Rome (Italy). Mary Help of Christians Community of the Generalate (RCG), Rome, celebrated the Feast of the Salesian Protomartyr Saints Msgr. Luigi Versiglia and Fr. Callisto Caravario by inviting the Salesians of Don Bosco, Fr. Francesco Motto, for a conference, and Fr. Giorgio Zazza, for the Eucharistic Celebration.
On 24 February 2022, Fr. Francesco Motto, Doctor of Letters and Theology, Lecturer at the Salesian Pontifical University (UPS) in Rome, and Founder of the Association of Salesian History Scholars (ACSSA), of which he is President, held a conference for studying the life and holiness of Msgr. Luigi Versiglia and Fr. Callisto Caravario.
Fr. Francesco did not limit himself to historical data but, with enthusiasm and passion, offered the Community a historical-spiritual reflection, arousing the desire for an ever more authentic Christian and religious life. He studied the lives of a Bishop and a Priest, martyr missionaries, the only Salesian Saints after Don Bosco and Mother Mazzarello, different in age; one born in 1873 and the other in 1903, and for apostolic activity, but united by the same missionary passion.
In Turin-Valdocco, at the beginning of the 20th century, there was a ‘formidable’ missionary climate oriented to the salvation of souls, to which Fr. Rua gives impetus with a great expansion of the Congregation in the world. In 1906, the missionary frontier of China, dreamed of by Don Bosco, opens. In addition to a fertile environment for missionary vocations, the ability to suffer and face difficulties unites the missionaries of the time.
Versiglia and Caravario ‘forged ahead’ by committing themselves to acquire a solid and profound theological and moral formation, and with the exercise of extraordinary virtues, combined with practicality and typical Salesian joy. “Martyrdom is only the ‘hat’ on a life lived as a martyr in experience. Not only martyrs because they were killed, but because they lived a strongly Christian life in extremely difficult times,” highlights Fr. Motto.
For both, we can speak of an approach of faith to a possible violent death, almost a presentiment of their end. In them was tangible, in fact, a total availability to the will of God, to give their lives for the mission, and a confident abandonment to Providence. Msgr. Versiglia, receiving a chalice from Turin as a gift, recalls Don Bosco’s dream about China, in which the Saint saw two chalices filled with the blood and sweat of his children, and says, “May the Lord ensure that I give back to my superiors and to our pious society the chalice which is now offered to me, which overflows, if not with my blood, at least with my sweat”.
On the day of his ordination, which took place in China, Fr. Caravario wrote to his mother, “Now, don’t think about anything other than praying for me to be a holy priest. Will my priesthood time be long or short? I do not know. The important thing is that I do good and presenting myself to the Lord I can say that, with His help, I have made the graces He has given me bear fruit”.
On 25 February 1930, Msgr. Versiglia and Fr. Caravario travel together for the pastoral visit to the Linchow mission. During the journey, a group of pirates stops the boat and tries to capture the catechists who are with the missionaries. Both oppose them with all their strength to defend the physical, moral, and spiritual integrity of the girls. They are beaten and shot at the Lin Chow River.
The two Protomartyrs leave a heroic testimony in favor of chastity and the dignity of women, for which they were ready to give their lives.
On 25 February 2022, Fr. Giorgio Zazza, parish priest of the Salesian Parish of Our Lady of Hope and a past pupil of the oratory of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, presided over the Eucharistic celebration on the Feast day. Starting from the Readings, Fr. Giorgio underlined, “Looking at our life and our events from the point of view of God broadens the horizons of the heart … The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God, this is the great truth.” Msgr. Versiglia and Fr. Caravario “found themselves witnessing with their lives to the preciousness of life, and it is only by giving life that life is generated”.
“Today the Salesian martyrs remind us that continuing to give one’s life each day in silent service, when things do not go as one would like, when there are serious conflicts is the only way to be able to continue to be fruitful, and all that we do for love, becomes a generator of new life,” concluded the parish priest.