LINCOLN (NI/SNR) - “Faith gives freedom” is the essential lesson Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati taught his peers and to all who knew him, according to the 91-year-old niece of the dynamic Italian whom St. John Paul II called the “Man of the Eight Beatitudes.”
Wanda Gawronska recently spoke about her famous uncle with students from the Newman Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture who attended this year’s 12-day pilgrimage (May 10-21), which included a papal audience, visits to Rome’s major basilicas and churches, participation in several lectures and talks, a midnight prayer walk to the Shrine of Divina Amore, and a three-hour private tour of the Vatican Observatory given by astrophysicist Father David Brown, S.J.
Gawronska, who hosted 11 Institute students and staff at her Rome apartment, said she frequently cites Pier Giorgio’s conviction, written in a letter from 1923, that freedom was “the most beautiful and best thing that God has given to all men.”
Beatified in 1990, Frassati was known as a layman with a great love of life who shared his vibrant faith with others and gave money to support the poor and suffering of Turin, Italy, before dying at the age of 24.
“Pier Giorgio is an example of what freedom faith gives to your judgment,” Gawronska said. “The usual thought is that religion – if you believe in something – you become close-minded. It’s exactly the opposite, because faith gives you the freedom of judgment, independence from what’s fashionable or not fashionable. You’re really looking for truth, no? And for Pier Giorgio this is [what’s] notable.”
Dr. John Freeh, director of the Newman Institute, said the visit with Gawronska was one of several opportunities for students to deepen their knowledge of Catholic faith and culture during the pilgrimage, which also included day trips to Assisi and to San Giovanni Rotondo, where St. Pio (Padre Pio) lived and died.
“This was our second annual trip to Italy,” Dr. Freeh said. “Wanda summed up well the reason for our pilgrimage when she described Rome as the heart of the Church and the heart of our culture. It’s a unique opportunity for our students to see those places associated with Christianity and, more importantly, to pray at the tombs of Peter and Paul, Gregory the Great, Monica, Ignatius, John Paul, and so many other heroes and heroines of salvation history.”
In addition to visiting the holy sites of the city, including the catacombs of St. Pancras and the Scavi (excavations) beneath St. Peter’s Basilica, students were treated to a lecture on the papacy of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, given by Father Roberto Regoli, who teaches Church history at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University.
“Like our Newman Institute classes,” Dr. Freeh said, “this venture, as with our other trips and activities, aims at complementing and underscoring what we read and reflect on in the great books tradition. In Shakespeare’s words, the pilgrimage gives a ‘local habitation and a name’ to the literature we study during the academic year. It’s one thing to read Virgil or Marcus Aurelius or St. Paul, quite another to walk where they walked, see what they saw.”
Sophomore UNL student Maureen Winter agreed: “Everywhere we went, I was overcome by beauty…. And I can’t even begin to describe how close I felt to the saints. I don’t think I’ll ever forget praying at St. Paul Outside the Walls, asking his intercession for all the missionaries I know, for his zeal to come into my actions.”
Newman Institute pilgrims met several times with Lincoln priests and seminarians who work and study in Rome. Msgr. Thomas Fucinaro and Msgr. Richard Gyhra organized a special meal for the group on Pentecost, Father Matthew Rolling celebrated Mass in the crypt of St. Peter’s, at the Chapel of the Patrons of Europe, and seminarians Andrew Schwenka, Joseph Wahlmeier and James O’Neill hosted the group for Sunday Mass and brunch at the North American College.
“Two of the English homilies pointed out our individual vocations,” said UNL pre-nursing student Karissa Dicke. “This was so beautiful. Among the many saints that we often look to imitate, we are reminded that we all have our own path and that we are uniquely called by God. The saints were so incredible, not because they were cookie-cutter, but because they lived out the vocation that God had specially planned for them. We are called to this great sainthood, to live out God’s truth, beauty and goodness, day by day.”
UNL junior Scott Schieuer, who will enter St. Gregory the Great Seminary this fall, said: “When we got to pray before Peter’s bones, [I] recalled His words… : ‘Prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.’ And this really filled me with a spirit of gratitude that informed the entirety of the pilgrimage.”
Freeh said that the Newman Institute will likely organize a return trip to Rome in October to attend the canonization of Pope Paul VI. For 2019, the Institute will organize a mission trip to New Mexico, Freeh said. The May trip will be a two-week walking pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, the burial place of St. James.
The Institute will offer two undergraduate courses in the fall semester: “Introduction to the Great Books I: Seekers, Sojourners and Pilgrims” and “Love and Friendship,” a seminar that will study works by Aristotle, Augustine, Shakespeare and Willa Cather, among others. Undergraduates can earn college credit for the courses through St. Gregory the Great, and then transfer those credits to UNL or other area institutions.
Additionally, the Institute will offer for the first time two evening seminars for non-undergraduates: “Keys to the Kingdom: Seven Encyclicals for the Modern World” and “The Poetry of the Psalms.” More information on courses and other activities, including the fall Reborn in Wonder Lecture series, is available at newmaninstitute.com.