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.

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.