I stop to catch my breath. Breathing heavily at 7,000 feet, the water vapor condenses into a thousand tiny droplets of ice. My foggy breath lifts into the air and becomes a cloud. Winter has arrived.
The grey stone tips of the Italian Alps are heavily dusted in snow, but at the base of this particular mountain, a dreary autumn rain has forced us to start our hike swathed in rain gear. We’re following the footsteps of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, the “man of the beatitudes,” and we don’t really know what to expect.
We’re an intrepid, if not slightly out-of-place, bunch. Far from Franciscan University’s Gaming, Austria campus, we’ve traveled to Pollone, the small Italian village where the Frassatis had a summer home. Here, Blessed Pier Giorgio began his hikes into the mountains, many of them with friends—but one hike was especially his.
Pier Giorgio was baptized a Catholic but had very little instruction in the faith. The Frassatis were one of the most influential families in Italy at the time, but not religious. His father was an agnostic and ran a newspaper. His mother, a painter, would go to church, but never receive communion.
But somehow, Pier Giorgio grew to know and love Christ. His love was visible in his attention and care for the poor, his simple outreach to his partying friends, and his dedication to the Eucharist. Unknown to his family, he attended daily Mass very early in the morning, hiking to a church tucked in the mountains. Starting at his summer home, Pier Giorgio would make the hike in 45 minutes. It took most people three hours.
Poggio Frassati, the name of that trail, begins in Pollone and winds through inclines of spruce and larch trees, past cow pastures, and over the rocky spine of Monte Mucrone, a 7,600-foot vista separating Piedmont from Aosta. For me, the first hour is the worst; entirely uphill, each step is a mental tug-of-war to convince myself I can make it. I accept that I’m not going to match Bl. Pier Giorgio’s record time, that each step will be filled with damp winds and burning calf muscles, that the hike won’t match the dictionary definition of “fun.” As I do, each step becomes more bearable. I settle into a rhythm; my strained breath and cold toes and sniffling become part of my existence.