(ANS – Turin) – The Basilica of Mary Help of Christians is the jewel in the crown of Don Bosco’s original Oratory in Valdocco (Turin), Italy. Built between 1863 and 1868, it was literally a dream come true for Don Bosco. Begun as a worship space for the boys of the Oratory, it became the centre of the newly founded Salesian Congregation and today it is the pulsing spiritual heart of the worldwide Salesian Family. And last March, the Salesian Family Coordinators in the SUE Province (United States East and Canada) asked Fr Mike Pace SDB, Vice-Director, Museo Casa Don Bosco, if he would prepare a video tour of the Basilica. “This was a privileged invitation to make the Basilica and Don Bosco’s Madonna better known and loved,” Fr Pace comments. So a guided tour is now available– in English, and also with Italian and Korean subtitles, but soon in Spanish too – that explores various strands which are woven together to make the Basilica a magnificent tapestry of Salesian history, spirituality and Marian devotion.
Part I: History, Art and Architecture
For Don Bosco, art and architecture were always at the service of education and catechesis. With this in mind, the first half of the tour focuses on these questions: Why did Don Bosco choose the Renaissance-era Basilica of St. George in Venice as the model for his façade? What passages from Sacred Scripture and what events of church history are depicted therein? Why is there a statue of Our Lady of Mercy on the cupola if the Basilica is dedicated to Mary Help of Christians? What are the historical roots of the devotion to Mary as “Help of Christians”? When and why did the original Basilica undergo two major renovations? Who were the major artists commissioned to adorn the Basilica? What message did Don Bosco wish to communicate through the iconic painting of Mary Help of Christians which dominates the altar space and is recognized all over the world as Don Bosco’s Madonna? How does the Basilica convey Don Bosco’s “Three White Loves”? How did faith and finances come together to pay for such a magnificent church?
Part II: Salesian Family Heroes
The second part of the tour focuses on the Salesian family heroes who are honoured at the side altars and in the Crypt of Relics: St. Maria Domenica Mazzarello, St. Dominic Savio, St. Francis de Sales, Blessed Michael Rua and Blessed Philip Rinaldi (the first and second successors of Don Bosco), and the Salesian Proto-martyrs, Bishop Luigi Versiglia and Fr Callistus Caravario.
The altar of St. Joseph receives particular attention, as it is the only altar that has remained unchanged ever since Don Bosco built and blessed it.
This section culminates in the presentation of Don Bosco’s altar, which replaced the original altar dedicated to St. Peter as the Vicar of Christ. Don Bosco has been honoured here since his beatification on 2 June 2 1929 when he was translocated to the Basilica from the Salesian school in Valsalice. He awaits the glory of the resurrection at the altar where he celebrated his daily mass for twenty years.
Part III: The Mission
Finally, the tour reflects on the missionary dimension of the Basilica. From the walnut pulpit in the nave of the church, Don Bosco commissioned the first missionary expedition in 1875 under the leadership of Fr John Cagliero, future bishop and cardinal. The video explores some of Don Bosco’s heart-felt words from that occasion which still echo in the Basilica today and allow us to reflect on our own mission within the Church and the world as members of the Salesian Family.
Part IV: “Our Church, Our Mother’s House”
At the very foundations of the Basilica are those words which Mary spoke to Don Bosco when she revealed her desire that he build this church: hic est domus mea, inde gloria me; this is my home, from here my glory shall go forth.
“Just as these words inspired Don Bosco to realize what seemed like an impossible dream, they also inspired this video,” Fr Pace adds. “Most Salesians and most devotees of Mary, Help of Christians will never have the privilege of visiting Valdocco. For those of us who serve the Congregations here, this privilege becomes a heart-felt responsibility: a responsibility to make this Basilica more accessible to the Salesian world, in their own language. As our loving mother, Mary not only welcomes her children who can come to Valdocco, but also, from Valdocco, her love goes out to embrace all her children far and wide. It is our hope that this video may in some way be an experience of our Mother’s embrace.”
The production team was male and female, lay, religious and ordained: namely, Katia Fiorito, a Salesian Cooperator who recorded and edited the video; and Fr Pace, as guide. Much gratitude goes to ANS for the HD photos and drone footage, to the Basilica Rector and Vice-Rector, Frs. Guido Errico SDB and Vincenzo Trotta SDB for the generous access we had to the Basilica, and to the Basilica’s Music Director, Fr Maurizio Palazzo SDB for his musical support.
ANS – Agency of Salesian News