Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

In the Byzantine Catholic church, the birth of Our Savior is celebrated with a special greeting extended by the priest: "CHRIST IS BORN!" In response, the congregation replies, "GLORIFY HIM!" It is a wonderful way to remind ourselves that something is different today and throughout the Christmas season.

In Rome, the Holy Father marked the start of the Christmas season with the Latin wish for peace: "Pax vobis" ("Peace be with you") to which the faithful present at St. Peter's responded, "Et cum spiritu tuo." ("And also with you.")

Both greetings have a simple similarity: they announce good news and they call for our response. May the love of the Holy Family pour into your heart this Christmas and help you to respond with even greater charity to all those you meet in 2009. Buon Natale and Verso l'alto!

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Best Christmas Gifts

Well, here we are, less than a week away from the celebration of the birth of Christ. How has your Advent been going? I'm happy to say that I've had a prayerful few weeks, thanks in large part to my wonderful morning prayer group, and have been cultivating the spirit of joyful expectation. I have actually enjoyed doing the Christmas shopping, a little baking and the other material preparations that are necessary at this time of year. And in the midst of it all, I have been able to witness many times what Pier Giorgio knew so well: i.e, the best Christmas gifts are acts of charity.

If you have joined THE PACT, you know that it involves a simple commitment to do one act of charity a day. At this time of year, there are endless opportunities that present themselves. You can let someone ahead of you in a long check-out line, share a coupon with someone who needs one, smile and speak kind words to the tired cashier, buy a little gift for someone you normally wouldn't, leave the parking space closest to the store for someone else -- and all of that is just some of what you can do when you are out shopping! There is so much more. Send Christmas cards to people you know are lonely, who live alone or have very little family. Make a call to someone who would so appreciate having a little conversation with you. Go caroling! Make time for people instead of excuses. Love. Forgive. Pray.

A wise woman I know has often reminded me, "Honey, all people have the same basic needs: to be loved and to be needed." She's right. And those are two things that you won't find on any shelf in any store. Give the best gifts this Christmas. You will be so glad you did.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Just taking a moment today to wish you a blessed feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the unborn and patroness of the Americas. By the way, this is also the anniversary date for FrassatiUSA which relies on her patronage as well as that of Pier Giorgio.

This is such a great Marian week with two wonderful feasts serving as bookends -- Monday, the Immaculate Conception, and, today, Our Lady of Guadalupe! I have been reflecting on the great faith of both St. Bernadette and St. Juan Diego who were the messengers of Our Lady. Can you imagine going to a priest or bishop and saying that you have spoken with the Blessed Mother and she would like a church built? I like how the priest's response is portrayed in the film, "Bernadette." He practically throws her out of the rectory! What would you have done in his shoes?

In both cases, the visionaries were asked to go back to the Lady and ask for a sign, a miracle. Although this may at first seem like a lack of faith on the part of the priest or bishop, it really is a show of faith when you stop and think about it. In other words, they believed enough to believe a miracle would enable them to believe! Do you follow me?

In the movie, "Bernadette," after the priest's very harsh reception of her message, Bernadette says that she wasn't upset about it. She says, "I was asked to deliver the message and I have delivered it." Such humble obedience. Centuries later, we can still see the tremendous fruit that came from the humble obedience of St. Bernadette and St. Juan Diego. Simple messengers. What a great challenge for us during this second week of Advent -- to look for and find ways that we can be simple messengers of the Good News of Christ.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

In the Good Old Days

The other night, I was reading a bedtime story to a little six-year-old friend of mine. She looked at me, at one point, and said with a sigh, "I miss the good old days when..." and gave an example of something she missed doing. It was so odd to hear a six-year-old talking about the good old days! She was right to miss them, though.

I miss the good old days when Advent was a real season that we celebrated.
My great Catholic parents made a point of it. Would you believe our Christmas tree did not go up until a day or two before Christmas? We never turned our Christmas lights on until Christmas Eve and we kept them on for the 12 days of Christmas...or longer.

Every night, we gathered around the Advent wreath and lit the candles, said the prayers and sang a hymn. We had a chart to keep track of our good deeds. On the feast of St. Lucy (December 13), we were given one seed of wheat for each good deed we had done. We planted our seeds in our own little pots of dirt and placed them on a window sill to grow as gifts for Baby Jesus. It was a great competition to see who had the most wheat and the tallest.

Very late on Christmas Eve, we would all gather by the tree where a nativity set was displayed below. The manger was always empty until that night. We would have a family procession and sing "Silent Night" and the youngest in the family would place the infant Jesus in the crib. We would sing other carols afterward. Sometimes I would play "The Little Drummer Boy" on the piano while my brother Greg accompanied me on his snare drum. (We are all so much older now but we still have that procession and the youngest still places Baby Jesus in the crib.)

On Christmas Day, we opened gifts with tags that said, "From Baby Jesus" or "From Saint Nick." We never got anything from Santa Claus. In fact, a funny story in our family is that, one year, a neighbor up the street asked two of my sisters what Santa brought them for Christmas. They said, "nothing." The neighbor thought maybe we were poor and couldn't afford presents and sent down bags of gifts! My mom had to explain to her that Santa didn't come to our house, but, not to worry, we got our share of presents from Baby Jesus and St. Nick.

Christmas-caroling was usually impromptu but you could always pull a little group together. We would go to the neighbors who didn't have much family or company and sing a few songs and visit awhile. This is a tradition that has passed down to some of the nieces and nephews. Last year, we piled into a few cars and went to a neighboring town to sing a few carols for a woman with a homebound, disabled son. Such a simple joy to give that costs only a little time.

I could go on and on about our family traditions and how Advent was a time of joyful expectation and Christmas was all about the birth of Christ. But you probably have your own memories of how it was -- in the good old days.





Thursday, November 27, 2008

Counting the Blessings

What a beautiful tradition we have in our country to take one day out of our busy lives to really focus on giving thanks to God for His many blessings. Having the "attitude of gratitude" is a good way to go through life on a daily basis, not just once a year. I have found that if I take a few minutes at night to reflect on the day and to thank God for the many blessings it held, I end up feeling very humbled at God's goodness. After all, as St. Paul said, it is in Him that we live and move and have our being.

In his letters, Pier Giorgio was constantly thanking his friends, family and anyone else for any little act of charity or kindness -- for sending him a postcard or letter, for letting him borrow an ice-axe to climb a mountain, for a birthday remembrance, for prayers on his behalf. It was never lost on him that we are all here for one another and that we bear the weight of each other's eternal glory.

In one letter, he reflected on the gift of friendship and wrote the following: "In this earthly life after the affection for parents and sisters, one of the most beautiful affections is that of friendship; and every day I ought to thank God because he has given me men and lady friends of such goodness who form for me a precious guide for my whole life.
"

Today would be a great day to reflect on all of the people in our lives who have helped us to find, keep and live the Faith. It would also be a good time to commit to being that kind of friend to the people around us.

Happy Thanksgiving! Verso l'alto!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Death and Dying

The Church marks the beginning of November with two great feasts: All Saints and All Souls. And then, almost without fail, it seems a lot of good people pass away. So far this month in my small circle of friends and acquaintances, two good priests, a nun, and a great pro-lifer have all left this world. This morning, I learned of the death of another good woman who was a fixture at daily Mass at my church for as long as I can remember. All of these people, I think I can say with confidence, were ready to meet the Lord. But we do miss them.

Death is such a mystery. It should really be something we think of daily and prepare for on a regular basis. This is one of the things I connect to the most with Pier Giorgio. In his book of letters (which is still unavailable in English but will hopefully get published soon), he wrote a beautiful reflection on death to his good friend Antonio Villani. I think it is worth a read or two and so I am providing the following excerpt for you. It was written on July 19, 1923, when Pier Giorgio was just 22 years old.

"...and yet I have sometimes been ambitious. And for what? Just for death, this great mystery, the only just one which spares no one, which will dissolve this body of mine and in a short time will turn it into dust. But beyond the material body there is the soul to which we must dedicate all our energy, so that it can present itself before the Supreme Tribunal without fault or at least with little faults, so that after having served some years in purgatory it will be able to go up to Eternal peace. But how does one prepare oneself for the great Transition and when? Since one does not know when Death will come to take him away, it is very prudent to prepare oneself every day as if one is going to die that same day; and so from now on I will try to make every day a little preparation for death, so that I shouldn’t find myself unprepared at the point of death and have to regret the beautiful years of youth, wasted from the spiritual side."

We would do well, I think, to follow Pier Giorgio's example and make each day a little preparation for death. It is more than just living in the present moment. It is considering the future that awaits us all.

And may the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, now rest in peace.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Celebrating an American Saint

Today we celebrate the feast of the first saint who was an American citizen. Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini came to the U.S. and, in spite of enormous obstacles and difficulties, managed to found 67 institutions dedicated to caring for the poor, the abandoned, the uneducated and the sick. Wow! And sometimes it seems like a great accomplishment for me just to make it to 6:30 a.m. Mass!

Reading even a short bio of Mother Cabrini makes me shake my head in amazement. I don't think I could ever do even a fraction of what she did. And that makes me all the more grateful for the example of Pier Giorgio. He inspires me to strive for holiness on a daily basis -- not by doing great things but, as Mother Theresa once said, by doing small things with great love. Are we not the luckiest -- to have examples of such holy men and women to guide us through this often crazy world? Verso l'alto!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remembering Our Veterans

Today, as we celebrate and honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good, my thoughts turn especially to one man. My father served on the USS Spearfish -- a submarine -- during World War II. He explained to us that the subs back in those days were small diesel "boats" -- nothing like the high-tech nuclear subs of today. Fortunately, everyone on the Spearfish made it home but not without a few stories of very close calls.

Since the days of my dad's military service, many more men and women have been called into battle and so many have paid the ultimate price for our freedom. We should never forget it or take advantage of this priceless gift. Do something nice for a veteran today!

Click here to find out about Pier Giorgio's military service.



Friday, November 7, 2008

Indiana or bust!

Heading off to Indiana this weekend to talk about Pier Giorgio. If you're in the area, stop by! Both talks will be at St. Mary of the Knobs Church in Floyds Knobs, Indiana. Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. is for youth and families and open to all!

In other news, the new "Verso l'alto" t-shirt has arrived. Check it out in the PGF Bookstore!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

October is Respect Life Month

Once again, the Church has designated October as Respect Life Month. As Catholics, we can be proud to be a part of a Church that works to protect and defend the sanctity of human life. Here is a short video that deals with this issue: http://www.americaschoicenow.com/.

According to 2005 census estimates, the 50 million babies killed by abortion would exceed the COMBINED population of the fifty largest cities in the United States by 4 million. That's New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, San Jose, Detroit, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, San Francisco, Columbus, Austin, Memphis, Baltimore, Ft. Worth, Charlotte, El Paso, Milwaukee, Seattle, Boston, Denver, Louisville, Washington DC, Nashville, Las Vegas, Portland OR, Oklahoma City, Tucson, Albequerque, Long Beach, Atlanta, Fresno, Sacramento, New Orleans, Cleveland, Kansas City, Mesa, Virginia Beach, Omaha, Oakland, Miami, Tulsa, Honolulu, Minneapolis, Colorado Springs, and Arlington TX, PLUS 4 million (another Los Angeles.)

Can you imagine all those cities empty?

Pope John Paul II, in his letter Ecclesia in America, put it best: "Nowadays, in America as elsewhere in the world, a model of society appears to be emerging in which the powerful predominate, setting aside and even eliminating the powerless: I am thinking here of unborn children, helpless victims of abortion; the elderly and incurably ill, subjected at times to euthanasia; and the many other people relegated to the margins of society by consumerism and materialism. Nor can I fail to mention the unnecessary recourse to the death penalty when other “bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons. Today, given the means at the State's disposal to deal with crime and control those who commit it, without abandoning all hope of their redemption, the cases where it is absolutely necessary to do away with an offender 'are now very rare, even non-existent practically'”. This model of society bears the stamp of the culture of death, and is therefore in opposition to the Gospel message. Faced with this distressing reality, the Church community intends to commit itself all the more to the defense of the culture of life."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Happy Birthday, Wanda!

Pier Giorgio's niece Wanda celebrates her birthday today! At 81 years young, she is still a world traveler. Her efforts to spread the spirituality of Pier Giorgio have taken her to many countries. She even made the long trip to Sydney, Australia, for World Youth Day 2008. One of my favorite memories with Wanda was actually a much shorter road trip -- from Torino to Pollone. We ran out of gas just after exiting the Autostrade and it ended up being a good laugh for everyone involved. After a talk I gave recently to the students in a religious education program, one of them asked how I knew so much about Pier Giorgio. The answer is Wanda! Through her, I have gotten to know Pier Giorgio much more intimately, and that is how FrassatiUSA came into being. One thing I know about Wanda is that it is not an easy task to get a picture of her. But here is one of my favorites that I snapped one night in Trastevere as she was arriving on her motorino. I have to believe that Pier Giorgio would love to see his spirit of adventure embodied in his niece as she zips through the streets of Rome! Tanti auguri, Wanda! Keep riding....to the top!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pier Giorgio and the K of C

More good news of how the devotion to Pier Giorgio is spreading came to me recently from Fr. William Kuchinsky in West Virginia. The newly formed Knights of Columbus Council 10011 will be named "Pier Giorgio Frassati Council" and Fr. Bill will serve as chaplain. It is always uplifting to receive news of how Pier Giorgio is being incorporated into parish and community life.

The Knights of Columbus has more than 1.7 million members worldwide and is the world's largest Catholic family fraternal service organization. The current Supreme Knight is Carl Anderson. Coincidentally, he was in Sydney, Australia, for World Youth Day festivities this past summer and visited with Pier Giorgio's niece Wanda Gawronska. They are pictured here, along with Fr. Tom Rosica, the head of Canada's Salt and Light TV.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Feast of St. Teresa of Avila

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Teresa of Avila -- one of the great doctors of the Church. I don't know of any Pier Giorgio connection with her, however, she is the source of one of my all-time favorite quotes. It is a great meditation for any day, but especially during turbulent economic times.

"If you have everything but Christ, you have nothing.
If you have nothing but Christ, you have everything."

St. Teresa of Avila, pray for us!!!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Remembering Luciana Frassati

Today, as we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, we also mark the first anniversary of the death of Pier Giorgio's sister, Luciana Frassati. She died peacefully in Pollone, in the family home, at the age of 105. I had the privilege of being there the last few weeks of her earthly life. On the morning of her passing, I was out of town to visit some Italian relatives. Luciana's daughter Wanda called to tell me the news and I quickly made plans to return for the funeral. That day, I remember thinking of the great joy in heaven with which Luciana would be welcomed. Also, I knew that she would continue her work of spreading the spirituality of Pier Giorgio from above as she had done for so many years during her lifetime.

It is one of life's mysteries to ponder: the length of our days. Pier Giorgio had 24 years, his sister had 105. And yet, we can reflect on both lives and see the fullness -- the richness in living out the Catholic faith -- that both shared. Together they remind us that how much time we have on earth is not up to us but what we do with it is.

It would be a fitting spiritual gift today to offer a rosary in thanksgiving for the life of Luciana Frassati and for the consolation of all those whom she has left behind. May God grant her eternal memory and blessed repose. Grazie, Signora, per tutto.

Monday, September 22, 2008

New Pier Giorgio Website!

Pier Giorgio's impact continues to spread worldwide! I am happy to announce the launching of the Pier Giorgio Frassati website in Brazil. Eduardo Henrique recently emailed me the news and asked that we be united in prayer in our work to promote the spirituality of Pier Giorgio. Congratulations to our Brazilian friends for bringing their website live!

For those of you who may not realize it, info about Pier Giorgio is available in several other languages. You can find the links to websites from Argentina, Poland, Slovakia, Italy, Canada and now Brazil both here on the blog and in the "Find a Frassati Society" section of the FrassatiUSA website. Happy surfing!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Pier Giorgio and the Boy Scouts

I am always glad to get your ideas and hear how Pier Giorgio is working in your lives. Here is a great email with an idea for everyone involved in Boy Scouts:

"I recently found out about Pier Giorgio Frassati and have been praying the PACT often...I'm trying for daily. As I have been learning more and more about him, it occurs to me that he would be a great patron saint for scouts and scout leaders. His love of the outdoors and his desire to help people make him sound like the perfect example of what a cub/boy scout should strive for in his life. As a scout leader myself, I am praying daily for God to help make me a better dad, leader, and servant to all. I intend on telling the boys about this blessed example to us and sharing more about him with them. We are a small pack of about 25-30 boys chartered through our Church/Catholic School.

Pier Giorgio, please pray for us all...Verso l'alto!"

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Pier Giorgio Pilgrimage is forming NOW!

Make plans NOW to head to the top on the 2009 Pier Giorgio Pilgrimage! The trip will depart the U.S. on June 26th and arrive in Rome just in time to obtain the plenary indulgence for the Jubilee Year of St. Paul! We will make our way through Italy until we arrive at Pier Giorgio's family home in time for his Fourth of July Feast Day! What better place could there be to celebrate?! This is a spiritual journey that will take us through Rome, Siena, Florence, Bologna, Turin, Pollone and Oropa -- all places with a special meaning in the life of Pier Giorgio. Daily Mass, opportunities for Eucharistic Adoration, great Italian food and wonderful fellowship are all included in this custom trip of a lifetime. A $250 deposit will hold your reservation. Deposits must be received by November 8th. Check the website for more details.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Pier Giorgio in Action

Many favors are reported though the intercession of Pier Giorgio, although, as of yet, none are sufficient for the canonization miracle. But it is inspiring to see Pier Giorgio in action in people's lives. Here's a recent example:

"On 8/14/08 in Saco, ME, Ryan, 24 years old was taken to the hospital for open heart surgery. Before this he was very a healthy and active college graduate. After surgery in Boston, MA, he was in very serious condition. His grandmother asked me to pray for Ryan and I immediately invoked Bl. Pier Giorgio to hear our prayers and to pray with us for Ryan. I continued to pray for Bl. Pier Giorgio's assistance. A week later Ryan was recovering quickly and has now returned home and is doing very well. Ryan and his family are very grateful to God and for all the many prayers. I know in my heart that through Bl. Pier Giorgio our prayers were heard. I will continue to spread news and info about our Blessed friend and pray for his assistance in my own needs. Pier Giorgio gives me hope that I can strive to be holy as a layman."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

"I was an instrument of Divine Providence."

Today the Church celebrates the feast of Saint Augustine, the son of Saint Monica, who converted from a decadent lifestyle to become one of the greatest saints and doctors of the Church. His conversion is often attributed to the many years of prayers his mother offered on his behalf. Saint Monica's faith was rewarded by living to see her son's conversion.

Pier Giorgio likewise experienced the joy of seeing a loved one return to Christ and the Sacraments. In 1923, his uncle Pietro, had a deathbed conversion because of the encouraging words and prayers of Pier Giorgio. Pietro Frassati was the brother of Pier Giorgio's father Alfredo. The brothers, although cradle Catholics who respected religion, did not practice the faith. It was a cause of great joy for Pier Giorgio to know that his uncle, in his final moments, received the Sacraments. He wrote about it in a letter to his friend Antonio Severi on August 20, 1923. An excerpt follows:

"Dearest Tonino,

I should have climbed Mont Blanc with Delpiano last Saturday, but we didn’t understand each other very well on the telephone and so Delpiano left on his own. At first I was very displeased, but today I saw that this misunderstanding was a plan of Divine Providence, because the other day my uncle, already sick for a long time, got worse and so I would have been infinitely more upset to have been away.

...

My uncle, who loves me so much was so moved to see me, that today I couldn’t approach his bed for fear of upsetting him too much, but now my task has been accomplished. Although unworthy I was an instrument of Divine Providence, along with my good mother and the nun who lovingly cared for him, because I was able to get him to perform all his religious practices. Believe me that when he received the Sacred Host tears of joy mixed with those of sorrow streamed down my face. As soon as he received the Host, our merciful God soothed his pain and afterward my uncle made us call the parish priest of the village to tell him about his satisfaction in having received the Blessed Sacrament.

In His Infinite Mercy, God has surely not kept my innumerable sins in mind, but He has heard my prayers and the prayers of my family, and has given my uncle the great grace of receiving the last Sacraments while fully conscious.

I believe that life should be a continual preparation for the next life, because one doesn’t know the day nor the hour of our passing.

...

Affectionate greetings in J.C.
Pier Giorgio

Pax Domini sit tecum."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

God in the whisper

This blog is devoted to Pier Giorgio and I usually don't get personal, but I had a bit of an Elijah moment today that I hope is worth sharing. One of my favorite scenes in the Bible takes place in 1 Kings 19 when Elijah is on the mountain waiting for the Lord to pass by. He doesn't come in the wind or the earthquake or the fire but in the tiny whisper. This is often how I encounter God; although, I admit that, because of my spiritual deafness, I can have difficulty hearing that whisper from time to time.

Working toward the canonization of Pier Giorgio has sometimes called for more energy and resources than I have felt I could provide. Like Elijah, I have known my times of discouragement. And there are those moments when I stop and wonder if all of the sacrifices are worthwhile and ask how long can I continue? But tonight, I heard that tiny whisper.

It came in the voice of my niece Stephanie who is a senior in high school in Pennsylvania. She is also my godchild. Recently, she was asked to sing at the 100th anniversary of a local church and she covered the Joy Williams song, "Do They See Jesus in Me?" As I watched the YouTube clip, I was again able to put a face to one of the reasons why I work for this cause. It is because Pier Giorgio has so much to offer, especially to the young people among whom I count my 28 nieces and nephews, that I do this work. Stephie was one of the first people to join The Pact and is a great example of the revolution of charity FrassatiUSA is working toward creating. Not only that, but the lyrics of the song she sang pretty much sum up everything I am about.

Yesterday I saw a rainbow. Today I heard a whisper. I can hardly wait for tomorrow. Verso l'alto!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Pier Giorgio Frassati: "Super Saint"

Although we are still a miracle away from Pier Giorgio being canonized, this week he is getting "super saint" treatment! Bob and Penny Lord, who have filmed many shows on the lives of the saints for EWTN, have arrived in Turin today and will begin filming in many of the places that are central to Pier Giorgio's life. They aren't sure how many shows will result from the material but they are certain that at least one episode of their "Super Saints" series will be devoted to Pier Giorgio. Please keep their work in your prayers this week as it is just one more great opportunity to bring Pier Giorgio to the attention of millions of people all around the world. And keep praying for that canonization miracle!

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Birthday Prayer for Luciana Frassati

Do they celebrate birthdays in heaven? If so, there will be a big celebration today. It is the first birthday Luciana Frassati will spend with her big brother Pier Giorgio since his death in 1925. She turns 106!

Two years ago, when I headed over to Pollone, Italy, to begin the work of FrassatiUSA, I arrived at the family villa just in time to celebrate Luciana's 104th birthday. We sang Happy Birthday in Italian ("Tanti Auguri!") and had an ice cream cake in the sun room. (I call it the sun room; it was a great place to sit and enjoy the sun or, more often, the rain!) How surreal it was for me to be spending time with Pier Giorgio's sister. And what a privilege. Over the past two years, I had many such opportunities. I was even at the family villa the last month of Luciana's life and was able to attend her funeral in Turin and Pollone last October. These were special gifts from the Lord that helped me to understand and appreciate the life and spirituality of Pier Giorgio even more. It was his sister, after all, who brought him to us through her many books and labors. Now she enjoys her heavenly reward and, undoubtedly, a birthday hug from Pier Giorgio! But I miss her.

May God grant her eternal memory and blessed repose.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Michael Phelps and Damien Molokai

I've had a little Olympic fever this year and have really enjoyed watching a lot of the different competitions. The big story, of course, has been the amazing athletic performance of swimmer Michael Phelps who has become the greatest athlete in Olympic history by virtue of his gold medal count. Each time I see him being interviewed, I think about how close he is in age to Pier Giorgio at the time of his death. And I wonder how close he is to Pier Giorgio in his love for God. Not to judge him or lessen his physical accomplishments in any way. I just keep thinking how awesome it would be if, in one of his many post-victory interviews, he would give credit to God who created him and endowed him with his physical gifts. What a platform for reaching young people around the world.

The way I see it, there's gold and then there's gold.
In the past few weeks, someone else has reached the heights but won't be getting Olympic gold or even a fraction of the media attention. You may have read recently that Pope Benedict has approved the second miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Damien Molokai. He was a young priest who volunteered to work in a leper colony and then later died from leprosy himself at the age of 49. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1995 and now the path is cleared for his canonization. This is the sort of gold that will not rust or corrode. This is the gold worth striving for.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

HELP SAVE PIER GIORGIO!

Help! A real problem is taking place that threatens the cause of Pier Giorgio. People are deciding to change his name to Pier. I don't know how to stop this from getting worse. Pier is not his name. It is not even a nickname. He would cringe at this. He would not answer to this. He would never call himself this. His friends would not call him this. His family would not call him this. Nobody who loves him would call him this. Now, because so many people are using the wrong name, it is starting to show up in print, online and other places. It causes confusion and is not helping the effort to make Pier Giorgio known. Does anyone have any suggestions for how to stop this? Help!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Rest of the Story

Someone recently asked a question about events that stopped the canonization process for Pier Giorgio back in 1941. The answer can be found in the "Frequently Asked Frassati Questions" section of the FrassatiUSA website. In short, anonymous accusations were leveled against Pier Giorgio which questioned his moral integrity. Many years later, his sister got involved and the cause was reopened -- eventually leading to his beatification. But, this is definitely a story that would have interested Paul Harvey (for those of you old enough to know who he is!) It is another great example of the mysterious hand of God at work and the action of the Holy Spirit.

I am sure I will not be able to tell it as well as Pier Giorgio's niece Wanda told it to me. We had this discussion in March in Rome as we were putting the finishing touches on Pier Giorgio's book of letters which will be published in English for the first time this winter. In the Italian version of the book, there are two pages in the front containing a copy of the official letter issued on Vatican letterhead to Luciana Frassati from Cardinal Montini. Among other things, the letter expresses gratitude and appreciation for Luciana's efforts in compiling the letters of Pier Giorgio and having them published. It was dated July 28, 1950. What does this have to do with the canonization process, you may be wondering!

Well, Pier Giorgio's mother passed away in June of 1949. Her daughter Luciana then became the main advocate for Pier Giorgio. She was upset about the historical inaccuracy surrounding her brother and began the process of editing and publishing his letters. Not everyone was happy about this and some of Pier Giorgio's former friends (who had been recipients of some of his letters which were to appear in the book) even threatened to sue! One went so far as to write to the prospective publisher and threaten the lawsuit. The basis for their position was that the cause for Pier Giorgio's canonization had been stopped (back in 1941) and it would not be right to promote him in any way.

God bless Luciana Frassati! She was undaunted and even more determined. She wrote a letter to Pope Pius XII and requested that someone be appointed to review the record and correct the errors brought about by the anonymous allegations so that her brother's name would be cleared. Her intention was not to reopen the cause for canonization, only to set the record straight. The Secretary of State for the Vatican was Cardinal Montini.

This is the beautiful part of the story. When Cardinal Montini was a young priest, he was appointed to serve as the chaplain for the FUCI in Italy after Pier Giorgio's death in 1925. (The FUCI was the organization of Italian Catholic University Students.) It was a difficult political time in Italy. The Fascist government was in power and the FUCI was the only non-fascist group in the Italian universities. Father Montini was deeply impressed by the religious fervor he witnessed in the students and the tremendous impact that Pier Giorgio's example was still having on them. As Pier Giorgio had done, the FUCI courageously stood against fascism. Who would have known at the time that he would rise through the church ranks and become Cardinal Montini, the Secretary of State, and then the recipient of Luciana's letter to have Pier Giorgio's name cleared?

Cardinal Montini's letter to Luciana giving his blessing to the publication of Pier Giorgio's letters put an end to the threats of a lawsuit and was somewhat of a triumph for Luciana who had endured such opposition from so many. But Cardinal Montini authored a much more important letter in his official capacity -- instructions in the name of Pope Pius XII to have the status of the beatification process reexamined.

In 1963, Cardinal Montini would be chosen to replace Pope John XXIII. He assumed the name of Pope Paul VI. You may have known of Pope Paul VI for his tremendous courage in issuing the pro-life encyclical Humanae Vitae. What you may not have known was that, in 1978, he was very pleased to issue the introduction to the cause for beatification of Pier Giorgio. But now you know the rest of the story!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Upcoming Pier Giorgio Events in Oropa

August will be an exciting month for friends of Pier Giorgio as he takes a place of honor in the beautiful sanctuary of Oropa. On Friday, August 1st, there will be a special Mass of welcoming at 8:30 in the evening, followed by a candlelight procession. The following evening, one of Pier Giorgio's nephews (Jas Gawronski) will take part in a special reflection on Pier Giorgio's bond with Oropa. Throughout the month, there will be many opportunities for prayer and reflection on Pier Giorgio's life. The complete schedule is available from the Sanctuary of Oropa website but is, unfortunately, only in Italian.

Pier Giorgio had a special love for Oropa and, after visiting there myself on many occasions, I can understand why. The sanctuary is surrounded by spectacular mountain scenery and is a place where you can really feel the presence of God. Pier Giorgio had an affinity for The Madonna of Oropa whom he referred to as "the Brown Madonna." Her large statue stands enclosed in glass behind the main altar of the "old church." Pilgrims regularly make the journey to this somewhat remote sanctuary. It is also a launching point for climbing the surrounding mountains and so there are often alpinists present on any given day. This amateur video of a Eucharistic procession was taken on an average day but note how many people participated.

video

On July 16, 1989, Pope John Paul II visited Oropa and gave the following Angelus message:

"To those who are devoted to her, especially young people -- like Pier Giorgio Frassati, who used to come up here to give himself to prayer -- the Blessed Virgin proposed to be a shelter and a refuge, the heavenly Mother who opens her house to give everyone the invigorating experience of a more profound contact with God.

Dear young people who are listening to me! Like Pier Giorgio, may you also discover the way of the Shrine, in order to undertake a spiritual journey which, under Mary's guidance, brings you closer to Christ. You can then become His witnesses with the conviction and keenness which characterized Pier Giorgio's apostolic activity. You will bear witness to Christ, as he did, especially in the university world, in which there are boys and girls who perhaps have not yet resolved the question of the meaning of their life. By word and example you can show that Christ has the really satisfactory solution for the crucial problems of life.

Dear friends, do not hesitate to come up here in search of light and strength for your journey of faith, and a more firm hope for a courageous and consistent Christian commitment in the world of today. Pier Giorgio Frassati stands before you as an outstanding layman of Catholic Action fully aware of his baptismal commitment to contribute to the Christian animation of his social environment, in complete harmony with the bishops of the Church."




Friday, July 25, 2008

Pier Giorgio Heads Home

Pier Giorgio was one of the first to arrive in Australia -- reaching Sydney in late June -- and is one of the last to leave as he heads back to Italy this weekend. His body is expected to arrive in Milan on Sunday, July 27th. Where he goes next is the exciting news! Instead of returning to Turin, his coffin will be taken to his beloved Sanctuary of Oropa which is situated at the base of the mountains he loved to climb. It will remain there for the entire month of August. Pier Giorgio often made the long hike from the family villa in Pollone all the way to Oropa to pray at the feet of the Brown Madonna. How wonderful that he will be near her once again!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives

The amount of incorrect information about Pier Giorgio that ends up online or in print is a bit perplexing to me. The most recent example of this comes from a company that publishes a series of Saint Cards called "Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives." Pier Giorgio is featured on Card 64 from Group 7.

I was recently shown this card and contacted the company to see if they would make the necessary corrections but have met up with a bit of red tape. So I thought I would at least share with you some of the inaccuracies:

First, the card states "Pier was not interested in learning..." This could not be further from the truth. Pier Giorgio considered his studies to be his primary duty and even wrote to fellow students about the serious duty of self-formation -- not to mention that he is considered the patron of university students! This statement on the card completely betrays his dedication to learning.

Second, in more than one place, such as in the sentence above, the card calls him only "Pier." As I have tried to explain many times in many ways, "Pier" is not a standalone name in Italian. It is a type of prefix. He was never called "Pier." The two names are always used together. It should always be "Pier Giorgio."

Third, the card states "Later Pier went to a Jesuit high school." This seems to imply that he attended a four-year Catholic high school which wasn't the case. Actually, he attended the state-run school in Italy for his education except for two years which were both on separate occasions: once when he was 12 and once when he was 16.

Fourth, the card says Pier Giorgio did not marry because "his parents deemed her too religious and forbade the marriage. To please his parents and calm the crisis, Pier Giorgio gave in." Wow, this is so far from the truth that I can't even think of where anyone would come up with this interpretation of the events. It is well-documented in the biographies and all other literature that his parents never knew of his love for Laura. He never even expressed it to Laura! The real story is that he sacrificed his love for Laura because his parents' marriage was on the verge of collapse and he did not want to "start a new family on the ruins of another." Laura was from the working class and he knew his family would not approve of her so he did not pursue the relationship. The nobility of his sacrifice is completely erased by the way the card is written.

Fifth, the card says he didn't tell his family of his illness. In fact, his family knew he wasn't feeling well. But they did not pay attention to the severity of it because of the death of his grandmother in the house at the same time. He never complained about how poorly he was feeling during this time and was overlooked.

Sixth, the sidebar on the card says the family "had no religious traditions." That is a bit extreme, I think. His family was Catholic and, except for his father, attended church. The children were baptized, confirmed, etc., and even tutored by priests. But it is true that there was no deep spirituality in the home.

Overall, the card presents a very inaccurate picture of Pier Giorgio which is quite a disservice to his memory. In addition to the factual errors, there are numerous spelling and grammar errors. Even his sister's name is spelled wrong.

Many years ago, I used to subscribe to this series of cards. Now, seeing how wrong this one card is, I have to wonder about all of the rest. In any case, I hope the above clarification will reduce any confusion this card may cause.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

And You Shall Be My Witnesses

The theme for this year's World Youth Day came from the Acts of the Apostles (1:8): "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses."

I was thinking this morning about the many witnesses the Lord has put in my life who don't even realize how they are witnessing to me. For example, there is a little Vietnamese lady who attends daily Mass at my church and has a simple devotional practice that I have observed for years: she stops at every statue and stained-glass window and says a little prayer. During these summer months, I have enjoyed seeing her out among the flower beds almost kneeling in front of the statues which are not much smaller than she is! She appears to be having an intimate conversation with each statue she pauses at to pray. But her witness doesn't end with what she does outside of the church. Inside of the church she is a friend to all. She doesn't speak such good English but she has a hug and smile for every person. I know that when I say "good morning" to her in Vietnamese, my pronunciation is so poor that I may be saying something altogether different! But she appreciates the effort and I get an extra smile. I realize that, after all of these years, I don't even know her name. And with the language barrier, there is no way to tell her how witnessing the simplicity of her love for God has helped me on many days to be more determined to grow in mine. Watching her makes me wonder what others see when they watch me.

My favorite book about Pier Giorgio has not yet been translated into English. It is a compilation of observations, testimonies, stories submitted during the early stages of the beatification process by people who had some encounter with Pier Giorgio. I especially love the examples given by people who never knew him personally but just saw him in action and were moved deeply by the experience of seeing this young, handsome man imitating Christ. After all, that is often the most powerful witness we give -- what people see when we don't realize they are looking. It is something to be mindful of as we go through each day.

Saint Francis of Assisi is noted for saying, "Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words." In this sense, Pier Giorgio was one of the greatest preachers of his time and is still preaching today. Verso l'alto!

Monday, July 21, 2008

What Difference Will You Make?

"What will you leave to the next generation? Are you building your lives on firm foundations, building something that will endure? Are you living your lives in a way that opens up space for the Spirit in the midst of a world that wants to forget God, or even rejects him in the name of a falsely-conceived freedom? How are you using the gifts you have been given, the 'power' which the Holy Spirit is even now prepared to release within you? What legacy will you leave to young people yet to come? What difference will you make?"

This was a powerful challenge given to the youth of the world by Pope Benedict XVI during the World Youth Day closing Mass in Australia on Sunday morning. It is something for all of us to think about...what difference do I make? Maybe a question that goes along with that one is "how do I make a difference?" Sometimes we can make excuses for not doing our best in life by comparing ourselves to the gifts and talents of others and rationalizing that we cannot really make a difference because we are not as equally gifted or talented. But this is just one of the devil's methods of trickery. God has given to us all the great theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. Exercising these virtues is all it takes to make a tremendous difference in the world. This is something Pier Giorgio Frassati's life shows us. He simply went about his daily life living out the virtue of charity one act at a time. That is something we all can do.

I have been reading a lot of wonderful testimonies of people who were so moved by the opportunity to pray in front of Pier Giorgio's coffin in Sydney. The exhibit dedicated to him told the simple story of his life. Maybe it moves people so much because the story is our own. We all have difficulties and struggles and secret pain, as Pier Giorgio did. And like him, we can all respond to God's grace with faith and hope and love. He shows us that holiness is for each one of us and that true riches come from a life lived for God.

Watching the World Youth Day Mass on television was so inspiring to me that I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in the air. I remembered back to hearing the great Pope John Paul II giving a great commission to all of us at Denver years ago to go out and live life to its fullest for Christ. We were challenged again yesterday by Pope Benedict in the same way: "Do not be afraid to say 'yes' to Jesus, to find your joy in doing his will, giving yourself completely to the pursuit of holiness, and using all your talents in the service of others!"

This is all it takes to make a difference. Be fearless and be God's. Verso l'alto!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Miracles Great and Small

During Pier Giorgio's time in Australia, I must admit that I have been hoping and praying for that canonization miracle. (The Frassati family and I have a bit of a running joke about my optimism that a miracle will occur in the U.S. But I wouldn't mind it happening anywhere!) Sometimes, when we have our sights set on great things, it is easy to overlook all of the little gifts the Lord gives us. An email received today makes this point much better than I could. It was from someone reporting a favor received through the intercession of Pier Giorgio. Here is the testimony:

"My prayer was that my student loan would be approved. After two initial rejections, we submitted it again on the weekend of July 4th, asking Pier Giorgio's intercession that it would be approved. It was approved that following Tuesday, two days before the deadline. I will now be able to go back to school thanks to Pier Giorgio's intercession. While it may not be a major miracle to most people, it most certainly is to me."

This is such an uplifting example of how God works in our lives. The person who wrote this could have just gotten discouraged and not bothered submitting the loan again. So there was an element of faith and perseverance involved. We have to do what we can and then leave the rest to God. In this case, it was especially nice to see Pier Giorgio interceding for a fellow student. He was known for helping classmates with their tuition and books. Everyone at the university he attended knew that if they needed something they should go to Frassati who was always broke but always found a way to help. Now that he is in heaven, he can do so much more. So don't hesitate to ask for his help! Miracles great and small are just a prayer away.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sing Along with Pier Giorgio

One of the fun bits of trivia about Pier Giorgio is that he was tone deaf and sang at the top of his voice out of tune. He would be amused, I think, to know that there are now songs being sung about him! The most recent is one that was written by a Canadian musician, Erin Berghouse. The song has been played in St. Mary's Cathedral in Sydney, Australia, as a part of the World Youth Day festivities and is now available for downloading for $1.99. Click here to visit her website.

The other song I've heard about Pier Giorgio is called, "Toward the Heights" by the group Ascent. You can hear a bit of it and buy their album by clicking here.

Does anyone know of any other Pier Giorgio tunes? Let us know!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Shot of Wanda Down Under

It isn't often that we get to see Wanda Gawronska in photos on the web but I was happy to find this one. Wanda headed down under to be in Sydney with her beloved uncle Pier Giorgio during the World Youth Day festivities. This photo was snapped of her meeting the Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson. Fr. Tom Rosica, the head of Canada's Salt and Light TV is to her right.
I know that Wanda debated about taking this trip because of the distance but it is so great that she is there. She works so hard to promote Pier Giorgio's cause and had to do so much in Italy to enable his coffin to be brought to Australia. Hopefully, she is having a wonderful time and is being blessed in abundance with this opportunity to see a little of the fruit of her labor.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

World Youth Day is Underway!

Well, after years of preparations, World Youth Day 2008 is finally here! Organizers of the event have said they expect about 4,000 visitors an hour to attend the "Pilgrimage to the Cathedral." Wow! This is extra exciting because of Pier Giorgio's presence in the Cathedral. Among that large number of people there are probably many who have never heard of him, along with those who have a great devotion. It is definitely an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to do His thing and pour out grace upon grace upon all who pass through the cathedral doors. Meanwhile, those of us on this side of the world can do our part to participate in the activities by praying for all those in Sydney and especially our Holy Father as he begins his apostolic mission in Australia. What a pope! What a church! How great to be Catholic!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Canonization Rumor!

I recently received an email asking the following: "Do you think Pier Giorgio will be canonized at World Youth Day? If not, why would they dig up his body and take it to Australia?" It seems a lot of people have had this on their mind, so I thought I would respond here.

No, I do not think Pier Giorgio will be canonized at World Youth Day! If that were the case, I would be on a plane to Sydney right now! Pier Giorgio has not had the second miracle attributed to him which is absolutely necessary for his canonization. One of the primary tasks of FrassatiUSA is spreading the word about Pier Giorgio and his spirituality so that people will know about him and will pray for a miracle through his intercession. When such a miracle is reported, you will be sure to hear about it!

The second part of the question -- why would they dig up his body and take it to Australia? -- is a little more involved. First, it sounds rather harsh to use the words "dig up." I'm picturing guys from some crime show with shovels on a hillside somewhere. Actually, Pier Giorgio's coffin was placed in a vault in the family crypt where it remained until 1990. Then it was transferred to a side altar at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin. So, it wasn't so difficult to remove it from the altar and transport it to Sydney. It was a rather involved process because of Australian regulations which led to a new coffin being constructed. But no shovels and dirt were involved! Why take him to Sydney? This actually was at the request of church officials in Australia. I can't speak for them, but I imagine they wanted to do something extra special as hosts of World Youth Day. Pier Giorgio has long been a patron of past WYD events and is known as the patron for youth, young people, university students. To bring his remains -- it would be better for us to think of his body as a holy relic -- is something most extraordinary. This has been done with other saints for different events. For example, the relics of St. Terese of Lisieux traveled around the U.S. several years ago.

Understandably, some people have trouble with this whole concept and I am not the best person to offer a theological explanation. But imagine if somebody decided to "dig up" the body of Elvis Presley and bring it to Las Vegas. How many millions of people do you think would line up just to walk past his coffin?


A couple of years ago, I went on a personal pilgrimage that took me to Ars where the incorrupt body of St. John Vianney is on display, then to Paray-Le-Monial where the incorrupt body of St. Margaret Mary is on display, and then to Nevers where the incorrupt body of St. Bernadette is on display. I cannot describe those scenes well enough to convey the aura of sanctity in each of the chapels. At the same time, I realize that those sort of places are not for everyone, in the same way that some people are averse to visiting the grave of a loved one at the cemetery.

Probably a more appropriate example would be the tomb of Pope John Paul II in Rome. Each time I have visited the tomb area, I have stayed awhile to pray. Each time, it has gotten more and more busy. So many people want to come and be in the presence of this great man for just a second or two. Now, the crowds are so great that they have a constant audiotape asking for silence in several languages.

In the case of a holy person like Blessed Pier Giorgio, there are many graces to be received by venerating his relics. For those pilgrims who love Pier Giorgio and are open to this aspect of the Catholic faith, praying in his presence in Sydney will be a true highlight of their journey down under and to the top.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

One Week to World Youth Day!

Wow, where does the time go?! I can't believe it's been so long since my last post. A lot has happened since then. My biggest adventure was heading down to Birmingham, Alabama, to appear on EWTN's "Life on the Rock." It was a fun show to do and the time just flew by. It is amazing that the message of Pier Giorgio could reach around the world in that one hour. Thank God for Mother Angelica and her gift to the Church of creating such a powerful ministry.

The day after the show, I headed up to St. Paul, Minnesota. It was beyond awesome to be in the city of St. Paul at the Cathedral of St. Paul on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul to begin the Jubilee Year of St. Paul! While I was there, I spoke to two groups about Pier Giorgio. One of the groups, the Minnesota Frassati Society, celebrated their fifth anniversary with a great "Taste of Frassati" event. I met a lot of wonderful people from that group and was really inspired by everything they are doing.

Have you been watching the Australian coverage of the arrival of Pier Giorgio's body to Sydney? It has been interesting to read the various reactions to this event. There are, of course, the usual protesters and those who would condemn Catholics for the practice of venerating relics. But as I follow the very positive stories in the news, I can feel the cyber-buzz all the way from Australia as the Holy Spirit plans His great descent on the World Youth Day participants! Are you going? I am not making the trip but two of Pier Giorgio's nieces will be there. I hope some of you will share your stories and pictures with those of us who are staying put.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Have you read a good Pier Giorgio book lately?

If you are looking for a good book about Pier Giorgio to read or share with others, I would recommend his sister Luciana's beautiful account of his death. The book is called, "My Brother Pier Giorgio: His Last Days." Although the book has been available for years, it seems to have been a well-kept secret and as a result is listed for sale on Amazon for incredible prices. I have been fascinated to see the book listed for upwards of $200 for more than a year! Right now, the price range on Amazon is between $22 and $195. The book is not out of print and you don't need to pay that much for it. You can get it in the EWTN Religious Catalogue for $12.00 or in the FrassatiUSA PGF Bookstore for $12.95. It is a book you will not want to put down and it will draw you even closer to Pier Giorgio than you have been before. Happy reading!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Pier Giorgio Down Under

After a terrific send-off in Turin, Pier Giorgio's coffin has made the long journey down under and is now in Australia.

His casket has been placed in the church of St. Benedict where his July 4th feast day will be marked with a Mass celebrated by Cardinal George Pell, archbishop of Sydney. The coffin will be moved to the Cathedral from July 11th to the 22nd where World Youth Day participants will be able to venerate the relics of Pier Giorgio. An exhibit dedicated to Pier Giorgio will be held in Sydney Exhibition Hall.

This is surely a time of grace for the Church in Australia where hundreds of thousands of Catholics will soon gather for a terrific outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Blessed Pier Giorgio...pray for us!


Thursday, June 5, 2008

How to Start a Frassati Society -- Part One

Some general guidelines for starting a Frassati Society can be found on the FrassatiUSA website. But the blog is a better place for a forum of ideas and I hope some of you will be willing to share your experiences -- what works and what doesn't, etc. I'll start off with the first Frassati Society that I was involved with back in 1996. It came about at the inspiration of our associate pastor who wanted a group for young adults but something more than just another singles group. After much consideration, he one day was inspired to use Pier Giorgio for our model and call the group, "The Frassati Society." We never put an age limit on the group but aimed at the 20s and 30s crowd, single or married. We came up with a format that worked pretty well down in the Bible Belt. We met every Wednesday evening and had a four-week cycle. One week would focus on service, one on social, one on spiritual and one on catechetical. This opened up a lot of possibilities for activities. For example, we studied a section of the catechism under the guidance of our priest on the weeks devoted to catechetical. Our favorite service project was probably cooking dinner at the Dismas House, a place for people transitioning from prison to freedom. Social included things from hiking to parties to sporting activities to dinner out. Spiritual allowed us to learn more about the sacraments and devotions and grow in our faith. This is just a little of what we did. There were never dues or financial obligations or commitments to make. It was pretty much, "come when you can and pray for us when you can't." I can honestly say that I made some of the best friends I have ever had in that group.

What does your group do?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Pier Giorgio's Body Transferred to New Coffin

I have a little update on the preparations for Pier Giorgio's trip to Sydney, Australia. A new coffin (satisfying Australian import requirements) was constructed to hold Pier Giorgio's mortal remains. The transfer has now been completed and the coffin has been placed in the side altar at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin. Wanda tells me it is in front of the altar now and can be seen by passers-by until it leaves Italy in mid-June. I will keep you posted on the travel plans. Those of you who are going to be in Turin in the next few weeks will have the special treat of being able to view the coffin which is normally out of view behind the altar. Verso l'alto!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Pier Giorgio and the Military

Pier Giorgio was very concerned about the soldiers who served Italy in World War I and afterward. This is one of the stories about how he reached out to men who were complete strangers out of concern for their spiritual welfare. It is a good reminder, in my opinion, to pray for all those who are in the service of our country. This account was related by Gianni Brunelli, a young soldier in Turin in 1924.

"I met Pier Giorgio in the autumn of 1924. At that time, I was in Turin as quartermaster of the 41st District Company. One Sunday, I don’t know if it was September or October, I quickly completed my duties of office and I went to the Mass in St. Secondo, the last Mass at 1 p.m.

I entered and was in the midst of the crowd. At the end of Mass, I took communion. On the way back from the altar to my seat, I encountered Pier Giorgio. He was standing and was holding a rosary in his hand. He looked at me and his eye flashed with light; it was a second and it was an eternity. I will never forget that look. With my face between my hands, I was trying to recollect my thoughts to Jesus, but before me was the flash of that eye which had in it something of a mystic, of a titan, of strength.

When I left, the church was deserted. But outside in the street, waiting for me in the sun was a very good-looking young man. It was Pier Giorgio Frassati. He came toward me smiling slightly and I remember mainly one thing: the lowering of his eyelashes.

“May I!” he said, and there seemed to be in front of me John, the friend of Jesus. I looked at him and on impulse extended my hand to him. “Thank you,” he said. And I didn’t know if he was thanking me for having taken communion or if he was pleased with my spontaneous gesture. “I will accompany you,” he said again, “tell me where you are staying and where you are from.” Then I lightly placed my hand on his arm and told him that I was a mountaineer from the Alps. And I couldn’t have told him anything more beautiful because he completely lit up with joy. The mountain he loved so much!

When we arrived at the main red door of the barracks, he said to me, almost ordering: “Why don’t you gather a group of young soldiers every Sunday and bring them to St. Secondo?” I didn’t respond, but promised with a handshake. The following Sunday, we numbered more than 20 soldiers from my Company at communion. And in the silent shade of the nave, I saw the festive joy of Pier Giorgio Frassati. One word of his was enough to make a miracle, because in the barracks one hardly thinks of Mass."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

18 Years and counting...

It was 18 years ago today that Pier Giorgio was beatified. How many more years will go by before he is canonized? Nobody knows. The canonization process requires another miracle to be reported and attributed to the intercession of Pier Giorgio. At this point, no such miracle has been reported. The more people know about Pier Giorgio and begin to include him in their prayers, the better the chance is for such a miracle to occur. So spread the word and pray, pray, pray!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Pier Giorgio in his own words

It has been a long time in coming, but we are getting very close to being able to read Pier Giorgio's letters in English. Pier Giorgio was a true correspondent. His father was the founder of a newspaper so maybe it was a hereditary trait. In any case, he made it a point to write to his family and friends on a regular basis. I imagine if he were alive today, he would have been big on emailing and text messaging. After his death, a lot of the postcards and letters he had written were collected and eventually compiled into a book in Italian. They have since been published in other languages but never in English. Until now! The publisher estimates the book will be available by this fall. Finally, we will be able to get a glimpse of Pier Giorgio from a different perspective. Long overdue but worth the wait!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Pier Giorgio's "international relief efforts"

Especially now, the headlines are filled with the sad news of death and devastation following various natural disasters. In Myanmar, the struggle to bring aid to the afflicted has been disturbing. Why wouldn't a government want its own citizens to receive lifesaving supplies? Often, in situations like these, our options are only to contribute whatever possible to the relief effort and pray for the comfort and consolation of those who are suffering.

It is widely known that, during his lifetime, Pier Giorgio helped many of the poor in his native Turin. It is less commonly known that his works of charity reached beyond the Italian border. With his father's appointment to the position of Ambassador to Germany, the family began to spend time at the embassy in Berlin. In fact, Pier Giorgio had considered continuing his college studies in Germany during this period. These plans changed with the rise to power of Benito Mussolini and his father's swift resignation afterward. However, during his time in Berlin, Pier Giorgio set about at once to serve the poor. He made the acquaintance of a German priest who was very involved in these efforts and soon became involved himself. He also helped the poor in Vienna at the request of a friend from the Pax Romana Conference. As always, he preferred to be anonymous. These brief excerpts from his letters reveal a little of his "international relief activity."

"I’m sending you 90 thousand crowns that I had left over from my trip and I ask you to use the money as you wish. In this my name should remain secret." ~ letter to Maria Fischer (in Vienna), January 1923

" There are many children and women workers in Vienna today without a roof over their heads, left prey to hunger and misery. My friend is begging me to assist them with a collection. In the spirit of Pax Romana I thought that you would be able to do the same in Holland." ~ letter to Maria Schwan, January 1923

Wherever he went, whenever he saw people in need, he did what he could to help. He was a true apostle of charity, both at home and abroad.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Relics , Relics, Relics

A couple of years ago, I visited Siena and viewed the head of St. Catherine which is on display there. In an email to some family and friends, I talked about that experience and mentioned that I would have to wait until I got to Rome to pray at the tomb of St. Catherine where the rest of her body is located in the beautiful basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. One of my sisters, whom I thought was very familiar with relics but apparently was not, emailed me somewhat shocked to basically say, "What is up with that???" Things are a bit different now regarding how relics (literally, the remains of saints) are handled but it still generates a lot of interest.

I am so often asked about how to get relics of Pier Giorgio. There seems to be a subset of Catholics who are fascinated by relics and can't get enough of them. Then there are those who abuse relics and buy and sell them on websites like ebay. Canon law, by the way, strictly forbids selling relics. One of the many discussions on the origin of relics and their place in the Church can be found in the online Catholic encyclopedia at:
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12734a.htm.

Two years ago, I was in a meeting in Rome with the postulator of Pier Giorgio's cause for canonization when the topic of issuing more relics came up. I remember him asking me, "How would you feel if someone were carrying a piece of your mother around in their pocket?!" It was a well-made point regarding first-class relics. However, I am a big proponent of second-class relics. Every day since my mother's death, I have worn one of her rings or something that belonged to her. When I look down and see her ring on my finger, it brings her a little closer, reminds me to pray for her, encourages me to live in a way that brings honor to her memory and comforts me to know that I can rely on her heavenly intercession. I feel the same about my second-class relic of Pier Giorgio. Based on the numerous requests I have had for relics, I guess a lot of you feel the same way.

Unfortunately, those who abuse relics make it harder for the rest of us to be able to obtain them. Sometimes I get requests from people who actually identify themselves as relic collectors! Relics of saints were never intended to be collected like baseball cards or used as good luck charms. The intention was for them to be venerated and honored as we would venerate and honor that person.

For now, relics of Pier Giorgio are fairly few and far between. No first-class relics were ever taken and there is no way to get one. Official second-class relics are handled by a Dominican Monastery (Monastero Claustrale Domenicano) in Rome. They issue a very tiny piece of wood from Pier Giorgio's coffin. You will also get a paper that verifies the relic is authentic. Back in the 1930s, when Pier Giorgio was raised to the level of Servant of God, small pieces of his bed linen were sewn to a prayer card and made into second-class relics. Several of these are still in circulation. That's pretty much it and I don't think it will change anytime soon. Blessed Pier Giorgio...pray for us!

Monday, May 12, 2008

What's in a Name?

All throughout my life, I have had to spell and repeat my last name for people because it is a bit unusual. It's actually a very simple name, a mere five letters, but not very common. So I can definitely understand the difficulty people seem to have with Pier Giorgio's name. Over the years, I have heard it pronounced in a variety of ways. The most common mistake is shortening his name to one word instead of two and referring to him as just "Pier." The example I find helpful is the name of Pope John Paul II. We wouldn't call him just "Pope John" or "Pope Paul." Likewise, Pier Giorgio's family and friends would not have called him "Pier." In fact, on the few occasions when he used a shortened version of his name, he would use the "Giorgio" -- but definitely not the "Pier." The first part of his name causes another problem for some people who think "Pier" (which means "Peter") is the French word for "father" and that he was a priest named "Father George." I imagine Pier Giorgio would get a good laugh out of that! Unfortunately, there are a lot of internet postings about Pier Giorgio that contain a lot of things that just aren't true. One of the nice things about working with the Frassati family is being able to get the real facts about Pier Giorgio and passing them on to you via the website: www.FrassatiUSA.org. In case you haven't seen it, there is a place on the website for Frequently Asked Frassati Questions ("FAFQs") where we try to clear up areas of confusion and satisfy your cravings for Frassati trivia. By the way, if you can explain what Pier Giorgio meant when he wrote, "a pawshake to Mime and Uadi," you have the makings of a real "Tipo Loscho!"

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Should Pier Giorgio's Body Be Displayed?

By now, you have heard the news that the mortal remains of Pier Giorgio, found to be perfectly incorrupt in 1981, will be present in Sydney, Australia, for this summer's World Youth Day festivities. Ever since the news was announced, a lot of people have asked if his body will be able to be seen. The answer is no; his body will be in a traditional, closed coffin. This disappoints some people and relieves others. I'm not sure how I really feel about it. One of my greatest devotions is to St. Bernadette, the Lourdes visionary. When I finally had the opportunity to visit her convent in Nevers, France, and pray before her beautiful, incorrupt body, it was a tremendous experience. I could have spent days there. On the other hand, I have been in many churches in Italy where bodies of saints are encased in glass beneath altars and some of them are less inspiring. The recent display of the body of St. Pio is drawing incredible numbers of people. But to some, this is all just a morbid, antiquated practice. What do YOU think? Take the survey and let us know.

Friday, May 9, 2008

How I "Met" Pier Giorgio

People often ask me how I got involved in the work of promoting Pier Giorgio. To be honest, I had never heard of him until 13 years ago. Shortly after moving to Nashville, my parish priest asked if I would help start a group for young adults. We couldn't think of a name for it. One morning after Mass, he showed me a little brochure about Pier Giorgio and we decided to call our group "The Frassati Society." In 2002, I started the Aquinas College Frassati Society. In 2006, I met Wanda Gawronska (one of Pier Giorgio's nieces) in Rome. And the rest, as they say, is history! How did YOU "meet" Pier Giorgio?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Welcome to Frassati and Friends!

Dear Friends of Pier Giorgio,
Ever since FrassatiUSA was established, I have had the tremendous privilege of communicating with many of you and hearing wonderful stories about how Pier Giorgio is working in your lives. So often, these stories have uplifted me and provided encouragement for this ministry. And, from time to time during my travels to Italy to work with Pier Giorgio's family, I have sent emails to those of you on the FrassatiUSA mailing list about my adventures. I have heard a lot of feedback about how much these stories have inspired you in your spiritual lives and in developing your own personal devotion to Pier Giorgio. Until now, there has not been an adequate forum for all of the friends of Pier Giorgio to communicate with one another and share words of encouragement and inspiration. This blog -- "Frassati and Friends" -- is it!

So let's sharpen our pencils, or keypads, and get ready to blog our way verso l'alto!