As you know, I am in Turin in northern Italy, a beautiful and historic town that is set in the foothills of the Alps and is surrounded by stunning scenery. My original plans were to be here to see the Shroud of Turin during its first exposition since 2010 and to meet up with Teresa Tomeo and her group as they stop off here to see the Shroud on their Italian pilgrimage.
I added to those plans when my friend, Wanda Gawronska called to tell me there would be a candlelit procession in Turin and a Mass at the cathedral on Wednesday evening to mark the 25th anniversary of the beatification of Pier Giorgio Frassati. Wanda is the niece of Pier Giorgio – her mother Luciana was Pier Giorgio’s sister – and she and her brother Jas were on the same train as I was yesterday and we met for a bit in the restaurant car to chat over coffee. They are two of the six children of Luciana Frassati and Polish diplomat Jan Gawronska. (To be honest, if you want to do some fascinating reading, just google their names and you will be riveted by their wonderful stories – not just as a niece and nephew of a Blessed but very active in both their native and adopted countries!)
Priests gather around altar with Shroud as a backdrop:
The train arrived a little after 6 in Turin where it was pouring rain and the temp was considerably cooler than it has been in the morning in Rome. I took a taxi to the apartment I had rented for three nights near the cathedral and went out for an early dinner, hoping to get to the Consolata church by 9 pm for the procession to the cathedral for the Mass with Cardinal Poletto, retired archbishop of Turin. I did not have an adequate wardrobe for the cold so decided to meet Jas and Wanda at the cathedral, which was only a five-minute walk from my place.
Wanda Gawronska and her brother Jas listen as Cardinal Poletto speaks at start of Mass:
The long and late evening is the reason there was no column yesterday.
Mass was very beautiful, exceptional, in fact, given that we had the Shroud of Turin as backdrop to the altar. Thirteen priests concelebrated with Cardinal Poletto who gave a magnificent, heartfelt sermon about Pier Giorgio without a single note. I discovered he was famous for giving sermons without any notes. I was able to meet him after Mass to tell him how special his word were about a Blessed who was such a holy model for his time – and for all times, really – and for the young and the young at heart.
The cardinal, by the way, did walk in the rain from the Consolata to the cathedral! If I had not been so cold, I’d have been mortified by my absence.
The youth choir sang impeccably and added such an important dimension to the Mass for, as it has been said, singing is like praying twice:
The very first article I every published after I moved to Rome was on the Shroud, called The Man of the Shroud. I had spent six months researching, reading as many books as I could, attending conferences on the Shroud, interviewing experts and authors – whatever I could do to learn more. It became a passion and has been my passion for years, and I believe, with all my heart, that this is the linen cloth that wrapped Jesus’ body when he was placed in the tomb.
An icon placed near the altar:
Thus, last night was special beyond telling: To attend Mass, the most wonderful and holy moment of our lives, in the presence of both Christ’s burial cloth and the incorrupt body of a blessed (two miracles for his canonization are being examined)!
After Mass, the cardinal, priests, Wanda and Jas processed to Blessed Pier Giorgio’s tomb:
As they enter the cathedral and walk down the left aisle, visitors will walk by Pier Giorgio’s tomb and probably even have time to pray as the line moved rather slowly.
Wanda and I stand by the tomb:
After the cardinal, priests and faithful prayed by Pier Giorgio’s tomb, we all slowly processed to the Shroud, pausing in prayer for some time. It was all very special and intimate and prayerful – and extraordinarily moved for me as I gazed upon the ancient linen cloth that wrapped the body of Our Lord in death and at His Resurrection:
Below is a biography of Blessed Pier Giorgio from a wonderful website: http://frassatiusa.org/ WYD Krakow has asked that his relics be brought to Krakow for the next World Youth Day in 2016 – a reasonable demand given his Polish family!
BLESSED PIER GIORGIO FRASSATI, A MAN OF THE BEATITUDES
Pier Giorgio Michelangelo Frassati was born in Turin, Italy on April 6, 1901. His mother, Adelaide Ametis, was a painter. His father Alfredo, was the founder and director of the newspaper, “La Stampa,” and was influential in Italian politics, holding positions as an Italian Senator and Ambassador to Germany.
It is a well-known fact that Pier Giorgio’s father, Alfredo, was an agnostic. He was a highly successful, influential man: founder and director of the newspaper La Stampa, Italian Senator and Ambassador to Germany. Despite his lack of faith, he had strong convictions and believed in the values that made a man great such as honesty, a sense of duty, respect for the Church and sensibility for social problems. He had a great love for his country. In 1922, he received one of the highest orders of knighthood in the kingdom of Italy.
It is a lesser known fact that Alfredo Frassati was actually a cradle Catholic. At some point after Pier Giorgio’s death, Alfredo Frassati returned to the Sacraments. It cannot be said that he became as ardent in the practice of his faith as was his son; however, no one but God can know what was in the depth of his soul. He died in 1961 at the age of 92 years old.
At an early age, Pier Giorgio joined the Marian Sodality and the Apostleship of Prayer, and obtained permission to receive daily Communion (which was rare at that time).
He developed a deep spiritual life which he never hesitated to share with his friends The Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin were the two poles of his world of prayer. At the age of 17, he joined the St. Vincent de Paul Society and dedicated much of his spare time to serving the sick and the needy, caring for orphans, and assisting the demobilized servicemen returning from World War I.
He decided to become a mining engineer, studying at the Royal Polytechnic University of Turin, so he could “serve Christ better among the miners,” as he told a friend.
Although he considered his studies his first duty, they did not keep him from social and political activism. In 1919, he joined the Catholic Student Foundation and the organization known as Catholic Action. He became a very active member of the People’s Party, which promoted the Catholic Church’s social teaching based on the principles of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical letter, Rerum Novarum.
What little he did have, Pier Giorgio gave to help the poor, even using his bus fare for charity and then running home to be on time for meals. The poor and the suffering were his masters, and he was literally their servant, which he considered a privilege. His charity did not simply involve giving something to others, but giving completely of himself. This was fed by daily communion with Christ in the Holy Eucharist and by frequent nocturnal adoration, by meditation on St. Paul’s “Hymn of Charity” (I Corinthians 13), and by the writings of St. Catherine of Siena. He often sacrificed vacations at the Frassati summer home in Pollone (outside of Turin) because, as he said, “If everybody leaves Turin, who will take care of the poor?”
In 1921, he was a central figure in Ravenna, enthusiastically helping to organize the first convention of Pax Romana, an association which had as its purpose the unification of all Catholic students throughout the world for the purpose of working together for universal peace.
Mountain climbing was one of his favorite sports. Outings in the mountains, which he organized with his friends, also served as opportunities for his apostolic work. He never lost the chance to lead his friends to Mass, to the reading of Scripture, and to praying the rosary.
He often went to the theater, to the opera, and to museums. He loved art and music, and could quote whole passages of the poet Dante.
Fondness for the epistles of St. Paul sparked his zeal for fraternal charity, and the fiery sermons of the Renaissance preacher and reformer Girolamo Savonarola and the writings of St. Catherine impelled him in 1922 to join the Lay Dominicans (Third Order of St. Dominic). He chose the name Girolamo after his personal hero, Savonarola. “I am a fervent admirer of this friar, who died as a saint at the stake,” he wrote to a friend.
Like his father, he was strongly anti-Fascist and did nothing to hide his political views. He physically defended the faith at times involved in fights, first with anticlerical Communists and later with Fascists. Participating in a Church-organized demonstration in Rome on one occasion, he stood up to police violence and rallied the other young people by grabbing the group’s banner, which the royal guards had knocked out of another student’s hands. Pier Giorgio held it even higher, while using the banner’s pole to fend off the blows of the guards.
Just before receiving his university degree, Pier Giorgio contracted poliomyelitis, which doctors later speculated he caught from the sick whom he tended. Neglecting his own health because his grandmother was dying, after six days of terrible suffering Pier Giorgio died at the age of 24 on July 4, 1925.
His last preoccupation was for the poor. On the eve of his death, with a paralyzed hand he scribbled a message to a friend, asking him to take the medicine needed for injections to be given to Converso, a poor sick man he had been visiting.
Pier Giorgio’s funeral was a triumph – there was a multitude of mourners who were unknown to his family — the poor and the needy whom he had served so unselfishly for seven years. Many of these people, in turn, were surprised to learn that the saintly young man they knew had actually been the heir of the influential Frassati family.
Pope John Paul II, after visiting his original tomb in the family plot in Pollone, said in 1989: “I wanted to pay homage to a young man who was able to witness to Christ with singular effectiveness in this century of ours. When I was a young man, I, too, felt the beneficial influence of his example and, as a student, I was impressed by the force of his testimony.”
On May 20, 1990, in St. Peter’s Square which was filled with thousands of people, the Pope beatified Pier Giorgio Frassati, calling him the “Man of the Eight Beatitudes.”
His mortal remains, found completely intact and incorrupt upon their exhumation on March 31, 1981, were transferred from the family tomb in Pollone to the cathedral in Turin. Many pilgrims, especially students and the young, come to the tomb of Blessed Frassati to seek favors and the courage to follow his example.