They lived Christianity: Italy's saints of social action

They lived Christianity: Italy's saints of social action

Above St. John Bosco's initial tomb at the Salesian Institute in Turin. Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA.
Above St. John Bosco's initial tomb at the Salesian Institute in Turin. Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

.- Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to Turin is an opportunity to reflect on the outstanding group of saints whose lives embodied Catholic social teaching in 19th century Turin, when the Piedmont region underwent an industrial revolution and secularizing trends amid struggles to build a unified Italian state.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Holy See’s emeritus Secretary of State, stressed the importance of these “social action saints” ahead of the June papal visit to Turin, the Piedmont regional capital.

Cardinal Bertone spoke to CNA from the Turin International Book Fair, where he was presenting his book “Faith and the Common Good: Christian Proposals for Contemporary Society,” published by Vatican Publishing House. The work is a collection of his writings and speeches about Catholic social teaching.

The cardinal is from Piedmont and is a member of the Salesian congregation, founded by St. John Bosco. This saint dedicated himself to the betterment of Torinese youth in the 19th century. He founded the Salesians to educate the impoverished young and to prepare them for occupations.

Cardinal Bertone stressed that the social action saints “contributed in shaping the society with a multiplicity of charitable works, social and educational initiatives, thus bringing the name of Piedmont to the farthest lands.”

These saints helped Italian immigrants and indigenous peoples who needed assistance and education “to achieve an integral development.”

Pope Francis will be in Turin June 21-22 in the midst of the celebrations of the 200th anniversary of St. John Bosco’s birth, thus paying homage to one of the most prominent social action saints from Piedmont. During his trip, the Pope on June 21 will visit the St. Joseph Cottolengo institute, named for another of these social action saints, to meet with sick people.

According to Cardinal Bertone, the presence of the “social saints” prove that Italian society was shaped by Christian values despite the fact that the movement towards the establishment of the Italian state appeared to take a path far from Christian values.

The social action saints flourished in mid-19th century Turin and its vicinities, such as the small northern Italian State of Savoy, whose territory included sections of the present-day Italian regions of Piedmont, Liguria and Sardinia.

Many of these social action saints took inspiration from one another, Cardinal Bertone recounted.

“St. John Bosco was the founder of the Salesian family, apostle to the young people,” the cardinal explained. “He was inspired and guided by St. Joseph Cafasso.”

St. Joseph Cafasso, a Piedmont priest, was also an inspiration for his nephew, Bl. Joseph Allamano, who founded the Missionaries of the Consolation. These missionaries “brought the Gospel and human progress to Africa.”

Cardinal Bertone then discussed St. Joseph Benedict Cottolengo, “the apostle of the very least ones, who – as Pope Francis would put it – opposed the ‘throwaway culture’ and took care of the sickest and most abandoned people.”

Among St. John Bosco’s collaborators was St. Leonardo Murialdo, who founded the Congregation of St. Joseph. Cardinal Bertone said he may be considered “the apostle of workers, as he was close to workers unions.”

St. Luigi Orione took inspiration from St. John Bosco and St. Leonardo Murialdo in his work with young people. He drew on the example of St. Joseph Benedict Cottolengo for his care for the sick.

Cardinal Bertone said St. Luigi Orione founded charitable works “according to the needs he would discover in Italy, Europe and in America.”

Finally, Cardinal Bertone recalled the example of Blessed Francis Faa di Bruno, an engineer and mathematician who took care of women workers, a new reality in the industrial era.

Cardinal Bertone said that the experience of these social action saints developed further and would reach out to “the extreme frontiers.”

Among the various initiatives, Cardinal Bertone recounted that Salesian missionaries from Piedmont in 1905 traveled to the distant Argentine town of Ushuaia, the southernmost city of the world. There they promoted the cultivation of potatoes and livestock.

Cardinal Bertone said there are Salesian weather stations from Piedmont established in the Italian region of Liguria and in the far south of Argentina that are still in operation.
 

Tags: Cardinal Bertone, Catholic Social Teaching, St. John Bosco, St. Joseph Cafasso