Sunday, May 20, 2012 at 4:53PM
DAY 5: MAY 19
“Don Bosco’s First Boy—It all began with a Hail Mary and the Sign of the Cross”
On the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
(Dec. 8, 1841) I was vesting for Mass. The sacristan, Joseph Comotti, saw a shy young boy in a corner of the sacristy. He invited him to serve Mass.
“I don’t know how.”
The boy was uneasy.
“Come, get on with it. I want you to serve Mass.”
“I have never served it.”
The sacristan flew into a rage.
“You fool! If you don’t know how to serve Mass, what do you come to the sacristy for?
He grabbed the coat hanger and started beating the boy over shoulders and head. The boy took to his heels.
“What are you doing? Why do you beat him?”
“Because he comes to the sacristy without knowing how to serve Mass.”
“What’s that with you?”
“He’s my friend. Go and get him, I need to talk to him.”
The boy returned, mortified. His head was clean-shaven, his jacket lime-stained. He was a young immigrant. Perhaps at home they told him, “when you are in Turin, go to Mass.” So he went, but did not have the courage to mix in church with well-dressed people. He tried the sacristy, which is where young and old men go in the countryside.
With loving kindness I asked him:
“Have you been to Mass?”
“Come. After Mass I want to talk to you about something that might interest you.”
He promised to come. After Mass and thanksgiving, I took him aside and smiling, I asked him:
“My good friend, what’s your name?”
“Where are you from?”
“What do you do?”
“I’m a bricklayer.”
“Is your Dad alive?”
“And your Mum?”
“She’s dead too.”
“How old are you?”
“Do you know how to read and write?”
“Do you know how to sing?”
The boy wiped his eyes, looked at me in amazement and replied:
“What about whistling?”
Bartholomew smiled. That’s what I wanted. We were already friends.
“Have you received your first Holy Communion?”
“And your first confession?”
“Yes, when I was small.”
“Do you go to catechism classes?”
“I dare not. The younger boys tease me…”
“Would you come if I taught catechism for you alone?”
“Provided I’m not beaten!”
“Don’t worry. You’re my friend now. No one will touch you. When do you want to start?”
“Whenever you like.”
Don Bosco knelt down and recited a Hail Mary. 45 years later he would say to his Salesians, “All the blessings we have received from heaven are the fruit of that first Hail Mary recited with fervor and with a right intention.”
After the Hail Mary, Don Bosco made the sign of the Cross to begin the class, but noticed that Bartholomew made a vague gesture unlike anything resembling it. With great kindness he taught him how to make it. In the Asti dialect he began to explain why we call God “Father.” In the end he added:
“I want you to come next Sunday, Bartholomew.”
“But not alone. Bring your friends with you.”
Bartholomew Garelli, the young bricklayer from Asti, was Don Bosco’s first ambassador among the young workers of his neighborhood. He reported meeting that nice priest “who also knew how to whistle” and invited them.
Four days later, Sunday, nine boys came to the sacristy. The Oratory was born.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us.