Rome (Italy). A few days before the Feast of World Gratitude, which is celebrated on 24, 25, 26 April 2022 in Turin, Mornese, and Nizza, Sr. Piera Cavaglià, Secretary General emeritus, offers some historical and charismatic notes on the origins of this Salesian tradition.
The Feast to express gratitude with tones of joy and in a choral way, to the Sister who is called to preside over the Community, that is, the Animator, can be said to have been born with the beginning of the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians.
The inspiration comes from Valdocco, in Turin. Don Bosco, on his name day, June 24, the feast of St. John the Baptist, Patron of Turin, wanted the young people to express thanks to him with songs, music, and a lot of joy. The first feast of gratitude was in 1849 and spontaneously began with two boys who offered him two “silver hearts” (cf. Biographical Memoirs III 354).
For the Saint of Youth, the feast had a profound pedagogical meaning. It was a way to educate young people to gratitude, making them have a direct and engaging experience. It is, in fact, proper to the Preventive System, not only to recommend certain values, but to have them celebrated in community, so that they are interiorized and vitally assumed.
Recognizing means becoming aware of the gift received, therefore it is the consequence of an attitude of attention, reflection, resuming an experience to discover how many gifts are woven into it. To give thanks is the memory of the heart, which does not forget what it has received. Hence the expression of gratitude that ‘rises from the heart’ and arouses affection for those who have given.
In Mornese, Mother Mazzarello was celebrated on 6 July, her name day, St. Domenica. In the book ‘Orme di vita tracce di futuro’ (Rome, 1996) under document no. 56 (pages 147-148) you can find the hymn for the name day of Mother Mazzarello of 6 July 1875. Among the Letters of Mother Mazzarello, we find various letters written in the month of July, also to the girls of Las Piedras (L. 44) to thank the sisters and girls for the good wishes received.
Since then, both at the Center of the Institute, that is in the Generalate, and at the local level, each community has celebrated the Feast, expressing gratitude to the Animator and in her, to all the benefactors of the house. In the same way, it also happens during the period of government of Mother Caterina Daghero. The Sisters celebrated Mother on the day of St. Catherine, her patron Saint. For all the other Mothers General, it was always celebrated in the Generalate, generally on the name day of the Superior General or on a date significant for the Community.
It was Mother Ersilia Canta who set the date of 26 April, the feast of Our Lady of Good Counsel, for the feast of Gratitude in 1970 at the central level. Since then, Mother’s Feast coincides with this very significant Marian date. Those who carry out the service of authority are thus particularly entrusted to the Virgin of Good Counsel, who supports them in the mission of guidance and animation.
Since 1987, Mother Marinella Castagno decided to celebrate the annual feast, no longer in the Generalate, but in other houses of the Institute. In fact, she recognized the importance of involving the Provinces in the Feast. Even at the local level, the feast arouses a wide involvement in joy and the family spirit, and it is an experience that makes the FMA Institute known as a world Family to the people, to the civil and ecclesiastical authorities.
The Feast of Gratitude is a moment of strong communion of the whole Institute that gathers around Mother as a center of unity and bond of communion between all the Sisters and, as Educating Communities, together with young people, lay people, families.
It is a pedagogical and spiritual experience, as it celebrates an important value from the point of view of human and Christian maturation, also significant at the Salesian level. Its purpose is to increase the sense of belonging to the Institute and promote communion (Cf Regulations art. 40).
Mother Antonia Colombo established that each World Feast of Gratitude would have a specific theme, to give content to the celebration and thus arouse reflection and sharing during the time of preparation. Generally, the theme is not chosen by Mother, but by the Province itself where the Feast will be celebrated. Mother assumes it and the Vicar General makes it the subject of the Circular to be sent to all the Houses to study the theme in the Educating Communities, in communion with the whole Institute.
From the very beginning, the feast also has the tone of solidarity and the communion of goods. It is a precious occasion to give to Mother one’s own contribution, even if small, for the needs of the Institute, thus increasing the sense of belonging to a great Family united by the Lord Jesus, by love for Mary Help of Christians, and by the same Charism and mission for the good of young people all over the world, especially the poorest. Generally, the donations that are collected go in part for the benefit of a work for poor children or young people of the province where the feast is celebrated, and in part for the more urgent needs of the missions supported by the Institute at the central level.