Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pier Giorgio's last Christmas

I attended a funeral today and found myself wondering about the deceased's last Christmas. In most cases, we never know what our last days will be like. It is highly unlikely that Pier Giorgio would have ever known that Christmas 1924 would be his last.

Among the testimonies gathered following his death is one that I find amusing and inspiring at the same time. It was submitted by a teacher named Gian Pietro Ravera. He states:

"Christmas 1924 was celebrated according to the Club’s tradition, and in fact about fifteen members gathered that night in a private chapel at 9 Via Ormea where Canon Bues celebrated Mass. I was among those who were invited by Pier Giorgio, who went on and on about how beautiful the Mass would be, as well as the gastronomic delights that would follow. Pier Giorgio and Carlo Pol served the Mass, and I remember how it was difficult to move in the chapel because it was standing room only. Pier Giorgio had some cigars in his suit coat pocket, and they started to fall out when he was making a genuflection. He blushed deeply as he stuffed them back into his pocket. Then, turning toward my side of the chapel and seeing that I had seen everything that had happened, he made a face as if to excuse himself and he suppressed a smile, returning to his prayers with greater intensity than before. I continued to watch him, and the longer the Mass went on, and the more intense and spiritually delightful it became, the more I was moved to see that group of university students follow the liturgy of the Mass with such devotion."

This testimonial provides us with such a classic picture of Pier Giorgio: a young man who persuaded his friends to go to Mass, spilled cigars, thought about good food, witnessed his faith merely by his demeanor, accompanied a small group in a priest's private chapel... Looking back on that night, I think we could safely say that he enjoyed his last Christmas celebration.

Wishing you a holy Christmas season and the joys of faith, food, friends and family wherever you will be. Buon Natale e Verso l'alto!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Pier Giorgio in Minnesota

Thanks to Sarah Peterson for reporting a "Pier Giorgio sighting" in Stillwater, Minnesota. Quite appropriately, a stained-glass window of Pier Giorgio is located in the Perpetual Adoration Chapel at the Church of St. Michael. Considering how devoted he was to Eucharistic Adoration, there couldn't be a better place to place Pier Giorgio's image. I actually visited this chapel several years ago while attending a conference in Stillwater and have seen this window with my own eyes. It depicts him as a mountainclimber -- a bit too big and bulky, in my opinion -- but very cool to see him watching the adorers from his window spot!

Sarah also reports that she formed a homeschooling group in 2006 called "The Faustina and Frassati Group." You can probably guess who the group's patron saints might be! If you would like to be a part of the homeschooling community in the Stillwater area, check them out.

We love hearing about all of the groups with a devotion to Blessed Pier Giorgio. Tell us about yours!

Friday, December 4, 2009

O Come Let Us Adore Him

Today is First Friday and, in my parish, that means Eucharistic Adoration. Some of you are blessed to have Perpetual Adoration. What a gift! Perhaps it is the greatest mystery of our Catholic Faith -- our belief in the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. And yet, anyone who has spent any amount of time in Adoration knows that all-pervading peace that fills the chapel.

Pier Giorgio once summed up Adoration in these simple words, “The rulers of the night take their turn in guarding their castles. And we owe greater honor to Jesus than to other rulers."

A very beautiful testimony about Pier Giorgio's devotion to the Blessed Sacrament appears in a book called "La Fede" written by his sister Luciana. (Unfortunately, the book is not yet available in English.) I hope this reflection will inspire you to spend a few extra moments in Adoration during this Holy Season of Advent:

-- as told by Brother Lodovico, S.S.S.
"It was 1920, during a night of adoration in our church, Santa Maria di Piazza. It was about eight-thirty when I heard the doorbell of our residence ringing over and over again. I left the group in church for a moment and went to answer the door. I was surprised but reassured to find a handsome young man, who I didn’t know, standing there before me. He said that he had come to adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and that his assigned turn as a member of the university students’ adoration society was that night (the second Saturday of the month).

That night was not for university students, as I told my courteous visitor, but for religious. So I encouraged him to go home because it was late. But this didn’t put off the selfless young man; he pleaded with me to let him come in anyhow, and argued that he would do his adoration that night on behalf of our religious who were on duty.

I tried every way to persuade him from doing this, and I asked him to consider the fact that he was not obliged to stay up all night and pray for long periods like that. But my remarks were of no avail, and his charming and repeated request finally made me give in, just to make him happy.

He was jubilant over his victory, and off he went to church. He entered the sanctuary (a privilege granted to members of the nocturnal adoration society), made a profound genuflection, and then knelt in one of the choir stalls and remained there in devout prayer. During the hour that I knelt next to him, I was immensely edified by his exemplary behavior. I could notice all the holy tricks that he used to stay awake, despite the fact that he was tired and drowsy: sometimes he would pray standing up, or he would read, or recite the Rosary. My fellow religious who were there with me can attest to the fact that he spent the whole night with us, until 4 a.m., when he requested and received Holy Communion. Then he spent an hour in thanksgiving, until 5 a.m., when the church was opened to the public. He had warmed his beautiful soul close to the Eucharistic flame that entire night, and satisfied his hunger at the Table of the Angels, and so he departed peacefully.

As soon as I ran into the priest who was the Director of Nocturnal Adoration, I was quick to tell him about what happened that night. From what I told him, he could figure out who the young man was, so he smiled at me and said, “Don’t be so surprised: that’s our beloved Pier Giorgio Frassati, a devout young university student who’s very keen on nocturnal adoration.”

It’s true: wherever a saint has walked by, he leaves behind footprints that can never be erased!"

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pier Giorgio in Canada

How blessed I was last week to celebrate Thanksgiving and enter into the season of Advent with some of Pier Giorgio's good friends in Calgary, Alberta. Those of you who know more about Canada than me will know that Canadian Thanksgiving actually falls on the second Monday in October, so I had to celebrate Thanksgiving in spirit.

My reason for being in Calgary was to participate in the year-long "Frassati Project" sponsored by St. Bonaventure Parish. At the invitation of the pastor Rev. Wilbert Chin Jon and the Youth Ministry Coordinator Lucero Young, I spoke to the students at Don Bosco, St. Bonaventure, St. Philip and St. Boniface schools. I also had the opportunity to address the parishioners of St. Bonaventure Church on two separate occasions as a part of the Advent Mission and participate in a Youth Night event. It was a week of planting Pier Giorgio seeds!

At one school, a young girl asked me whether Pier Giorgio suffered when he died. I was and still am touched by the sensitivity of that child to think in those terms. Each day, we are surrounded by people who are suffering in the silence of their hearts. It is so easy to be preoccupied with our own struggles and become blind to those of others, even people who are most near and dear to us. Another young boy wanted to know what Pier Giorgio's favorite fruit was. In its own way, this question also struck me by its thoughtfulness. How much effort do we make to get to know the little things about the people around us that bring them joy?

I must confess that I knew next to nothing about our neighbors to the north (how is that for alliteration?!) until taking this trip. Shame on me! I returned to the U.S. with such a love for the Canadian people and country and with so much gratitude for the kindnesses of everyone I met. Pier Giorgio's spirit of charity is certainly alive and well in Alberta in the shadow of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. (Click here for a one-minute tour of Canada to the tune of their national anthem!)

Trips like that are always a humbling experience for me. Without exception, my travels place me in the presence of people living out holy and inspiring lives and I am challenged to reflect on how well -- or poorly -- I am responding to the Lord's call to holiness. My thanks to Fr. Wilbert, Lucy, Ross and Cris for being my guides "verso l'alto" in Calgary!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

From Wyoming to Wisconsin and Beyond!

If I were a better blogger, I would be posting all of the wonderful news about people and places where Pier Giorgio is making an impact. It's hard to keep up with him! Just yesterday, I spoke with a youth coordinator in the Diocese of Oakland (CA) and enjoyed hearing his stories of how teens react to the message of Pier Giorgio. This week, The SaintCast will have a booth at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Kansas City and plans to pass out Pier Giorgio prayer cards there. In Clintonville, Wisconsin, Pier Giorgio is the Saint of the Month both at the school and in Religious Education. At Wyoming Catholic College, a commons building has been named "Frassati Hall." And so on...

Yesterday, I also received a moving note from a woman in her 60s. She and her husband were forced to relocate following Hurricane Katrina. They ended up in Mississippi and after a series of events she began attending a certain parish for adoration. She writes,
"While at adoration I found a prayer card on Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. I read some information on his life and began to ask for his intercession on my finding a job that God may want me to have. My husband attends adoration with me at times and he is now also praying for his intercession for his employment. We want to be productive and be led to where we may be needed. ... We were feeling totally lost and unwanted with our failure to find work. We have people praying for us and now we have asked for the intercession of Blessed Pier Giogio Frassati. After a few weeks of my asking for his intercession I was contacted by a company that teaches after school art classes to elementary school aged children, to be one of their instructors. I begin working on my own with the children after the Thanksgiving holidays."
Two parts of her story touch me the most. The first is how she "found" a prayer card at this church while attending Adoration. Obviously, someone put it there; maybe one of you! We never can fully comprehend what God is doing with us here as we so often plod through each day seeking for meaning. And rarely do we see the good that comes from our simple actions like putting prayer cards in a church that a total stranger will come across and take comfort and encouragement from in a difficult time. Thanks to each of you who have helped FrassatiUSA put more than 65,000 prayer cards into circulation over the past two years. What a great start! We are planting Pier Giorgio seeds and, surely, the harvest will be pleasing to the Lord.

The second thing about her story is that she and her husband are in their 60s and have embraced Pier Giorgio. So often, we think of him as only a model for the youth. But I know for a fact that he is loved by people from 8 to 80 years old! His example is one that crosses all demographics. His message is universal: Holiness is for everyone! Let's continue to spread it to everyone we encounter. Verso l'alto!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Teenager Testimonial

This note speaks for itself:

"I've changed my life because of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Now I know what true charity is. Now I know that the needy's necessities should be prioritized and not mine. This is not a great miracle, but I do believe that to change my life for the betterment of my people is more than a miracle to be conveyed. From now on, I'm willing to give my scholarship allowance to the needy. I will visit them as long as I could. And will help them each and every way I know I can make them happy. I know Blessed Pier Giorgio will be a saint. Thank you very much. I'm Mark, 18 years old, from the Philippines."

Blessed Pier Giorgio...pray for us!

Friday, November 13, 2009

New Song for Pier Giorgio

For those of you who understand Spanish, our Pier Giorgio friends in Argentina have posted a new song about Pier Giorgio on their website. (If you're not into electric guitars, it may not be the song for you!) Click here to go straight to the music.

Monday, November 9, 2009

New School Named for Pier Giorgio

For the past several weeks, I've been in on a great Pier Giorgio secret. Yesterday, the news was made public. In the Chicago Archdiocese, a new middle school was announced for the 2010-11 school year. It will be called Frassati Catholic Academy. The school's motto will be "Reach for the Heights!" Needless to say, this is exciting news for all of us laboring in the "Frassati vineyard." Click here to read more from a Chicago paper.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

How the time flies...

It is hard to believe that two years have gone by since the death of Luciana Frassati. Unlike her brother Pier Giorgio who lived to be only 24 years old, she passed the centenary mark and died at the age of 105 on Sunday, October 7, 2007. What a beautiful entry into eternal life -- on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. Even more beautiful is that she died peacefully in her bedroom in the place where she was born.

On my first visit to Pollone, Italy, after Luciana's death, I was struck by the absence of her presence. I had gotten used to seeing her each day during my visits there and hearing her voice when she came down the main staircase. These days, I enjoy thinking about her being united with her big brother and accomplishing great things from above.

Our pilgrimage group visited her tomb this past summer and prayed the "De Profundis" there for her intention. It would be a nice spiritual gift to make to her today from wherever you are.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Frassati in Michigan

More good news of another Frassati Society that has recently formed! According to the group's website, the Marquette Frassati Society was founded by four Catholic churches in the Marquette, Michigan area. "This group reaches out to young adults and families to offer both spiritual enrichment and charitable opportunities to its members along with time for fellowship."

If you are in the Marquette area, check it out!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Frassati in Florida

Great news about a new Frassati club springing up at St. Francis Catholic High School in Gainesville, Florida. The club will be committed to fellowship, service, prayer, study and action. The group hopes to attend the March for Life in January and be a "campus ministry" group. Thanks to Matthew Irwin and Nicole Muser for the info!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Pier Giorgio sighting at amusement park!

Have you seen Pier Giorgio lately?! Here is a fun picture of someone spotted wearing the "Verso l'alto" t-shirt at an amusement park (Kennywood) in Pittsburgh. After seeing this, I remembered that Pier Giorgio visited an amusement park in Munich back in September of 1921. He wrote about it to his friend Gian Maria Bertini:

"Last night I went with Mr. Dück and his sister, a nice young lady dark skinned and very Italian looking, to the Festwiese, a feast which takes place every year at the end of September and lasts two weeks and where you can find all amusements like merry-go-rounds, rollercoasters, etc."

If you have any fun pictures of "Pier Giorgio sightings" send them to us! By the way, the Verso l'alto t-shirt is on sale now during our summer clearance. Only a handful of small and mediums are left. Get yours today and hit the roller coasters!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Remembering Luciana Frassati

Pier Giorgio's younger sister Luciana was born on August 18, 1902. They were 16 months apart and were raised like twins, she said. I met Luciana in 2006 on the occasion of her 104th birthday -- a day I will never forget -- and had the privilege of spending several months in her company at the Frassati family villa. When she died on October 7, 2007, at the age of 105, I was blessed to attend her funeral. This summer, when the FrassatiUSA Pilgrimage arrived in Pollone, Italy, to spend two days at the family home, it was my first trip there without Signora Luciana being in the house. How I missed her presence.
Today we mark her 107th birthday. May God grant her eternal memory and peaceful, blessed repose.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Frassati Servers

So far this summer, I have learned of two different groups of Frassati Servers. One group is here in the U.S. and one is in Ireland. It struck me that the idea is already intercontinental and, therefore, must be an inspired one! In any case, it is worth passing along to all of you.

From Kansas, Jane Alexander writes, "Our priest, Fr. Jason Borkenhagen, started the Frassati Servers in our parish about four years ago. Both of my sons have been Frassati Servers during this time and have learned a deeper role in serving Mass as well as serving the people of the parish. Frassati Servers are boys of high school age and are given a few more responsibilities in serving the Mass. Along with working, they also get together for ballgames, trips to the lake as well as participating in special Masses at our Diocesan Cathedral."

From Northern Ireland, Father Peter O'Kane writes: "Recently I formed a club for our twenty-five altar servers under the patronage of Pier Giorgio; we call it the 'Frassati Club'. We celebrated Mass together with their families on Pier Giorgio's Feast Day for the first time in the parish and we had a little party afterwards. I told them about the international gathering in Pollone earlier that day and how we were spiritually united to you."

What a great way to inspire youth as they serve the Lord during Mass -- something Pier Giorgio did so often. His example on the altar was edifying to so many who were present. In her book about the Faith of Pier Giorgio, his sister Luciana writes:

"Serving Mass was something normal for him to do, and never burdensome or difficult. He felt instinctively that he was taking one more step up toward Jesus.

So he wanted to do whatever would bring him close to the priest at the altar. Monsignor Pini, for whom he served on many occasions, said one time, “Pier Giorgio served Mass in an exemplary way.”

But even before he said this, just about everyone else agreed. They had seen Pier Giorgio kneeling on the marble or stone steps, his eyes focused on the consecrated Host, and on the deliberate and solemn movements of the priest.

He was happy serving Mass, which explains his deeply spiritual attitude. He was so happy that when he was in Pollone he often served Mass twice a day."

If you have a Frassati Servers group at your church, tell us about it by adding a comment to this blog. Verso l'alto!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Pilgrimage Posts: Off to Oropa

Our last full day in Italy was destined to be our most memorable, if for no other reason than it was Pier Giorgio’s feast day. The biggest suspense during the night was whether the weather would cooperate for us one last day so that we could attempt to climb Mount Mucrone. What a smile swept over my face when I woke up and saw the clear skies. And how awesome to wake up in Pier Giorgio's house on his feast day and then celebrate Mass early in the morning in his bedroom?!

Our bus driver was prompt and we were on the bus and on our way to the Sanctuary of Oropa – the place Pier Giorgio so often went to pray to his beloved Brown Madonna. We reached the cable car station at the base of the mountain around 8:30 and got our tickets for the six or seven-minute ride to the landing. From there, it is about a 10-minute walk to Lake Mucrone. I was very surprised to see how much snow was still on the mountain in early July. It was picturesque but made things a little more dangerous. A few of our group chose to stay behind. The rest of us set off for the top of the mountain. It was slow going but we really did well and made it to the highest point within about 1 ½ hours. A heavy fog was settling and we really had no view of anything down below. In August of 1917, Pier Giorgio wrote to his friend Carlo about a similar weather experience on one of his climbs:

"Today I took a stupendous walk. I left this morning at six: the sky was clear, though tonight it’s raining. Together with my father, Luciana, and the Marchisios I went to Favaro to take the tram to Oropa. After we attended Holy Mass, said at the main altar of the Madonna, we went from Oropa to Sette Fontane, a farmhouse situated in the Elvo valley at the foot of Mucrone. ... A cool breeze was blowing overhead, and the sun was hot. Mucrone was beautiful up close and it made me wish that I could climb it from the steep side. But then came the fog, which covered everything; but once in a while the outline reappeared. Around two o’clock we went down to Pollone. During the return trip the weather changed at each instant, and now a storm is breaking."

The fog and threat of a storm kept us from staying long at the top. After saying some brief prayers, we began our descent. A scary moment occurred when one member of our group took a nasty tumble on the rocks. Miraculously, he didn’t break any bones or sustain any type of head injury, but his right leg was extremely swollen and he had cuts all over his body. Pier Giorgio had to have been present in the man who suddenly arrived on the scene. He was a serious mountain climber, as evidenced by his backpack and poles. He dug through his things looking for a special salve and ended up applying some sort of disinfectant and wrapping the leg in a gauze bandage. He then spent the next hour or so assisting with the slow-going descent. When the men reached the landing near Lake Mucrone, he spoke to me briefly and with an “auf Wiedersehen” was soon out of sight.

God wa
s so good and so clearly among us on the mountain. This man who became the good samaritan was at the top when we were about to begin our descent. I spoke to him briefly in Italian and explained that we were here because of Pier Giorgio. He knew about Pier Giorgio and told me what a good person and mountain climber he had been. No surprise, then, that this man would end up stepping in the shoes of Pier Giorgio to assist our injured climber.

Mountain first aid arrived to take a look at the injury. A trip to the hospital was recommended but declined and we headed back
down to the sanctuary via the cable car. When we arrived at the upper church, we saw a huge procession taking place – nearly 1800 people from Asti making an annual pilgrimage. It was a beautiful sight. By the time we all regrouped, it was too late for lunch and we really had to get back to Pollone. Everyone grabbed something quick and headed for the bus. After taking a wrong turn, we had another close call squeezing through some extremely narrow streets but managed to get back on the main road. Unfortunately, this put us so behind schedule that we did not arrive back at the villa until 5:45. We were scheduled to attend an international Mass in honor of Pier Giorgio’s feast day at 6:00 p.m. at the parish church but it looked like we would never make it. After a chaotic 15 minutes or so, we all managed to get there!

It was a beautiful place to celebrate our last Mass as a group – there in Pier Giorgio’s parish church where he often served and attended Mass. Afterward, we feasted in the local restaurant with a
full-course Italian meal. At one point, Wanda arrived to tell us that a contingent of French youth were at the villa. We headed back to visit with them. They were praying and singing in Pier Giorgio’s room when we arrived. After they cleared out, we prayed the eighth day of our group novena in the main entrance of the villa and ended with a verse of “Hail Holy Queen Enthroned Above.” Then, it was time to begin saying our goodbyes as we had to meet our driver at 6:30 the next morning to head to the airport in Milan.

It was bittersweet to pull away from the villa on Sunday morning with Wanda waving farewell. We finished our group novena on the bus on the way to the airport and we all made it safely to our homes. From start to
finish, it was a wonderful adventure. As always, Wanda outdid herself with her generosity and hospitality. I felt so blessed to be with the group that made up the inaugural FrassatiUSA Pilgrimage and am certain that each person was specially called by Pier Giorgio to be a part of it. I know he journeyed with us every step of the way…from the depths of the catacombs to the top of the mountain. And we are assured of his heavenly companionship until we are finally united in our eternal home.

Thanks for traveling along via these blogposts. Hope to see you on a future pilgrimage. Verso l’alto!

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Pilgrimage Posts: Peaceful Pollone

On Friday, July 3rd, the eve of Pier Giorgio’s feast day, we set off for the Frassati family villa in Pollone. This is by far my favorite Pier Giorgio place. Our day would be blessed from start to finish but it began with an unexpected travel adventure involving our big bus and the narrow Italian streets!

Our excellent driver Rosario relied on his GPS throughout our trip. Unfortunately, the route it gave him on this leg of the journey led us onto very narrow and steep roads that were not at all suited for a large bus. Oncoming cars had to back up quite a way to let us pass and we were barely avoiding the walls of houses and the protruding balconies.

The situation was stressful and it looked like we might even get stuck. At that point, I asked the group to pray and our priest, Father Gary, began to lead the rosary. Almost miraculously, with each prayer the streets began to widen! Eventually, we arrived at a much better road and were able to continue safely on to Pollone. The streets there are also narrow and impassable by bus, so our driver let us out in front of the entrance gates.

Pier Giorgio’s niece Wanda was there to greet us and get everyone situated in their rooms. It was a special gift of the Frassati family to allow us to stay at the villa. What a privilege to be in the house where Pier Giorgio and his family spent so much time. We walked through his beloved flower gardens behind the house and then went for a little walk through Pollone.

Our first stop was the cemetery and the original tomb of Pier Giorgio. Pope John Paul II visited this spot in 1989, prior to the beatification of Pier Giorgio. He prayed in the crypt for 20 minutes, along with Pier Giorgio’s sister Luciana. In 1990, after the beatification, Pier Giorgio's body was moved to the cathedral in Turin. After Luciana's death in 2007, at the age of 105, her coffin was placed in the same spot once occupied by Pier Giorgio. Before leaving the crypt, we took time to pray the De Profundis for Luciana and all of the deceased members of the Frassati family.

After a good lunch at the local restaurant, we walked toward the Cangio Church. It’s official name is the church of Saints Fabian and Sebastian. It was in this church that the proceedings for Pier Giorgio’s baptism were completed. The local parish priest, Don Mario, kindly came to meet us and opened the church for us. We prayed the seventh day of our group novena inside this small, old church that Pier Giorgio often visited. Our walking tour of Pollone then took us to the plaza for the Parco Burcino – a beautiful park – and then past the Holy Spirit Church and the local parish church known as La Parrocchia. There is a small plaza there with a beautiful view and we stopped to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

Back at the villa, Wanda showed us all the newspaper from the nearest town. It had a nice article about our arrival and our pilgrimage itinerary. Quite surreal! Shortly afterward, we had one of the most beautiful Masses of our trip – in the room where Pier Giorgio died. Another of Pier Giorgio’s nieces (Nella) was present and Father gave a nice reflection on the Beatitudes.

Following Mass, we had our first home-cooked meal in days! It was delicious and a lot of fun spending time with Nella at our table. After dinner, we sat outside under one of the huge trees on the grounds. It was really a special time for our group and, again, I could sense Pier Giorgio’s joy at that moment. Here we were, a group of strangers united only by our common love for him, enjoying a wonderful day of faith and fellowship with members of his own family. I don’t know how much more special a day could be. However, we will try to surpass it on our last day of the trip in the only way possible -- an ambitious climb to the top of Mount Mucrone! Until then…Verso l’alto!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Pilgrimage Posts: Travels in Turin

Our time in Turin got off to a very interesting start that only convinced me how much Pier Giorgio was with us on our journey. We arrived late in Turin and planned to meet at 9:15 in the hotel lobby to find a place for dinner. Several of the group decided to stay behind but the rest of us headed out and found a pizzeria. After we had been situated at a table, two more members of the group appeared. It was really unbelievable that they had wandered to the exact same place and found us there. We moved to another long section of tables that would accommodate all of us and ordered our drinks. Just minutes later, two more members of our group arrived! It was really incredulous. I have no doubt whatsoever that Pier Giorgio led everyone to that same little pizzeria on that dark and damp night. Ironically, his niece Wanda called while we were there to say that she had also arrived in Turin and was at a pizzeria just then. It was a classic Frassati moment for sure.

Mass was scheduled for first thing in the morning at the tomb of Blessed Pier Giorgio in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Wanda joined us for Mass and it was really a beautiful time together. After Mass, the priest in charge of the cathedral greeted us in Italian and wished us well on our pilgrimage. Our Turin guide was there and began our tour with the cathedral itself which happens to be the home of the famous Shroud of Turin.

Turin, being the birthplace of Pier Giorgio and the place where he spent most of his lifetime, is a special place to visit for that reason alone. Everywhere we went, we knew Pier Giorgio had been there before us. We visited the beautiful old church of San Domenico, most noteworthy to us because it was here that Pier Giorgio took his vows as a lay Dominican. Our next stop was the Basilica of La Consolata, one of the most beautiful churches in Turin and the unofficial headquarters of Pier Giorgio’s many works of charity. He would often arrange to meet people beneath the bell tower and then set out upon one of his many visits to the poor.

Doors opened for us, literally, in Turin. Most remarkable was our experience at the beautiful Salesian church Santa Maria Ausiliatrice where the relics of Don Bosco are located. When we arrived there at 11:55, we discovered the church closed daily at noon and we were initially turned away. We persisted a bit and were reluctantly given permission to enter for a very quick look. Afterward, the priest in charge used his keys to let us into the two other churches on the premises built by St. John Bosco. We knew Pier Giorgio was opening the doors for us!

We continued walking in Turin and passed by the Cottolengo – a huge medical facility that is now a city within a city. It was not as large in Pier Giorgio's day when he would come regularly to visit the sickest of the sick. Our tour ended at the Piazza Corpus Domini, the location of the church built after the amazing Eucharistic miracle in Turin around 1453. Pier Giorgio describes this miracle in one of his letters.

Lunch and a little gelati renewed us for the rest of our day of walking. We visited Piazza Solferino, the original location of La Stampa -- the newspaper founded by Pier Giorgio’s father. A bit further along, on Corso Siccardi, we were able to view the exterior of the former family home where Pier Giorgio and his grandmother died in July 1925. (The house is now a bank.) Across the street is the church where Pier Giorgio was originally baptized and where his funeral took place. It is locally known as La Crocetta. Inside of this church is a large mosaic featuring Don Bosco and Pier Giorgio standing next to each other. Pier Giorgio often served Mass in this church and it contains a few plaques in his honor, as well as a small youth chapel dedicated in his name.

Turin has never been one of my favorite Italian cities. And yet, whenever I visit, I feel a certain closeness to Pier Giorgio. I know that he walked up and down these streets ministering to the poorest of the poor and the sickest of the sick. He was born here, was educated here, formed his friendships here, fell in love here, spent many nights in Eucharistic Adoration here, engaged in political and religious demonstrations here, died here. His incorrupt body remains here in the cathedral. It is no surprise, then, that his spirit was so alive during our time here. Despite all of that, Turin would pale in comparison to our next stop…Pollone! Verso l’alto!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Pilgrimage Posts: Beautiful Bologna

Another early start and we were on our way from Florence to Bologna. First order of business was finding a map as our bus was not able to take us directly to our main destination here – the Basilica of San Domenico where the relics of St. Dominic are located. Pier Giorgio was influenced by a Dominican Father and took vows as a third-order lay member of the community in May 1922. One year earlier, in August 1921, Pier Giorgio visited Bologna and wrote to his mother:

"This morning I visited nearly all the churches of beautiful Bologna. Maybe if I have a few minutes of time left before leaving I'll visit the art museum.
Many greetings and kisses.
Pier Giorgio"

We were privileged to celebrate Mass in the chapel of St. Dominic but Pier Giorgio’s sense of humor was at work. As Mass started and for quite a few minutes into it, the distracting sound of vacuuming from a nearby chapel was drowning out our priest. Fortunately, a sacristan came and corrected our microphone problem so we could hear better and, eventually, the vacuuming stopped. I did find it amusing that we would come so far to have a special Mass here and have to contend with a vacuum cleaner! After Mass, we were greatly rewarded for our perseverance when Brother Tarcisio gave us a wonderful tour of all things Dominic! He provided detailed info about the sarcophagus, bust, relics, xrays, chapel, church, cloister, etc. He brought us back into the cell of St. Dominic where we also saw items belonging to him and relevant to his canonization. Brother Tarcisio also walked us through the original library of the monastery which is currently undergoing restoration.

We ended the tour outside of the basilica and realized it was time for lunch. But where? Just then, a little old Italian lady carrying grocery bags passed by. She told us there was a place nearby and she was going in that direction. We walked down a side street and she pointed out two lanterns above a doorway. It was a place we would have never found on our own and it turned out to be a wonderful non-touristy restaurant and a great spot for a long Italian lunch. Our Canadian pilgrim turned out to be our Bologna expert and informed us that lasagna originated here. Our waiter confirmed the fact and claimed that the Italian pasta called tagliatelle also originated in Bologna. This was an interesting coincidence because Pier Giorgio shared the recipe for tagliatelle in a letter to one of his friends. Needless to say, the food was delicious.

After lunch, we attempted to visit the basilica of San Stefano but it was still closed. This can be a bit frustrating when traveling in Italy but it is the way it is. We all wanted to return to San Domenico anyway, so we headed back for more time with St. Dominic. It is very pleasant to walk around Bologna -- known for its porticoed sidewalks and the two large towers in the main square. The weather cooperated with us again, threatening rain and thundering a bit but never letting a drop fall on us. We met our bus and were on our way to Pier Giorgio’s hometown. Another great day in the company of Pier Giorgio. Until tomorrow in Turin….verso l’alto!

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Pilgrimage Posts: Fun in Florence

Someday I will have to be sure and thank Pier Giorgio for choosing to admire holy men and women who happen to be from such great Italian cities! His interest in Girolamo Savonarola would take us to beautiful Florence for what would be a rather fun part of our journey.

On the way, we encountered a major hailstorm with spectacular lightning. The driving conditions were so bad that a car had gone off the road and traffic was backed up quite a bit. But one of our daily gifts on this trip was how the weather would be perfect by the time we arrived at our destination. Florence was no different. We reached our hotel in the early evening and a group of us headed out for a walk along the river to the famous Ponte Vecchio. It was a such a full and somewhat surreal day – starting out in Rome, spending the bulk of it in Siena, and ending the night with pizza in Florence.

We were off to an early start the next morning with our Florentine guide Cristina. The church of San Marco was closed for restorations (a common situation when traveling in Italy) but the museum/convent next door was open. This was really our main destination in Florence. Not only is it the home to the many great works of art done by Fra Angelico, but upstairs you can visit 44 cells of the Dominican community from the days of Savonarola. He was the head of the community and was quite a controversial figure at the time. We were able to see the cells he occupied, his mortification belt, his cape, his preaching standard, his rosary, a piece of the wood from where he was burned and so on. Our guide was very knowledgeable about Savonarola and did a wonderful job discussing the controversy, the role he played in Florence politics and the effect of his execution. After getting to know Savonarola a little better firsthand, it is all the more fascinating to think about Pier Giorgio having such a devotion to this somewhat radical friar that he even took his name upon becoming a lay Dominican.

Our tour of Florence took us also to the main cathedral in Florence (the basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore), the Gates of Paradise and the Piazza della Signoria where Savonarola was executed. We celebrated Mass in the Franciscan basilica of Santa Croce – the location of the tombs of Michelangelo and Galileo and a beautiful sarcophagus dedicated to one of Pier Giorgio’s favorite Italian poets Dante Alghieri. We prayed day four of our group novena outside of Santa Croce and then had time to explore a little more of Florence without our guide. Some went to see the original statue of David by Michelangelo in the Galleria dell'Accademia. Some took time to shop. I tagged along with the youngest member of our group to climb to the top of the Duomo cupola and enjoy a spectactular view of Florence.

Pier Giorgio made his presence known that evening when we regrouped for dinner at a place not far from our hotel. At the end of our meal, the server brought us a complimentary bottle of limoncello – my favorite Italian drink after cappuccino! In true Tipi Loschi fashion, we each took a photo wearing a paper hat made from our placemats. It was a good round of spontaneous silliness and fun that Pier Giorgio would have approved of. One of the attractive qualities of Pier Giorgio’s spirituality is that he could appreciate the art of Michelangelo, the poetry of Dante, the charism of a fiery Renaissance preacher such as Savonarola, and the joy of friendship. We managed to do the same in our visit to Florence. Off to Bologna tomorrow. Verso l’alto!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Pilgrimage Posts: Saint Catherine's Siena

Rome is a spectacular city and it is always hard for me to leave there. I think Pier Giorgio must have liked Rome, too. He once had a friend from Vienna named Maria Fischer who visited the piazza of St. Peter’s but did not like it. He teased her about this and never let her forget it!

The day we left Rome was Monday, June 29th, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul. These great saints, in addition to being important to Pier Giorgio, are also the patron saints of the city of Rome. In honor of their feast day, nearly everything in Rome is closed on June 29th. However, it was also the day for the new cardinals to receive the pallium from the Holy Father, so there was a lot of religious activity. The pope gave a special Angelus address that day.

In the morning, we had another short visit from Wanda Gawronska who surprised us by showing up at our hotel during breakfast. Our driver for the rest of our journey met us with our bus. His name was Rosario. It was comforting to have a busdriver whose name means rosary! We headed off to Siena – home of St. Catherine.

It was fitting that we would begin our journey to Pier Giorgio’s home in northern Italy on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul. During the last week of his life, it was this same day that he began his journey to his eternal homeland and began showing the early signs of the polio that would ravage his strong body. According to his sister’s beautiful book, My Brother Pier Giorgio: His Last Days, he was still in good spirits on that day and joked with the family maid to bring him two cigars: “One for St. Peter and one for St. Paul; it’s a double feast today!”

We arrived in Siena a little behind schedule but were still able to say Mass in the chapel in the basilica of San Domenico. This chapel is a special place because it is located directly behind the head of St. Catherine. I know it is hard to believe that there was a time when it seemed appropriate to separate the relics of saints but, nonetheless, it is a part of our church history. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the body of St. Catherine is in Rome at the basilica of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. Her incorrupt head, however, is on display in Siena at the church of San Domenico. The sacristan who helped us prepare for Mass in the chapel there explained that three separate keys are required to open up the reliquary and remove her head.

(As an aside, bathrooms in Italy are always an adventure and Siena was no exception. We had to pay 50 centesimi to use the “WC.” You enter the ladies room through a turnstile after depositing your coin!)

After Mass, we went to visit the home of St. Catherine and were able to see the place where she slept, the family’s former kitchen and other places of interest. We were also able to visit the chapel where the Crucifix is the very one that St. Catherine was praying in front of when she first received the stigmata. This did not take place in Siena but the Crucifix is there now.

Siena is a lovely town to visit. We came here because of Pier Giorgio’s great devotion to St. Catherine. He was reading her book, The Dialogues, during the last week of his life and found great consolation in it. In fact, on June 30th, 1925, four days before his death, he visited a friend and read a page from St. Catherine’s account of a meeting she had with Christ. Pier Giorgio exclaimed how fortunate St. Catherine was to see Jesus while she was alive and said that he envied her. As it turned out, it wouldn’t be very long after making that comment that he would be seeing Jesus.

An unexpected bonus for our trip to Siena was that we happened to arrive just days before the running of the famous horserace – “Il Palio.” In Siena, each person is born into one of 17 regions and has a lifetime affiliation with that region. Flags from each region fly all over the town and depict the mascot for the region. Near St. Catherine’s home, the banners of her region, Oca, proudly bear the symbol of a goose. Prior to the Palio, each region’s horse is brought into church to be blessed. As our luck would have it, when we came out of the gift shop next to St. Catherine’s house, a large crowd was in the courtyard. They were wearing the bandana of the Oca clan. The horse they would enter in the race was being led in a circle and cheered for. How fun to see St. Catherine’s team horse!

One of the most famous piazzas in all of Italy is located in Sienathe Piazza del Campo. Among other things, it is noted for its unique shape. On the day we spent in Sienna, the Piazza was prepared for the horse race and the atmosphere was extra festive. We had a nice Italian lunch while watching more of the preparations being made. It was strange to be walking on top of horseprints in the Piazza!

The only time we had a bit of bad weather was toward the end of our visit in Siena. It started to rain as we were walking back toward the church of San Domenico. Several of us were caught under the eaves of a building and had to make a dash through the rain to get back to the bus. It was fun getting slightly soaked in Siena! Pier Giorgio would have loved it! We left after a great day and headed to Florence where we would continue our wonderful journey in Pier Giorgio’s footsteps. Until tomorrow…Verso l’alto!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Pilgrimage Posts: Rome Sweet Rome

Anyone who has ever visited Rome knows that it is impossible to see the sights in just two days – especially when one of the days is the major jetlag day! But I am proud to say that the brave band of pilgrims on the first ever FrassatiUSA Pilgrimage made the most of every minute! I have tried to include as many links as possible so that you can take a virtual trip with us.

Our journey in the footsteps of Pier Giorgio began appropriately at the basilica dedicated to his favorite saint – St. Paul. We arrived at St. Paul Outside the Walls on June 27th – just before the closing of the Jubilee Year in honor of the birth of St. Paul. Before getting off the bus, we began our group novena in honor of Blessed Pier Giorgio to seek his intercession and protection for our trip. Inside the basilica, we had our first Mass together as a group in the chapel of St. Lawrence. The basilica was already being prepared for a special visit by Pope Benedict and so we were unable to get near the area of the most recent excavation of the tomb of St. Paul. However, we were able to visit the chapel of the Crucifix. The crucifix is considered miraculous because St. Bridget reported that the face of Christ turned and spoke to her while she was praying at the feet of this Crucifix in 1370. (One of our pilgrims was named Bridget and she shares a birth date with Pier Giorgio, so it was extra meaningful to visit that chapel.)

(A little interesting aside about St. Bridget: When the miraculous Crucifix spoke to her, she was given words of encouragement about founding a religious community. Later, she would found the Order of the Holy Saviour – known as the Brigittines. One community of Brigittine monks is located in Oregon and recently elected a new prior, the Reverend Brother Bernard Ner Suguitan, O.Ss.S. He will be installed on July 23rd, the feast of St. Bridget. He is a native of the Philippines and a big fan of Pier Giorgio! Before entering religious life, he founded the Friends of Frassati Philippines.)

But back to Rome… after visiting St. Paul’s, we took a quick trip through Rome to our hotel near the Vatican, settled in and then met for lunch. The rest of the day was a marathon walk to many of the famous places in Rome that would not be a part of our guided tour but are often considered “must sees” when you visit. These included one of my favorite churches in Rome – the Holy Spirit Church along Borgo Santo Spirito. (By the way, the priest/postulator in charge of Pier Giorgio’s canonization cause resides across the street from this church.) The Holy Spirit Church is dedicated to the Divine Mercy and is maintained by nuns from the order of St. Faustina. We entered just as the daily recitation of the chaplet and rosary was coming to an end.

From there, we headed to Santa Lucia in Gonfalone and the Chiesa Nuova. Unfortunately, we timed it just wrong and both were closed. We spent a little bit of time at the Piazza Navona and made it to the Pantheon just minutes before it was closing. In Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, we were able to pray at the tomb of St. Catherine of Siena. (St. Catherine and one of our pilgrims -- Debbie -- share a birth date.) Most of her body is contained in a stone sarcophagus near the altar. We would not see the rest of her until reaching Siena. The tomb of Blessed Fra Angelico (with whom, by the way, I share a birth date) is also in this basilica. We would be able to admire his works later in Florence.

Despite the heat and fatigue, we walked on and reached the jam-packed Trevi Fountain and then the Spanish steps. Trivia: the first McDonald’s in Italy is located on the street just to the right of the bottom of the Spanish steps. Thankfully, we were able to use the bathrooms there! Our streak of hitting places that were closed continued when we finally made it to the Casa del Rosario – a place I recommend for souvenir shopping. Saturday is the only day it closes super early. Make a note of it! It is right across from Santa Maria Maggiore. By this point, everyone was ready to call it a day. We were not far from Rome’s major train/bus station Termini, so we took advantage of the public transportation and headed back to our hotel.

Rome is overwhelming. There are so many breathtaking sights and beautiful churches. There is also the historical aspect represented by ancient Rome. This would be the focus for our second and last day there on Sunday, July 28th. We started the day with Mass in St. Peter’s at the Clementine Chapel. It was a privilege to have Mass in this place because it is the closest location to the remains of St. Peter (who, of course, is one of Pier Giorgio’s namesakes.) We also were able to visit the tomb of the great Pope John Paul II while we were down in the grotto area.

Our guide for the day met us after Mass and we set off for the Basilica of St. John Lateran with a quick stop afterward at the church of the Holy Stairs . We enjoyed the cool of the catacombs of Domitilla and then returned to the Piazza of St. Peter’s to see our friend Pope Benedict recite the Sunday Angelus. He was glad to see us, wished us a pleasant stay in Rome and a Blessed Sunday!

After lunch on the Borgo Pio, we headed off to Santa Maria Maggiore to complete our visits to the four major basilicas. Finally, our guide brought us to the Flavian Amphitheatre, a.k.a.The Coliseum and we spent a good bit of time inside contemplating the complexity and greatness of ancient Rome. Well, okay, I guess we were mainly taking pictures and video -- but trust me, no matter what you do in there, you cannot help contemplating the complexity and greatness of ancient Rome!

With only one evening left in Rome, we were not about to call it quits. We had dinner scheduled that evening at a great little pizza place in Trastevere. Our special guest was Wanda Gawronska – a niece of Blessed Pier Giorgio. On the way there, we stopped in at the basilica of St. Cecilia. Time was on our side and, thanks to a wedding there, we were able to get inside and admire the beautiful (and one of my all-time favorites!) sculpture of St. Cecilia. We were just enough ahead of schedule to have time to visit yet another spectacular basilica– Santa Maria in Trastevere. This is the seat of the Community of Sant' Egidio. Every night, they have beautiful vesper services. On Sunday evenings, they celebrate the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. (I happen to be an eastern rite Byzantine Catholic, so this is always a special experience for me.) Just as we walked inside the basilica, the procession with the gospel book and the incense passed right by us to the sound of the beautiful chanting.

At the pizzeria, we found an air-conditioned room and were joined shortly afterward by Wanda. After dinner, she generously invited us to her home for ice cream and a brief visit on her terrace. What more can I say? The sky was awesome; the view was spectacular; we were having gelati in Rome at the home of a relative of Pier Giorgio. To make it even more special, we prayed day two of our group novena together up there on the terrace. All good things must come to an end and so we made our way back to the hotel via the tram and a city bus. While heading for the bus, we got an up-close look at the giant cats of Rome that live in the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary. Creeeeeeepy!

I think we can all agree that we made the most of our time in Rome. It was a wonderful mix of fun, fellowship, faith, food and Frassati. I feel tired and excited just writing about it! The days to follow would be just as full and even more meaningful. Verso l'alto!