The Mother and the Cardinal
Some years ago I was accompanying Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone on a visit to places where Don Bosco had been, around Valdocco.
We had paused for a moment in the area where Mamma Margaret’s garden had been. I told the story that this is where Mamma Margaret grew the vegetables that were the only dish available for Don Bosco and his boys. During one Sunday afternoon in 1850, at the height of the war games, the boys, who made up the defeated army, invaded the garden, and destroyed Mamma Margaret’s precious plot, despite her vigorous protests as she watched the devastation from the small balcony.
All Salesians know that Mamma Margaret was very discouraged by this, and that she felt all of her 62 years weighing on her that afternoon. During the evening, together with Don Bosco, she was mending the shirts and shoes which the boys needed for the following morning. At a certain point she laid down her needle beside the oil lamp and said quietly: John, I am tired. Let me return to the Becchi. Every day they pull the clean washing off the line. Today they trod all over the garden and I have no idea now what to put in the cooking pot. I ‘m a poor old woman. I just can’t carry on any further. Let me go and spend the rest of my days with my grandchildren. Don Bosco looked at his mother and felt a lump in his throat. He couldn’t find a word to say. He just lifted his hand and pointed to the Crucifix hanging on the wall. His elderly mother understood. She bent her head once again to the task and kept sewing.
I ended on a quiet note and turned to the Cardinal. If there is a holiness in ecstasy and visions, there’s also holiness in washing pots and mending shoes.” We walked on no more than ten metres, and reached the staircase that would bring us up to Don Bosco’s rooms. The Cardinal was in deep thought. After climbing a few steps he stopped, and said to me animatedly: But why haven’t you made this Mother a Saint? Half in jest, I replied, Your Eminence, you know that in the Vatican, until not so long ago, not much thought was given to mothers of families. He waved his right arm as if he were brushing flies away: But now many things have changed, he said.
Many things have changed, even in the Vatican. Among other things, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has become Pope Benedict XVI. It is my hope that Mamma Margaret’s place, maybe by the will of this Pope, will change, from being a humble Mamma hidden in the shadow of her great son, to Blessed offered to the people of God as a model for mothers and those who serve poor and abandoned young people.
Teresio Bosco, August 27, 2005, feast of Saint Monica
Preface to Vita di Mamma Margherita, Teresio Bosco, translated from the Italian by Julian Fox, SDB.
Note: As you may know, last November 15, Mamma Margaret was declared “Venerable”, the last step before being proclaimed Blessed and then Saint. For that, a miracle has to be recognised as authentic; let us make her known. The whole Salesian Family awaits that day with great joy.
Romeo Trottier sdb