St. Luigi Versiglia: The Early Years
Luigi Versiglia was born in Oliva Gessi (Pavia) on June 5, 1873. From his earliest years, he used to serve Mass, so much so that the people already thought he would be a priest. At the time, Luigi never wanted to hear talk of that, because he wanted to be a vet. However, he wanted to change his mind after he was taken in by Don Bosco at the age of 12. In 1888, soon after Don Bosco’s death, Luigi was much taken by the ceremony, where seven missionaries received their mission cross, and he decided to become a Salesian with the hope of going to the missions.
He gained a degree in philosophy and was soon ready for priestly ordination, which took place in 1895. Fr. Rua appointed him as director of novices at just 23 years of age at Genzano in Rome, a task he carried out for ten years with kindness, firmness, and patience.
St. Luigi Versiglia: Becoming a Bishop
After much insistence from the bishop of Macao, in 1906 six Salesians arrived in China, led by Fr. Versiglia. Thus a prophecy of Don Bosco’s came true. In Macao, he established the Salesian “mother house” and also opened a mission at Heungchow. Fr. Versiglia gave life to the area as Don Bosco would have done, setting up a music band which was much appreciated, and opening orphanages and oratories.
In 1918, the Salesians received the mission of Shiuchow from the Vicar Apostolic of Canton, and, on January 9, 1921, Fr. Versiglia was consecrated its bishop. Wise, tireless, and poor, he constantly set out to visit and encourage the confreres and Christians in his diocese. Whenever he arrived, the villages held a feast especially the children.
He was a true pastor, completely dedicated to his flock. He gave the Vicariate a solid structure with its own seminary, house of formation, and planned residences and hospitals for the elderly and those in need.
He looked after the formation of catechists with much care. In his notes, he wrote: “The missionary who is not united to God is a canal detached from its source.” “The missionary who prays a lot achieves a lot.” Like Don Bosco, he was an example of work and temperance.
St. Callistus Caravario: Humble Beginnings
Callistus Caravario was born at Cuorgné, in the province of Turin, on June 18, 1903. From his earliest years, everyone thought of him as an excellent child for his meek and reflective nature. He seemed naturally inclined to prayer and loved his mother very much, as witnessed by the many letters he wrote. At five years of age, he and his family moved to Turin close to the Porta Nuova Oratory.
As a child, Callistus was amongst the first in his class at school and served each morning Mass. On the advice of Fr. Garelli the Rector of the Oratory, he entered the Novitiate and became a Salesian. In 1922, Bishop Versiglia was in Turin who spoke of the missions to the Brothers. Callistus told him: “Bishop, you will see me in China.”
St. Callistus Caravario: Honoring God’s Call
Fr. Garelli left for China, and Callistus insisted so much that after a short time he followed him there. He kept his word. His mother told Fr. Garelli: “I am willing to leave my son in Don Bosco’s hands.” “With all the affection I am capable of,” Callistus would write, “thank you, Lord, for having given me such a good mother.” “Mother, here is news that will make you happy: This morning I gave my first catechism lesson in Chinese.”
Callistus was sent to Macao, and then for two years to Timor where he edified everyone, including the rector, for his goodness and apostolic zeal. “My good mother,” he wrote, “pray that your Callistus may not be just a half priest, but completely a priest.”
On May 18, 1929, he returned to Shiuchow, where Bishop Versiglia ordained him a priest and entrusted him with the mission at Linchow. In a short time, he had visited all the families and earned the sympathy of the school children.
Sts. Luigi Versiglia and Callistus Caravario: True Salesians to the End
Meanwhile, in China, the political situation had become very tense, especially for Christians and foreign missionaries. Persecutions began.
On February 13, 1930, Fr. Caravario was in Shiuchow to accompany Bishop Versiglia on his pastoral visit to the Linchow mission. Some young boys and girls went with them; they had been studying in Shiuchow. On February 25, a group of Bolshevik pirates stopped the bishop’s boat, wanting to take the girls. Bishop Versiglia and Fr. Callistus stopped them.
They were taken by force and ultimately shot, but before they were killed they heard one another’s confessions. Their last breath was spent for their beloved China.
Pope Paul VI declared them martyrs in 1976. St. John Paul II declared them Blessed in 1983 and canonized them on October 1, 2000.
Biography taken and edited from www.sdb.org.