Sacred Heart Parish Battersea was looking resplendent with flowers and new lighting to welcome the relics of Don Bosco home to the mother church of the Salesian family in Great Britain. Don Bosco sent the first Salesians to Battersea with the encouragement and support of The Countess Georgiana de Stacpoole who had been a great supporter of Don Bosco in Paris.
The first Salesian priest to arrive in London was Fr Dalmazzo who was impressed by the impact of Clapham Junction and knew of Don Bosco's concern to establish houses near the newly developed railway hubs. He however found the climate and the smogs unbearable and returned to Italy. It was in 1887 that Don Bosco was able to build up a team to come to London and so achieve a long ambition in the year before he died. Frs McKiernan and Macey arrived with a lay Brother Rossaro. Within a year Fr McKiernan had died of TB and Fr Macey, an convert from the Anglican Church, took on the leadership of the mission.
This was one of the last missionary projects begun by Don Bosco which met a long ambition to engage with the challenge of a more secularised culture with his preventive approach to youth ministry. Since his early years Don Bosco had wanted to follow his friend Canon Gastaldi who travelled to Cardiff to support the emerging St David's mission. Don Bosco had begun to learn English and was encouraged by St Dominic Savio, one of his early pupils, to engage with this part of the world. Today, in one sense, Don Bosco has achieved that ambition and come to the British Isles as he had always hoped.
Since then the Salesian mission has developed in Great Britain with great encouragement from the hierarchy to provide education for the poor. For that reason the Salesians have committed large amounts of time and resources to secondary education and to youth ministry. More recently they have begun to diversify into volunteer programs, retreat ministry and development abroad. The pilgrimage which has been led largely by young adult volunteers is a statement about how the Salesians hope to move forward in their future work. Partnership with the young generates many virtuous circles of energy and creates a path to maturity for the older adults with whom they work.
Don Bosco will arrive in a few hours and the team are now preparing to welcome VIPs from the |hierarchy of the church and from the civil authorities such as the police. This will be a memorable place to bring the pilgrimage of Don Bosco relics to a close.
Fr David O'Malley SDB