Saints Luigi Versiglia and Callistus Caravario were two Italian Salesian missionary priests in China who were killed on February 25th, 1930 while traveling on a ship that was overtaken by pirates.
Saint Luigi was born in 1873 and was 12 years old when he studied at Don Bosco’s Oratory. He was ordained a priest in December of 1895, then was appointed Vicar Apostolic of Shiuchow China and then bishop of Carystus in April of 1920. He was a man of wisdom and tirelessly worked for his flock.
Saint John Bosco once had a dream of China and spoke often about this vision to his boys. In his vision he saw two chalices, one filled with sweat and the other with blood. Inspired by this vision, Father Versiglia set out for China in 1906.Once there, he had established a ‘mother house’ in Macau, then opened a mission in the area of Shiu Chow. He became its first bishop on 22nd April 1920.
Saint Callistus Caravario was born in 1903. Me was a very meek and humble child, who grew into a prayerful young man. When he was five his family moved near the Oratory Porta Nuova. He served Mass every morning and was among the first in his class with his studies. Under the direction of the Father Sante Garelli who was the Rector of the Oratory he entered the Novitiate and became a Salesian. Father Callistus had also heard the stories about Don Bosco’s visions of China and insisted that he be sent to serve in the missions there . In 1922 Bishop Versiglia was in Turin and spoke of the missions to the Brother, Callistus told him: “Bishop, you will see me in China”. His persistence paid off and soon he was in China teaching catechism lessons to the people of China.
The territory of China was large, and most of the people were still poor due to the lack of railways and industry. It was a country that was continuously exploited by foreigners, but even though it was difficult, the Catholic missionaries were able to work with the people, and because of their love and zeal for the Lord, were able to convert many to the Catholic Faith.In 1917 a region in the interior of China was offered to the Salesians. The following year father Versiglia sent for more Salesians to join them. Among them was Father Sante Garelli from the Oratory in Porta Nuova.
Fr. Garelli had brought with him a gift from the Rector Major and gave it to Father Versiglia at the end of the dinner the day he arrived. It was a chalice—a thing that did not mean anything special to Fr. Garelli, but which awakened in Versiglia a host of disturbing memories. “You brought me a chalice”, he said, “and I accept it. Don Bosco saw the Chinese missions flourish when a chalice would be filled with the blood of his sons. This chalice was sent to me and—his voice trailing away in a whisper—I will have to fill it”.
In 1930, the two priests were traveling back to China with five others, two male teachers, two female teachers and a female student. As they landed ashore they were overtaken by pirates. At first Father Versiglia was not afraid because he had dealt with pirates before. But these pirates were different and demanded a large sum of money and they planned to take the women to rape them. The two priests stood between the women and the pirates and protected them, but there were too many pirates and they were attacked by twelve men. So even though they were outnumbered they refused to give up. The older priest tried to save the young priests life, but the pirates killed them both.But before they were killed they were able to hear each others confession.
They died serving the Lord and trying to help the people of China. They should serve as inspiration to us as we work on our own vocations. Even knowing that there had been a prophetic dream by Don Bosco and the chalice of blood, Father Versiglia did not deter from his mission as a priest and in doing so, he and Father Caravario fulfilled their vocation to be saints…
Dear Lord, as we remember these two courageous saints, please help us to be steadfast when faced with the difficult obstacles that come between us and our work for you. Though we may never have to do physical battle for You, may we be ever trusting in You and Your Will for us, that we may stand ready for whatever You desire of us, whether it be a chalice of sweat or a chalice of blood; with Your Grace; may we be ready to give You both. Amen.