Thursday, July 05, 2012

Eucharistic Witness: Pier Giorgio Frassati

Yesterday was the anniversary of death--and the feast day--of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati. This attractive young Italian first came on my radar as Rome was gearing up for the Jubilee Year. I was working part-time for the Jubilee website, and walking from our Generalate to Santa Susanna Church every Sunday (to sing in English!). Eventually, a banner appeared at the Basilica of San Lorenzo, announcing the "patrons" of the Jubilee. Pier Giorgio was there as the patron of young adults. Near his image were the words, "Man of the Beatitudes," Pope John Paul's characterization of the skier an acquaintance had described as "an avalanche of life".

Born in northern Italy at the dawn of the 20th century, Pier Giorgio was the son of a prominent and well-to-do couple in many ways representative of the secularized society that would come to full flower in that century. His father was an agnostic newspaperman (the paper he founded is still an important voice in Italian jouranlism); his mother was more devoted to her art than to the Catholic faith she still formally observed. Pier Giorgio, on the other hand, manifested an early fascination with the things of God. Young as he was, he developed a habit of personal prayer, and his favorites stories came from the Gospels. At age 13, enrolled in a private school run by the Jesuits, he found a way to receive Communion daily--getting around his mother's distaste for this fanatical exaggeration at a time when monthly Communion was the hallmark of the fervent. Daily Mass and Communion marked the rest of his life.

For Pier Giorgio, it wasn't enough simply to go to daily Mass, or even to help serve the Mass. Although he regularly gave away his allowance for the needs of Turin's desperately poor, he put aside enough to buy a daily missal so he could reflect on the Scripture readings outside of Mass. But Pier Giorgio was not a church mouse! Popular and athletic, he could draw a crowd. And sometimes he drew church, even when they were heading for the slopes.

Daily Mass and his faith in the Real Presence also drew Pier Giorgio to Eucharistic adoration, especially during the quiet hours of the night. Occasionally, he would ask permission of a religious community to keep vigil through the night in the monastery chapel. A real people person, Pier Giorgio was active in the St Vincent de Paul Society and the vibrant Catholic Action movement, but also in the Eucharistic Crusade (begun just a few years earlier at the International Eucharistic Conference in Lourdes, France), the Association of the Most Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharistic League and the Apostleship of Prayer.

From his Eucharistic visits, he made other visits. "Jesus visits me every day in Holy Communion. I give him thanks in the best way I can, by visiting the poor; even if the house is dirty, you still draw near to Christ." Decades after St. John Bosco's work among the street urchins of Turin, there were still plenty of slums in that industrialized city in the mostly rural Piedmont. Many of the poor had left their villages and moved to Turin in hopes of finding work, resulting in the overcrowded conditions that make for poor sanitation. It may have been in the filth Pier Giorgio described that the twenty-four year old picked up the meningitis-like virus that ended his life in a matter of days, yet even on his deathbed he was concerned about two families in particular, and tried to make sure their needs would be taken care of.

A high-school companion said of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati: "Every time I saw him approach the altar to receive Communion, it came instinctively to me to hope that I, too, might some day be able to come to such purity of soul, so as to be able to receive the Sacrament with the same enthusiasm and intensity."

Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati has been named one of the five patrons of the 2013 World Youth Day in Rio.

Read more about this Eucharistic witness!

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