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  • Writer's pictureDavid OMalley

Don Bosco at the Ballot Box

Updated: May 29

Don Bosco and politics


Don Bosco spent most of his life developing his work for youth in a feverish political atmosphere. He was involved in conversations between the Prime Minister Cavour of Piedmont and with Pope Pius IX. There were many extreme political parties forming many of them involved in violent campaigns

and repression of specific groups. In 1864 there was a massacre of citizens Piazza San Carlo. Sixty two people were killed and one hundred and thirty eight were injured.

Things were violent. It was a chaotic city. At one point the political climate led to a bitter focus on Don Bosco’s own work in the poverty ridden streets of Turin. His reputation for strong social service of the poor saved him from arrest on many occasions.

Reports that Don Bosco has been arrested are false. We hasten to assure our readers that, as of now, this claim is not true. We say "as of now", because by the time you read this, he may very well be behind bars. Not that there is any basis for such action. Everybody knows what kind of priest Don Bosco is. But today a priest is an outlaw for the simple reason that he is a priest; and everything and anything done to incriminate a priest is considered lawful and meets with little opposition. [1]

Don Bosco believed that the purpose of politics is to keep order, calm and peace in society and he defined politics as the art and science of governing the State well. When challenged about which party he belonged to, Don Bosco often replied, “My politics is the Our Father.” In the original rule for the Salesian order, written at the height of political chaos in Italy, Don Bosco asked his Salesians not to speak publicly on any topic that might be interpreted as favouring one party above another. That was an understandable response to a volatile situation where a mob response could have destroyed Don Bosco's fledgling work.

Today, as we turn to the prospect of an election here in the UK, it would be good to consider that phrase of Don Bosco,” The politics of the Our Father” and how it might apply to us in the month ahead.  First let’s look at two basic approaches of Don Bosco and apply them to politics:

Firstly, Don Bosco wanted to educate young people to be good Christians and honest citizens. He saw Gospel faith as supportive of good citizenship and leading ultimately to a calm, peaceful and compassionate society. He saw that Gospel values supported virtues in individuals who would then build a fairer and life-giving society.

Secondly, Don Bosco gave a simple formula to strengthen all personal and communal relationships by basing them on reason, religion and kindness. He hoped for a political system that respected the spiritual depth of people, argued on the basis of reason and not prejudice, and conducted itself in atmosphere of loving kindness.

Those two approaches, together with Don Bosco’s phrase, “The politics of the Our Father” lead us straight into a more contemporary concept of “The Common Good” which emerges from Catholic Social Teaching. One of the key scriptural quotes for the common good is spoken in God’s own name by the prophet Jeremiah writing to an exiled nation in Babylon, a place where they felt oppressed and low in status. He says:


Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you - pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.[2]

Jeremiah is reminding God’s people that, wherever they are they should be working for the good of the wider community, using their ideas, energy and time to make it a fairer and more life-giving place. Our own personal good is tied up with wider good. So, we have to learn to live together and include everyone. This is working for the common good: not just the best thing for the majority but a way to ensure that all are participating, supported and growing. Such thinking is rooted in the Gospel and in the words of the Our Father. There we express our ultimate dependence on a common Father, we find a desire for a better world, for everyone to become bread for others so that all can be fed. It reminds us that no one is perfect, we all need forgiveness, we will all make mistakes. It is a challenge to let go of our egos and build our communities into the antidote to individualism. The Our Father can be seen as a guide map from isolated egos into a civilisation of love.

So, when you read the manifestos of parties standing for election, look out for Gospel values, look out for the common good, look out for the reason, religion and kindness of the debates. Ensure that the ideas of the parties respect the freedom of individuals before God and also the sacredness of all humanity and the whole of creation.

I have tabulated some aspects of the Our Father below for your meditation.


The Politics of the Our Father



Catholic Social Teaching Comment

Our Father

We all have one Father, on origin, one humanity. We have an eternal (divine) dimension running like DNA in every human life. All human beings are children of God

Dignity. We believe every human person is made in the image and likeness of God. This is a gift that we all share as fellow human beings; we are all infinitely loved by our Creator. God is present in every human person, regardless of religion, culture, nationality, orientation or economic standing.

Who art in heaven

The Father we all share is perfect and holy and we are called to build a better world and to see our relationship with God as a kind of stairway to heaven where we see every other person and God clearly and face to face.

In the Creed we express our belief in God the Father as Creator. In the story of Creation, God also gives the human race everything that is needed to sustain life for all living creatures and 'stewardship' over all of creation.

hallowed be Thy name

Hallowed means holy and sacred. Because God is holy, we too are holy. That means acting justly, loving tenderly and walking humbly with our God

Inward holiness is the experience of God's Spirit enabling faith and new birth and witnessing that we are loved by God as God's children. Outward holiness is the expression of love through a life characterised by 'justice, mercy and truth'

Thy kingdom come

When we look at our lives and creation around us, we can see so much that is in need of change. We are called to yearn for a fairer, fuller life for all and we mourn for the suffering of people and of planet.

Catholic Social Teaching is based on the belief that God has a plan for creation, a plan to build his kingdom of peace, love and justice. It holds that God has a special plan for every single one of us, whoever we are.

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven

We realise that there are better ways to live our lives and organise the way we live together. We ask that the wisdom and presence of God guides our plans and choices.

Jesus’ instruction to love your neighbour as yourself (Mark 12:31) is at the heart of how Catholics believe they should participate in their community and the wider world

Give us this day our daily bread

No one is totally self-sufficient we need to rely on other to be fed with bread and loving kindness. We need to become bread and loving kindness for others too.

“Our daily bread” in the Lord’s Prayer, refers to “the one loaf for the many” (CCC 2833). This prayer of Jesus “calls us to communicate and share both material and spiritual goods, not by coercion, but out of love, so that the abundance of some may remedy the needs of others” (CCC 2833).

and forgive us our trespasses

Frailty is never far below the surface of even the most successful lives. Seeing our faults and staying humble is one of the best ways to be free for others.


We all need to be forgiven by others, so we must all be ready to forgive. Asking and granting forgiveness is something profoundly worthy of humanity; sometimes it is the only way out of situations marked by age-old and violent hatred

as we forgive those who trespass against us

If we know our own frailty, then we are more likely to be compassionate when others fail and also more ready to forgive as God forgives each of us for not being perfect.

When we 'change our hearts' and forgive, we change ourselves and we 'change our world' for the better. This is how we translate the life and message of Jesus into our daily lives.

and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil

We ask that our conscience and resilience are both kept strong so we can avoid becoming self-centred and destructive of God’s life in us and in the world around us.

Jesus was tempted to use power and popularity for selfish reasons when he was in the desert (Matthew 4 1 – 11). It was the spirit that gave him the strength to resist using things and others for our own purposes.


[1] G.F. Berkeley, Italy in the Making, 1815-1846, (1932). Vol. 1, 170

[2] Jeremiah 29.7:


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