian, without any means, imprisoned or sick, or persecuted
succeeds in proclaiming and bearing witness to Jesus much more than the one who is on the go all
day with his certainly valuable work in the school or oratory..
A better knowledge of the real charism of Don Bosco. The active Don Bosco, continually on the
move among his boys, the Don Bosco of the apostolate of the playground and of the oratory, the
Don Bosco of the outings in the countryside with the band of musicians, or the Don Bosco of
“becoming saints while being cheerful” shouldn’t make us forget the contemplative Don Bosco who
knew how to live in continual communion with God and found in prolonged prayer and a personal
relationship with the Lord the true live-giving sap that gave his charism its strength. If we compare
quenching our thirst at the genuine spirituality of your holy founder to going to draw water at a
well, it is worth remembering that it is not enough to collect the first water we find on the surface,
but that we have to know how to arrive at the bottom of the well where the source of the water is to
be found, that which is precisely the special holiness of the genuine Don Bosco, who certainly
hands on to you a charism of action but above all reminds you of the duty of contemplation. It is
necessary to go deeper in order to know the real Don Bosco; it is necessary to reach the source of
his holiness in order, 120 year after his death, to be still capable of expressing and bringing alive the
freshness and the enthusiasm of his heart as a holy educator.
Finally a word about the challenge of being committed to the formation of the young. The specific
characteristic of your Salesian charism leads you especially to the young in order to educate them
as “good Christians and upright citizens.” You cannot achieve one of these without the other.
However, it is necessary to know how to update our approach and our methods so as to respond to
the great expectations of the young people of today.
What does it mean to form the young people of our days using the preventive system? Can we
expect to obtain results without knowing how to provide the motives behind the ideals we propose
(reason)? Can we play down the duty of guiding the young to respond above all to the great
friendship and special love that Jesus has for them (religion)? And finally can we help them to face
up to the ever-increasingly-difficult struggle to be consistent in making Christians choices without
them feeling our support as guides who educate through example and disinterested love (loving
We have to be able to present ourselves to the young as signs of hope. They have a great need to
discover the beauty of a life lived with purity, with a great faith in God and with disinterested love.
They have a thirst for joy, that which only the Lord can give and that we need to be able to transmit
as life’s total fulfilment.
But to be able to do this, dear confreres, we have to know how to preserve the precious treasure that
has been placed in our hands. It is true that we have this treasure in earthen vessels, poor and fragile
as we are, but it is also true that the Lord says to us, as he did to Paul:: “My grace is sufficient for
you; for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12, 9). The world would like us to be more
accommodating in the face of its mediocre proposals and we might run the risk of thinking,
deceiving ourselves, that it is easier to have the young on our side if we offer them a comfortable
stroll through the fields rather than the effort of climbing the heights. We ourselves first of all are
called to climb to a higher level of holiness, and then to be convinced that the young are expecting
to hear from us the fascinating message of Jesus, that will guide them towards those high and bold
ideals to which in fact they do aspire even though the contrary may often appear the truth. It is up to
us to help them to find that it is better to live on the heights that in the closed and gloomy valley of
a mediocre life. This will be possible if first of all we take up the challenge and choose to live with
the Lord on the hill of the Transfiguration, where it will be come quite spontaneously, as it did to
Peter, to say to Jesus: “It is good for us to be here” (Mc 9, 5).
I conclude, again sincerely wishing you every blessing in your work of the 26th General Chapter. I
assure you that I shall be close to you with my affection and friendship, and especially with my
prayers so that the Holy Spirit may descend abundantly on you all, and in particular the intercession
of the Virgin Mary Help and Consoler of Christians may guide the work of your Chapter to reach
the truly important objective of succeeding in carrying out what She herself said to the servants at
Cana in Galilee: “Do whatever (and «only» I would add!) He Jesus tells you” (Jn 2, 5).
Severino Card. Poletto
Archbishop of Turin