Saturday, 22 February 2014

Callistus Caravario - Proto-Salesian Priest

Callistus Caravario was the priest who accompanied the Salesian Bishop Versiglia, about the previous article of the blog talks of, on his journey when he was martyred . He was born at Cougne, a small town in Northern Italy on 8 June 1903.  His family was not rich but hardworking and God-fearing.  The family shifted to Turin in 1908 and Callistus came into contact with the salesians. In the Oratory he was known for his piety, study and good character.  Moreover, he was attracted by the salesian way of life. He also had the chance of meeting the salesian missionaries.  Thus he was sent to Foglizzio to do his novitiate. On 19 September 1919 he made his religious profession and continued philosophical studies at Valsalice.
In 1922 when he was in Italy for the General Chapter, Bishop Versiglia, then Vicar Apostolic of Shiu Chow, spent a few days in Turin. During these days Bro. Callistus along with his companions met the Bishop and expressed their desire to become missionaries in China. Although the superiors did not allow him in the beginning looking at his missionary zeal they sent him to China. And so on 10 November 1924 he reached Hong Kong. He was asked work in Shanghai and East Timor. He learned the language and was attached to the people. On 18 may 1929, on the eve of Pentecost, he was ordained a priest by Bishop Versiglia. On that day he wrote the following memorable words to his mother: “Now your Callistus is no longer yours, he must be entirely the Lord’s, wholly consecrated to his service…. On your part, from now on, think only of praying that I may be a holy priest, setting good example to all entirely dedicated to the cause of the Lord.”
Soon after his ordination he was sent to Linchow mission along with the bishop. He began the mission with the same fervour of the mission in Timor. He learned the language well in a short period of time and engaged himself in various activities for the faithful and the young of the missionland. However, his primary motive was to lead a holy life. In fact, two days before his martyrdom he wrote to his mother, “Pray, I repeat, pray much for me that I may be a holy priest… I know that so far you prayed that I might become a priest. Now that I am one, pray that I may be a holy priest…”
The holy priest was martyred along with Bishop Versiglia on their way to Tin Chue Tong Mission by the fanatic pirates. Both the clergy fell unconscious with the strong hit by the rifle butts. They were forced to come to the land and they did so with the help of the catechists.  Fr. Caravaio tried to negotiate, offering money but the brigands were interested in taking their lives and abusing the women catechists. Bishop asked the pirates to take his life and spare the young priest but his plea fell in deaf ears. The two knelt down in deep prayer and the women who sat down a few meters away could see that the two priests making their confession to each other. Moments later the silence of the place was shattered by five rifle shots.

Their martyrdom was recognized by the church and they were proclaimed Saints on 1 October 2000. The mortal remains of St. Caravario is kept at Ho Sai in the church of St. Joseph. 

Bishop Aloysius Versiglia - Proto-martyr of the Salesian Congregation

Aloysius Versiglia was the first salesian bishop who was martyred in the mission land.  He was born at Oliva Gessi, Pavia, Italy and entered the Valdocco Oratory at the age of 12. Inspired by the Don Bosco Aloysius wanted to follow him and thus received the religious habit at the hands of Blessed Michael Rua on 21 October 1888.  Subsequently he made his first profession on 11 October 1889.  As a religious he was outstanding in virtues. He edified others more by his example than by his words.  He was ordained a priest on 21 December 1895 by Mgr. Richelmy, Bishop of Ivrea. It the very first year of his priesthood he was sent as Rector and Director of the Novices at Genzano.  The young Rector solved all his difficulties not with his authority but with prayer, penance and silence.  Much later, the salesians who were formed under him spoke highly of their beloved Rector with nostalgic feelings.

He was chosen to lead the missionary expedition to China in 1905. The missionaries reached Hong Kong after six months of sailing. Very soon he sent a report to the generalate about the growing mission in China.  His tireless work in the mission land crowned him with the Episcopal title.  He became the bishop of Shiu Chow.  As a bishop his priority was the work of evangelization at the same time he also concentrated on expanding the salesian works. He also gave sound formation to his diocese.  Even as a bishop he had to face lot of difficulties like civil war, poverty in the mission station, paucity of personnel and misunderstanding with the major superiors.  In spite of all these hardships he was dazzling with virtues like his Eucharistic piety, filial devotion to Mary help of Christians, his humility, missionary zeal and so on.

The holy bishop travelled with Fr. Caravario and some catechists on a boat on a pastoral visit to the Linchow mission on 25 February 1930.  When the boat was at the confluence of the rivers Sui Pin and Siu Pak Kong all of a sudden 10 armed men (Communist Pirates) appeared and seized the three catechists who were on the missionaries’ boat after looting the valuable things.  The bishop and Fr. Caravario opposed them with all their strength to defend the safety and the virtue of the three young Christian women.  At last, these two clergymen were beaten and were shot at.  The catholics of the place took the corpses and did the funeral rites.  Pope Paul VI recognized their martyrdom in 1973.  Finally, Bl. John Paul II numbered them among the Blessed on 15 May 1983 and canonized them on 1 October 2000.