Obituary: Don Egidio Vigano

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The Independent Online
For almost 18 years Egidio Vigano was Rector Major of the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB), the second or third largest male religious congregation in the Roman Catholic Church, which now has 17,561 members. There are 90 Salesian bishops, including five Cardinals. It has been frequently rumoured that, had he not been re-elected Rector Major, Vigano himself would have been nominated Cardinal with some role in the Curia.

A noted theologian, Vigano participated as an expert in all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council. His keen theological mind and the experience of the council made him eminently suited to lead the Salesians as they set about the task of revising and rewriting the Constitutions in accordance with the council's requirements.

The second article of the renewed Constitutions spells out the specific form of religious life for the Salesians of Don Bosco: "to be, in the Church, signs and bearers of God's love for the young, especially those who are poor". Don Bosco began his work in Turin in the middle of the last century in response to the human and religious needs of young people who were flocking to the city at the time of the industrial revolution. He did this inspired by the gentle, loving approach of St Francis of Sales - hence the name Salesian. Today his Salesians continue this mission in most countries in the world.

As the seventh successor of Don Bosco, Don Vigano sought always to be faithful to the spirit and charisma of the founder while urging the Salesians to respond to the new cultural challenges and to the real needs of young people today. "With Don Bosco and the times, not with the times of Don Bosco," he wrote in a recent letter.

Vigano was born in Sondrio, Lombardy, the first of 10 children. He made his first profession as a Salesian in 1936. In 1939 he was sent to Chile where he remained until 1972. During his years in Chile he held many posts. He was awarded a doctorate of Theology at the Catholic University of Santiago where he became professor and later Dean of the Faculty. At the same time he was involved in the training of young Salesians. He was theological expert to the Chilean bishops during the Second Vatican Council. After the council he was appointed provincial. As provincial he attended the General Chapter of the congregation in 1971 and was elected a member of the General Council in Rome. In the 1977 General Chapter he was elected Rector Major and re-elected in 1984 and 1990.

As Rector Major, Vigano visited Salesian works in each continent and inspired all who met him with his exuberant, dynamic spirit. There are many photographs of him surrounded by Salesians and young people. It was at these moments that he was happiest and seemed larger than life. For two years he was President of the General Union of Major Religious Superiors, and he took part in the six Synods of Bishops held in Rome from 1980 to 1994. He was Consultor to several Pontifical Councils, a member of the Congregation for Evangelisation of Peoples and several commissions, and also attended the meetings of the Latin American Bishops in Medellin, Puebla and Santo Domingo.

Don Vigano last visited Britain in November 1987. He was delighted to see so many Salesian priests, brothers and sisters, but pointedly asked several times "Where are the lay people? There should be more of them here." He spoke through an interpreter yet his message came across because of his vibrant, forceful personality. Even those who could not understand Italian listened and laughed at his stories and jokes even before the translation was given.

Vigano was an immediate communicator. I experienced the same when I last met him at a meeting of Salesians of the English-speaking region, in Australia. Despite his lack of English, he enjoyed the repartee at table and social gatherings. He enjoyed wine and appreciated a drop of good malt whisky. During discussions he listened with great care and had the remarkable ability to grasp complex issues and give relevant, sound advice and direction. He will be remembered as the one who led the Salesians with courage and confidence in the years after the Second Vatican Council.

Jim Gallagher SDB

Egidio Vigano, priest: born Sondrio, Lombardy 26 July 1920; Rector Major of the Salesians of Don Bosco 1977-84, 1984-90, 1990-95; died Rome 23 June 1995.