The rock enclave was lit by hundreds of tealights and perched fifteen feet in the air was a young man wearing a billowy, plaid shirt. “Verso L’Alto!” he shouted to the approaching crowd. He leapt down and landed nimbly on his feet with a broad smile. “To the heights! I love that phrase!”
Each year The National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton puts on Back from the Dead, an interactive cemetery walk that brings the dead back to life. A guide leads small groups by candlelight through the dark where they encounter popular saints and martyrs, many of whom have urgent messages about visions of hell or glimpses of heaven. To keep the experience lively for the many devoted returning visitors, the Shrine adds new characters to the cast each year.
This year Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was added and quickly proved to be one of the crowd favorites. His message on serving the poor as a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society resonated with many: “’All around the sick and the poor I see a special light which we do not have.’ Have you seen it? Look at them. Really see the poor. Look at them with the eyes of your heart. It’s alright if you don’t see it at first. Just keep looking and you too will see!”
Mount St. Mary’s seminarian Brian Florin portrayed the beloved saint and reflected on the impact of this young man’s short life:
What should the world know about Pier Giorgio?
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati is so special because he shows that holiness is possible. He is so normal. Pier Giorgio wasn’t ridiculously smart or a great orator. He wasn’t particularly wealthy or of prestigious status. Instead, he loved God and he loved people. He wanted to live life passionately and to the fullest, with his faith being of utmost importance. He shows that no matter what walk of life one might find himself or herself, and no matter how “ordinary” it might seem, God wants to use them in extra-ordinary ways. This can only happen though to the extent that one is willing to surrender everything to God. As Bl. Pier Giorgio grew in his love for God, particularly in the Eucharist, he grew in love for others. And because of this, God worked incredible things through him. At his funeral, thousands of people unknown to his family lined the streets to celebrate and give thanks for this man’s life.
Holiness is possible. God wants to do this in each of our lives, if only we would let him.
What is it like playing him at Back from the Dead?
As I repeat the script time and time again, the words seem to sink in a bit more each time. The opening phrase “Verso L’Alto! To the Heights!” brings with it a new sense of joy and wonder each time. The light-heartedness and devotion of Bl. Pier Giorgio’s script has been contagious, both for me and for those who are listening. Right before each group arrives, I ask for Bl. Pier Giorgio’s intercession, that he might ask God to move their hearts even just an inch. And I can’t help but also ask for his intercession in my own life, because he’s so cool, normal, and on fire with love for Jesus all at the same time!
How did working with the St. Vincent de Paul Society help shape Pier Giorgio into the man he was?
Bl. Pier Giorgio is perhaps best known for his service to the poor. It was after joining the St. Vincent de Paul Society that he finally would meet the poor regularly. He would receive Jesus in the Eucharist, and then go out to bring Jesus from his own heart into theirs. He explains that after joining the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Christ’s love for the poor increased within him to the point that he began to actually see them differently. He says that “All around the poor I see a light which we do not have.” He loved the poor and neglected, and his heart was so filled with compassion and love for them. The St. Vincent de Paul Society afforded him the opportunity to reach and serve the poorest people in Turin. In turn, he became Christ’s love to the poor.
The Back from the Dead Cemetery Walks take place every October at the Seton Shrine in Emmitsburg, Maryland. This year, 1,655 people attended, and increase of 30% over last year. The Shrine welcomes groups to attend with reservations in advance. For more info, visit setonshrine.org.