“A Man of the Beatitudes”
Pope John Paul II so aptly named Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati “A Man of the Beatitudes” when he visited an exhibit in his honor. It is a powerful title, because the Beatitudes are surely the highest expression of humanity given to us by Christ himself. To be poor in spirit, to be meek, merciful, clean of heart, etc. are to live out the Christian life in its fullest capacity. Who was this man who truly embodied these sayings of our Lord Jesus Christ?
Pier Giorgio Frassati was born April 6, 1901 in Turin, Italy. His father, an influential and wealthy publisher and politician, was an agnostic, so it is almost surprising that Pier Giorgio grew to have a strong, deep faith which his father never truly understood. When he was 17 he joined the St. Vincent de Paul Society and began a lifelong dedication to serving the poor and sick. He also became a member of several Catholic political and social organizations, devoting much time to being an active participant in each one. He was a good, but not perfect, student, and fond of practical jokes with his friends. When he graduated high school he went on to study mineralogy in an engineering program.
In his daily life he lived passionately all that he learned. He shared his possessions, his money, even his train fare with the poor. “When asked by friends why he often rode third class on the trains he would reply with a smile, ‘Because there is not a fourth class.’”
Pier Giorgio was very good looking and extremely athletic; he was an excellent mountain climber who spent much of his time contemplating God surrounded by the majesty of His creation. He once wrote to a friend: “I left my heart on the mountain peaks and I hope to retrieve it this summer when I climb Mt. Blanc. If my studies permitted, I would spend whole days on the mountains admiring in that pure atmosphere the magnificence of God.”
But much of his time was spent caring for those who few had time for. If his father gave him a gift of money, it was spent on the poor. He once literally gave the coat off of his back, and supported widows and their children. Even on his deathbed he was caring for an elderly man who was sick, one of his last communications being instructions on his care.It was because of Pier Giorgio’s constant interaction with the sick that he finally contracted poliomyelitis himself and died within weeks on July 4, 1925. Thousands of the poor came to mourn him, and he was beatified in 1990. The “Man of the Beatitudes” lived his life as Christ would have him, right until the end.
To read the story of the short but full life of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati is to be moved to follow Christ more closely ourselves. In one sense he was an average young man of his time with many friends, hobbies and pursuits. But he chose these in a joyful response to the love of God, and used them to grow more and more Christ-like. He lived with determination and purpose, singularly devoting himself to charity and love of the poor. Although we may not understand why someone like Pier Giorgio had to die so young, today he certainly lives on as an inspirational role model for our youth.
Pier Giorgio spent many hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament and received Communion daily. He knew that his strength came from his relationship with Jesus Christ, and he nurtured that relationship with passion and joy. We, too, can make spending time with Christ a priority in our lives. We can go to Him with our triumphs, our trials, and all the details of our lives. We can be fed by Him and led by Him. Jesus offers himself to us so that we can have fullness of life! Like Pier Giorgio, go to Him!
Pope John Paul II summed up Bl. Pier Giorgio’s life beautifully in his homily for his beatification: “By his example he proclaims that a life lived in Christ’s Spirit, the Spirit of the Beatitudes, is “blessed”... He repeats that it is really worth giving up everything to serve the Lord. He testifies that holiness is possible for everyone, and that only the revolution of charity can enkindle the hope of a better future in the hearts of people.” Amen!