Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 14, 2008
The Salesian dream: Centres that immerse youth in Catholic life
By By ALICIA AMBROSIO
"The idea and the instinct to move towards creating such a parish centre "is in our blood."
- Fr. Romano Venturelli
One evening in 1941, just a few months after his ordination, he heard the sacristan shrieking at a boy who had come into the church to warm up. Bosco told the sacristan, "He's my friend," and had the sacristan call the boy back into the church.
At Bosco's questioning the boy, a 16-year-old bricklayer who had lost his parents, said he could not serve at Mass, but he could sing. Pleased with this, the priest asked the boy to stay for Mass and told him to bring his friends along next Sunday and they would all spend the day together.
The boy returned the next Sunday with four friends who looked badly in need of a good meal and warm clothes, not to mention some spiritual direction. Don Bosco provided not only spiritual direction, but made sure the boys had something fun to do, organizing games, or outings to the countryside.
The number of boys coming to Mass every Sunday, in order to spend the day with Don Bosco and his friends, quickly grew and finding space to meet became a problem.
In attempt to make do they would meet in a different spot every Sunday - a cemetery chapel, an empty lot, whatever was available. Bosco would celebrate Mass, followed by a simple, plain language, one-hour catechism lesson.
Then he would lead the group into the countryside for an afternoon of fun and games. He would end the day with a final talk, reminding the boys to work hard and work well, before they dispersed, ready for another week of struggle.
During the week Don Bosco would tour the city checking on his boys.
This practical response to a basic need grew. Bosco eventually established night schools where boys could learn a trade, hostels, youth clubs and even a printing house. His older students got pressed into service helping the younger, newer charges.
Although the times have changed, Don Bosco's "oratory" lives on. In Italy, and in many other countries, Salesians have established what North Americans would call community centres or youth centres.
These Salesian centres offer the usual catechism and Sunday school classes in addition to a full array of other activities. Modern day Salesian oratories offer organized soccer teams, music lessons, theatre groups and volunteer opportunities for youth.
Whether playing soccer or preparing for catechism, young people are immersed in Catholic values without ever realizing it.
Just like Don Bosco's first students, many of the young people who spend their youth going to Salesian oratories often come back as adults, sometimes as priests and sisters, to lend their time and skills.
The parish centre at St. John Bosco in Edmonton cannot yet be described as a community centre, however, the pastor Salesian Father Romano Venturelli said the idea and the instinct to move towards creating such a parish centre "is in our blood."
Venturelli said, "There is a desire to go beyond the liturgy in order to minister to families and young people."
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