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John Baptist Scalabrini, Bishop of Piacencia and founder Congregations of the Missionaries of Saint Charles and the Missionary Sisters of Saint Charles Borromeo – Scalabrinians, was born on 8 of July of 1839 in the city of Como, Italy. When he was 18 years old he entered the seminary.
He was ordained a priest in 1863 and consecrated as bishop in 1876.
During his life, Scalabrini developed many pastoral activities. However, his preoccupation with the migrants was the one the differentiated him from the other bishops of his time.
Scalabrini’s sensibility with the drama lived by the migrant families could not be separated from his preoccuaption with the poor who lived within Italy itself. His pastoral predilection for the prisioners, sick and deaf-dumb is a known fact.
The taks of the Chruch, for Scalabrini, was to intervine together with the State and political groups whenever the interessess of the poor were at stake. In his Pastoral Letter of 1882 to the Piacenza Diocese he said, “It is necessary to participate in the public life, taking advantage of all the licit means, for the triumph of truth and justice.”
This availability and openness to new social questons put him closer to the drama of the migrants and also to put himself into action to serve the people. In his Pastoral Letter of 1891 he made and afirmation that even today throws us into the mission, “We must leave the temple if we want to exercise a healthy action within the temple.”
In 1880, at the Milan Railroad Station, his sensibility for the migrants was quickened by the dramatic conditions of the poor migrants who waited for the train to Genoa, from where in ships, they would embark to the Americas. This is how the Bishop of Piacenza described it, “In tears they had said goodbye to their native village, to which they were linked by many happy memories, but without being homesick they were ready to abandon their country. They did not know it other than in a hated form: a place of enlistment and of high taxes. For the disinherited, the country that gives them bread is his country: there, far, far away they hoped to find bread, less scarce, less sweated.”
In the search for adequate answers to the suffering of the migrants, Blessed Scalabrini made inumerous interventions: he published, elaborated proposals for a law on Italian emigration, he founded the Congregation of the Missionaries of Saint Charles (1887), he created the Saint Raphael Society, a lay movement in service to the migrants, he founded the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of Saint Charles Borromeo (1895), gave diocesan recognition to the Apostels of the Sacred Heart and sent them to work with the Italian emigrants in Brazil (1900)
To know the situation in which the Italian emigrants lived, Scalabrini, when he was 62 years old and sick, travelled to the United Stathes, Brazil and Argentina, between 1901 to 1904. On these tripshe made it a point to go to each place where there were Italian emigrants, no matter the existing difficulties. His persistence strengthened and consolidated hte initiated works by the missionary priests and sisters of Saint Charles.
In a letter of Scalabrini directed to Pope Leo XIII in 1901, we find an evaluation of the works already realized. In this tet, Bisihop Scalabrini spoke of his motivations and hopes, “If I look at the works realized among not too few difficulities, Ihave great motives to be happy in the Lord. But, if, with thoughts I penetrate in the profound recesses of my spirit, I see nothing if not material for remorse for that which was not done or was not done well. Of one thing however, I can assure you, Holy Father: in every cirumstance I never had in mind anything else except the glory of God and the salvation of the souls confided to me.”
His prophetism, his charity, his love for the migrants and his teachings give us an example of a holy bishop, a model for our days. Scalabrini died on June 1, 1905. On November 1, 1997 he was beatified with the title of Father of the Migrants by Pope John Paul II.
To learn more: Scalabrini Missionaries – Biography