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'Magician' saint's relics tour attracts faithful

About 2000 pilgrims from across Scotland have flocked to Glasgow to catch a rare sight of the relics of a one-time magician who became patron saint of young people.

COLOURFUL FIGURE: The wax figure of St John Bosco, containing relics from the patron saint of young people, is on view at St Andrew's Cathedral in Glasgow. Picture: Mark Mainz
COLOURFUL FIGURE: The wax figure of St John Bosco, containing relics from the patron saint of young people, is on view at St Andrew's Cathedral in Glasgow. Picture: Mark Mainz

The casket containing the Relics of St John Bosco will be in Scotland for just two days as part of pilgrim journey through 130 nations, and has moved from St Andrew's Cathedral to Carfin in Lanarkshire.

The stop-off is the first time the relics have ever gone on show in the UK, where they will tour for 12 days.

The Turin-born saint, known as Don Bosco, devoted his life to working with street children and founded the Salesian Order, which set up schools across the globe. He was invited by the then Archbishop of Glasgow to visit city schools before he died in 1888 but has only now made the journey.

As well as several masses, children at yesterday's pilgrimage were treated by members of the Salesian Order to magic tricks, one of the approaches of Don Bosco to get the street children, juvenile delinquents and other disadvantaged youth of Turin involved in education.

The exhibition's organiser, Father David O'Malley of the Salesians, said: "That was particularly apt given the invitation to visit Glasgow during his lifetime. We have had a very warm welcome in Glasgow and many teachers, in particular, have commented on the emphasis on teaching from the heart and the trust that is vital between pupils and teachers, which Don Bosco always emphasised as one of the great educators of the 19th century. As teaching becomes more and more about targets and results, we need to put the heart back into teaching."

Attending the exhibition were pupils from John Bosco Primary School in Erskine, who had given up a day of their holidays to view the relic. Head Karen MacKechin said: "Don Bosco used tricks just like these to catch the attention of pupils in his own day, so we're seeing a great Salesian tradition carried on."

The tour of the relics amongst Catholics is very much a recent rediscovery, having been seen as outdated during the 1970s and 1980s. Three years ago the remains of St Therese of Lisieux, described by Pope Pius X as "the greatest saint of modern times", arrived in England and Wales for the first time, with a quarter of a million people making the trip to see them.

Archbishop of Glasgow Philip Tartaglia said: "I was delighted to welcome the relics of St John Bosco to Glasgow. Their presence is a reminder of the saints as great heroes of the faith and I hope they will inspire young people, especially in their commitment."

Brendan Gill, of Pollokshields in Glasgow, said: "Don Bosco's message comes through this event so clearly – 'enjoy life, seize it, celebrate the gift. No long faces'."

Sisters Elizabeth and Isabel, nuns based in Easterhouse, said: "It was a deeply moving experience and a privilege to be part of this event. It really touched the heart."

The exhibition moves to St Francis Xavier Church, Carfin, today before going on to Liverpool, Birmingham, Cardiff and London.

Factfile

– Born in 1815, Don Bosco is the patron saint of Christian apprentices, editors, publishers, schoolchildren, young people, and magicians.

– He set up the Salesian Order working with street children in the rapidly industrialized Turin and using teaching methods based on compassion rather than punishment.

– Traditionalist clergy accused him of stealing a lot of young and old people away from their own parishes, while Italian nationalist politicians, including some clergy, saw his several hundred young men as a recruiting ground for revolution.

– Bosco was declared blessed in 1929 and canonized on Easter Sunday of 1934, when he was given the title of "Father and Teacher of Youth".

– Bosco was formally declared the Patron of Stage Magicians by Pope John Paul II in 2002. Catholic stage magicians who practice 'Gospel Magic' venerate Bosco offer free magic shows to underprivileged children on his feast day.

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