One hundred and fourteen years ago, Bishop Scalabrini returned to the Father. John Baptist Scalabrini died at dawn on 1 June 1905 at 5:30 am on the Feast of the Ascension; his last conscious words were: “Lord, I am ready, let us go”. He was a great priest, a gentle shepherd and a visionary founder.
Bishop Scalabrini had a “compassionate heart”. For example, he distinguished himself during a cholera epidemic in 1867 through his tireless efforts to alleviate the suffering of the victims. He understood the importance of “presence”, spiritual support and concrete deeds of mercy toward our least fortunate brothers and sisters.
Pope Pius IX named him “Apostle of the Catechism” on 7 June 1877 and sent him a golden chalice on 6 February 1878. He also tended to the ill and to prisoners to comfort them. Moreover, he saved thousands of farmers and workers from the 1879-80 famine and twice sold his horses (used for pastoral visitations) as well as a pectoral cross and a golden chalice that Pope Pius IX had given him in order to purchase food.
During, his first pastoral visit, which began on 4 November 1876, he learned that 11% of its members had emigrated. He organized collections to help farmers that were affected from the landslides at Tollara in 1895, Villanova & Bettola in 1904. He sent aid to flood victims in the Veneto and Polesine in 1882 as well as for the earthquake of Casamicciola in 1883. He also supported those affected from the cloudburst in Campidano in 1889 and the families affected from the explosion of an arms depot in 1894 in Pontremoli.
He oversaw the distribution of more than 244 thousand bowls of soup with flour and firewood coupons in just two months. He also founded the “Deaf and Dumb Institute” in November 1879 to aid the hearing and speech impaired people and ordered that catechism be instructed in all the parishes in the diocese.
On 9 July 1887 he established the “Saint Raphael Association” dedicated to the care and protection of migrants and he offten gave lectures on the subject in various cities. The bishop established the association with the aid of the Marquis Giovanni Volpe Landi and Blessed Giuseppe Toniolo.
Scalabrini worked with millions of Italians forced to emigrate due to their dire conditons. Therefore he decided to establish a Religious Congregation to assist those people. He viewed migration as both a social problem requiring urgent attention and as a challenge to the Christian faith for a strong chance to evangelization. In 1887 he gave an address and recalled an instance where he met around 500 migrants at the Milan Railroad Station in 1880 which caused a “knot in the heart”. Those migrants were taking the train to Genoa to take a ship to the United States of America.
May Scalabrini’s legacy inspire us to help today’s poor and needy brothers and sisters of ours!