The men who move a saint
Calm Chinese surprise Don Bosco's bodyguards
Luigi Dello Preite (at the front of the casket), 61, and Ivan Zonin (at the back of the casket), 41, accompanied the relic in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan from March 17 to April 10
The lucky people who get closest to Saint John Bosco’s relic during its world tour are possibly the voluntary “bodyguards” who drive around and protect the wax replica and relic -- his right palm.
Luigi Dello Preite, 61, and Ivan Zonin, 41, accompanied the relic in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan from March 17 to April 10. They said they were surprised to see the “hidden” passion of Chinese “Bosco fans” who revered the relic calmly and orderly.
This was in particular contrast to scenes in Latin America, where the faithful were so open in expressing their joy, they cried during public processions.
For Preite and Zonin, it was like going from an oven to a refrigerator.
Besides Latin America, they’ve also been to Timor Leste and Indonesia. It was only in Muslim-dominated Indonesia that they had to cover the glass casket with a red cloth to avoid any misunderstanding or conflict, Preite recalled.
There were big processions in Catholic countries in Latin America and Timor Leste, while in greater China only Macau held a public procession.
The Salesian’s China Provincial, Father Simon Lam, who translated for the two men, explained that getting permission for a public procession in Hong Kong and Taiwan is too complicated, so his society decided not to apply.
The Latin Americans show their feelings openly. In a procession, you could see them laughing with joy or crying with emotion. They danced and hugged everyone, everywhere you passed, said Zonin with a smile.
While on Chinese soil, the faithful “looked very serious.” They venerated attentively, quietly and orderly. “It was hard to know if they liked it or felt uncomfortable seeing the relic,” he wondered.
Preite, a retired policeman, said Timor Leste left a deep impression as 10,000 faithful joined the procession in a country of only one million people. The other big crowd was in Argentina, where more than 5,000 laypeople joined the procession.
When asked if there were any miracles during the tour, they both cited an experience in Tierra del Fuego, a province in southern Argentina.
They said one frozen road was very slippery but their truck had no problems while the two cars following kept spinning. Fortunately, no accident occurred.
Another incident was during a procession in the Venezuelan capital Caracas. One small dove landed to rest on top of the truck while another one rested on the casket all through the procession. The one on the truck did not fly away but waited until the other joined it. Then they flew away together.
Possessing Vatican documentation made for smooth passage going through customs of the different countries. Only in Columbia, where drug trafficking is a serious problem, did they see sniffer dogs checking the big crate that contained the casket and relic.
The only accident was in Ecuador where they had a tire blowout due to the uneven roads.
Priete and Zonin were baptized Catholics just after birth. They learned Saint Bosco stories during childhood. They had no hesitation in volunteering for the world tour, in which the “bodyguards” rotate every three months. Whenever they leave for a new country they pray to the saint’s relic for a safe trip.
Zonin, who has his long hair tied up, was very happy during the interview on April 8 since it was his birthday and his first trip to Taiwan. As a special treat Father Lam and two other volunteers prepared an Italian meal to remind the two “bodyguards” of home.
When asked if he might want Taiwanese girlfriend as a birthday wish, Zonin laughed, saying he is still a bachelor because he was wary of the high divorce rate in Italy.
While they pray to Saint Bosco’s relic every day, Preite said he also prayed for the health of his family and for world peace, while Zonin prays that starving children around the world will not go hungry anymore.