On July 4, the Church remembers Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, whom Pope John Paul II called “the man of eight Beatitudes," at his Beatification Ceremony in St. Peter’s Square in 1990, and whom the then Holy Father upheld on many occasions after that as a model of Christian living for young people.
Pier Giorgio was born in Turin, Italy on April 6, 1901. His mother, Adelaide Ametis, was a painter. His father Alfredo, an agnostic, was the founder and director of the liberal newspaper, "La Stampa", and was influential in Italian politics, holding positions as an Italian Senator and Italian Ambassador to Germany.
Pier Giorgio was educated by the Jesuits and developed the practice of daily Mass and Communion. His parents were not pleased at this; as bourgeois liberals, they feared that he might become a priest. In an era of strong anti-Catholicism, Pier Giorgio was deeply committed to the Church and had a great love for Mary. He never hesitated to share his deep spiritual life with his friends. An athlete, interested in cars, mountain climbing, amateur photography, he loved skiing and fencing.
At the age of 17, in 1918, he joined the St. Vincent de Paul Society and dedicated much of his spare time to serving the sick and the needy, caring for orphans, and assisting the demobilized servicemen returning from World War I. His charity did not simply involve giving something to others, but giving completely of himself. Pier Giorgio used to say often: "Christ comes to visit me daily in the Holy Eucharist. I return His visit by going to see Him in the poor."
He decided to become a mining engineer, studying at the Royal Polytechnic University of Turin, so he could "serve Christ better among the miners", as he told a friend. He was very popular at university and started a group of young women and men who would help each other to study and pray.
Just before receiving his university degree, he contracted poliomyelitis, which doctors later speculated he caught from the sick whom he tended. After six days of terrible suffering Pier Giorgio died at the age of 24 on July 4, 1925, neglected by his family even on his death bed. His last preoccupation was for the poor.
His funeral was a triumph. The streets of the city were lined with a multitude of mourners who were unknown to his family: clergy and students, and the poor and the needy whom he had served so unselfishly for seven years.
The stories of Pier Giorgio Frassati’s piety, faith, youthfulness, generosity and heroism abound. Many have been struck by his close relationship with the poor whom he loved. It was not simply a matter of giving something to the lonely, the poor, the sick - but rather, giving his whole self. He blended together in his life contemplation and social action in a remarkable way.
Thank you, Pier Giorgio, for giving flesh and blood to the Beatitudes. Thank you for being our inspiration for World Youth Day 2002. As young people look to your life and example, may they remember the words of Pope John Paul II spoken at Exhibition Place in Toronto, on July 25, 2002:
“Lord Jesus Christ, proclaim once more your Beatitudes
in the presence of these young people,
gathered in Toronto for the World Youth Day.
Look upon them with love and listen to their young hearts, ready to put their future on the line for you. You have called them to be the "salt of the earth and light of the world". Continue to teach them the truth and beauty of the vision that you proclaimed on the Mountain. Make them men and women of the Beatitudes! Let the light of your wisdom shine upon them, so that in word and deed they may spread in the world the light and salt of the Gospel. Make their whole life a bright reflection of you, who are the true light that came into this world so that whoever believes in you will not die, but will have eternal life (cf. Jn 3:16)!”
May young people find in you, Pier Giorgio, what Jesus' Sermon on a Galilean hillside really meant.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.,
C.E.O., Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation