Pier Giorgio Frassati was born in Turin (Italy) on April 6, 1901. His mother was a painter. His father, a notorious agnostic, was an impressive man: founder of the liberal newspaper La Stampa and influential in politics, he was named Senator and Ambassador of Italy in Germany. Pier Giorgio grew up with a younger sister, Luciana. Later he attended a Jesuit school, where he joined the Marian Sodality. He was given permission to receive communion daily, which was rare at that time. He developed a deep spiritual life, which he shared freely with his many friends. The Eucharist and the Virgin Mary were the two poles of his prayer life. At the age of 17, he joined the Saint Vincent de Paul Society. He devoted most of his spare time to serving the sick and the needy, taking care of orphans and of the soldiers from the First World War. Pier Giorgio saw Jesus in the poor. When a friend asked him how he could stand going into the filthy places he visited as he served the poor, he answered: “Remember that it is Jesus that you are going to visit: I see, around the sick and the poor, a special aura of light which we, the rich, do not have.”
Like his father, he was a strong anti-fascist militant, and never hid his political opinions. As a result, he often found himself in verbal arguments, first against the anti-clerical communists, and later against the fascists. Athletic and energetic, he was surrounded by friends, on whom he had great influence. Pier Giorgio chose not to become a priest, but to preach the Gospel as a layman.
Before he received his university degree in mining engineering, he contracted poliomyelitis, perhaps– according to some physicians – from visiting the poor. After six days of agony, Pier Giorgio died at the age of 24, on July 4, 1925. His last thoughts were for the poor: the night before his death, he wrote to a friend, asking him to buy (and charge to his own account) medicine for a poor person whom he visited regularly.
At Pier Giorgio’s funeral, the streets of Turin were filled with people who came to mourn his death. Most of them were unknown to his family: clergy, students, and the poor whom Pier Giorgio had served to the point of forgetting his own needs.
On May 20, 1990, Pope John Paul II beatified Pier Giorgio Frassati, whom he called “the man of the Beatitudes” and whom he had always admired. Frassati’s life was a luminous illustration of the incarnation of the Gospel in a considerate love for the poor. His life was guided by the Spirit of the Beatitudes, and showed that giving up one’s own desires to serve the Lord is a choice that is possible and that leads to happiness; that holiness is possible for all; and that only charity can give birth to hope and allow it to grow in a better world, in the hearts of the people.
Father in Heaven,
You gave to the young Pier Giorgio Frassati
the joy of meeting Christ and of living his faith
in the service of the poor and the sick.
Through his intercession may we, too,
walk the path of the beatitudes
and follow the example of his generosity,
spreading the spirit of the Gospel
on this university campus and in society.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.
Former National Director and C.E.O., World Youth Day 2002
C.E.O., Salt and Light Catholic Television Network, Canada
[Click HERE for Fr. Rosica's July 4th feast day blog entry on Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati]