By Fr. John Puntino, SDB
Through the magic and hard work of Sr. Denise Sickinger and Fr. Tom Dunne, over 60 pilgrims enjoyed and were spiritually enriched by the Salesian Family Pilgrimage. Some of us SDBs, FMAs, Salesian Cooperators, and friends of Don Bosco began our journey on Saturday, June 11, with flights to Milan. Others joined us at various points on the itinerary and continued on to Saturday, July 2, while us "Option A" travelers returned on Monday, June 27.
We saw firsthand Becchi and Colle Don Bosco, where Don Bosco began life and lived his childhood with Mamma Margaret and his brothers; Castelnuovo d’Asti (now C. Don Bosco), where he received his early education; and Chieri, where he completed secondary school and seminary studies. On the way, we visited Morialdo, where Fr. Giovanni Calosso guided Johnny Bosco in savoring the spiritual life and where St. Dominic Savio lived for a while.
We followed the footsteps of Don Bosco as he began and developed his work in Turin, culminating in the Oratory at Valdocco and the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians. There, we met our Rector Major, Fr. Ángel Artime Fernández. Fr. Mike Pace gave us an expert guided tour of all these places, as well as of the recently inaugurated Museo Casa Don Bosco.
Next, we visited the places sacred in the life of St. Mary Mazzarello and the Salesian Sisters. At the Collegio in Mornese, we had the good fortune of meeting the recently elected Mother General, Mother Chiara Cazzuola and her council. We visited the Salesian Sisters’ institute in Nizza Monferrato from where St. Mary Mazzarello sent her sisters to the missions and where she ended her earthly pilgrimage.
This year, the Salesian Sisters are celebrating their 150 Anniversary. At Colle, we SDBs renewed our vows; at the Oratory in Valdocco, the Salesian Cooperators renewed their promises. At Mornese, the Salesian Sisters renewed their vows.
From Northern Italy, we travelled to Umbria, where we spent a day in Perugia and married couples renewed their wedding vows. We visited Assisi and celebrated Mass in the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. Visiting the tomb of Bl. Carlo Acutis was a most popular and inspiring moment. The first millennial saint, he is a model for today’s young people. Another highlight of this part of the pilgrimage came with our participation at the Orvieto Duomo in the Corpus Christi solemn liturgy and procession with the miraculous corporal. The third leg of the pilgrimage took us to Rome. There, we attended Mass at the tomb of St. John Paul II, toured the Vatican Museum, and partook in plenty of walking, gelato, café espresso, and pizza. Expert guides brought us to the most sacred places of our faith. They also showed us the monuments and remains of the Roman Empire. My personal favorite is the Catacombs of St. Callistus, where we celebrated Mass in one of the crypts. It was amazing to have absorbed so much history, spirituality, art and architecture!
The highpoint of the pilgrimage for all of us came on Saturday, June 25, when we participated in the Sunday Vigil Mass with Pope Francis at the culmination of the World Meeting of Families days. As we "Option A" pilgrims headed home, the "Option B" pilgrims headed north to visit Mornese, Nizza, Becchi, and Turin to complete their experience of Salesian Family and World Family blessings. Originally planned for last year on the fifth anniversary of the Holy Father’s Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia on the Family, our pilgrimage as well as the plan for the World Meeting of Families had to be modified. Thanks be to God, who provided us with such an enriching experience.