On July 4th, 1925, 24-year-old Pier Giorgio Frassati died of Polio while in his mother’s arms. To the shock of his parents and loved ones, thousands of people (many of whom were impoverished) came to his funeral to pay respects. How did an ordinary young man gain the love and respect of so many?
On the surface, Frassati lived an ordinary life. He was born into an upper-class family in Turin, Italy. His parents fought often, he struggled in school, enjoyed smoking pipe tobacco, and got into shenanigans with his friends. He was involved in many different sports and activities.
However, he is most remembered for his mountain climbing. During one of his climbs, he retreated into silent prayer. God spoke to him. In this withdrawal from society and his friends (much like the way our Lord prayed before his passion), he was inspired to serve the homeless and the impoverished. Following this event and unbeknownst to his parents, he began spending much of his time serving the poor in Turin.
Even as a child, Frassati had a heart for servanthood and helping others. For example, when he was a young boy, a beggar woman and her son came to the doorsteps of his family’s house. Frassati noticed that the boy was not wearing any shoes and immediately gave them his own. He then discretely closed the door so that no one else in his household would know what he had done. Frassati was also known to be frequently late to dinner, but only because he would give away the allowance for the train and run home instead.
Frassati was given special permission to receive daily communion at twelve, which was a much younger age than what was normal for the time. He always made sure to keep his “appointment with the Lord” and urged others to do the same. Later, his sister would accredit his frequent reception of the sacraments as what drove his spiritual growth, and subsequently his service.
The time in which Frassati lived was politically charged and tumultuous. Because of his alignment with Catholic Social Teaching, he sided with the Italian Popular Party against the Fascist regime. At the time, it was very dangerous to be a Christian in Italy, and the Church was heavily persecuted. To make matters worse, his family was under constant attack because of their dissident stances. A group of fascists once broke into his household, and Frassati expelled them with his bare hands. However, persecution did not stop him. He was arrested multiple times for his participation in public Christian processions.
It is believed that Frassati contracted polio due to his close contact with the poor and sick of Turin. After his death in 1925, some who knew him already considered him a Saint who was called home to be with God. Even though he was not declared venerable until 1987, his canonization process began shortly after his death. Pier Giorgio Frassati was beatified under John Paul II in 1990 and is still waiting to be fully canonized as a Saint.
Frassati lived a well-rounded life of serious faith that spurred him into servitude, and is a role model for many Christians. One day after mountain climbing, he wrote the phrase “Verso L’Alto” on a photograph. This would be the last climb before his death. The Italian phrase means “Toward the top,” and many who follow Frassati’s example use this motto to show their devotion to him.
Let us truly examine ourselves. Have we lived the life of service Christ has called us to live? Have we even attempted to make ourselves worthy to dwell among the saints, or do we simply write this off as an impossibility? Let us follow Frassati “Toward the top,” and realize that holiness is not an impossibility, but it is a struggle — one that may ultimately cost you your life.
And I live, now not I: but Christ liveth in me. And that I live now in the flesh: I live in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and delivered himself for me.”