“Behold the man of the eight Beatitudes who bears in himself the grace of the Gospel, the Good News, the joy of salvation offered to us by Christ.”
“Behold the man of the eight Beatitudes who bears in himself the grace of the Gospel, the Good News, the joy of salvation offered to us by Christ.”—Blessed Pope John Paul II
A relatively recent addition to the list of young saints and blesseds is Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. He was born in 1901 and died in 1925. When he was beatified in 1990, Blessed Pope John Paul II declared him the saint of “ordinariness.” He was someone with a sense of humor who enjoyed sports and an occasional drink with his friends. He was known for his practical jokes, including short sheeting the beds of priests, as well as his daring hiking adventures, leading those who accompanied him in the rosary. Yet, as you can imagine, there was also something quite extraordinary about him.
Blessed Pier Giorgio’s story is remarkable in that his goodness emerged from a family situation with which many young people might identify. His family was materially well-off, but far from perfect.
His parents had marital problems, frequently fought, and were close to separation. He was criticized for not pursuing more vigorously a life of power and money. Instead, he secretly pursued a more lasting treasure. He dedicated himself to the poor and used his money to get medicine and other things that the needy and sick lacked. He made regular visits to them and this was largely unknown until after he died, when the multitudes he had helped showed up at his funeral. He lived by Jesus’ words, “When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret” (Mt 6:3).
As one biographer, Domenico Bettinelli, Jr., writes: “When [Pier] was a child, a poor mother with a boy in tow came begging to the Frassati home. Pier Giorgio answered the door, and seeing the boy´s shoeless feet, gave him his own shoes. At graduation, given the choice of money or a car, [Pier] chose the money and gave it to the poor. He obtained a room for an old woman evicted from her tenement, provided a bed for a consumptive invalid, and supported the three children of a sick and grieving widow. … Only God knew of these charities. He never mentioned them to others.”
The Eucharist, devotion to the Blessed Mother, and a regular life of prayer were at the center of Pier Giorgio’s life. He would often get up early and walk a great distance to attend Mass every day, prior to beginning the rest of his day’s duties. He was a good athlete (in today’s language, a “jock”), very handsome and funny—quite popular, but was known for being humble and modest. He loved Christ and this was what inspired him and transformed his life. Writing to one of his friends, he explained the religious foundation of his charitable activity: “Jesus comes every day to visit me in the Eucharist: I return the visit by going to find him among the poor.”
He contracted polio from one of the sick people whom he had helped. His last spoken words were a request that a friend pick up medicine and deliver it to one of the infirmed he was tending.
Pope John Paul II was inspired by Frassati when he was a young Polish student, and named him the patron saint of World Youth Day in 2000. To this day, like many of the Church’s saints, Frassati’s body is incorrupt. His life is becoming more well-known among today’s youth. This can be explained in part by the fact that his background and circumstances are so similar to many contemporary young people.
Frassati’s extraordinary life of holiness emerged in large part after his death. Many in his own family were unaware of what he was doing until all the people he had served emerged at his funeral and in the days that followed. He lived the Christian life in such a natural and unassuming way, that they were shocked at the impact he had made on so many people. He stands as a beacon, especially for young adults in the Church. He is a shining example of intentional Christianity, lived with joy, freedom, and ordinariness. For this reason, his popularity is rapidly growing, especially on college campuses around the world.
For more information on Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati and Frassati societies in the US, go to: www.frassatiusa.org. See also the article, “The Wild One: Blessed Pier Giorgio” at www.Catholic.net.