Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati
By Jocelyn Trindade
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was a fun-loving, athletic, ordinary young man who exemplified his love for Christ, the poor, and the Faith in extraordinary ways. He had a profound love of nature, hiking, culture and art, and had an even greater passion for prayer, especially the rosary, Holy Mass and Eucharistic Adoration. Dying at the young age of twenty-four years old, he, a Turin-born athlete, was beatified by now Blessed John Paul II only sixty-five years after his death on May 20, 1990. Today, keeping the nickname given to him by John Paul II, millions throughout the world affectionately call him “the Man of the Eight Beatitudes.”
Pier Giorgio Frassati was born on Holy Saturday, April 6, 1901, into a wealthy family. His mother, Adelaide Frassati, was a painter and his father, Alfredo Frassati, an agnostic, was heavily involved with politics, becoming an Italian Senator and later the Ambassador to Germany. He also founded the political newspaper, “La Stampa.” His father’s involvement in the political sphere had a huge impact on Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati who, while growing up during a time when Fascism was gaining strength in Italy, became a social activist against Fascism and the secularism and atheism which it promoted. His parents were not particularly religious but still Pier Giorgio held the Faith closest to his heart. He studied mining engineering at the University so he could, as he said, “serve Christ better among the miners.” On many occasions he would come home from his classes beaten up with his clothes torn by fellow students who didn’t appreciate his speaking out against Fascism and his promoting of Catholic teaching on social reform.
Blessed Pier Giorgio took his studies very seriously and was actively involved in many organizations that helped the poor or promoted peace and justice. He led by example, giving the little he had to the poor even when it meant he had to run home to be on time for dinner because he didn’t have money for the train. When he wasn’t helping the poor, studying, or working on one of his many responsibilities in one of the organizations he actively took part in, Pier Giorgio was busy planning hiking trips with his closest friends. He loved the mountains and wrote to his best friend, Marco, saying, “… if it weren’t for my studies, I would spend entire days up in the pure mountain air, contemplating the greatness of the Creator.” He not only gave his money, he also gave of himself to everyone around him. Every action became a prayer for Pier Giorgio, and every moment was an opportunity for charity. He was constantly seen helping his friends during these hiking trips. He would wait for the slowest hiker before he continued on and would shine their boots when they had a spare moment. He was a jokester and loved to make people laugh. One day someone asked him, “Why do you always take 3rd class when you take the train?” Smiling, Pier Giorgio answered, “Because there’s no 4th class!
Pier Giorgio Frassati’s thousands of acts of charity found their strength in the countless hours he spent praying the rosary, attending Mass, and in front of the Blessed Sacrament in nocturnal Eucharistic adoration. Pier Giorgio made sure to plan each hiking trip centered around the Eucharist so that Sunday Mass was never missed. After reaching the cabin at the summit with his group of friends, Pier Giorgio would kneel down in the icy cold common room to pray his rosary while his friends went off to bed. He received Holy Communion daily and formed his life after Christ’s. Blessed Pier Giorgio’s life was a continual cry of “this is my body, given.” Pope Benedict XVI, when presenting Pier Giorgio to young people as a model to follow, said that he was “a friend of Christ.” His passionate love for Jesus could be seen in all his actions. As mentioned earlier, Blessed Pier Giorgio is known as the “man of the eight beatitudes.” This can only be said of him because he first modeled his life on the Man of the beatitudes, Christ Himself. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati lived the beatitudes. He was poor in spirit, meek, he mourned over injustices, he was hungry for righteousness, he was a peacemaker, was persecuted for Christ’s sake, and was pure of heart, seeking Christ above all things.
When Christ taught the eight beatitudes to his disciples, He was the “new Moses.” Moses gave us the Ten Commandments, what many people few as a long list of “no’s”. Christ, however, came to teach us that our lives are supposed to be lives of “yes’s,” that we’re supposed to base our lives on loving and not on being bound by the law. They call us to orient our lives to one where Christ is at the center, where our relationship with Him comes first, and from which a self-giving love for our neighbor flows. In the Forward of Maria di Lorenzo’s book, “Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati: An Ordinary Christian,” an Italian Archbishop states that the beatitudes are a call to action. They’re not passive statements that present to us merely the effects of living a virtuous life, but are a decree for all Christians to live by. He says that “blessed” is the translation of the Greek word that means, “Go! Get up! Act! … You who are poor in spirit, go! Get up, do something! Yours is the Kingdom of Heaven!” Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was known as “the Man of the Eight Beatitudes” and as Catholics the same should be said of us.
Blessed Pier Giorgio lived a life of charity right down to his last days before dying of acute poliomyelitis on July 4, 1925. While on his death bed, Blessed Pier Giorgio wrote a letter to a friend instructing him to give medicine to a poor, sick dying man he had been visiting. Pier Giorgio’s motto was, “Verso l’alto!” “To the top!” He used to say this while hiking with his friends, instructing them: “The higher we go, the better we shall see the face of Christ! If you have God at the center of your action, then you will reach the goal.” Without a doubt, Blessed Pier Giorgio used his coined phrase of “Verso l’alto” as inspiration for his deep spiritual life.
He didn’t live passively, but “lived life to the full” (John 10:10). St. Ireneaus said, “The glory of God is man fully alive!” and St. Therese said, “You can’t be half a saint; you must be a whole saint or no saint at all.” These two statements can be applied directly to Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati and his life of heroic virtue. He didn’t stop at the bare minimum, but continually “climbed higher” on the mountain of holiness. Wanting to live a life for Christ and for others, Blessed Pier Giorgio said, “I want to live, not just manage to get by!” And live he did, all the way to the top!
“We who, by the grace of God, are Catholics, must not squander the best years of our lives as so many unhappy young people do, who worry about enjoying the good things in life, things that do not in fact bring any good, but rather the fruit of immorality in today’s world. We must prepare ourselves to be ready and able to handle the struggles we will have to endure to fulfill our goals, and, in so doing, to give our country happier and morally healthier days in the near future. But in order for this to happen we need the following: constant prayer to obtain God’s grace, without which all our efforts are in vain; organization and discipline to be ready for action at the right moment; and finally, we need to sacrifice our own passions, indeed our very selves, because without this sacrifice we will never achieve our goal.”
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, pray for us!