Famously known as Don Bosco, the life of Saint John Bosco is one of the most eventful lives a saint could have, having done extensive work during his lifetime; apart from being a priest, educator and writer he was also the founder of the “Salesians of Don Bosco” a religious institute started to help the youth during the Industrial Revolution and was the co-founder of Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, a religious congregation of nuns dedicated to the care and education of poor girls.
Born on August 16, 1815 in Italy to Francis and Margaret Bosco, John Bosco was one among three sons. His father however died two years later, leaving his mother to raise three boys by herself. Margaret Bosco was a woman of solitude and tenderness, who instilled in her sons the fear of God and taught them Christian values.
Saint John Bosco is known to have been an educator and a confidante to the youth especially the juvenile delinquents, street children and orphans. He received this calling at a relatively young age, an instance when he was walking along the countryside with his mother and upon seeing a local priest pass by he yelled, “Hello Father!” only to receive a slight bow of his head. This caused a lot of hurt to young John and he said to his mother,
“When I grow up I will be a priest and I will speak to children all the time and do everything for them!”
This was just the initial thrust, the beginning of the flames that fired his soul to do something for the ones who never received any guidance. When he was nine, he had a dream where he was amidst a crowd full of angry young lads, howling and yelling at each other, a man motioned to him and said, “Not with blows will you help these boys, but with goodness and kindness!” He was confident of his calling and made up his mind to join the priesthood. After a great deal of struggle he completed his education, he was after all a simple farm boy and had to study further to become a priest. He excelled in his studies and at the age of 20 and was ready to enter the seminary.
Even after being ordained, his true calling was not fulfilled, he had a deep urge to help the boys who were turning into delinquents owing to poverty, low wages, working in factories with hazardous machinery during the new era of the Industrial Revolution. He started “The Oratory” where the street children and daily wage earners came every Sunday to attend mass and escape from the weeklong imprisonment in factories. There Saint John used to engage with the boys and they in turn would confide in him. And that was just the beginning, he went on to open an orphanage and a trade school, and there were priests from all over volunteering to help in this mission.
Today the congregation has orphanages and trade schools throughout the world.
What touches me most about the life of Saint John Bosco is that he believed in the most hopeless and downtrodden people at that time – the juveniles. He was convinced that there is goodness in each and every person, and that we just need to discover that by loving them. He says,
“In every young person, a point of goodness is accessible and it is the primary duty of the educator to discover that sensitive cord of the heart so as to draw out the best in that young person”
Personally, I was never a believer in saints, it is true that I acknowledged them and always thought of them as people who did extraordinary things for the love of God and were very devout, but were ordinary people nonetheless. I never prayed to them, nor did I ever invest time in knowing about their lives and the works they have done. For me they were mere statues that adorned churches. When I joined the community and as I grew in faith I learnt the importance of saints and how they are powerful intercessors. I learnt that every time we participate in the Holy Mass, we are in communion with all the saints in heaven that we pray along with them.
As I studied the life of Saint John Bosco, I realised that his teachings and his values are relevant, apt and needed even in today’s day and age. In our everyday life, we so often judge people, clouded by our own biases and prejudices. We choose to not see the good in them, we misunderstand them, and we so miserably fail to even give them a chance. And like in those times, even today it is the youth who are more misunderstood than any other demographic. They are vulnerable but at the same time the most headstrong. Also, they are sadly misled and fall prey to worldly traps. Saint John Bosco’s way of dealing with the youth are so inspiring because he always was a friend to his students, he touched and converted their hearts with love. He never stopped the boys from having fun, one of his quotes state:
“Enjoy yourself as much as you like – if only you keep from sin”.
He was an educator, by educating them he empowered and gifted them with the most powerful tool; to be independent and rise above from their poverty stricken lives. Like him, we too must care and love others in our own little ways. We are called to live like Christ and moreover be brothers and sisters in Christ. Saint John Bosco has taught me to not judge people by their appearances, by what we have heard about them or what society claims; but to be open to love someone, to give a chance, to show and make known to people that we love them, especially the ones whom no one cares for – the hopeless.
Saint John Bosco had such zeal, such burning desire to help and reach out to the youth who were so easily misunderstood and in need of spiritual help. He thought of them as his own and went out of the conventional ways to help them. We too must take up this inspirational missionary – try to get out of our comfort zones and take that extra step. I know it is very difficult, but we ought to give it a try, nothing is impossible with God.
Because each and every person has their cross to bear, has had their share of sufferings that they choose not to speak of, the least we can do is be kind to them without judging them.