The pure and idealistic soul of Pier Giorgio never descended into the valleys of mediocrity or the abyss of sin. With his premature death, he became a living standard for Christian youth.
Newsdesk (July 4, 2021 17:02 Gaudium Press) “Ave Maria, piena di grazia, il Signore è con te, Tu sei benedetta fra le donne…” The energetic voice of the young mountain climber echoed off the slopes of Little St. Bernard Pass in the Graian Alps, on the border of Italy and France. With his Rosary in his right hand and his ski poles in his left, he took in the snowy landscape. The wind was strong there on the top. At an altitude of over 2000m, it carried the voices of his companions, who, gathered at his side, replied to the Hail Marys. Gradually, other hikers, who caught the sound of that sincere prayer, joined their voices to the fervent chorus—praying the Rosary on the peaks! Nothing gave so much joy to the idealistic and Marian heart of Pier Giorgio Frassati, the rugged engineering student who led the prayer. In the vigour of his twenty-two years, he stood out among his peers: he was the most daring, the most joyful, the most willing to sacrifice himself for others. Just as no obstacle of nature intimidated him, and no setback slackened his enthusiasm, he never let an occasion slip by to benefit his neighbour. And, for him, this meant giving a good example, encouraging religious practices and creating conditions for virtue to triumph over vice in the souls of his friends.
Desire to scale the peaks
“Verso l’alto– To the heights!” is the quintessential maxim that he wrote on a photograph taken during the ascent of La Lunelle on June 7, 1925, less than a month before departing for his heavenly homeland. And this is the main lesson that young people today can take from his short life: attaining happiness requires courage and perseverance, to be constantly ascending the peak of perfection, with mind and heart fixed on the heights of the Faith!
A wealthy family, but wanting in Faith
The bells of the Cathedral of Turin were pealing out the Glory of the Resurrection when Pier Giorgio Frassati was born on the Easter Vigil, April 6, 1901. To his family, this coincidence of dates meant nothing. In that wealthy home, illustrious in high society circles, religion had been reduced to a few exterior practices. His father, Alfredo Frassati, owner of La Stampa newspaper, would hold posts of high political importance, taking a chair in the Senate in 1913; in 1920, he was the Italian Ambassador to Berlin. He hoped to see his son follow in his footsteps and did not hide his disapproval when he noted his growing fervour and activity in Catholic circles, with no thirst for fame and fortune or even the slightest interest in carving out a career. He wanted, at all cost, to steer his son away from the path he was on and even wrote him the following note: “By always acting thoughtlessly regarding those things that should be of utmost importance to you (as, in this concrete case, not forgetting the book that you should use for your next exam),you will become a worthless man, both to yourself and others.” The words of a humble clerk in Alfredo Frassati’s office would not be proven wrong when hearing his employer rail against his son’s religiosity and accusing him of tarnishing his fame in worldly circles, he declared: “Sir, you will see him become more famous than you are!”
Adelaide Ametis, Pier Giorgio’s mother, had a distorted idea of Catholicism, considering it an assortment of rules whose fulfillment ensured salvation. Despite having taught Pier Giorgio and his sister how to behave in Church and faithfully observe the days of precept, she failed to sow the seeds of devotion to Jesus and Mary. But despite this deprivation, the boy displayed an appetite for prayer at a tender age. One day, for example, he surprised a lay sister by picking a rose from the garden and giving it to her as she made her way to the chapel, asking her to take it to Jesus on his behalf. On another occasion, while attending Mass with some children, a girl asked him an inappropriate question. He rebuked her with a severe face, stating that he would never go to Church with her again, for he did not want to have troublesome people as his side while he spoke with Jesus.
A granite-like character
His natural piety allied with good Piedmontese pertinacity brought Pier Giorgio’s Faith into full bloom as he entered the first great battles of life during adolescence. Aware of his weakness but resolved not to give in to sin, he grasped the one instrument capable of bringing him victory: prayer. Sure that he would only have the strength to persevere in the Faith if he prayed much and could count on the prayers of others, he wrote to a friend: “I beg you to pray a little for me, thatGod may give me an iron will that does not bend and does not thwart His plans.” This was the most striking note of his character. One of his confessors defined him as “a granite-like character,” recalling that his retreat resolutions could be summed in words: “strength of soul in the fight against oneself and the world.” And he fulfilled these resolutions with excellence, giving evidence of a virile and serene dominion of spirit over sentiment in the most varied situations. Once, as he left Church with his Rosary in hand, an acquaintance called out in a scoffing tone to attract the attention of the passers-by:
-“Eh, Pier Giorgio, so you’ve become a religious fanatic?”
-“No. Still just a Christian,” he calmly replied.
Another time, he took the bold initiative of tearing up some posters that discredited the director of the university where he studied and which had been stuck to a wall of the distinguished teaching establishment by rebellious students. A throng of these rebels soon surrounded him, threatening him with reprisals and insisting that he make amends for his alleged affront to freedom of thought. Without losing his composure, Pier Giorgio responded that falsehood and calumny had no right to freedom whatsoever, and he was ready to destroy every similar poster he came across. His solid conviction reduced the rebels to silence, and they soon dispersed.
Active in Catholic circles
At 12 years of age, he enrolled in several religious associations, including the Apostolate of prayer, the Company of the Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharistic League, the Marian Congregation and St. Vincent de Paul Society. As a member of the Young Nocturnal Adorers Association of Santa Maria di Piazza Church in Turin, he edified many religious and priests who frequently saw him arrive around midnight, kneel before the monstrance and remain in that position until four in the morning, in deep recollection. He is merited with having founded a Catholic youth group that he called Milites Mariæ, and he was admitted as a Dominican tertiary in May of 1922. He was always a zealous apostle toward those who had abandoned the Faith. It can be said that, although a layman, he had a priestly heart. Intending to bring wayward sheep back to the Church, he began taking material aid to low-income families of the city and to visiting the sick in their homes, an act of charity that no young man of his social status dared to do. Because of his utter naturalness in these undertakings, not even his parents suspected the magnanimity of his actions. At the news of his death, many beneficiaries came to pay him their final respects, acclaiming him a saint and venerating his body as a relic.
The joy that only the Faith can give
There is another quality of this chosen soul that must be highlighted, which is his profound joy. Even when experiencing painful trials – as can be known from the little he told his friends or recorded in his letters, he avoided speaking about himself out of humility. He maintained a joyful countenance illuminated by a captivating light that chastity kindled in his soul. In a letter to his sister, he discloses the source of his enthusiasm: “You ask me if I am happy; how could I fail to be? As long as the Faith gives me strength, I will always be joyful. A Catholic cannot be unhappy; sadness should be something prohibited for Catholic souls. Sorrow does not mean sadness: this is a disease worse than any other, and almost always produced by atheism. The end for which we are created invites us to walk a road which, despite being sown with thorns, is not a sad one: it is joyful, even amid suffering.”
A few days later, he reaffirmed this idea, this time in a message to a friend: “Each day I better understand the grace of being Catholic. Poor unfortunate souls who do not have Faith: to live without Faith, without a heritage to defend, without battling constantly for truth, is not to live, but just to drag through life. We must never drag ourselves through life, but really live, for even “Each day I better understand the grace of being Catholic. Poor unfortunate souls who do not have Faith” Pier Giorgio, weeks before his death Luciana Frassati amid disillusions, we must recall that we are the only ones who possess the truth […]. Therefore, we must banish all melancholy, which can only exist when one loses the Faith.”
Living standard for Christian youth
In mid-1925, Pier Giorgio was afflicted with acute poliomyelitis. Grave physical and moral suffering assailed him in the brief interval between the first symptoms of the dis-ease and his death. Since his grandmother entered her agony and passed away during that same time, no one in his family realized how serious his illness was. Alone in his room, he suffered atrocious pain and felt the dreadful progress of the disease, which gradually paralyzed his body. With a heroic spirit of sacrifice, no word of complaint escaped his lips, to such a point that the gravity of the situation only dawned on his family when it was too late. On Friday, July 3, he made his last Confession and received the Holy Eucharist. On Saturday morning, he received the Anointing of the Sick and, in the evening, surrendered his soul to God. The news of his death caused a commotion in Turin. His funeral, attended by a veritable multitude, was the first glorification of the virtues of one who had become a role model for youth in a short time. The words of his epitaph appropriately proclaim: “At 24 years of age –on the eve of receiving his engineering degree; handsome, vigorous, joyful and esteemed – his final day came unexpectedly. And, as in all circumstances, he calmly greeted it as the most beautiful day of his life. He confessed the Faith by purity of life and works of charity. Death has raised him as a living standard for Christian youth.”
Text adapted from Heralds of the Gospel Magazine, August 2016
Compiled by Gustavo Kralj