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St. John Bosco showed that all are called to be saints, Cardinal Gregory tells Cristo Rey students

Washington Cardinal Gregory gives his homily at a Jan. 31, 2022 Mass for Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Takoma Park, Maryland which is located next door to the school. The Mass celebrated the feast day of St. John Bosco, the school’s patron saint. (CS photo/Javier Diaz)

Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory’s Jan. 31 Mass for Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School marked two special events – the beginning of 2022 Catholic Schools Week and the feast day for St. John Bosco, the school’s patron saint.

“It’s Catholic Schools Week, and I’m happy to begin this week here at Don Bosco Cristo Rey,” the cardinal said at the beginning of the Mass at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Takoma Park, Maryland, which is located next door to the high school.

The congregation for the Mass included the school’s faculty and staff and its nearly 400 students, who wore face masks in accord with COVID-19 safety guidelines. Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School, which provides a Catholic, college preparatory education and an innovative Corporate Work Study Program to students from low-income and mostly minority families in the Washington, D.C. area, is sponsored by The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and the Eastern Province of the Salesians of Don Bosco

In the Corporate Work Study Program, students gain professional work experience at leading Washington-area businesses and institutions and earn money to pay for a significant part of their education costs. Since Don Bosco Cristo Rey opened as the newest high school in the archdiocese in 2007 and had its first graduating class in 2011, all of its graduates have been accepted into college, and many of them are the first members of their families to go to college.

Students from Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School pray during a Jan. 31 Mass celebrated by Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Takoma Park, Maryland, that marked the beginning of Catholic Schools Week. (CS photos/Javier Diaz)

A large portrait of St. John Bosco, the patron saint of youth, was placed before the lectern for the Mass. In his homily, Cardinal Gregory said that saint showed how everyone is called to live a holy life and to become a saint.

“Today’s feast has something to offer everyone, especially everyone here at Don Bosco Cristo Rey, because St. John Bosco believed that everyone is called to holiness,” the cardinal said.

St. John Bosco, an Italian priest canonized in 1934, was known as “Don,” the Italian word for “Father,” as he devoted his life in the mid-1800s to providing a Catholic education for poor boys that was inspired by the simple spirituality and spirit of kindness taught by St. Francis de Sales. St. John Bosco established a religious order called the Society of St. Francis de Sales, popularly known as the Salesians, the order that co-sponsors and helps staff Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School. 

“John Bosco had this principle: Everyone is called to be a saint. Young ones, priests, religious, those who work with young people, and of course, young people themselves, all of whom are loved by God,” Cardinal Gregory said.

The cardinal said that St. John Bosco’s life exemplified how Jesus described the Good Shepherd in the Gospel, being “faithful to the people that he was called to serve.” That example, he said, should guide today’s bishops, priests, religious and educators and others who work with young people.

A Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School student receives Communion during a Jan. 31, 2022 Mass at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Takoma Park for the feast day of St. John Bosco, the school’s patron saint. (CS photo/Javier Diaz)

Washington’s archbishop highlighted that day’s Gospel reading from Matthew 18 – when Jesus said people need to become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven, and whoever receives a child in His name, receives Jesus. “We hear Jesus describing the importance of young people, the centrality of young people,” the cardinal said, noting that Don Bosco’s life reflected that focus.

 “John Bosco spent his entire priesthood caring for young people, teaching them, helping them to grow in holiness,” Washington’s archbishop said, pointing out how the saint’s example helped one of his first students, St. Dominic Savio, and Don Bosco’s coworker in teaching youth, St. Mary Mazzarello, also be recognized as saints by the Catholic Church.

St. Dominic was a student at Don Bosco’s oratory for boys who was known for his devotion to his faith and his cheerful attitude and for starting a group that encouraged his fellow students to lead good, holy lives. After an illness, he died in 1857 a few weeks before his 15th birthday. St. Dominic Savio, the patron saint of choirboys, was canonized in 1954, and his feast day is May 6.

Sister Maria Domenca Mazzarello worked with St. John Bosco to found the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, known as the Salesian Sisters, to care for and educate poor girls, just as Don Bosco had been educating poor boys. St. Mary Mazzarello died in 1881 and was canonized in 1951. Her feast day is May 13.

“John Bosco also believed that young people, even young people who came from families who didn’t have a lot, were called to be saints as well. He chose to care for young people from poor families… He said, ‘That doesn’t matter, you too are called to be saints, called to holiness,’” Cardinal Gregory said. 

A student from Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School participates in a Jan. 31 Mass at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Takoma Park that celebrated the feast day of the school’s patron saint, St. John Bosco, who is pictured on the cover of the Mass program. (CS photo/Javier Diaz)

Pointing out how Don Bosco’s legacy continues today, the cardinal noted, “In a way, Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School continues the work that John Bosco himself began, even though he died in Italy in Turin in 1888, he established such wonderful examples for young people, for priests, for religious, that even today his name is honored and revered throughout the Church. We have today nearly 16,000 Salesian priests, so many, that it’s one of the very largest religious communities in the Church. So he (Don Bosco) must have been onto something, inviting people to care for young people, to teach them, to educate them, to form them.”

Just as Cardinal Gregory was about to end his homily about St. John Bosco, a screeching sound came over the sound system, and the cardinal looked up and around and jokingly asked, “Is that you, John?”

Then after he joined the congregation in a moment of laughter, the cardinal concluded his homily by saying that Don Bosco “calls us to holiness, each and every one of us, and I hope that we all listen and follow his example. Amen!”

The guests at the Mass included Kelly Branaman, the Secretary for Catholic Schools and Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of Washington, and the concelebrating priests included Father Shaun Foggo, the pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows, and Salesian Father Dieunel Victor, the high school’s coordinator of youth ministry.

After Communion, Father Victor thanked Cardinal Gregory for celebrating the Mass, and echoing the message from the cardinal’s homily, he added, “We are called to holiness. That’s what we Salesians are striving for.”

Salesian Father Dieunel Victor, the coordinator of youth ministry at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, was one of the concelebrating priests for a Jan. 31, 2022 Mass celebrated by Cardinal Wilton Gregory at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Takoma Park for the Solemnity of St. John Bosco, the school’s patron saint. (CS photo/Javier Diaz)

In his closing prayer, Cardinal Gregory encouraged people to imitate St. John Bosco “in bringing young people to the love of Christ.” 

After the recessional hymn “Friend of the Young and the Poor” about the saint’s life and work, the school’s principal, Elias Blanco, addressed the students, saying, “Happy feast day of Don Bosco!”

He noted that being a saint doesn’t mean you have to do extraordinary things. “We’re called to be saints in the small, ordinary things,” he said.

Blanco encouraged the students to follow St. John Bosco’s formula for sanctity, which he said was, “First, be happy. Second, study and pray. Third, do good to everyone.”