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!

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