Today is the feast of St John Bosco, more often referred to as Don Bosco. He is a saint who is assuming more and more of a role in the Church, thanks in particular to his visions and dreams. He really was an interesting man: he was a most practical person, a wise man and a wily operator - he had to be to get his congregations established in a time when secularism posed a real threat to the Church and sought to claim the minds and hearts of the young, and the officials in the Church were afraid of innovation. Yet he was also a dreamer, literally. Through his dreams, God spoke to him, making Don Bosco a most remarkable mystic.
His most famous dream-vision is that of the barque of Peter, assaulted on every side, being guided by the Pope into a safe haven between the pillars of the Eucharist and Our Lady, Help of Christians. A wonderful painting of it adorns the back wall of the Basilica of Mary, Help of Christians in Turin. In this vision Don Bosco saw the troubles the Church would have to endure, but also the remedy: the Eucharist and Our Lady. Thankfully this vision is coming to pass - the Church is facing difficult times, but the faithful are finding their refuge and a strengthening in faith through their devotion to the Holy Eucharist and Our Lady. When in seminary many of my brother seminarians had a deep devotion to both. This vision should be a great help to us and a signpost to bring us to Christ and Mary.
Don Bosco was a great defender of the faith and a strong advocate for Catholic education to which he devoted his life. He also came under suspicion and his enemies sought to stop his work with rumours of child abuse - as many have found down the centuries, accuse a priest of child abuse and you destroy him, his work and undermine the mission and teaching of the Church. Don Bosco understood it was a terrible weapon which the Church's enemies, both within and outside Church are not afraid to use. He sought what we would call today "best practice", but not an inhuman regime - he did not want the children in his care to think they were dangerous and had to be kept at a distance: he was their father and he loved them, he cared for them, he wanted the best for them for Christ's sake. And they adored him and respected him. I think we should Don Bosco's life and example - I think they might offer us some valuable insights as we deal with various issues today.
During our pilgrimage to the Exposition of the Holy Shroud last May we also visited the Basilica of Mary, Help of Christians - it was a wonderful experience. The Salesians there gave us a warm welcome and were so kind - we all felt that Don Bosco himself was welcoming us to his home. I came away with wonderful keepsakes: relics of Don Bosco and St Dominic Savio which I cherish - they will make their appearance at Mass today.