During the Cambodian war, many families went to live in refugee camps in the Thai border. Among the many institutions that came to support the life of the Cambodian refugees, there was one identified as Don Bosco. Who is this Don Bosco?
By Albeiro Rodas
Don Bosco is also known as the “Father, Teacher and Friend of the Youth”. This charismatic religious man was born near Turin in 1816 when the place belonged to what was known as the Savoy Kingdom that included territories that today are Italy and France. In the Savoy Kingdom there was a special devotion to another charismatic pastor of the Catholic Church in Europe: Saint Francis de Sales, the saint of the Catholic journalists and the model of kindness. That saint would be so important to Don Bosco that he would give his name to the new religious family he founded in order to continue his apostolate among the youth: the Salesians of Don Bosco. Many persons ask why the religious of Don Bosco are not called “Bosconians” or something similar, but actually it was the name that Don Bosco chose himself for his order.
The apostolate of Don Bosco among youth was born in his own experience in the 19th Century’ Turin, a city that was at the time passing its own Industrial Revolution attracting young farmers to the city. Street children and exploited youth, young criminals and other evils that affected the youth were under the concern of the young priest. He himself became a kind of informal teacher to abandon youth first in the streets, parks and yards, after in an appropriate place that was made possible thanks to the benevolence of some persons who admired the activities of Don Bosco for the good of the boys. That place was located in a district of Turin called “Valdocco” and today is a real museum of the history and traces of the apostolate of the youth.
For Don Bosco the importance of education to poor and marginalized young people came from his worry to give them a place in society and to care their souls. It was not just to collect the boys, teach them a skill and sending them out to get a job, but prepare them as social persons able to contribute with the development of their own society and nation. The boys were gathered from drastic conditions of poverty or marginalization and they were about to be good elements in the place they are. All the ways of education that Don Bosco let as a legacy for the Catholic Church and the education in general, were gathered from his experience and only thanks to the suggestion of Pope Pius IX, Don Bosco wrote down his method that he called “The Preventive System”. The Salesians educate the youth in order to prevent them to fall in problems. All the actions of Don Bosco around the youth were to prevent them for future situations and it is what the works of the Salesians around the world do. Salesian works prevent the youth to fall into drugs, prostitutions, HIV, crime and many other evils. They educate the youth in a way that the boy would be able to say no to what is bad or not correct.
The works of Don Bosco extended around the world soon after the death of the Father of the youth. Nowadays more than 120 countries in the world have the presence of any center which name is associated with Don Bosco. The smiling face of the saint is the main identification that is recognized for anybody who has been in contact with the Salesian Family or their works. The other thing is the importance of Don Bosco in the Catholic Church. Inside the Church, the Salesians are the experts in youth pastoral and education and it has been recognized throughout all the history of the Salesians. They participate or are consulted in the youth pastoral and education, because it is a rich history of more than 150 years of work with the youth in the entire planet.
After the war was over in Cambodia and the refugee camps were not more needed in Thailand, the Cambodian youth, the ones who did receive lessons inside the technical schools of the camps, say to Don Bosco: “Please, come with us to Cambodia!” It was the dream of Don Bosco, the dream to stay with all the youth of the world and bring them an opportunity to the future.