Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati
A closer look at the patron of Vincentian Youth
In the year 2017, the International Vice-presidency of Youth, Children and Adolescents of the General Council proposed to the General President, confrere Renato Lima, and he approved, called upon Bl. Bier Giorgio Frassati to protect all the young Vincentians of the SSVP, thus acknowledging him as the patron of Vincentian Youth.
July 4th, the feast day of Bl. Frassati, as declared by the Church, was the day he died and reached Heaven. A date also chosen by the Youth Committee to commemorate the SSVP’s International Youth Day.
The current International Vice President for Youth, fellow member Willian Alves, emphasizes the reason why Bl. Giorgio Frassati was chosen as the patron of Vincentian Youth: “When I learned about the life of Frassati, I was impressed by his testimony of love for the Church, his spirituality, his life as a fellow member of a Vincentian Conference, his ability to engage with the poor and his unconditional love for them. As a matter of fact, Pier Giorgio was a young man who devoted his life to God, while serving those most in need. That’s why, he should be regarded as a role model for the youth in our organization. Ozanam and the other founders are also role models, but for all SSVP members: all Vincentians, including the youth, children and teenagers. Frassati was chosen as the patron of the youth, since we wanted the reference of a young man who followed the Vincentian Charism and reached holiness. These life models are examples thereof.”
Born on April 6th, 1901, in Turin, into a wealthy and well-known family, Frassati was the son of Adélaïde Ametis, a noted painter, and Alfredo Frassati, who was a political figure and owned a newspaper, still one of the most influential today.
Pier Giorgio developed a great spiritual life in his world of prayer. He prayed the rosary and received the daily communion with Christ in the Holy Eucharist: “Jesus comes to me every morning in Holy Communion, and I reciprocate in my very small way: by visiting His poor.” He belonged to so many Catholic organizations and clubs that it was impossible for him to attend meetings for all of them. But his affiliation with the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul was very special to him from the day he first joined at the age of 17 until hours before his death, at 24.
He combined in a remarkable way political activism and social justice, piety and devotion, humanity and goodness, holiness and daily life. He used to carry a small diary where he noted down the names of all the families he assisted.
Like some young Vincentians, Pier Giorgio sometimes disagreed with the way things were handled within the conferences. In 1922, he wrote to his friend Carlo: “If you really want to know, one of my ideas is that I would abolish certain conferences of St. Vincent […]”. He was frustrated with the decision of his Conference to abandon a needy family due to an alleged misconduct of one of the family members. Pier Giorgio thought that the family should have been guided, instead of being abandoned, so he resigned from this particular Conference and joined another one.
Even when Pier Giorgio was studying for exams and not taking time to visit his friends, he kept up his visits to the poor whom he was caring for through the Conference of Saint Vincent de Paul. In a beautiful speech on charity, he exhorted his fellow college students to get involved in the conferences: “I don’t know if you are all aware what these institutions are that were so marvelously conceived […]. It is a simple institution suitable for students because it does not involve commitment apart from being in a particular place one day a week and then visiting two or three families every week. You will see, in just a little time, how much good we can do to those we visit and how much good we can do to ourselves.”
Pier Giorgio loved the poor. As many stories tell, his mother often scolded him for showing up late to dinner after serving the poor (he usually had to run home after giving away his bus-fare money. His father chastised him for coming home without a coat, a regular occurrence since Pier Giorgio used to give away his own clothes to anyone in need.
When asked by friends why he often rode third class on trains, he would reply, “Because there is not fourth class”. He often sacrificed vacations at the Frassati summer home in Pollone, because, as he said, “If everybody leaves Turin, who will take care of the poor?” It was not simply a matter of giving something to the lonely, the poor, the sick – but rather, giving his whole self. He saw Jesus in them and to a friend who asked him how he could bear to enter the dirty and smelly places where the poor live, he answered, “Remember always that it is to Jesus that you go: I see a special light that we do not have around the sick, the poor and the unfortunate.”
However, even in this full life of holiness and charity, young people can feel specially attached to Pier Giorgio’s everyday life. From the outside, he looks like any other young man: a mountaineer, a sportsman and an advocate for political issues. There are photos showing him laughing, drinking and playing with his friends. He gained a reputation as a practical joker. His pranks included short-sheeting the beds of his friends. One day, a lazy friend woke up and found a drawing of a donkey on his bed, a reminder from Pier Giorgio that he was being a “fool” for not pursuing his studies.
Although Pier Giorgio was lying on his deathbed, he could not forget his closest friends – the poor. On July 3rd, 1925, on the eve of his death, he asked his sister to take a small packet from his jacket and, with a semi-paralyzed hand, he wrote the following note to Giuseppe Grimaldi: “Here are the injections for Converso. The pawn ticket is Sappa’s. I had forgotten it; renew it on my behalf.”
We know that Pier Giorgio wanted to see Jesus so much that he used to say: “The day of my death will be the most beautiful day of my life”. Pier Giorgio’s sacrifice was fulfilled at seven o’clock in the evening of July 4th, 1925. His funeral was a triumph. The streets of Turin were lined with a multitude of mourners who were unknown to his family: clergy, students, and, of course, the poor and the needy whom he served so unselfishly for seven years.
During the beatification of Pier Giorgio on St. Peter’s Square, May 20th, 1990, Pope John Paul II described him as “man of the eight Beatitudes” and said in his homily, “By his example, he proclaims a life lived in the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of the Beatitudes, is ‘blessed’, and that only the person who becomes a ‘man or woman of the Beatitudes’ can succeed in communicating love and peace to others.” This young Italian really proves that it is really worth giving everything up 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… He left this world rather young, but he made a mark upon entire centuries, and not only on our century.
Fellow member Willian Alves prays that Giorgio Frassati will be regarded as a role model of Vincentian life by the SSVP youth and that he will help us attain holiness and enter Heaven.