Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati believed 'borders ceased to exist for Christians,' says niece

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, pictured in an undated photo, was a struggling student who excelled in mountain climbing. He had complete faith in God and persevered through college, dedicating himself to helping the poor and supporting church social teaching. He died at age 24 and was beatified by St. John Paul II in 1990. (OSV News file photo)

(OSV News) -- The niece of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati (1901-1925) welcomed plans for him to be proclaimed a saint on the centenary of his death, predicting it will testify to the Catholic Church's confidence in young people.

"For our own family, it'll be a source of great joy," said Wanda Gawronska, a Rome-based journalist and photographer.

"We hear so often now about lost hope and optimism -- but as a person of faith, I'm sure Christ will stay with us through young people. Instead of criticizing those without belief, Pier Giorgio would remind us today that we should never underestimate or write people off," she said.

The 97-year-old lay Catholic spoke amid news that the canonization of Frassati, a social activist and missionary, may happen during the church's 2025 jubilee year.

In an OSV News interview, she said his projected sainthood, announced as possible during the jubilee April 26 by Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of Vatican's Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, would enable Blessed Pier Giorgio's youthful apostolate to be known and recognized throughout the worldwide church.

"Although my uncle died a whole century ago, he's very much a contemporary figure, with many youngsters considering him a friend who helps them in their prayers and endeavors," said Gawronska, one of six children born to Frassati's only sister, Luciana.

"He showed how it's possible to achieve holiness in completely ordinary ways -- living one's faith completely, while fully inhabiting and enjoying the world around us," she said.

Born in Turin to Alfredo Frassati (1868-1961), a politician who owned Italy's liberal La Stampa daily, and Adélaïde Ametis (1877-1949), a noted painter, Frassati was raised in a lapsed Catholic household, attending a Jesuit-run school and later studying mining at the northern Italian city's polytechnic.

As a teenager, he joined the charitable Society of St. Vincent de Paul, earlier being a member of the Apostleship of Prayer (now the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network), as well as Italy's Popular Party, whose principles were based in the social doctrine of the church. He became a Dominican lay tertiary in 1922 and was known for ministering to the poor, sick and homeless, for whom he became a true friend and generous helping hand.

Described by a contemporary as "healthy, strong and tanned, with eyes as clear as pure water," Frassati was a keen athlete, swimmer and mountaineer, but died of polio in 1925 when he was only 24.

A beatification process sainthood cause for the lay Catholic, whose funeral was attended by thousands, was launched in 1932. and completed by He was beatified by St. John Paul II May 20, 1990, a decade after his remains were transferred to Turin's Catholic cathedral.

Addressing Italy's Catholic Action movement, which Frassati also joined in 1919, Cardinal Semeraro said April 26 the future saint provided a "wonderful model of Christian life," demonstrating the value of faith across an "entire range of human experience" -- in university studies, work, the media and political engagement, "wherever it was necessary to defend social freedoms."

Meanwhile, Gawronska said Frassati also could be viewed as symbolizing European integration, thanks to his membership in the 1920s in Catholic Pax Romana international student movement, which brought him friends and acquaintances in neighboring Germany and Austria.

She added that a "beautiful letter" written to Germans by Frassati when their industrial Ruhr region was occupied by France and Belgium in 1923-1925 for war reparations had been copied and sent to Ukrainians following Russia's February 2022 invasion of their country.

"All the things my uncle enjoyed -- the mountains, company, humor and laughter -- were always underpinned with faith and charity," Gawronska, whose mother was married to Jan Gawronski (1892-1983), a Polish diplomat, told OSV News.

"Far from being a sad or tragic figure, he welcomed his youthful death with happiness, weeping tears only for his bereaved father and mother. He also believed borders ceased to exist for Christians given their shared faith," she said.

Among other achievements in his short life, Blessed Pier Giorgio helped set up a newspaper, Momento, promoting social reform principles from Pope's Leo XIII's 1891 encyclical, "Rerum Novarum," and opposed Benito Mussolini's fascist regime, facing arrest during a 1921 Young Catholic Workers Congress in Rome.

In beatifying Frassati, whose published letters highlighted the importance of friendship and personal kindness, St. John Paul described him as "a man of the Beatitudes ... completely immersed in the mystery of God and totally dedicated to constant service of others."

In a message for the church's 2016 World Youth Day, Pope Francis encouraged young people to learn from how the future saint "very quietly and unassumingly" responded to the needs of the poor.

In her OSV News interview, Gawronska said she had fully discovered her uncle's testimony only in her 50s, and had since "done everything" to make his story known worldwide.

"That's when I fell in love with him, and I've remained fascinated ever since," said the lay Catholic, whose reports and photographs, dating back eight decades, have been published in Vogue, Paris Match and other top magazines.

"I think there are some wonderful young people, deeply involved in the faith, around today as well -- indeed, I meet more now than when I myself was young. Pier Giorgio had total respect for everyone, whatever their views and outlooks, and had a way of being with people which remains strikingly relevant," Gawronska said.


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