In one of Don Bosco’s dreams a rampaging elephant brings moral lessons
My dear boys, I dreamed that it was a feast day afternoon and that you were all busy playing, while I was in my room with professor Thomas Vallauri (a contemporary lexicographer, prominent literary man and dear friend of Don Bosco) discussing literature and religion. Suddenly, there was a knock at my door. I rose quickly and opened it. My mother–dead now for six years–,was standing there. Breathlessly, she gasped, “Come and see! Come and see!”
I dashed to the balcony. Down in the playground, surrounded by a crowd of boys, stood an enormous elephant. “How did this happen” I exclaimed. “Let’s go down!” Professor Vallauri and I looked at each other in surprise and alarm and then raced downstairs.
As was only natural, many of you had run to the elephant. It seemed meek and tame. Playfully it lumbered about, nuzzling the boys with its trunk and cleverly obeying their orders, as though it had been born and raised at the Oratory. Very many of you kept following it about and petting it, but not all. In fact, most of you were scared and fled from it to safety. Finally, you hid in the church. I too tried to get in through the side door which opens into the playground, but as I passed Our Lady’s statue beside the drinking fountain and touched the hem of her mantle for protection, she raised her right arm, Vallauri did likewise on the other side of the statue, and the Virgin raised her left arm. I was amazed, not knowing what to think of such an extraordinary thing.
The Enemy of the Eucharist
When the bell rang for church service, you all trooped in. I followed and saw the elephant standing at the rear by the main entrance. After Vespers and the sermon, I went to the altar, assisted by Fr. Alasonatti and Fr. Savio, to give Benediction. At the solemn moment when you all deeply bowed to adore the Blessed Sacrament, the elephant-still standing at the end of the middle aisle-knelt down too, but with its back to the altar.
Once services were over, I tried to dash out to the playground and see what would happen, but I was detained by someone. A while later. I went out through the side door which opens into the porticoes and saw you at your usual games. The elephant too had come out of the church and had idled over to the second playground where the new wing is under construction. Mark this well, because this is precisely the place where the grisly scene I am going to describe occurred. At that moment, at the far end of the playground. I saw a banner followed processionally by boys. It bore in huge letters the inscription Sancta Maria, succurre miseris!–“Holy Mary, help your forlorn children!” To everybody’s surprise, that monstrous beast, once so tame, suddenly ran amuck. Trumpeting furiously, it lunged forwards seized the nearest boys with its trunk, hurled them into the air or flung them to the ground and then trampled them underfoot. Though horribly mauled, the victims were still alive. Everybody ran for dear life. Screams and shouts and pleas for help rose from the wounded. Worse–would you believe it?–some boys who were spared by the elephant, rather than aid their wounded companions, joined the monstrous brute to find new victims.
Under Her Mantle
As all this was happening (I was standing by the second arch of the portico, near the drinking fountain), the little statue that you see there (the statue of the Blessed Virgin) became alive and grew to life-size. Then, as Our Lady raised her arms, her mantle spread open to display magnificently embroidered inscriptions. Unbelievably, it stretched far and wide to shelter all those who gathered beneath it. The best boys were the first to run to it for safety. Seeing that many were in no hurry to run to her. Our Lady called aloud, “Venite ad me omnes!”--Come all to me! Her call was heeded, and as the crowd of boys under the mantle increased, so did the mantle spread wider. However, a few youngsters kept running about and were wounded before they could reach safety. Flushed and breathless, the Blessed Virgin continued to plead, but fewer and fewer were the boys who ran to her. The elephant, meanwhile, continued its slaughter, aided by several lads who dashed about, wielding one sword or two and preventing their companions from running to Mary. The elephant never even touched these helpers.
Meanwhile, prompted by the Blessed Virgin, some boys left the safety of her mantle in quick sorties to rescue some victims. No sooner did the wounded get beneath Our Lady’s mantle than they were instantly cured. Again and again several of those brave boys, armed with cudgels, went out and, risking their lives. shielded the victims from the elephant and its accomplices until nearly all were rescued. The playground was now deserted, except for a few youngsters lying about almost dead. At one end by the portico. a crowd of boys stood safe under the Virgin’s mantle. At the other stood the elephant with some ten or twelve lads who had helped it wreak such havoc and who still insolently brandished swords.
Suddenly rearing up on its hind legs, the elephant changed into a horrible, long-horned specter and cast a black net over its wretched accomplices. Then, as the beast roared, a thick cloud of smoke enveloped them, and the earth suddenly gaped beneath them and swallowed them up.
Promises and Maxims
I looked for my mother and professor Vallauri to speak to them, but I could not spot them anywhere. Then I turned to look at the inscriptions on Mary’s mantle and noticed that several were actual quotations or adaptations of Scriptural texts. I read a few of them:
Avoid Foul Talk
All was quiet now. After a brief silence, the Virgin, seemingly exhausted by so much pleading, soothingly comforted and heartened the boys and, quoting the inscription I had inscribed at the base of the niche, Qui elucidant me, vitam aeternarn habebunt, she went on:
“You heeded my call and were spared the slaughter wrought by the devil on your companions. Do you want to know what caused their ruin? Sunt colloquia prava: Foul talk and foul deeds. You also saw your companions wielding swords. They are those who seek your eternal damnation by enticing you from me, just as they did with some schoolmates of yours. But quos Deans ditius exspectat durius damnat— “those for whom God keeps waiting, He punishes more severely.” The infernal demon enmeshed and dragged them to eternal perdition. Now, go in peace, but remember my words: Flee from companions who befriend Satan, avoid foul conversation, have boundless trust in me. My mantle will always be your safe refuge.”
Our Lady then vanished; only her beloved statuette remained. My deceased mother reappeared. Again the banner with the inscription, Sancta Maria, succurre miseris, was unfurled.
Marching processionally behind, the boys sang Laudate Maria, 0 fnguefideli–“Praise Mary, O ye faithful tongues.” Shortly afterwards, the singing waned and the whole scene faded away. I awoke in a sweat. Such was my dream.