Rome (Italy). On 6 May 2023, the liturgical memory of Dominic Savio is celebrated, an adolescent saint who grew up at the school of St. John Bosco, indicated as an example of Christian life to thousands of young people who attend or have attended Salesian Houses. Educators who are inspired by the Salesian charism perceive in this young man the concrete realization of what the Salesian educational project tends towards: being a Christian who lives and puts the Word into practice like and with Mary, ready for service, nourished daily by the Eucharist, creative in charity.
Different aspects of Dominic have been underlined, according to the sensitivity of the times. Is it possible to still find aspects of his inspirational story for today?
In the biography written by Don Bosco, the courage and resourcefulness of this young man are underlined who several times did not hesitate to run the risk of paying in person in order to avoid the worst for his friends. These are facts that many are well aware of, but which can still illumine today’s situations.
Before being welcomed in Valdocco and getting to know Don Bosco, Dominic attended Mondonio’s school. The teacher tells of a serious ‘deed’ done in class, usually punished with expulsion. His companions accused Savio and he remained silent, despite the disbelief of the master and the possibility offered to defend himself.
When the truth came out, the teacher asked Dominic why he hadn’t defended himself. He replied, “Because that boy, being already guilty of other faults, might perhaps have been thrown out of school. For my part, I hoped to be forgiven, being the first fault of which I was accused in the school. On the other hand, I was also thinking of our divine Savior, who was unjustly calumniated.” “I was silent then, but everyone admired Savio’s patience, who had known how to return good for evil, willing to tolerate even a serious punishment in favor of the slanderer himself.” This is the testimony of the teacher.
Dominic chooses the path of non-violence and with his behavior, he interrupts the chain of evil, obtaining a new possibility for his companion.
It wasn’t the only time. Later, while he was in Valdocco, a quarrel between two companions degenerated into a fight. They had reached the point of challenging each other with stones. Don Bosco writes that Dominic used various ways to dissuade his companions. He spoke to them, wrote letters, threatened them to report everything to relatives, but to no avail. So, he asked them, before the duel, to accept at least one condition.
He took out the small crucifix that he had around his neck, and holding it in one hand he said, “I want each one to fix their gaze on this crucifix, then, throwing a stone at me, pronounce these words in a clear voice: ‘Jesus Christ died innocent forgiving His crucifiers. I, a sinner, want to offend Him and take solemn revenge’.” Not only that: Dominic knelt before each of the bewildered duelists, but “at this show of charity and courage the companions were overcome”.
In times when peace has once again become an urgency that involves everyone, Dominic’s example shows what one can educate and be educated. The chain of violence is interrupted with peace and with love pursued “whatever the cost”. However, this is the result of daily choices. Prayer, sacramental life, the duty of each day well done prepare these courageous choices that have a profound effect on the surrounding environment.
Even the Company of the Immaculate Conception was born with the intention of strengthening the Christian life. On the other hand, “everyone was friends with Dominic; whoever did not love him respected him for his virtues. He knew how to get along well with everyone.” For this, “In his spare time, he was the soul of recreation; but what he said or did, he always aimed at the moral good either of himself or of others”.
In recent months, we have been following with trepidation the evolution of various events in many parts of the world where it seems that there are no alternatives to the use of arms. To respond to the sense of powerlessness that one experiences, one can ask for the intercession of Dominic Savio, a true apostle of peace. In the simplicity of his student life and in the heroic coherence of his behavior, it can be said, in fact, that he built concrete alternatives to interrupt the spiral of violence. That’s what’s urgent now, and Dominic remains an example for everyone.