Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
December 7, 2009
A saint of prayer and adventure
Pier Giorgio Frassati had a zest for life, pursued holiness and is now seen as a model for young Catholics
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was born into a wealthy, prominent family in Turin, Italy on Holy Saturday, April 6, 1901. A cigar smoking, athletic young man who loved the outdoors and had a wide circle of friends, his life became an example to ordinary Catholics that anyone could lead an active, normal life and still be holy.
Frassati died suddenly on July 4, 1925, after contracting polio from visiting the sick, at the age of 24.
It was a shock to his family when thousands of people turned up at the funeral. They had been totally unaware of the extent of his quiet acts of charity and the sacrifices that he had made to help those in need around him.
After attending an exhibit of Frassati's life in Krakow, Poland, in 1977, the then Cardinal Karol Wojtyla dubbed Frassati the Man of the Beatitudes. Later, at his beatification in May 1990, as Pope John Paul II, he said his life testifies that holiness is possible for anyone. He urged the faithful to "get to know him."
Christine Wohar, executive director of Frassati USA, was introduced to the life of Frassati when her parish priest asked her to head up a young adults group in the parish. The priest came across a prayer card on Frassati and suggested dedicating the group to his patronage.
As Wohar researched Frassati, she became immersed in his life, even travelling to Italy to meet his younger sister, while she was still alive, and other family members, and learning about him first hand.
"It is one thing to read about a saint. It is quite another to live in his house."
She shared many of her experiences, and her knowledge of the life of Frassati, with students and parishioners of St. Bonaventure Parish in Calgary, at the 2009 parish Advent mission on Nov. 26-27, saying he challenges us to live and not exist, to rise above mediocrity and to journey with him to the top.
HIGH EXPECTATIONS, LITTLE SPIRITUALITY
While born to privilege, Frassati's home life was not ideal. His parents' marriage was very conflicted and they were not predisposed to spiritual matters or an active faith life.
His father, appointed a senator and ambassador to Germany, while a cradle Catholic, was an agnostic. His mother attended church occasionally, but matters of faith were not a primary focus of her life. It fell to his maternal grandmother to be the source of his spiritual training.
The parents placed high expectations on Frassati and his younger sister to excel and could be rough and demanding with the Frassati children, even at a young age.
Initially homeschooled, then sent to a public school and placed in the same grade with his sister, Frassati failed Latin. To be able to complete the course, he was sent to a school run by Jesuits.
It was there that his uncommon sense of spiritual things was recognized and nurtured. At the request of the priests, after an initial reluctance, because she thought it might become common and ordinary and lose its mystery, his mother gave him permission to attend daily Mass and receive daily Communion.
Frassati developed a deep spiritual life, praying the rosary daily, attending daily Mass and receiving Communion, and spending time in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. A friend said that to see him in church, you would not believe it was the same person as the active, fun-loving person he was outside.
UNION IN PRAYER
He encouraged his friends to make a pact to be forever united through prayer and action. He wrote a friend on Jan. 15, 1925, "I would like for us to pledge a pact that knows no earthly boundaries or temporal limits: union in prayer."
Today, people are invited to join the pact by daily praying Frassati's Prayer for the Courage to be Great and doing an act of charity.
An active mountaineer, it was not uncommon for Frassati to spend the night in adoration, dressed in his mountain climbing garb, so he could immediately head out onto the mountains for a day of climbing.
On a photo, taken a month before he died, that showed him clinging to a mountainside and looking up, he wrote the inscription, "Verso l'alto" meaning "Towards the heights." For him, it also meant always looking up and seeking God.
Dying suddenly and unexpectedly, three days after the death of the beloved grandmother who nurtured his spiritual life, the outpouring of sentiment and awareness of his great acts of charity gave evidence this was not such an ordinary young man.
He had spoken often to his friends about what he called the "apostolate of charity," urging them to charity "by going among those who suffer and comforting them, among the unfortunate and saying a comforting word to them, because the Catholic religion is based on charity which is nothing than the most perfect love."
WORLD YOUTH DAY
When his cause for beatification was taken forward, his remains were exhumed in 1981 and found to be intact and incorrupt. His body, sealed in a special coffin, was later taken to World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, where he was introduced as the saint of the youth.
Lucero Young, youth coordinator at St. Bonaventure Parish, says Frassati, who is the patron saint for their youth ministry, is a role model for youth.
"He lived a normal life like anyone else which speaks volumes to youth that you are able to be holy along with being normal. His story is so touching."
The presentations by Wohar will be a springboard from which youth will go deeper into the life of Frassati, she said. Young hopes to use his life and actions to introduce adoration into the schools during Lent 2010.
"It will be an opportunity of taking authentic spirituality into their territory, and introducing it into their everyday lives, based on the example of Frassati."
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