Friday 6 May is the feast of St Dominic Savio, the schoolboy saint of Don Bosco’s Oratory in Torino. Our Education Officer Matt Jeziorski reflects on the life of St Dominic Savio and what he can teach us about Christian [peace] activism.
I have not always found it easy to get along with St Dominic Savio, whose memorial is kept on 6 May. Stories from his life are full of ecstatic visions, prophetic dreams, and pious episodes, whilst the depictions of him in art range from the sweet and sickly to the downright dreadful.
Years ago, working in a project placed under the patronage of this schoolboy saint, I wasn’t alone amongst my colleagues in lacking confidence in presenting Dominic Savio as a role model. It seems so profoundly unlikely that the experiences of the modern teenager would resonate with stories from Dominic’s life.
There is a statue of Dominic Savio in the grounds of Savio House retreat centre in Cheshire with the young saint holding a crucifix aloft in his right hand. In his left is his motto, Death before sin. The statue recalls Dominic’s tactic of ending fights and immoral behaviour amongst his peers by standing amidst them with a crucifix and urge them to gaze on the face of Christ and reconsider their actions. This is not a tactic I could imagine being particularly effective in the playgrounds of today. Far easier when talking about Dominic to focus on general attributes – his cheerfulness and faithfulness – rather than his biography.
These days, over a decade later, my relationship with St Dominic Savio has transformed. How often I have stood with others of faith outside the Ministry of Defence, Downing Street, or an Arms Fair and called people to repentance, urged them to look on the face of Jesus and abandon war in favour of his nonviolence.
And during these protests I have made many a silent prayer to St Dominic Savio whenever I have felt uncomfortable or embarrassed (public hymn singing will always do this to me). O for a courageous faith like his!
Sadly my rediscovery of this teenage saint has come rather too late – how I wish I had realised his enduring relevance during those days when speaking about him seemed impossibly difficult. Saint Dominic Savio seems to me to be a wonderful model for all of us who are inspired by faith to work to transform the world.