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Pope Francis at the Basilica of St. Mary Help of Christians at the tomb of Don Bosco in Turin, Italy on June 21, 2015. Credit: L'Osservatore Romano.Pope Francis at the Basilica of St. Mary Help of Christians at the tomb of Don Bosco in Turin, Italy on June 21, 2015. Credit: L’Osservatore Romano.

Turin, Italy, Jun 23, 2015 / 04:03 am (Aid to the Church in Need).- Pope Francis is a Jesuit, but he has Salesian roots.
A Salesian priest was the matchmaker for Pope Francis’ parents and baptized the future Pope, while Francis owes his priestly vocation to a Salesian priest.

Pope Francis recently visited Turin to celebrate the 200th anniversary of St. John Bosco’s birth. Father Elio Cesari, who is responsible for the Salesian Youth in the northern Italian regions of Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna, said there is a strong connection between the 19th century saint and the 21st century Pope.

“St. John Bosco was a prophet, and the Pope was imbued with his thought, as he studied in Salesian schools, and he owes his vocation to a Salesian priest, Fr. Pozzoli, as he always recounted,” Fr. Cesari told CNA June 20.

According to the Salesian Press Agency, the connection between Pope Francis and Salesians stretches back before his birth. A Salesian was the matchmaker of the first meeting of the parents of the Pope.

Fr. Enrico Pozzoli, an Italian who emigrated in Argentina, was the bridge between the families of Francis José Mario Bergoglio and Maria Regina Sivori, when they were in their twenties. The two met thanks to the priest, and Fr. Pozzoli celebrated their wedding Dec. 12, 1935.

Francis and Maria Regina moved in a house around the Basilica San José de Flores, in Varela in 1968. In that house, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was born Dec. 17, 1936. Fr. Pozzoli baptized him 8 days after, in the Salesian Church ‘San Carlos’ in Almagro.

“Pope Francis nurtured in the Salesian world, and he grabbed much of St. John Bosco spirit,” said Fr. Elio Cesari.

In a 1990 letter contained in the book “Pope Francis and Fr. Bosco” by Fr. Alessandro Leòn, the then-Fr. Bergoglio recounted that he used to take part in the procession of Mary Auxiliatrix when he was a child and used to go to the oratory St. Francis of Sales, while he knew the Salesian confessors in San Carlo.

Pope Francis also attended classes for one year in the Salesian College in the House of Ramos Mejia. In the letter, Bergoglio stressed that “through an awakening of conscience and of truth, the College created a ‘non-bigoted’ Catholic culture. Study, social values of coexistence, the social references to the needs of people, sport, competence, mercy…everything was real and everything contributed to raise up habits that shaped a cultural way of being.”

This is also the reason why the mayor of Turin, Piero Fassino, gave to Pope Francis copies of 22 St. John Bosco autographed letters, reproduced on 19th century paper. The letters are part of a series of letters St. John Bosco addressed to Baron Feliciano Ricci des Ferres, an Italian Catholic noble strongly committed to social action, and a friend and benefactor of the saint.

Fr. Enrico Stasi, inspector of the Salesian province of Piedmont, told CNA June 20 that “the connection between Pope Francis and the Salesians is strong.”

“The Pope asks (us) to go to the peripheries, and St. John Bosco went to the peripheries to help young people and help them to learn a job. We took over his legacy.”