150th Missionary Expedition: “If it’s not outgoing, it’s not Church”

17 Oct 2019

“If it’s not outgoing, it’s not Church”

Don Bosco poses with the members of the first missionary expedition, led by Fr. John Cagliero (age 37), at Don Bosco’s left in the photo. Credit: Salesian Central Archives

(ANS – Rome – October 3) – In 1875 Don Bosco gathered around him a group of ten young men who were about to cross the Atlantic, a journey that for some would be without return. It was 4:00 p.m., and the shrine of Mary Help of Christians in Valdocco was full of people. At the foot of the image of Mary Help of Christians, Don Bosco greeted with tears the young men soon to depart. He gave each a gift, a leaflet with “twenty special remembrances,” memories of a father to those about to leave before the final embrace, symbol of his deep affection, writes Fr. Ceria.

Ten young men leaving to conquer the world.

This year, the 150th expedition started from the very same sanctuary (see Salesian News, Oct. 3). In all the years since 1875, before the image of Mary Help of Christians, more than 9,000 Salesians have followed the example of the first ten, giving life to a missionary epic that has no equal in history. With faith and courage, they have traveled unknown roads and places across every continent, met people of all races, gave their lives to bring the Gospel to so many young people that Don Bosco had only dreamed of. When Don Bosco died, his dream continued with their hands, their feet, and their hearts.

The young missionaries founded cities, hospitals, and youth centers. They explored rivers, dug wells, created schools of all kinds, and named lakes and mountains. Many never returned to their homelands, becoming children of the lands that adopted them, where they now rest. The expeditions gradually mobilized lay people, members of the Salesian Family, and young volunteers who from every continent have joined this evangelizing movement.

The 150th missionary expedition starts in a different scenario. It is no longer a civilizing enterprise or a big project of promotion and evangelization. The contexts are different; our missionaries bring the Gospel to countries of Christian culture that are often in decline and of great economic abundance, but where the joy, the Gospel, the “why” of everything is missing. They go to live in difficult cultural situations, situations often even contrary to all that is Christian. Some will sooner or later also navigate to virtual continents and territories with unknown and constantly changing languages, ambiguous situations, with new logics and rules.

Today, our missionaries count only on the strength of the testimony of the Gospel as a message that they must bring to the many who await; they are beyond Valparaíso and Beijing (which Don Bosco saw in a dream); they are on the networks of the virtual world, navigate in the oceans of uncertainty and solitude, and move like tribes of hunters, exploring, reanimating, and accompanying young people in search of a meaning of life.

“God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7). He loves the outgoing Church. “If it is not outgoing, it is not Church” – the Pope says this, and it’s true for us: a congregation that carries in its heart the missionary imprint, that’s always ready to go “where many people still live without the joy of the Gospel.”

That little note that Don Bosco gave to his first missionaries ended thus: “In the labors and in the sufferings, let us not forget that we have a great prize prepared in heaven.”