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Catholic Heroes… Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

July 5, 2018 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

Our Lord had a special love for the poor when He walked this earth. At one time He rebuked one of the apostles, saying, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matt. 26:11). Rather than avoiding the destitute or shun the homeless, Christians are called to love them as we love ourselves.
At the beginning of the 20th century, our Lord sent a man to Italy to be servant of God to those in need. Nearly 60 years before Apostolicam Actuositatem (Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People — Vatican II), Pier Giorgio discerned that God had called him to remain a layman so that he could serve the poor and the needy more effectively.
Alfredo Frassati, a respected member of high society in Turin who owned La Stampa, married Adelaide, a talented artist. Together they established a lovely home and welcomed their firstborn, Pier Giorgio, into it on April 6, 1901.
Although his father claimed to be an agnostic and his mother was a nominal Catholic, they had Pier baptized. From a young age, and certainly with no encouragement from his parents, he showed that he was specially chosen by God. Perhaps the only one in the family who truly understood him was his younger sister, Luciana. He also had a close relationship with his grandmother who lived with the Frassati family and was a devout Catholic.
During his short life, he gave of his time generously and gave his possessions to the poor. Since the parents were preoccupied with their own pursuits, they were not fully aware of how much Pier did for the less fortunate persons of Turin.
When the family visited his grandparents in Pallone during their vacations in the hills, his grandfather took him to distribute food to the poor. Pier noticed a boy sitting isolated in the room. He had festering sores and looked so destitute that Pier went to sit with him. When the sisters told Pier to stay away from the boy because he was ill, Pier not only stayed with him but also shared his food and drank out of the same bottle.
Back in Turin a beggar came to the door during dinner — a dinner at which Pier reminded his father that they had to say grace before eating — and was quickly sent away by his father. Pier disagreed with that action and retorted that “even if he is a drunk, he is still hungry. What if that were Jesus?” His father scorned him for such “foolishness.”
After Pier failed in Latin at the state school, his parents decided to send him to the Jesuit school instead. Although Pier regretted having to leave the school where his beloved sister went, he was thrilled when he received permission to receive Holy Communion every day — a rarity in that time. He was then 12 years old.
Fr. Lombardi, the priest at the school, remarked to his mother, “We have to drag the other boys into the pews for daily Mass, but Pier we must drag out of the pews after Mass.” The zeal of Pier did not stop at daily Mass. He not only joined every organization that he could, but he also became very active in them: the Eucharistic Crusade, the Apostleship of Prayer, the Marian Sodality, and others.
When a classmate called Pier’s father a traitor for his editorials in La Stampa, Pier’s friend Camillo Banzatti got into a fight with him. When Alfredo found out that Pier did not come to his Camillo’s aid, he scolded his son. Pier replied that it would not have been fair for two to fight just one. However, the next day Pier confronted the classmate, declared that it was his turn to fight him, and quickly punched the youth.
One of Pier Giorgio’s favorite activities was mountain climbing. One day he met Gianni Brunelli, a fellow mountain climber. They both declared their sorrow over the outbreak of World War II. Together they begged alms for wounded soldiers and then Pier challenged Gianni to invite all the wounded to Mass on Sunday.
Although Gianni was skeptical of success, that Sunday Pier waited at the church with hope and was rewarded when Gianni came down the street with a group of soldiers — some on crutches, some missing limbs, others wearing bandages. With great joy Pier welcomed them and led them into the church where they filled up the last three pews!
On his way to school one day, Pier went early to Mass. He then walked to the school looking for the custodian, who was bringing out the trash. Pier went up to him and told him, “I prayed for your son today because it was the anniversary of his death in the war.” The custodian wept, saying even his own family did not remember that his son had died a year ago.
One night when Pier came home after a night of charitable works, he found his sister crying. They were leaving Turin because his father had just been named ambassador to Germany. There Pier would discern that he did not have a call to the priesthood.
During a diplomatic reception in Germany, Pier quietly went into the kitchen, gathered up some bread and other items, and left out the back door to distribute the food to the poor. As he ran out of food and met others in need, he ended up giving away his coat and shoes as well — a common occurrence for Pier. Along the way he met Fr. Carl Sonnenschein, who was doing the same, and they worked together.
While working with Fr. Carl, he decided he could not become a priest because he would not be able to continue the work he was be able to as a layman. He worked at the leper settlements, resisted the fascist attacks on the Church, and helped needy women whose husbands were at war.
When his sister married and moved to Denmark, he was devastated at losing his best friend and confidant.
After returning from a climbing expedition, he wondered at his sudden weakness. He felt faint and his legs trembled with exhaustion. He returned home to find that his grandmother was nearing death and a priest had come to visit her and give her Last Rites.
Not wanting to distract anyone from the needs of his grandmother, he went to bed. The maid was shocked to find him still in bed the next morning and not at Mass. When his grandmother died, they found him with a raging fever and called the doctor — he had polio and died a few days later at the age of 24. He died on July 4, 1925.
As his parents left the house with his body to go to the cathedral, they were shocked to see thousands of people lining the roads. They did not know the many people whose lives he had touched.
Pope John Paul II beatified Pier Giorgio on May 20, 1990.
Dear Pier Giorgio, what love you had for the Eucharist that spilled over into your daily life by helping others in need. Obtain for us the grace to love our fellow citizens as you loved yours. Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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