Principles for Youth Ministry – John Bosco

Here Don John Bosco provides some guiding principles for youth ministry based on his legendary success at evangelizing and teaching young boys on the streets of Turin Italy during the days of the Industrial Revolution.  In a day when harsh corporal punishment was the culturally norm when dealing with children, Don Bosco imitated instead the gentleness of Christ and produced amazing results.

First of all, if we wish to appear concerned about the true happiness of our foster children and if we would move them to fulfil their duties, you must never forget that you are taking the place of the parents of these beloved young people. I have always laboured lovingly for them, and carried out my priestly duties with zeal. And the whole Salesian society has done this with me.

My sons, in my long experience very often I had to be convinced of this great truth. It is easier to become angry than to restrain oneself, and to threaten a boy than to persuade him. Yes, indeed, it is more fitting to be persistent in punishing our own impatience and pride than to correct the boys. We must be firm but kind, and be patient with them.

I give you as a model the charity of Paul which he showed to his new converts. They often reduced him to tears and entreaties when he found them lacking docility and even opposing his loving efforts.

See that no one finds you motivated by impetuosity or wilfulness. It is difficult to keep calm when administering punishment, but this must be done if we are to keep ourselves from showing off our authority or spilling out our anger.

Let us regard those boys over whom we have some authority as our own sons. Let us place ourselves in their service. Let us be ashamed to assume an attitude of superiority. Let us not rule over them except for the purpose of serving them better.

This was the method that Jesus used with the apostles. He put up with their ignorance and roughness and even their infidelity. He treated sinners with a kindness and affection that caused some to be shocked, others to be scandalized, and still others to hope for God’s mercy. And so he bade us to be gentle and humble of heart.

They are our sons, and so in correcting their mistakes we must lay aside all anger and restrain it so firmly that it is extinguished entirely.

There must be no hostility in our minds, no contempt in our eyes, no insult on our lips. We must use mercy for the present and have hope for the future, as is fitting for true fathers who are eager for real correction and improvement.

In serious matters it is better to beg God humbly than to send forth a flood of words that will only offend the listeners and have no effect on those who are guilty.

This excerpt from a letter by St. John Bosco (Epistolario, Torino 1959, 4, 201-203) is used in the Roman Office of Readings for the liturgical memorial of Don Bosco on January 31.

St. John Bosco

Saint John Bosco was born in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy in 1815, the year that Napoleon’s armies were finally defeated and driven out of Italy. Brought up in a peasant family and raised by a widowed mother, John endured many hardships in pursuit of an education and growth in the Christian life. He demonstrated great initiative and creativity at a very early age and learned magic tricks and acrobatics in an attempt to gather an audience so that he could evangelize and catechize the children and adults of his town.

After his ordination to the priesthood, he settled in the industrial town of Turin which was flooded by peasants in search of work. “Don” Bosco focused his efforts on ministry to the orphans and working children of the city and established homes called oratories where they could live, learn productive trades, and be educated in the faith. In the face of much resistance by anti-clerical politicians and unfriendly churchmen, his oratories grew so quickly that by 1868 over 800 boys were under his care. As if this work were not enough, he wrote and printed countless pamphlets that popularized Catholic teaching and answered the objections of anti-Catholics and secularists and as a result, several attempts were made on his life.

Miracles reported by numerous eyewitnesses accompanied his work, including the multiplication of food. He was also known to receive supernatural guidance from God in the form of vivid dreams which he often recounted to his companions.

To ensure the continuation of his work, St. John Bosco founded a religious congregation named in honor of one of his favorite saints, St Francis de Sales. This holy saint died in 1888, but today John Bosco’s Salesians continue his work all over the world.  (bio by Dr. Italy)