Thursday, 24 January 2013

Pope Benedict XVI: "Social Networks: portals of truth and faith; new spaces for evangelization."

Today, Pope Benedict XVI published his Message for the 47th World Communications Day, which will be observed on Sunday, 12 May 2013. The Message offers a positive assessment of the role of social media in the process of the New Evangelisation. It is reproduced in full here, and it is hoped that all those who engage in the new media will take the time to read it and reflect upon it. The original may be read on the Vatican website.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As the 2013 World Communications Day draws near, I would like to offer you some reflections on an increasingly important reality regarding the way in which people today communicate among themselves. I wish to consider the development of digital social networks which are helping to create a new “agora”, an open public square in which people share ideas, information and opinions, and in which new relationships and forms of community can come into being.

These spaces, when engaged in a wise and balanced way, help to foster forms of dialogue and debate which, if conducted respectfully and with concern for privacy, responsibility and truthfulness, can reinforce the bonds of unity between individuals and effectively promote the harmony of the human family. The exchange of information can become true communication, links ripen into friendships, and connections facilitate communion. If the networks are called to realize this great potential, the people involved in them must make an effort to be authentic since, in these spaces, it is not only ideas and information that are shared, but ultimately our very selves.

The development of social networks calls for commitment: people are engaged in building relationships and making friends, in looking for answers to their questions and being entertained, but also in finding intellectual stimulation and sharing knowledge and know-how. The networks are increasingly becoming part of the very fabric of society, inasmuch as they bring people together on the basis of these fundamental needs. Social networks are thus nourished by aspirations rooted in the human heart.

The culture of social networks and the changes in the means and styles of communication pose demanding challenges to those who want to speak about truth and values. Often, as is also the case with other means of social communication, the significance and effectiveness of the various forms of expression appear to be determined more by their popularity than by their intrinsic importance and value. Popularity, for its part, is often linked to celebrity or to strategies of persuasion rather than to the logic of argumentation. At times the gentle voice of reason can be overwhelmed by the din of excessive information and it fails to attract attention which is given instead to those who express themselves in a more persuasive manner. The social media thus need the commitment of all who are conscious of the value of dialogue, reasoned debate and logical argumentation; of people who strive to cultivate forms of discourse and expression which appeal to the noblest aspirations of those engaged in the communication process. Dialogue and debate can also flourish and grow when we converse with and take seriously people whose ideas are different from our own. “Given the reality of cultural diversity, people need not only to accept the existence of the culture of others, but also to aspire to be enriched by it and to offer to it whatever they possess that is good, true and beautiful” (Address at the Meeting with the World of Culture, Bélem, Lisbon, 12 May 2010).

The challenge facing social networks is how to be truly inclusive: thus they will benefit from the full participation of believers who desire to share the message of Jesus and the values of human dignity which his teaching promotes. Believers are increasingly aware that, unless the Good News is made known also in the digital world, it may be absent in the experience of many people for whom this existential space is important. The digital environment is not a parallel or purely virtual world, but is part of the daily experience of many people, especially the young. Social networks are the result of human interaction, but for their part they also reshape the dynamics of communication which builds relationships: a considered understanding of this environment is therefore the prerequisite for a significant presence there.

The ability to employ the new languages is required, not just to keep up with the times, but precisely in order to enable the infinite richness of the Gospel to find forms of expression capable of reaching the minds and hearts of all. In the digital environment the written word is often accompanied by images and sounds. Effective communication, as in the parables of Jesus, must involve the imagination and the affectivity of those we wish to invite to an encounter with the mystery of God’s love. Besides, we know that Christian tradition has always been rich in signs and symbols: I think for example of the Cross, icons, images of the Virgin Mary, Christmas cribs, stained-glass windows and pictures in our churches. A significant part of mankind’s artistic heritage has been created by artists and musicians who sought to express the truths of the faith.

In social networks, believers show their authenticity by sharing the profound source of their hope and joy: faith in the merciful and loving God revealed in Christ Jesus. This sharing consists not only in the explicit expression of their faith, but also in their witness, in the way in which they communicate “choices, preferences and judgements that are fully consistent with the Gospel, even when it is not spoken of specifically” (Message for the 2011 World Communications Day). A particularly significant way of offering such witness will be through a willingness to give oneself to others by patiently and respectfully engaging their questions and their doubts as they advance in their search for the truth and the meaning of human existence. The growing dialogue in social networks about faith and belief confirms the importance and relevance of religion in public debate and in the life of society.

For those who have accepted the gift of faith with an open heart, the most radical response to mankind’s questions about love, truth and the meaning of life – questions certainly not absent from social networks – are found in the person of Jesus Christ. It is natural for those who have faith to desire to share it, respectfully and tactfully, with those they meet in the digital forum. Ultimately, however, if our efforts to share the Gospel bring forth good fruit, it is always because of the power of the word of God itself to touch hearts, prior to any of our own efforts. Trust in the power of God’s work must always be greater than any confidence we place in human means. In the digital environment, too, where it is easy for heated and divisive voices to be raised and where sensationalism can at times prevail, we are called to attentive discernment. Let us recall in this regard that Elijah recognized the voice of God not in the great and strong wind, not in the earthquake or the fire, but in “a still, small voice” (1 Kg 19:11-12). We need to trust in the fact that the basic human desire to love and to be loved, and to find meaning and truth – a desire which God himself has placed in the heart of every man and woman – keeps our contemporaries ever open to what Blessed Cardinal Newman called the “kindly light” of faith.

Social networks, as well as being a means of evangelization, can also be a factor in human development. As an example, in some geographical and cultural contexts where Christians feel isolated, social networks can reinforce their sense of real unity with the worldwide community of believers. The networks facilitate the sharing of spiritual and liturgical resources, helping people to pray with a greater sense of closeness to those who share the same faith. An authentic and interactive engagement with the questions and the doubts of those who are distant from the faith should make us feel the need to nourish, by prayer and reflection, our faith in the presence of God as well as our practical charity: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1). In the digital world there are social networks which offer our contemporaries opportunities for prayer, meditation and sharing the word of God. But these networks can also open the door to other dimensions of faith. Many people are actually discovering, precisely thanks to a contact initially made online, the importance of direct encounters, experiences of community and even pilgrimage, elements which are always important in the journey of faith. In our effort to make the Gospel present in the digital world, we can invite people to come together for prayer or liturgical celebrations in specific places such as churches and chapels. There should be no lack of coherence or unity in the expression of our faith and witness to the Gospel in whatever reality we are called to live, whether physical or digital. When we are present to others, in any way at all, we are called to make known the love of God to the furthest ends of the earth.

I pray that God’s Spirit will accompany you and enlighten you always, and I cordially impart my blessing to all of you, that you may be true heralds and witnesses of the Gospel. “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15).

From the Vatican, 24 January 2013, Feast of Saint Francis de Sales.



O God, the Shepherd and Ruler of all Your faithful people, mercifully look upon Your servant Pope Benedict XVI, whom You have chosen as the chief Shepherd to preside over Your Church. We beg You to help him edify, both by word and example, those over whom he has charge, that he may reach everlasting life together with the flock entrusted to him. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, 21 January 2013

The Salt of the Earth, Fiber-optics, and Airwaves

One of the things which has struck me is the great list of blogs on this site. Too many times we take for granted members of groups to which we belong. However, I am constantly amazed at the great articles which come out of this group.

It is important for bloggers to keep the perspective of blogging for the Internet audience. We are the newest of the new evangelizers. All our articles are aimed at one thing-the spreading of the Kingdom of God, which subsits in the Catholic Church.

We are the Church Militant on line. And, we are a real, as well as virtual, community. Our roots are in the Eucharist, the centre of our Faith.

Christ, the Word of God, informs our minds and spirits so that we can spread His Word on line.

Let us never take each other for granted, but pray for each other. Let us remember, like St. Paul and St. Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, that part of our Christian duty is to build up the community of His Church.

I give thanks to my God in every remembrance of you, Philippians 1:3, Douay-Rheims.

(PART 1) Saint John Bosco (2004) (ENGLISH)

Therese 1/9

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

We are not alone.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Our state's elected lawmakers will soon consider a bill called "The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act." A more fraudulent title for this dangerous measure could not be imagined. The proposed law is, in truth, a grave assault upon both religious liberty and marriage.
All people of goodwill, and especially Christ's faithful committed to my pastoral care in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, should resolutely oppose this bill and make their opinions known to their representatives.
The pending bill would, for the first time in our state's history, redefine marriage to legally recognize same-sex "marriages." But neither two men nor two women - nor, for that matter, three or more people - can possibly form a marriage. Our law would be lying if it said they could.
The basic structure of marriage as the exclusive and lasting relationship of a man and a woman, committed to a life which is fulfilled by having children, is given to us in human nature, and thus by nature's God. Notwithstanding the vanity of human wishes, every society in human history - including every society untouched by Jewish or Christian revelation - has managed to grasp this profound truth about human relationships and happiness: marriage is the union of man and woman.
 The bill's sponsors maintain it would simply extend marriage to some people who have long been arbitrarily excluded from it. They are wrong. The pending bill would not expand the eligibility-roster for marriage. It would radically redefine what marriage is- for everybody. It would enshrine in our law - and thus in public opinion and practice - three harmful ideas:
 1 What essentially makes a marriage is romantic-emotional union.
 2 Children don't need both a mother and father.
 3 The main purpose of marriage is adult satisfactions.
 These ideas would deepen the sexual revolution's harms on all society. After all, if marriage is an emotional union meant for adult satisfactions, why should it be sexually exclusive?
Or limited to two?
Or pledged to permanence?
If children don't need both their mother and father, why should fathers stick around when romance fades?
As marriage is redefined, it becomes harder for people to see the point of these profoundly important marital norms, to live by them, and to encourage others to do the same.
The resulting instability hurts spouses, but also - and especially - children, who do best when reared by their committed mother and father. Indeed, children's need - and right - to be reared by the mother and father whose union brought them into being explains why our law has recognized marriage as a conjugal partnership - the union of husband and wife - at all.
Our lawmakers have understood that marriage is naturally oriented to procreation, to family. Of course, marriage also includesa committed, intimate relationship of a sort which some same-sex coulples (or multiple lovers in groups of three or more) could imitate.
But our law never recognized and supported marriage in order to regulate intimacy for its own sake. The reason marriage is recognized in civil law at all (as ordinary friendships, or other sacraments, are not) is specific to the committed, intimate relationships of people of opposite-sex couples: they are by nature oriented to having children.
Their love-making acts are life-giving acts. Same-sex relationships lack this unique predicate of state recognition and support. Even the most ideologically blinded legislator cannot change this natural fact: the sexual acts of a same-sex couple (regardless of how one views them morally) are simply not of the type that yield the gift of new life.
So they cannot extend a union of hearts by a true bodily union. They cannot turn a friendship into the one-flesh union of marriage. They are not marital.
This is not just a Christian idea, but one common to every major religious tradition and our civilization's great philosophical traditions, beginning with ancient Greece and Rome. The pending bill is not only a dangerous social experiment about marriage.
It is also a lethal attack upon religious liberty.
This so-called "religious freedom" would not stop the state from obligating the Knights of Columbus to make their halls available for same-sex "weddings." It would not stop the state from requiring Catholic grade schools to hire teachers who are legally "married" to someone of the same sex.
This bill would not protect Catholic hospitals, charities, or colleges, which exclude those so "married" from senior leadership positions.
Nor would it protect me, the Bishop of Springfield, if I refused to employ someone in a same-sex "marriage" who applied to the Diocese for a position meant to serve my ministry as your bishop.
This "religious freedom" law does nothing at all to protect the consciences of people in business, or who work for the government. We saw the harmful consequences of deceptive titles all too painfully last year when the so-called "Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act" forced Catholic Charities out of foster care and adoption services in Illinois.
 These threats do not raise a question about drafting a better law, one with more extensive conscience protections.
There is no possible way - none whatsoever- for those who believe that marriage is exclusively the union of husband and wife to avoid legal penalties and harsh discriminatory treatment if the bill becomes law. Why should we expect it be otherwise?
 After all, we would be people who, according to the thinking behind the bill, hold onto an "unfair" view of marriage. The state would have equated our view with bigotry - which it uses the law to marginalize in every way short of criminal punishment.
The only way to protect religious liberty, and to preserve marriage, is to defeat this perilous proposal. Please make sure our elected representatives understand that and know that they will be held to account.
 Sincerely yours in Christ,
 Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki
 Bishop of Springfield in Illinois -

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Job One

Sunday, 13 January 2013

The Sacrament of Confession

Forgiveness by C.S. Lewis

Essay on Forgiveness by C. S. Lewis

We say a great many things in church (and out of church too) without thinking of what we are saying. For instance, we say in the Creed " I believe in the forgiveness of sins." I had been saying it for several years before I asked myself why it was in the Creed. At first sight it seems hardly worth putting in. "If one is a Christian," I thought " of course one believes in the forgiveness of sins. It goes without saying." But the people who compiled the Creed apparently thought that this was a part of our belief which we needed to be reminded of every time we went to church. And I have begun to see that, as far as I am concerned, they were right. To believe in the forgiveness of sins is not so easy as I thought. Real belief in it is the sort of thing that easily slips away if we don't keep on polishing it up.

We believe that God forgives us our sins; but also that He will not do so unless we forgive other people their sins against us. There is no doubt about the second part of this statement. It is in the Lord's Prayer, it was emphatically stated by our Lord. If you don't forgive you will not be forgiven. No exceptions to it. He doesn't say that we are to forgive other people's sins, provided they are not too frightful, or provided there are extenuating circumstances, or anything of that sort. We are to forgive them all, however spiteful, however mean, however often they are repeated. If we don't we shall be forgiven none of our own.

Now it seems to me that we often make a mistake both about God's forgiveness of our sins and about the forgiveness we are told to offer to other people's sins. Take it first about God's forgiveness, I find that when I think I am asking God to forgive me I am often in reality (unless I watch myself very carefully) asking Him to do something quite different. I am asking him not to forgive me but to excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says, "Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology; I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before." If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive. In that sense forgiveness and excusing are almost opposites. Of course, in dozens of cases, either between God and man, or between one man and another, there may be a mixture of the two. Part of what at first seemed to be the sins turns out to be really nobody's fault and is excused; the bit that is left over is forgiven. If you had a perfect excuse, you would not need forgiveness; if the whole of your actions needs forgiveness, then there was no excuse for it. But the trouble is that what we call "asking God's forgiveness" very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses. What leads us into this mistake is the fact that there usually is some amount of excuse, some "extenuating circumstances." We are so very anxious to point these things out to God (and to ourselves) that we are apt to forget the very important thing; that is, the bit left over, the bit which excuses don't cover, the bit which is inexcusable but not, thank God, unforgivable. And if we forget this, we shall go away imagining that we have repented and been forgiven when all that has really happened is that we have satisfied ourselves without own excuses. They may be very bad excuses; we are all too easily satisfied about ourselves.

There are two remedies for this danger. One is to remember that God knows all the real excuses very much better than we do. If there are real "extenuating circumstances" there is no fear that He will overlook them. Often He must know many excuses that we have never even thought of, and therefore humble souls will, after death, have the delightful surprise of discovering that on certain occasions they sinned much less than they thought. All the real excusing He will do. What we have got to take to Him is the inexcusable bit, the sin. We are only wasting our time talking about all the parts which can (we think) be excused. When you go to a Dr. you show him the bit of you that is wrong - say, a broken arm. It would be a mere waste of time to keep on explaining that your legs and throat and eyes are all right. You may be mistaken in thinking so, and anyway, if they are really right, the doctor will know that.

The second remedy is really and truly to believe in the forgiveness of sins. A great deal of our anxiety to make excuses comes from not really believing in it, from thinking that God will not take us to Himself again unless He is satisfied that some sort of case can be made out in our favor. But that is not forgiveness at all. Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it.

When it comes to a question of our forgiving other people, it is partly the same and partly different. It is the same because, here also forgiving does not mean excusing. Many people seem to think it does. They think that if you ask them to forgive someone who has cheated or bullied them you are trying to make out that there was really no cheating or bullying. But if that were so, there would be nothing to forgive. (This doesn't mean that you must necessarily believe his next promise. It does mean that you must make every effort to kill every taste of resentment in your own heart - every wish to humiliate or hurt him or to pay him out.) The difference between this situation and the one in which you are asking God's forgiveness is this. In our own case we accept excuses too easily, in other people's we do not accept them easily enough. As regards my own sins it is a safe bet (though not a certainty) that the excuses are not really so good as I think; as regards other men's sins against me it is a safe bet (though not a certainty) that the excuses are better than I think. One must therefore begin by attending to everything which may show that the other man was not so much to blame as we thought. But even if he is absolutely fully to blame we still have to forgive him; and even if ninety-nine per cent of his apparent guilt can be explained away by really good excuses, the problem of forgiveness begins with the one per cent of guilt that is left over. To excuse, what can really produce good excuses is not Christian charity; it is only fairness. To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.

This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life - to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son - How can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night "Forgive our trespasses* as we forgive those that trespass against us." We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God's mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what He says.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Don Bosco's Relics visit the UK... Plus, news and events of interest to Catholics and those who seek the truth

This post is a kind of extended ‘notes and announcements’ piece, in which I hope to highlight some very profitable Catholic events that will be happening in London and the UK during the coming days. At the end of the post, though, I will return to the first event, reflecting on two of my favourite stories from the life of St John Bosco.

The Relics of Don Bosco visit the UK (Now on!)

St John (Don) Bosco
(source: Wikimedia Commons)
This special UK pilgrimage of the relics of the patron saint of youth and founder of the Salesians has already started. Part of a world-wide event building up to the 200th anniversary celebrations of the Don Bosco’s birth (which will happen in 2015), the international pilgrimage started in 2009. One of its aims is to raise awareness of the Saint’s spirituality and message to us today, as well as the importance of young people in the life of the Church.

The UK tour began on 2 January in Bolton, before moving to Glasgow last Friday, Carlisle on Saturday, and the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King in Liverpool last Sunday. The relics remained in Liverpool yesterday, and will be arriving at St Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham, this morning, before heading to St David’s Cathedral, Cardiff, on Thursday. The whole pilgrimage timetable can be found here. There is also a feature article on Don Bosco in the current issue of Oremus, Westminster Cathedral's magazine.

On Friday 11 January, the relics of Don Bosco will arrive at Westminster Cathedral. There will be ample opportunities to venerate the Saint during that afternoon and evening, as well as throughout most of the following day. The Salesians will be leading ‘Pilgrim Experience’ events and special liturgies during the two days, whilst Masses will be celebrated and Confessions also heard. After Westminster Cathedral, the relics will move on to St George’s Cathedral, Southwark -- where a similar timetable is scheduled.

Don Bosco is an amazing saint – a true father to the young, and guide to all who need help in deepening their relationship with Jesus Christ -- I therefore urge as many people as possible to venerate his relics during this special pilgrimage!

Juventutem Pilgrimage to the Relics of St John Bosco

Don Bosco is one of the patrons of Juventutem, the international movement of young people who are devoted to the traditional Roman Rite. Yesterday, Juventutem London announced that it, along with other Juventutem groups from around Britain, will be visiting Westminster Cathedral to venerate the great saint. (Nearest tube: Victoria.)

This is part of the announcement as found on the Juventutem London blog (there are more details on the Juventutem London Facebook page): -
As he is our patron, Juventutem London have arranged a group visit with the Cathedral. We will meet on Friday 11th at 6.20pm outside Pret a Manger, 173 Victoria St (it is between Victoria Station and the Cathedral - map below). We will then move over from there to join the queue at the Cathedral.

We hope you will join us there to venerate the relics of this holy saint, and to ask for his prayers for the work of Juventutem, namely the sanctification of youth through the traditional, Roman, Latin forms of the sacraments - the very same forms that Don Bosco knew and administered to the many young people throughout in his fruitful ministry.

If you would like to attend this traditional pilgrimage, please let the organisers know via Facebook (if you have a profile on it, that is!) ... otherwise, I guess it's ok to just turn up!

Archbishop Cordileone to speak at the Brompton Oratory

Archbishop Cordileone
Author: QvisDevs (source: Wikimedia)
On Thursday 17 January the Archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone, will speak at the London (Brompton) Oratory on the subject: “Living the Christian Faith in a Secularised World”. This event will be held in St Wilfrid’s Hall and will begin at 8.00pm. (Nearest tube: South Kensington.)

According to the Brompton Oratory website:-
This is one of the events that the Oratory is arranging to mark the Year of Faith. The Archbishop is in high demand as a speaker in America, and this promises to be a thoughtful and stimulating talk. Do come if you can & bring your friends. This talk is open to all.
I remember being present at Mass in the Oratory a couple of years ago (see here), which was celebrated by the Archbishop – then Bishop of Oakland. He is a great man and excellent communicator of the truth. He also lives up to his name, and displays a lion-hearted courage in proclaiming the Gospel  – we need more men like him in the episcopacy!

EnCourage meeting (Thursday) and a Theology of the Body talk in Westminster (Tonight!)

I have been informed that there will be a meeting (one of many this year) of EnCourage, the UK branch of the Courage Apostolate, in London on Thursday 10 January. This safe and orthodox group exists for men and women who find themselves attracted to the same sex, but who wish to live chaste and holy lives according to the Gospel. From what I gather the format for these meetings includes opportunities for prayer and Confession as well as general sharing and discussion. If you believe you could benefit from attending EnCourage and are free tomorrow evening, please contact James for details:

As well as the EnCourage meeting, tonight sees the Annual Theology of the Body Lecture hosted by the Diocese of Westminster. Starting at 6.30pm TONIGHT, the talk will be delivered in Vaughan House (46 Francis Street, SW1P 1QN) and is given by Dawn Eden, an American author and journalist who was formerly a rock historian and tabloid-newspaper headline writer. Admission cost: £5.00 (Nearest tube: Victoria.)

Dawn will speak about the healing of sexual wounds in a Catholic context, making reference to her most recent book My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints (Ave Maria Press, 2012). According to one of the organisers, this lecture will be compulsory listening for those who have been affected by sexual abuse in any way, especially during childhood.

Back to Don Bosco...

St John Bosco is a remarkable saint, who, through being so united to his Saviour, wrought great miracles during his time on earth. Many already know that he saved countless numbers of young people, especially youths, during his ministry in 19th century Italy. He was a great priest, confessor, educator, spiritual guide, friend and preacher, and religious founder. Little wonder he is known by the Church as 'Father and Teacher of Youth'. To read a short biography of this great saint, please see here. There is also an Italian film (dubbed in English) of his life available in several 10 minute parts on YouTube.

Don Bosco was a priest totally consumed by a zeal for young souls. He wished all young people to come to know Jesus Christ, to give up bad habits and sins, and to discover the joy of holiness. Sometimes this meant having to be completely honest with them -- not pretending that sin isn't a serious matter. In fact, he once famously had a dream (one of many) in which he saw several boys from one of his Oratories being dragged to Hell (see here). Why where they falling into Eternal Damnation? The simple answer:the sins of impurity, disobedience, and pride. Now, how often do we hear priests calling our youth (and older people!) to lives that are totally chaste and pure, totally obedient to the truth? Oh, for more men like Don Bosco!

Even prisoners need days off!

Don Bosco hears Confessions -- image in the public domain
One of my favourite stories form the life of St John Bosco is sometimes known as 'The prison outing'. Not only did Don Bosco look after children and youths in his Oratory schools, but he also ministered to the poor young wretches who had ended up in the prisons of Turin. He once told a priest friend of his: "I was horrified to see so many healthy, strong and lively youths between twelve and eighteen years of age without occupation, crawling with lice, deprived of both spiritual and material nourishment."

As a result of his concern for imprisoned youths, John Bosco preached an eight-day retreat in May 1855 to the young inmates incarcerated in Turin's main Reformatory. The lads soon fell under Bosco's spell -- his gentleness, his kindness, his preaching, and his holiness. At the end of the mission, hundreds of the young prisoners lined up to make their Confession to the Saint and to receive Holy Communion from him.

Immediately after converting so many souls in city's prison, Don Bosco asked the Warden if he could take the boys out for a trip to the countryside! Needless to say, the official in charge of the prison couldn't believe his ears! "If I listened to your astonishing proposal," he told Bosco, "I might as well close down this reformatory as there would be nobody left in it! I might as well go down to the zoo and let out all the birds, telling them to be back by five o'clock!" The request was denied, but the Saint continued to press the Warden, who eventually agreed to refer the matter to his superior, Italy's Minister of Justice (later Prime Minister), Urbano Rattazzi. Contrary to all expectations, this anti-clerical politician gave his permission for the field trip!

Before taking three hundred young prisoners out of the Reformatory gates, John Bosco assured the Warden that because he was sure every one of the boys was in a state of grace none of them would escape. "They will be back, I promise you," said the Father and Teacher of Youth. Soon after, the band of criminals left the prison, together with picnic hampers and snacks, under Bosco's direction. They all processed through the city's streets, out of the city gates, and into the local forest. A great day was had by all! And in the evening, in time for 'lock-up', every single boy walked back into the prison. None of them wanted to let down the saintly priest.

Don Bosco, Dominic Savio, and the conversion of England

Another amazing story connected to St John Bosco involves his friendship with the saintly youth, Dominic Savio (canonised in 1954). Whilst on a camping holiday with some of his Oratory boys in 1854, Don Bosco was approached by a twelve-year-old and his father. The parent was anxious that the priest would take his boy from him and educate him in one of his Oratories. Bosco immediately recognised the working of the Holy Spirit in the boy, called Dominic Savio, and agreed to look after him.

Before making his First Holy Communion, the young Dominic had made four resolutions, which he kept for the rest of his short life. He had resolved to go to Confession as often as possible, especially before receiving Holy Communion; he also promised God that he would observe Sundays and Holy Days in a special way; he asked Jesus and Mary to be his personal friends; and he chose a motto for his life: 'Death rather than sin'. No wonder Don Bosco once called him a 'beautiful garment for Our Lord.'

Dominic died in 1857, aged either fourteen or fifteen. But during the couple of years that he knew Don Bosco, both the youth and the priest became close friends -- aiding one another in the great adventure of holiness! Just before he died, the teenager told John Bosco that he really wanted to see the Pope, as he had had a vision that he needed to share with the Holy Father. Knowing that the chances of Savio ever getting to meet the Pope were slim, Don Bosco asked the boy to reveal the vision to him.

A year after St Dominic's death, Bosco went to Rome and was granted an audience with the Pope, (Blessed) Pius IX. During their conversation, Don Bosco mentioned Dominic's vision to the Pope, who wanted to know the details. Bosco said that after Communion one day, Dominic Savio was shown a country by Our Lord. The nation he saw was covered in a think mist, and its people seemed like lost souls walking around in darkness. Dominic was told that the country was England. He then saw Pius IX carrying a torch, which dispersed the fog and allowed the people to see more clearly. "The torch," Our Lord told Dominic, "Is the Catholic faith, which is to illumine England."

Pius IX had only recently restored the Catholic Hierarchy in England and Wales, an event which occurred in 1850. But after hearing Dominic's vision, the Pope turned to Don Bosco and said: "What you have told me confirms me in my resolution to do all that is possible for England, which has long been the object of my special care. What you have related is, to put it at its lowest estimation, the counsel of a devout soul."

Thankfully, what with his recent visit, his appointment of an excellent Nuncio and holy bishops, as well as the creation of the Ordinariate, it seems that our present Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, is also greatly concerned for the welfare of this country. Through obedience to the Successor of St Peter, may we all come to enjoy the fullness of that light which enlightens all men, Jesus Christ!

St John Bosco, pray for us
St Dominic Savio, pray for us
Bl Pius IX, pray for us

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