By admin - Posted on 28 March 2012


The initial impression of Scalabrini as a superior and yet lovable figure is right on target. I believe that his lovable quality comes also from the humility which we have referred to earlier, and from the "common" nature of his spirituality, accessible to all.

However, his superiority certainly exists, shining forth and standing out even more clearly against the background of this humility.

History shows us Scalabrini is the bishop with a number of "firsts", with insights vindicated as winners by history: true signs of the times.

i. Scalabrini’s "firsts" and insights

His "firsts": five pastoral visits made in person; three synods; the first Catechetical congress in the world; the first Italian (second in the world) Catechetical review; proposals for the first unified catechism for Italians, including migrants; creation of the first chair in catechetics; the first missionary religious congregation for Italian emigrants; the first proposals for a specific pastoral ministry for migrants; establishing the first lay institute for assistance to migrants, etc.

His insights have been well summed up by Pope Paul VI: "Your Founder was well known for some of his positions, which we could say anticipated events in the history of Catholics in Italy, for he had very special views - views that were much contested at the time, but proved very far-sighted - on the relationship between the Papacy and the Italian State, and on the participation of Catholics in the public life of the country (which was not allowed at that time). He never accepted the formula in force at that time, ‘Neither elected nor electors.’ And this drew him considerable animosity, but also the merit of having understood what the role of Catholics should be in this country."

Scalabrini stands out as a milestone in the Church’s pastoral care of migrants, and this is confirmed by the fact that his name appears in the three leading documents of the Magisterium on migration: Exsul familia (1952), De pastorali migratorum cura (1969), and Church and Human Mobility (1978).

ii. The Memorandum

Twenty-five days prior to his death, drawing partly on his recent visit to his missionaries in Brazil (1904), Scalabrini sent a memorandum to Pope Pius X, upon request from the Pope himself, where he details a project to give the Sacred Consistorial Congregation the charge of organizing the pastoral care of migrants throughout the world. This project would be implemented by the same Pope in 1912. According to Scalabrini’s way of thinking, the Church must face a phenomenon as universal as migration with an equally universal and supra-national body - for example, the Congregation responsible for all the bishops of the Catholic world. This body should coordinate all efforts, involving the local Churches of departure and arrival, sending out specially trained priests and missionaries, settling jurisdictional conflicts, etc.

The Bishop of Piacenza thought on such large scale that he would not be satisfied until the Church adopted his insights.

So we can say that Bishop Scalabrini, who did not live for himself, did not die for himself either, because shortly before his death - which came on June 1st, Ascension Day, 1905 - he offered the Church one of his greatest gifts, enabling him to exercise influence even after his death.

The saints are guides showing what each of us can make of ourselves. If they happened to be also "Founders," they also show that their charism must be lived so that each member can develop it with the founder’s originality.

"The Catholic Church is called
by its divine apostolate
and by its age-old tradition
to make its imprint
on the great social movement of migration,
whose goal is economic recovery
and the merging of Christian peoples"

(Scalabrini, Memorandum, 1905)

"The Church, ‘sign and instrument
of the unity of the whole human race’

(Lumen gentium, 1),
sensing an intimate involvement in human mobility,
ponders the demands
of its presence in this new world
where, in a sense, it sees itself,
as a pilgrim on this earth"

(Church and Human Mobility, Pontifical Commission for Migrations, 1978).