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VATICAN LETTER Aug-19-2005 (890 words) Backgrounder. With photos. xxxi

Move over James Dean: Some holy heroes are rebels with a cause

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI is continuing the challenge his predecessor posed to young people across the world -- that they should not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium.

Just days away from presiding over his first World Youth Day Aug. 18-21 in Cologne, Germany, Pope Benedict made a special plea to young people in his Aug. 14 Angelus talk "to look to the brilliant examples of evangelical heroism" of the saints.

Young people can find the strength to profess their faith and love in Jesus, he said, by looking at the way the saints lived their lives.

Pope John Paul II knew young people needed heroes to offer inspiration and provide courage during the tumult and temptations of the teen years. He saw that young people had "energy, joy and love of life" that made them especially curious about life's deeper meaning and receptive to the good news of Christ.

The late pope beatified and canonized many young people during his 26-year pontificate, underlining that God's plan of saintliness for every baptized person was possible for everyone, even the young. And he knew it was possible for all youths, even the obstinate and slow learners, as evidenced by two troubled teens he brought a step shy of sainthood.

Blessed Maria Gabriela Sagheddu grumbled complaints when asked to do her chores, and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati excelled more in mountain climbing than in his studies. Their lives, like many young examples of holiness, were extraordinary because they were, for the most part, ordinary.

Born in 1901, Blessed Pier Giorgio grew up in a wealthy and influential family in Turin in northern Italy. Though his father, the founder of a major newspaper, and mother, a painter, experienced enormous success in their careers and social life, the two parents lived on less-than-amicable terms.

The father was always "out" and the mother filled the void with a busy social calendar. At one point they even talked of separation.

When he was 8 years old, Blessed Pier Giorgio failed a grade and continued to struggle with school. When his parents entrusted their son to a Salesian father to help him with his studies, the child not only made progress but also deepened his knowledge of Christian spirituality.

His faith matured into charitable action during high school, when he started spending most of his free time helping the poor through the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Though he still struggled with his studies, especially Latin, Blessed Pier Giorgio began to see that if he stuck with something long enough he was capable of getting better results and pulling a decent grade.

People who knew him said Blessed Pier Giorgio was very popular and incredibly close to his best friends, with whom he would set off on grueling mountain hikes.

Though he was jovial, good-natured and liked to play practical jokes, he always showed complete faith in God and his providential plan.

During his university studies, Blessed Pier Giorgio came to believe that one's profession should be used to offer concrete help to others. He chose to pursue a degree in mining engineering so as to be close to disadvantaged miners.

He continued to dedicate himself to helping the poor and supporting the church's social teachings. He died at age 24 after contracting polio.

Pope John Paul beatified him May 20, 1990, calling his ordinary life a virtue to imitate.

In his homily, he said Blessed Pier Giorgio's faith and lifestyle were "harmoniously fused" and his love of sports and attention to social ills "did not inhibit his constant relationship with the Absolute."

Like most adolescents, Blessed Maria Gabriela had a very short temper.

Born on the Italian island of Sardinia in 1914 to a family of shepherds, she was obstinate, critical and rebellious. She would do what she was told, though she would grumble under her breath while doing it.

Yet, by the time she turned 18, the rage was gone, replaced by a gentler, more reserved personality. As a greater spirit of prayer and charity grew within her, she joined the youth movement Catholic Action.

At 21, she decided to hand herself totally over to God's will and enter a Trappist monastery. She constantly expressed a deep gratitude for everything God had given her. She even was cheerful and willing to do any sort of work asked of her, no matter how tiring or menial.

Her humility and trust in God had become so great that during prayers for Christian unity Blessed Maria Gabriela told her abbess she wanted to offer her life for the cause.

"I feel the Lord calling me," she said.

The same day of her offering, she was struck with tuberculosis.

These events moved many members of the Anglican community who expressed their solidarity; they also sparked an influx of vocations to her Trappist community.

Blessed Maria Gabriela died at the age of 25, some 15 months after the onset of illness; she was beatified Jan. 25, 1983, during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

In his 1995 encyclical, "Ut unum sint," Pope John Paul said Sister Maria Gabriela's life was an inspiration that "in the deep personal dialogue which each must carry on with the Lord in prayer, concern for unity cannot be absent."


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