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:

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: 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!