Saturday, June 27, 2009

Howdy Pilgrims!

The Americans have landed in Rome and the first ever FrassatiUSA Pilgrimage in the footsteps of Pier Giorgio is underway! We began with a private Mass in the chapel of San Lorenzo at the beautiful Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. The Pope will be there tomorrow evening for special vespers to close the jubilee year of St. Paul.

A bunch of us went on a major walking tour this afternoon hitting spots like the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, the Pantheon, etc. We also wandered into the first McDonald's in all of Italy. Tomorrow will we say hello to the Pope and all of ancient Rome and then have pizza with Pier Giorgio's niece Wanda Gawonska.

Praying for your intentions as we began the novena today together. Hope you will join us in spirit. Vers l'alto!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Pier Giorgio on EWTN and more

A great opportunity to learn more about Pier Giorgio is coming next week on EWTN. The mini-series "Sanctity Within Reach: Pier Giorgio Frassati" will air on three consecutive days: Thursday, July 2nd, Friday, July 3rd, and Saturday, July 4th at 6 o'clock p.m. EST. Wanda Gawronska, a niece of Pier Giorgio, is the featured guest and provides firsthand information about her uncle. This is a wonderful prelude to Pier Giorgio's feast day which takes place on the Fourth of July. Spread the word and tune in!

Last night in Rome, Wanda and I had a nice time speaking to a small group of seminarians from the U.S. and Canada. Afterward, we attended vespers with them. It is always special to hear men's voices lifted up in prayer and song.

Tomorrow morning, the group of pilgrims will arrive in Rome and we will begin our trek through northern Italy in the footsteps of Pier Giorgio. A little rain may welcome them but a rainy day in Rome is better than a sunny day nearly any place else!

On a totally unrelated note, two entertainment icons passed away in the U.S. recently. Both Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson achieved enormous celebrity status in their own way. Their early deaths are sad on many levels. Reading about them here in Italy, a beautiful reflection of Pier Giorgio comes to mind. In one of his letters that I have read over and over and over, he wrote the following about death when he was just 22 years old:

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

Pier Giorgio challenges us to live and not just exist. Read John 10:10 today and strive for life in abundance. Verso l'alto!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"To the Bottom"

Since my arrival in Pollone, the days have been very full and quite memorable leaving me very little time to post updates. I will try to catch up a bit with this one.

On Sunday morning, we left in a caravan from the Frassati home to head to Val d’Aosta – an area of Italy along the Swiss and French borders. My priest friend from Nashville arrived in a terrible rainstorm the night before from Rome but was treated to wonderful weather for his first excursion to northern Italy. The group included two nieces and one nephew of Pier Giorgio, a great-nephew and his wife, a great-niece, a group of third order Dominicans from Slovakia, a couple of women from Poland, Father Baker and myself. The scenery became more and more breathtaking the closer we got to Val d’Aosta. Rushing waterfalls, beautiful snow-capped mountains, fresh air. Once we all parked, some of us set off on foot to take the shorter hike to the point up in the mountains where Mass would be offered at 11 a.m. What a hike! Major quadricep burn! Good thing I was only doing the short hike!

The Mass was simply stupendous (a word Pier Giorgio often used!) Two bishops and at least four or five other priests concelebrated at an altar set up in a little clearing. There were hundreds of people there, a few in mountain costume. I wish I had time to post pictures but those will have to come later. One of the high points of the Mass for me was listening to the “Gloria” being sung from atop a mountain, so close to heaven! The bishop who gave the homily spoke a lot about Pier Giorgio. It was so great to listen to them talking about his example for each of us on our path to holiness.

The reason for this event was to inaugurate a brand new “Sentiero Frassati” – a mountain trail named for Pier Giorgio. It is the 15th one in Italy. At a certain moment in the Mass, representatives from all 15 regions that have such trails poured water from their region into a common bowl. The water would later be used to bless the start of this trail. Two more trails will be inaugurated soon and so water from those regions also was included. Immediately after Mass, the clergy headed just a bit higher up into the mountain for the unveiling of the plaque dedicating the trail. It was all very exciting. Afterward, we headed back down to the nearest town to a huge tent where a terrific Italian feast had been prepared -- local meats and cheeses and the northern specialty, polenta concia. Wine, of course, wonderful people and conversation. We had a terrific time from start to finish.

Afterward, Father Baker, Wanda and I headed for Turin to visit all of the main Pier Giorgio places. We spent the rest of the afternoon going from his tomb to the church where he professed his third order vows to the house where he died, etc. We got back to Pollone exhausted but exhilarated!

The next morning, I took Father Baker for a walk around Pollone to all of the local Pier Giorgio places. Then, we drove to the Sanctuary of Oropa to pray near Pier Giorgio’s beloved Madonna of Oropa. It was another beautiful day at the base of the mountains. In the evening, Father Baker said Mass in English at the altar next to the bed where Pier Giorgio died. It was very special to have that opportunity, as you can imagine, surrounded by so many relatives of Pier Giorgio in the house where he once lived!

Tomorrow, I will head down to Rome and make final preparations for the group of pilgrims coming from the U.S. and Canada to travel with me in the footsteps of Pier Giorgio from Rome all the way back here to Pollone. I am very excited about their arrival!

A final note for my friends who know how much I love cappuccino in Italy -- I am savoring every drop of it. “To the top” is our motto on our path to holiness following Pier Giorgio’s example; but, when drinking cappuccino in Italy, my motto is definitely “to the bottom!”

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Passing Time in Pollone

My first day back in Pollone brought a flood of memories and emotions, as well as some new experiences. Driving up Via Pier Giorgio Frassati and arriving at the front gates of the villa just seems to trigger a sense of pure joy. It is hard to explain but my soul feels so much at home here and perfectly at peace.

This visit is a little bittersweet because it is my first time back here since attending the funeral of Pier Giorgio’s sister Luciana. Her spirit really filled this house during all of my previous visits. I loved hearing her voice as she came down the main staircase and sitting beside her outside on the veranda. A few days before her death, I prayed the “Our Father” with her in her room. I sorely miss her presence here. But time marches on and there is a new generation of Frassatis visiting here -- the newest great-grandchildren of Luciana – 10-month-old twin boys.

Another presence in the house, of course, is the spirit of Pier Giorgio. When I am here, I feel like he is walking with me always in a very real way. I never take for granted that this is where he spent so much time. I love to pray in his rooms but I also enjoy just walking around inside and outside knowing that everywhere I go he has been. The flower gardens are magnificent this time of year. He would write about them occasionally in his letters. The view of the mountains from his bedroom window is spectacular. No wonder he struggled so much to focus on his studies here while the mountains were beckoning.

Pollone is a very small place; I guess we would call it a village. It takes no time at all to walk to the parish church or down to the cemetery. The church bells mark the time throughout the day. It makes me think even more about heaven and what it must be like. This is surely a bit of bad theology but I hope purgatory is like being in Pollone and looking up at the mountains. That is, you feel so close to heaven that you can almost taste it but, at the same time, you ache to be on the higher ground. You know there is a greater joy beyond your reach and are unable to cross the void. I know there are more terrifying descriptions of purgatory by the saints but I hope it will be like this. One day, I will find out.

Yesterday afternoon, I also had the great pleasure of attending Mass in Oropa at the church Pier Giorgio loved so much and often left early in the morning to visit. There, I was able to pray at the feet of his beloved Brown Madonna. Afterward, I attended a special event commemorating the inauguration of a new trail named for Pier Giorgio. The dedication of the trail will take place tomorrow in Val d’Aosta and is one of the reasons I have come this week to Pollone. It was inspiring to listen to others speak about Pier Giorgio with such love and passion.

Tonight, we are expecting a very special guest here at the villa – Fr. John Sims Baker. Fr. Baker is the priest who first introduced me to Pier Giorgio in 1995 not long after I arrived in Nashville to attend law school at Vanderbilt. The expression that God writes straight with crooked lines could not be truer when it comes to Fr. Baker, me and Pier Giorgio. Over the years, we have both become more active in promoting the spirituality of Pier Giorgio. Ironically, Fr. Baker is now the university chaplain at Vanderbilt and has named the Catholic community there the “Community of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati.” He serves on the board of FrassatiUSA and is our spiritual adviser. When Wanda Gawronska came to Nashville earlier this month, Fr. Baker was away in Rome. A party to welcome her was at his residence, the Frassati House, while he was in the city where she lives! Just recently, they were able to meet in Rome and Wanda invited him to come to Pollone when I am here. He arrives tonight and our Pier Giorgio journey that began in 1995 will have come full circle. What a blessing! Tomorrow, we will all go together to Val d’Aosta for the dedication of the new Sentiero Frassati. I am excited to have the opportunity to show Fr. Baker around Pollone, Oropa and Torino. The ways of God are so mysterious and so good.

Well, some of the gentle rain common in this region is now falling here and it is a very restful day – allowing me the time and energy for such a long blog entry. Off to church soon where I will continue to pray for all of your intentions. Verso l’alto!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

On the Road Again

Time again for another Italian adventure. Tomorrow, I leave for Pollone -- my first trip back to the Frassati home since the funeral of Pier Giorgio's sister Luciana in October 2007. So much has happened since then. Pier Giorgio's body has traveled to Sydney, Australia, for World Youth Day. His niece Wanda Gawronska traveled to Canada and to the U.S. for special television appearances. Wanda and I recorded a three-part mini-series for EWTN that is tentatively scheduled to air on July 2, 3, and 4. The first ever FrassatiUSA pilgrimage in the footsteps of Pier Giorgio will take place June 27th to July 5th. And the book of Pier Giorgio's letters will be published for the first time ever in English later this month! It is amazing to look back on all that has happened since FrassatiUSA began just three years ago and wonder what the future will hold. At the same time, this is a critical financial moment for the organization. Like so many other charitable organizations, the funding has been hard to come by during these stressful economic times. If you are able to make a donation, there couldn't be a better time than now.

Every time I head to Italy, I take all of your intentions with me. It's a great privilege and blessing to pray at the foot of Pier Giorgio's bed, near his tomb in Turin, in Oropa at his favorite shrine, and so on. This trip will be extra special because I will be at the family home on Pier Giorgio's feast day -- July 4th. That day, our pilgrimage group plans to climb to the top of Mount Mucrone where Pier Giorgio often prayed. We will literally be going verso l'alto! I hope you will join us in spirit and pray the novena to Pier Giorgio on the days leading up to his feast day. All of the prayers are on the website.

I will do my best to write a little from the other side of the ocean. Blessed Pier Giorgio...pray for us!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

More Favors Received

These are recently received reports of favors granted -- both small and large. Of course, no favor is ever really small for the one who receives it!

"I borrowed a relic from Italy of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati and I have brought the relic to General Hospital in Toronto, CANADA. Emily, a 20 year old, has had a double lung transplant, her second. Doctors are saying that it is Miraculous . Her recovery at this time is MIRACULOUS. The entire hospital is talking about her surgery. Her surgery has been the most difficult in the entire year. Some doctor's believed she would die. I am returning and praying for a speedy recovery. I will invoke Blessed Pier Giorgio. God bless, Josie "

"Hi, I would like to share a favor received from Pier Giorgio, it was very important to me. After failing my driving test many times, 6 to be exact (in two years), I prayed the Prayer for Courage to Pier Giorgio and to the Holy Spirit. Every time I went to the driving test the panic and fear invaded me, I failed since the start every time. I have hyperhydrosis, and every time my hands just stared to sweat without any control. I was very frustrated. I heard about Pier Giorgio on EWTN one morning, and I looked on the Internet about him and found the Prayer for Courage. I went to the test today with my mother-in-law--she prayed for me too, and I passed. My hands didn't sweat a drop, and I felt security, self-control and an unbelievable peace during the test. I know this is only a little favor, but for me it means a lot. As a way to thank Pier Giorgio and the Holy Spirit, I wanted to share it with you. I'm very, very, very grateful."


Sunday, June 7, 2009

My blogging has come to a near screeching halt but not for lack of things to write about. On the contrary, so many amazing and wonderful things have been happening and I have just not had the time to put them into words.

The past week and a half was an absolute blessing with Pier Giorgio's niece, Wanda Gawronska, coming to the U.S. for a special visit. We enjoyed so many special moments together, including visits to the Dominican Motherhouse in Nashville, a meeting with Mother Angelica's Poor Clares in Hanceville, Alabama, and dinner with the Sister Servants of the Eternal Word in Birmingham.

On the night of our appearance on "EWTN Live," we were so happy to meet some of you who came from many places to be in the audience: Jerry from Toledo, Ohio, who recently started a Frassati Society that focuses on Eucharistic Adoration; Tiffiny and Bonnie from the New York Frassati Fellowship who were on fire for Pier Giorgio; Carlos, George and Arlene who came all the way from California; a foursome from Mobile, Alabama, whose names I can't remember at this second (sorry!); John from Boston, and so many others. It was such a joy to talk to everyone and see how Pier Giorgio is working all around the country. After the show, there were so many calls and emails from people who were introduced to Pier Giorgio for the very first time...from Alaska to Dubai!

On a personal level, a special gift for me throughout Wanda's visit was being able to pray the novena to Pier Giorgio together and to introduce her to many of my friends. I am so grateful that she made the trip and I am certain it will bear much spiritual fruit in the U.S. Verso l'alto!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Pier Giorgio featured on EWTN Live

Be sure to tune in to "EWTN Live" on Wednesday, June 3rd! Pier Giorgio's niece, Wanda Gawronska, will be interviewed by Fr. Mitch Pacwa. Wanda has been in the U.S. since Wednesday, May 27th, and has been sharing about Pier Giorgio to various groups in Nashville, Hanceville, and Birmingham. She will return to Rome on Friday but not before telling Pier Giorgio's story to EWTN viewers around the world! Click here to watch the live show with video streaming.