A Store of Memories For When Winter Comes
By Dermot Moloney
(Observer at St. John Bosco Holiday Camp for London Boys at Quarr Farm, Binstead.) IT is evening in camp. Between the tent lines one sees the grassy slope merging into the darkening waters of the Solent. We have got to know that slope quite well, bathing from its sandy beach in the warm morning sunshine; crowding it to watch the passage of the Queen Mary; holding impromptu sports along its grassy border.
From a nearby tent comes the sound of singing. Its occupants are usually the last to relapse into quietude as our genial " Skipper" makes his nightly rounds. That particular tent " crew " ranges from Pat, aged 9 years, to Jim, passing 14, and includes Westminster, Edgware and Newhaven boys.
How our own club boys have enjoyed themselves and how much better do we now know each other. In the winter evenings we will revive many memories of this fortnight our picnic under Shanklin pier, cliff
climbing at Ventnor, skiff racing at Wotton, cheering crowds at the camp cinema, sunset over Cowes Roads.
In our officers' tent we gather for a Cup of cocoa. Opposite in the candle light site genial Fr. M—, unrecognisable in beret, sports shirt, shorts and three days' growth of beard. By him gracefully reclines on a pile of blankets, a Mill Hill Missionary Student. I have often watched him frantically ladling portions of soup at dinner-time, cheering on his tent crew in the heat of a potato race, telling a bed-time story to eager listeners, driving in tent pegs In the pouring rain.
For boys and brothers the days Pass quickly in outings, sports and a hundred and one activities. Even " fatigues " which involve pumping water, collecting firewood or cutting mountains of bread and butter can provide plenty of enjoyment. Likewise washing, usually unpleasant enough, provides a thrill when It involves balancing precariously on a stone to fill one's bowl at the stream while the sun is already warm on the grass and the smell of cooking comes faintly from the open-air cook-house. Surely St. Vincent de Paul, who knew how city streets warp and age a boy before his time, would wish to be here among our Catholic youth in such surroundings. You may be a millionaire In private life, but here your value is estimated by your dexterity in peeling potatoes, mending broken benches and making a comfortable camp bed.
N the white stillness of a winter's day, on heights of the Little Saint Bernard, a young man sat writing to a friend : " I have left my heart on these mountains. . . ."
It was no exaggeration, for not only had the dazzling fascination of the Alps completely captured young Pier Giorgio Frassati, but the attraction of the even more inareessible heights of moral perfection had long since claimed him. The whole of his short life could be desrribed in the two words he himsel f wrote on the photograph taken of liis last, ascent : " Verso l'alto. . . ." t:pwards, and again upwards, until the summit is reached.
It must be difficult for Alpinists to be atheists, or even agnostics, but neither is it usual, among mountaineres or any other profession, to find men of the calibre of
Pier Giorgio. If it were, the warmongers would find but little -scope for their activities, and social injustice would cease to be a blot on the nations of the earth. As a friend said of him : "He was born for giving, he did not live for himself : he was a Christian by faith and a Christian in action."
Pier Giorgio Frassati was born in Turin on April 6, 1901. His father, Alfredo Frassati, who was then director and proprietor of the political Torinese daily. La Stampa, was subsequently nominated Senator and later, in 1921, appointed Italian Ambassador in Berlin.
The elder of two children, brought up by wise and devoted parents, from whom much of the stability of his character must have been inherited, surrounded by wealth, affection and kindness, Pier Giorgio's childhood was of the happiest. Extremely lovable, perfectly healthy, and jolly to the point of rowdiness, he grew from a merry, bonny child into an equally merry and exceedingly goodlooking boy.
Overflowing with joie de vivre and Immensely strong, he had all the athlete's love of physical exercise. An enthusiast for riding, ewimming, ski-lag, and most other forms Of sport, his chief delight was climbing, and whenever possible he would escape to his beloved Alps.
Like all young Italians he worked incredibly hard at his studies. for, having chosen to become a mining engineer, the amount of work to be accompliehed before he could take his laureate was formidable. Despite his deep appreciation of intellectual and artistic achievements, he was not, in his own opinion, particularly clever, and because, as his biographer, Father Cojazzi says of him, "he felt himself to ba the slave of his given word," he would at times even go to the length of curtailing his summer holidays rather than risk failure in his work.
Too Young for War
Among his many endearing qualities, his courage, both moral and physical, his utter lack of conceit, his fidelity, and his delightful commonsense, perhaps the two most striking are his extraordinary sincerity and his charitableness. In a world where most people have a minimum of scruple where lies, especially
the so-called " white lies," are concerned, It is refreshing to find a young man of whom it can be said that he was never known to indulge even in the smallest falsehood. In an age when, despite the brave efforts of people of good will, one daily hears less of love and more of hatred and bitterness, it is encouraging to know of this under graduate who gave whole-heartedly of all that he had— money, time, thought and care; who spared no effort to relieve distress of any kind, and who, a few minutes before he died, wrote out Instructions concerning certain poor people in ease they should be overlooked.
Too young to take part in the Great War himself, the horror of it affected him deeply. When only fifteen he declared himself ready to give his life " this very day to stop the war," and was surprised that other people were not all similarly disposed.
For one who experienced very few external sorrows and difficulties it is remarkable that he could sympathies so completely with the miseries and sufferings of others.
First of All a Realist
Pier Giorgio, however, was above all a realist. Possessed of a mental balance which never failed him, he had from the first seen quite clearly that nothing in the whole universe matters except God. In dedicating all the powers of his soul and body to the service of God he adopted the only logical attitude which the creature can adopt towards the Creator, with the result that everything else, sin, human misery and human goodness. revealed themselves to him in their true perspective. No doubt this is why people of every kind, from university professors to the poorest beggars, found in hini " a guide, philosopher and friend."
His natural gaiety was balanced by the depth of his sensibility. Like Saint Thomas Mnre he seems to have considered sadness as a kind of blasphemy. Unlike so many " born " Catholics, he understood better every day " what a grace it is to be a Catholic," and the possession of this gift therefore makes sarineSs unreasonable, " Sadness must be banned by Catholics. Sorrow is not sadness, which is a disease worse than any other. This sadness is almoet always produced by atheism. But the object for which we are created points the way out to us, sown though it is with many thorns, but not a sad way. It is gay even In sorrow."
Hard Days for Italy
At the same time he fully realises the struggle and agony of human existence. " Who could bear the burden of this life if there were not a recompense for suffering—an eternal joy?" and his own personal sanctity would never have been the flaming triumph it was had he too not experienced trials and temptations. " The future is in God's hands and nothing could be better than that " is his own answer to wavering minds.
It can never be easy for young men to be Christians, but in those post-war and semi-communistic days in Italy it
was singularly difficult. Pier Giorgio achieved this end quite openly and fearlessly, helping in all forms of Catholic Action, joining the Dominican Tertiaries PlER GIORGIO FiLlS.17'1 In May, 1922, and aveiiine himself of daily Mass and Communion whenever possible.
In Turin he defended a companion who was brutally attacked, and he tore down certain libellous notices against the Catholic Director of the Politecnico. In September, 1921, he visited Rome with the " Cesare Bathe " Club. Their flag having been insulted and torn, Pier Giorgio not only came to blows in its defence but even underwent several hours in prison.
The strange idea that boys who are enthusiastically Christian must be " soppy " or priggish or at least " unmanly," if not already dead must find its death-knell in the light of Pier Giorgio's free, joyous and whole-hearted devotion to the Church. A perfect ease of " 31,07.s sana in corpore sano," his mere presence brought health of spirit to others. His unsullied life was and is a challenge to those less innocent. As one of his friends, another engineer, said of him: " Purity at the age of twenty-four is one of the most beautiful things there can be in the world."
_Slut even though he had climbed so far up the Mount of Perfection, even though for years he had made a daily preparation for death, even though he had written, with his habitual simplicity : " The finest day of my life will be the day of my death," no one but a hero could have faced death as he faced it when, with shattering suddenness he was seized with infantile paralysis. Consciously to leave the world he found so beautiful and the family and friends he loved so devotedly : to renounce his dream of marriage and " paternity ": to endure three days and nights of really appalling agony without complaint, anxious only that his adored mother should be spared as much as possible : to offer his whole being in resignation to the Will of God . . that is heroism.
Although Pier Giorgio's earthly life ended on July 4, 1925, it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that he has been even more vividly alive since then. Year by year his influence increases year by year the number of vocations and conversions, especially among professional and business inen, the cures, the favours directly due to his example and intercession increase. May he who loved truth and justice and peace, he who was a living fountain of faith and hope and charity, intercede for us in these dark and angry days, for us who have so much need of him,