Young parishioners at St. Benedict Parish model St. Don Bosco in living life and faith together by preparing meals for the homeless. Photo courtesy St. Benedict Parish

Youth safeguard the Salesian legacy

By  Angelica Vecchiato, Youth Speak News
  • January 19, 2022

For young Salesians at St. Benedict Parish in Toronto’s west end, the legacy and teachings of St. Don Bosco are alive and well.

Originally known as the Society of St. Francis de Sales, this congregation was founded in Italy during the Industrial Revolution (1859) to alleviate the plight of young boys and orphans in poverty. Today the Salesians of Don Bosco have grown to become the second-largest order in the Catholic Church and remain relevant to modern Catholic youth.

“My faith journey was big, and the Salesians helped me through it by encouraging me to pray and to serve. They made me understand that living life and living faith together is not difficult to do,” said 19-year old Moses Nicolass.

The Salesians showed Nicolass that faith can be part and parcel of your everyday life.

“The moment you let your guard down is the moment your faith journey begins. Being a part of the Salesians has taught me that it’s okay to have fun and be part of your faith at the same time,” said Nicolass, a University of Waterloo student majoring in biomedical science.

Throughout his missionary years, St. Don Bosco, a Catholic priest, realized his vision of instituting the “oratory,” a place for a school, home, church and playground for youth. The fruits of his philosophy continue to this day.

As St. Benedict’s youth minister, Mariel Cabrera believes the message of St. Don Bosco to be as relevant as ever.

“St. Don Bosco has always been considered a modern saint. His purposeful work to give young people a vision is not different today because he instills that each young person is a gift to the world. Through faith in prayer, he wants to instill the oratory,” said Cabrera, who grew up in the “Salesian family.”

Along with a “core team” of 15 young adults dedicated to parish service, Cabrera facilitates youth activities like Salesian summer camps, service projects and Friday oratory nights. Monthly musical adoration is a highlight, as well as the trip afterwards to “mama’s house.”

“After adoration, we go down to the parish hall — to ‘mama’s house,’ which is a buffet of snacks. The buffet is named after Mama Margaret, St. Don Bosco’s mother, because her hospitality skills were known to be very good. She would cook and clean for the poor young boys St. Don Bosco brought home,” said Cabrera.

After attending the Salesian Leadership Retreat two years ago, Sammy Paraguas felt a “conversion” from our Lord in the Eucharist, spurring his involvement with St. Benedict’s core team. The Salesian family spirit struck a chord in Paraguas.

“Even before the community, we serve each other. We are all able to come together, so that we love working, serving and praying together,” said the 19-year old who is discerning a call to the priesthood.

Although the pandemic meant that in-person activities adapted to the virtual world, Cabrera, 36, said the young Salesians haven’t “skipped a beat.”

“I want to do everything I can during this time. I don’t want to hear, ‘where were you when I needed you?’ Even at the height of the pandemic — obeying restrictions — we gathered in small groups around fire pits. The conversations and interactions were great,” said Cabrera.

A vital Salesian ministry breathes a youthful life into the Catholic Church, one Paraguas hopes will spread a message of inclusivity and welcome.

“The Church is built off of young people too, not just old people. As Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me.’ The young can care about Jesus, just as much as the elderly.”

(Vecchiato, 17, is a Grade 12 student at Loretto Abbey Catholic Secondary School in Toronto.)

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