My dear graduates of Chaminade, Kellenberg Memorial, and St. Martin de Porres,
“What the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord, and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end.” -Pope Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei 15
In 2015, when I had just graduated from college and was starting a vocation discernment year at Chaminade, Bro. Dan introduced me to a Blessed whom I had never heard of before. He had been sharing the story of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati with his classes, and a lot of the guys were really inspired by the life of this regular Catholic guy. There was even a kind of black market to get Bl. Frassati bracelets with his catchphrase “Verso l’Alto — To the Heights!”
To the Heights — I really don’t like hiking that much. Bro. Rysz convinces me every once in a while to go along with him up some mountain, but I am much more of a sea-level kind of guy. I much prefer the view of ocean waves to a view of the Catskills. Still, there is something compelling about the mountains. It can seem that life is a lot like a long hike. We start out on the path, but pretty quickly on, we realize that the road to the summit can be an arduous one. Things get steep very quickly, and the trees can block out our view of the goal. During the climb, exhaustion, and boredom set in more quickly than we would like. After a snack, we feel a rush of energy, but pretty soon we find ourselves tired out again. The heights can often seem so far away that we start to think, “Is this even worth it?”
Blessed Pier Giorgio was just 24 years old when he died, but in his young life, he kept on climbing verso l’alto. He knows that none of us climb the mountain of life alone, so he also invited his friends to climb with him towards Christ and with Christ. His Catholic faith guided everything he did because he really believed that Catholicism is true. That Jesus is God and out of love He came to save us. That He set up the Church to help us climb to the heights of Heaven and that He gave us the Eucharist and the Sacraments to strengthen us to say, “Yes, life is worth it because eternal life with God is worth it.” He was a true credible witness.
I hope you guys have a great summer. I know I feel like we were robbed of a good one last year, so have some fun! Take Blessed Pier Giorgio’s lead and hang out with your family and friends. Catch up on some reading at the beach. Climb a mountain. But don’t lose sight of the true Heights! The summer is a great time to get to Confession and to go to Mass. Use the Magnificat to pray in the morning. Invite Christ the Lord to be the Lord of your life, and you will be a credible witness too.
I have included here a short biography of Blessed Pier Giorgio so that you too might be inspired by his life. If you’re bored one day, type his name into YouTube and check out a purported miracle through his intercession of a local college guy from Lynbrook. His feast day is July 4, so say a prayer to him that he would help you become a man on fire in love with Christ. Keep climbing!
Bro. Patrick Cahill, S.M.
“The Man of the Eight Beatitudes”
Pier Giorgio Michelangelo Frassati was born in Turin, Italy on April 6, 1901. His mother, Adelaide Ametis, was a painter. His father, Alfredo, was the founder and director of the newspaper, “La Stampa," and was influential in Italian politics, holding positions as a Senator and Ambassador to Germany.
At an early age, Pier Giorgio joined the Marian Sodality and the Apostleship of Prayer, and obtained permission to receive daily Communion (which was rare at that time). He developed a deep spiritual life, which he never hesitated to share with his friends. The Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin were the two poles of his world of prayer. At the age of 17, he joined the St. Vincent de Paul Society, a Catholic volunteer group, 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.
Throughout his life, Pier Giorgio and his sister were close friends. Outside of the home, he developed a wide network of friends, where he found great consolation to balance the tensions of family life. He summed it up best in a letter to his best friend Marco Beltramo: "In this earthly life after the affection for parents and sisters, one of the most beautiful affections is that of friendship; and every day I ought to thank God because he has given me men and lady friends of such goodness who form for me a precious guide for my whole life."
What little he did have, Pier Giorgio gave to help the poor, even using his bus fare for charity and then running home to be on time for meals. He considered the poor and the suffering as his masters, and he himself their privileged servant. His charity did not simply involve giving something to others but giving completely of himself.
Mountain climbing was one of his favorite sports. Outings in the mountains, which he organized with his friends, also served as opportunities for his apostolic work. He never lost the chance to lead his friends to Mass, to the reading of Scripture, and to praying the rosary. He inspired his friends to climb the mountain of holiness, something each and every one of us is capable of doing. His motto was “Verso l’alto! To the heights!"
Pier Giorgio contracted polio, which doctors later speculated he caught from the sick people whom he cared for. Neglecting his own health because his grandmother was dying, after six days of terrible suffering Pier Giorgio died at the age of 24 on July 4, 1925. His last preoccupation was for the poor. On the eve of his death, with a paralyzed hand he scribbled a message to a friend, asking him to take medicine to a needy person.
Pier Giorgio’s funeral was a triumph. The streets of the city were lined with a multitude of mourners who were unknown to his family -- the poor and the needy whom he had served so unselfishly for seven years. Many of these people, in turn, were surprised to learn that the saintly young man they knew had actually been the heir of the influential Frassati family.
Pope John Paul II, after visiting his original tomb in the family plot in Pollone, said in 1989: “I wanted to pay homage to a young man who was able to witness to Christ with singular effectiveness in this century of ours. When I was a young man, I, too, felt the beneficial influence of his example and, as a student; I was impressed by the force of his testimony." On May 20, 1990, in St. Peter’s Square in the presence of thousands of people, the pope beatified him, calling him the “Man of the Eight Beatitudes.”
His mortal remains, found completely intact and incorrupt upon their exhumation on March 31, 1981, were transferred from the family tomb to the cathedral in Turin. Many pilgrims, especially students and the young, come to the tomb of Blessed Frassati to seek favors and the courage to follow his example. His feast day is July 4.
“I urge you with all the strength of my soul to approach the Eucharist Table as often as possible. Feed on this Bread of the Angels from which you will draw the strength to fight inner struggles.”