‘Take nothing for the journey’
Jesus called the Twelve together and gave them power and authority over all devils and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, ‘Take nothing for the journey: neither staff, nor haversack, nor bread, nor money; and let none of you take a spare tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there; and when you leave, let it be from there. As for those who do not welcome you, when you leave their town shake the dust from your feet as a sign to them.’ So they set out and went from village to village proclaiming the Good News and healing everywhere.
Give me neither riches nor poverty, only my share
Every word of God is unalloyed,
he is the shield of those who take refuge in him.
To his words make no addition,
lest he reprove you and know you for a fraud.
Two things I beg of you,
do not grudge me them before I die:
keep falsehood and lies far from me,
give me neither poverty nor riches,
grant me only my share of bread to eat,
for fear that surrounded by plenty, I should fall away
and say, ‘the Lord – who is the Lord?’
or else, in destitution, take to stealing
and profane the name of my God.
Your word is a lamp for my steps, O Lord.
My soul pines away with grief;
by your word raise me up.
The law from your mouth means more to me
than silver and gold.
Your word is a lamp for my steps, O Lord.
Your word, O Lord, for ever
stands firm in the heavens:
I turn my feet from evil paths
to obey your word.
Your word is a lamp for my steps, O Lord.
I gain understanding from your precepts
and so I hate false ways.
Lies I hate and detest
but your law is my love.
Your word is a lamp for my steps, O Lord.
Source: Jerusalem Bible
Catechism of the Catholic Church
Consecration and mission: proclaiming the King who is coming
931 Already dedicated to him through Baptism, the person who surrenders himself to the God he loves above all else thereby consecrates himself more intimately to God’s service and to the good of the Church. By this state of life consecrated to God, the Church manifests Christ and shows us how the Holy Spirit acts so wonderfully in her. and so the first mission of those who profess the evangelical counsels is to live out their consecration. Moreover, “since members of institutes of consecrated life dedicate themselves through their consecration to the service of the Church they are obliged in a special manner to engage in missionary work, in accord with the character of the institute.”
932 In the Church, which is like the sacrament – the sign and instrument – of God’s own life, the consecrated life is seen as a special sign of the mystery of redemption. To follow and imitate Christ more nearly and to manifest more clearly his self-emptying is to be more deeply present to one’s contemporaries, in the heart of Christ. For those who are on this “narrower” path encourage their brethren by their example, and bear striking witness “that the world cannot be transfigured and offered to God without the spirit of the beatitudes.”
933 Whether their witness is public, as in the religious state, or less public, or even secret, Christ’s coming remains for all those consecrated both the origin and rising sun of their life:
For the People of God has here no lasting city, . . . [and this state] reveals more clearly to all believers the heavenly goods which are already present in this age, witnessing to the new and eternal life which we have acquired through the redemptive work of Christ and preluding our future resurrection and the glory of the heavenly kingdom.
Padre Pio, also known as Saint Pio of Pietrelcina (Italian: Pio da Pietrelcina), O.F.M. Cap. (May 25, 1887 – September 23, 1968), was a friar, priest, stigmatist, and mystic, now venerated as a saint of the Catholic Church. Born Francesco Forgione, he was given the name of Pius (Italian: Pio) when he joined the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin.
Padre Pio became famous for exhibiting stigmata for most of his life, thereby generating much interest and controversy. He was both beatified (1999) and canonized (2002) by Pope John Paul II.
Francesco Forgione was born to Grazio Mario Forgione (1860–1946) and Maria Giuseppa Di Nunzio (1859–1929) on May 25, 1887, in Pietrelcina, a town in the southern Italian region of Campania.His parents made a living as peasant farmers. He was baptized in the nearby Santa Anna Chapel, which stands upon the walls of a castle. He later served as an altar boy in this same chapel. His siblings were an older brother, Michele, and three younger sisters, Felicita, Pellegrina, and Grazia (who was later to become a Bridgettine nun). His parents had two other children who died in infancy. When he was baptized, he was given the name Francesco. He stated that by the time he was five years old, he had already made the decision to dedicate his entire life to God. He began taking on penances and was chided on one occasion by his mother for using a stone as a pillow and sleeping on the stone floor. He worked on the land up to the age of 10, looking after the small flock of sheep the family owned. This delayed his education to some extent.
Pietrelcina was a town where feast days of saints were celebrated throughout the year, and the Forgione family was deeply religious. They attended daily Mass, prayed the Rosary nightly, and abstained from meat three days a week in honor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Although Francesco’s parents and grandparents were illiterate, they memorized the scriptures and narrated Bible stories to their children. His mother said that Francesco was able to see and speak with Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and his guardian angel, and that as a child he assumed that all people could do so.
According to the diary of Father Agostino da San Marco, who was his spiritual director in San Marco in Lamis, the young Francesco Forgione was afflicted with a number of illnesses. At six he suffered from a grave gastroenteritis which kept him bedridden for a long time. At ten he caught typhoid fever.
As a youth, Francesco reported that he had experienced heavenly visions and ecstasies. In 1897, after he had completed three years at the public school, Francesco was said to have been drawn to the life of a friar after listening to a young Capuchin friar who was in the countryside seeking donations. When Francesco expressed his desire to his parents, they made a trip to Morcone, a community 13 miles (21 km) north of Pietrelcina, to find out if their son was eligible to enter the Capuchin Order. The friars there informed them that they were interested in accepting Francesco into their community, but he needed first to become better educated.
Francesco’s father went to the United States in search of work to pay for private tutoring for his son, so that he might meet the academic requirements to enter the Capuchin Order. It was in this period that Francesco received the sacrament of Confirmation on September 27, 1899. He underwent private tutoring and passed the stipulated academic requirements. On January 6, 1903, at the age of 15, he entered the novitiate of the Capuchin friars at Morcone. On January 22, he took the Franciscan habit and the name of Fra (Friar) Pio, in honor of Pope St. Pius I, whose relic is preserved in the Santa Anna Chapel in Pietrelcina. He took the simple vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
Commencing his seven-year study for the priesthood, Fra Pio traveled to the friary of Saint Francis of Assisi by oxcart. At 17, he suddenly fell ill, complaining of loss of appetite, insomnia, exhaustion, fainting spells, and terrible migraines. He vomited frequently and could digest only milk and cheese. Religious devotees and hagiographers point to this time, when he was suffering physical illness, that inexplicable phenomena allegedly began to occur. During prayers, Pio appeared to others to be in a stupor, as if he were absent. One of Pio’s fellow friars later claimed to have seen him in ecstasy, levitating above the ground.
In June 1905, Fra Pio’s health worsened to such an extent that his superiors decided to send him to a mountain convent, in the hope that the change of air would do him some good. This had little impact, however, and doctors advised that he return to his home town. Even there his health failed to improve. Despite this, On January 27, 1907, he still made his solemn profession.
In 1910, Pio was subsequently ordained a priest by Archbishop Paolo Schinosi at the Cathedral of Benevento. Four days later, he offered his first Mass at the parish church of Our Lady of the Angels. His health being precarious, he was permitted to remain with his family until 1916 while still retaining the Capuchin habit.
On September 4, 1916, however, Pio was ordered to return to his community life. He moved to an agricultural community, Our Lady of Grace Capuchin Friary, located in the Gargano Mountains in San Giovanni Rotondo in the Province of Foggia. At that time the community numbered in total seven friars. He went on to remain at San Giovanni Rotondo until his death in 1968, except for a period of military service. Padre Pio celebrated the Mass in Latin, as was the widespread custom of the time.
When World War I started, four friars from this community were selected for military service. At that time, Padre Pio was a teacher at the seminary and a spiritual director. When one more friar was called into service, Padre Pio was put in charge of the community. On November 15, 1915, he was drafted into the Italian army and on December 6, assigned to the 10th Medical Corps in Naples. Due to poor health, he was continually discharged and recalled until on March 16, 1918, he was declared unfit for military service and discharged. In all, his military service lasted 182 days.
On September 20, 1918, while hearing confessions, Padre Pio had his first occurrence of the stigmata: bodily marks, pain, and bleeding in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ. This phenomenon continued for fifty years, until the end of his life. The blood flowing from the stigmata smelled of perfume or flowers, a phenomenon mentioned in stories of the lives of several saints and often referred to as the odour of sanctity. Though Padre Pio said he would have preferred to suffer in secret, by early 1919, news about the stigmatic friar began to spread in the secular world. Padre Pio’s wounds were examined by many people, including physicians.
People who had started rebuilding their lives after World War I, began to see in Padre Pio a symbol of hope. Those close to him attest that he began to manifest several spiritual gifts, including the gifts of healing, bilocation, levitation, prophecy, miracles, extraordinary abstinence from both sleep and nourishment (one account states that Padre Agostino recorded one instance in which Padre Pio was able to subsist for at least 20 days at Verafeno on only the Eucharist without any other nourishment), the ability to read hearts, the gift of tongues, the gift of conversions, and the fragrance from his wounds.
His stigmata, regarded as evidence of holiness, were studied by physicians whose independence from the Church is not known. The observations were unexplainable and the wounds never became infected. His wounds healed once but reappeared.They were examined by Luigi Romanelli, chief physician of the City Hospital of Barletta, for about one year. Dr. Giorgio Festa, a private practitioner, also examined them in 1920 and 1925. Professor Giuseppe Bastianelli, physician to Pope Benedict XV, agreed that the wounds existed but made no other comment. Pathologist Dr. Amico Bignami of the University of Rome also observed the wounds but could make no diagnosis. Both Bignami and Dr. Giuseppe Sala commented on the unusually smooth edges of the wounds and lack of edema. Dr. Alberto Caserta took x-rays of Padre Pio’s hands in 1954 and found no abnormality in the bone structure.
He was said to act embarrassed by this condition and most photographs show him wearing red mittens or black coverings on his hands and feet where the bleeding occurred. At the time of Padre Pio’s death, his body appeared unwounded, with no sign of scarring. There was a report that doctors who examined his body found it empty of all blood.
There were both religious and non-religious critics who accused Padre Pio of faking his stigmata, saying he used carbolic acid to make the wounds. In 2007, The Telegraph reported on the book, The Other Christ: Padre Pio and 19th Century Italy, by the historian Sergio Luzzatto. He recounted that in 1919, according to one document in the Vatican’s archive, Padre Pio requested carbolic acid from a pharmacist. She said it was for sterilization. The Catholic Anti-Defamation League said Luzzatto was spreading “anti-Catholic libels” and needed to learn more about religion. Luzzatto was awarded the Cundill Prize in History for the book.
The Church dismissed charges that he had faked the stigmata. “The boys had needed injections to fight the Spanish Flu which was raging at that time. Due to a shortage of doctors, Padres Paolino and Pio administered the shots, using carbolic acid as a sterilizing agent.”
Transverberation and visible stigmata
Based on Padre Pio’s correspondence, even early in his priesthood he experienced less obvious indications of the visible stigmata for which he would later become famous. In a 1911 letter, Padre Pio wrote to his spiritual advisor Padre Benedetto from San Marco in Lamis, describing something he had been experiencing for a year:
Then last night something happened which I can neither explain nor understand. In the middle of the palms of my hands a red mark appeared, about the size of a penny, accompanied by acute pain in the middle of the red marks. The pain was more pronounced in the middle of the left hand, so much so that I can still feel it. Also under my feet I can feel some pain.
His close friend Padre Agostino wrote to him in 1915, asking specific questions, such as when he first experienced visions, whether he had been granted the stigmata, and whether he felt the pains of the Passion of Christ, namely the crowning of thorns and the scourging. Padre Pio replied that he had been favoured with visions since his novitiate period (1903 to 1904). He wrote that although he had been granted the stigmata, he had been so terrified by the phenomenon he begged the Lord to withdraw them. He wrote that he did not wish the pain to be removed, only the visible wounds, since at the time he purportedly considered them to be an indescribable and almost unbearable humiliation. The visible wounds disappeared at that point, but reappeared in September 1918. He reported, however, that the pain remained and was more acute on specific days and under certain circumstances. He also said that he was suffering the pain of the crown of thorns and the scourging. He did not define the frequency of these occurrences but said that he had been suffering from them at least once weekly for some years.
These events are alleged to have caused his health to fail, for which reason he was permitted to stay at home. To maintain his religious life as a friar while away from the community, he celebrated The Holy Mass daily and taught at school.
St. John of the Cross describes the phenomenon of transverberation as follows:
The soul being inflamed with the love of God which is interiorly attacked by a Seraph, who pierces it through with a fiery dart. This leaves the soul wounded, which causes it to suffer from the overflowing of divine love.
A strong believer in Christian meditation, Padre Pio stated: “Through the study of books one seeks God; by meditation one finds him.”
World War I continued and in July 1918, Pope Benedict XV, who had termed the World War “the suicide of Europe,” appealed to all Christians urging them to pray for an end to the World War. On July 27 of the same year, Padre Pio offered himself as a victim for the end of the war. Days passed and between August 5 and 7, Padre Pio had a vision in which Christ appeared and pierced his side. As a result, Padre Pio had a physical wound in his side. This occurrence is considered as a “transverberation” or piercing of the heart, indicating the union of love with God. (On 8 August, the Allies began the Hundred Days Offensive, which led to the armistice with Germany and the end of the war.)
As a side-note, a first-class relic of Padre Pio, which consists of a large framed square of linen bearing a bloodstain from “the wound of the transverberation of the heart” in his side, is exposed for public veneration at the St. John Cantius Church in Chicago.
The occasion of transverberation coincided with a seven-week-long period of spiritual unrest for Padre Pio. One of his Capuchin brothers said this of his state during that period:
During this time his entire appearance looked altered as if he had died. He was constantly weeping and sighing, saying that God had forsaken him.
In a letter from Padre Pio to Padre Benedetto, dated 21 August 1918, Padre Pio writes of his experiences during the transverberation:
While I was hearing the boys’ confessions on the evening of the 5th [August] I was suddenly terrorized by the sight of a celestial person who presented himself to my mind’s eye. He had in his hand a sort of weapon like a very long sharp-pointed steel blade which seemed to emit fire. At the very instant that I saw all this, I saw that person hurl the weapon into my soul with all his might. I cried out with difficulty and felt I was dying. I asked the boy to leave because I felt ill and no longer had the strength to continue. This agony lasted uninterruptedly until the morning of the 7th. I cannot tell you how much I suffered during this period of anguish. Even my entrails were torn and ruptured by the weapon, and nothing was spared. From that day on I have been mortally wounded. I feel in the depths of my soul a wound that is always open and which causes me continual agony.
On September 20, 1918, accounts state that the pains of the transverberation had ceased and Padre Pio was in “profound peace.” On that day, as Padre Pio was engaged in prayer in the choir loft in the Church of Our Lady of Grace, the same Being who had appeared to him and given him the transverberation, and who is believed to be the Wounded Christ, appeared again, and Padre Pio had another experience of religious ecstasy. When the ecstasy ended, Padre Pio had received the visible stigmata, the five wounds of Christ. This time, the stigmata were permanent. They stayed visible for the next fifty years of his life.
In a letter to Padre Benedetto, his superior and spiritual advisor from San Marco in Lamis, dated October 22, 1918, Padre Pio describes his experience of receiving the stigmata:
On the morning of the 20th of last month, in the choir, after I had celebrated Mass I yielded to a drowsiness similar to a sweet sleep. […] I saw before me a mysterious person similar to the one I had seen on the evening of 5 August. The only difference was that his hands and feet and side were dripping blood. This sight terrified me and what I felt at that moment is indescribable. I thought I should have died if the Lord had not intervened and strengthened my heart which was about to burst out of my chest. The vision disappeared and I became aware that my hands, feet and side were dripping blood. Imagine the agony I experienced and continue to experience almost every day. The heart wound bleeds continually, especially from Thursday evening until Saturday. Dear Father, I am dying of pain because of the wounds and the resulting embarrassment I feel deep in my soul. I am afraid I shall bleed to death if the Lord does not hear my heartfelt supplication to relieve me of this condition. Will Jesus, who is so good, grant me this grace? Will he at least free me from the embarrassment caused by these outward signs? I will raise my voice and will not stop imploring him until in his mercy he takes away, not the wound or the pain, which is impossible since I wish to be inebriated with pain, but these outward signs which cause me such embarrassment and unbearable humiliation….the pain was so intense that I began to feel as if I were dying on the cross.
In addition to his childhood illnesses, throughout his life Padre Pio suffered from “asthmatic bronchitis.” He also had a large kidney stone, with frequent abdominal pains. He suffered from a chronic gastritis, which later turned into an ulcer. He also suffered from inflammations of the eye, nose, ear, and throat, and eventually formed rhinitis and chronic otitis.
In 1925, Padre Pio was operated on for an inguinal hernia, and shortly after this a large cyst formed on his neck that was surgically removed. Another surgery was required to remove a malignant tumor on his ear. After this operation Padre Pio was subjected to radiological treatment, which was successful, it seems, after only two treatments.
In 1956, he came down with a serious case of “exudative pleuritis”. The diagnosis was certified by Cataldo Cassano, a professor who personally extracted the serous liquid from the body of Padre Pio.He remained bedridden for four consecutive months. In his old age Padre Pio was tormented by painful arthritis.
Because of the unusual abilities Padre Pio was said to possess, the Holy See instituted investigations of the related accounts. The local bishop, P. Gagliardi, did not believe Padre Pio’s alleged miracles, suggesting that his Capuchin brothers were making a display out of the monk to gain financial advantage. When Pius XI became pope in 1922, the Vatican became extremely doubtful. Padre Pio was subject to numerous investigations.
The Vatican imposed severe sanctions on Padre Pio to reduce publicity about him: it forbade him from saying Mass in public, blessing people, answering letters, showing his stigmata publicly, and communicating with Padre Benedetto, his spiritual director. Padre Pio was to be relocated to another convent in northern Italy. The local people threatened to riot, and the Vatican left Padre Pio where he was.
Fearing these local riots, the Vatican dropped a plan to transfer Padre Pio to another friary, and a second plan for removal was also changed. From 1921 to 1922 he was prevented from publicly performing his priestly duties, such as hearing confessions and saying Mass. From 1924 to 1931, the Holy See made statements denying that the events in Padre Pio’s life were due to any divine cause.
The founder of Milan’s Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, friar, physician, and psychologist Agostino Gemelli, met Padre Pio once, for a few minutes, and was unable to examine his stigmata. According to Agostino Gemelli, Padre Pio was “an ignorant and self-mutilating psychopath who exploited people’s credulity.” Gemelli speculated that Padre Pio kept his wounds open with carbolic acid. As a result, Padre Pio was required to wrap the wounds in cloth. For many years, he wore fingerless gloves that concealed his wounds. According to believers, the bleeding continued for some 50 years until the wounds closed within hours of his death.
A pharmacist sold four grams of carbolic acid to Padre Pio in the year 1919. The archbishop of Manfredonia, Pasquale Gagliardi, reported this as evidence that Padre Pio could have effected the stigmata with acid. This suggestion was examined and dismissed by the Vatican.
By 1933, the tide began to turn, with Pope Pius XI ordering the Holy See to reverse its ban on Padre Pio’s public celebration of Mass. The pope said, “I have not been badly disposed toward Padre Pio, but I have been badly informed.” In 1934, the friar was again allowed to hear confessions. He was also given honorary permission to preach despite never having taken the exam for the preaching license. Pope Pius XII, who assumed the papacy in 1939, encouraged devotees to visit Padre Pio.
In 1940, Padre Pio began plans to open a hospital in San Giovanni Rotondo, to be named the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza or “Home to Relieve Suffering.” The hospital opened in 1956. Barbara Ward, a British humanitarian and journalist on assignment in Italy, played a major role in obtaining for this project a grant of $325,000 from the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). In order that Padre Pio might directly supervise this project, Pope Pius XII in 1957 granted him dispensation from his vow of poverty. Padre Pio’s detractors used this project as another weapon to attack him, charging him with misappropriation of funds.
Pope Paul VI (pope from 1963 to 1978), in the mid-1960s dismissed all accusations against Padre Pio.
In 1947, Father Karol Józef Wojtyła (later Pope John Paul II), a young Polish priest who was studying in Rome at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum, visited Padre Pio, who heard his confession. Austrian Cardinal Alfons Stickler reported that Wojtyła confided to him that during this meeting, Padre Pio told him he would one day ascend to “the highest post in the Church though further confirmation is needed.” Cardinal Stickler said that Wojtyła believed that the prophecy was fulfilled when he became a cardinal. (John Paul’s secretary, Stanisław Dziwisz, denies the prediction, while George Weigel’s biography Witness to Hope, which contains an account of the same visit, does not mention it.)
According to oral tradition, Bishop Wojtyła wrote to Padre Pio in 1962 to ask him to pray for Dr. Wanda Poltawska, a friend in Poland who was suffering from cancer. Later, Dr. Poltawska’s cancer was found to be in spontaneous remission. Medical professionals were unable to offer an explanation for the phenomenon. John Paul II, who was the Pope from 1978 to 2005, started the canonization process of Padre Pio and canonized him in 2002.
Padre Pio became a very well-known priest. Franciscan spirituality is characterized by a life of poverty, love of nature, and giving charity to those in need. Franciscan prayer recognizes God’s presence in the wonder of creation. This is seen clearly in St. Francis’ Canticle of the Sun. Franciscan spirituality is focused on walking in Christ’s footsteps, understanding God by doing what Christ asked, experiencing and sharing God.
Later Padre Pio became a spiritual director. He had five rules for spiritual growth: weekly confession, daily Communion, spiritual reading, meditation, and examination of conscience.
Padre Pio was devoted to rosary meditations and said:
“The person who meditates and turns his mind to God, who is the mirror of his soul, seeks to know his faults, tries to correct them, moderates his impulses, and puts his conscience in order.”
He compared weekly confession to dusting a room weekly, and recommended the performance of meditation and self-examination twice daily: once in the morning, as preparation to face the day, and once again in the evening, as retrospection. His advice on the practical application of theology he often summed up in his now famous quote, “Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry”. He directed Christians to recognize God in all things and to desire above all things to do the will of God.
The novelist Graham Greene had two photos of Padre Pio in his wallet after attending one of his Masses. He said that Padre Pio had “introduced a doubt in my disbelief.”
Many people who heard of him traveled to San Giovanni Rotondo in the south of Italy to meet him and confess to him, ask for help, or have their curiosity satisfied. Padre Pio’s mother died at the village around the convent in 1928. Later, in 1938, Padre Pio had his old father Grazio living with him in the village of San Giovanni Rotondo. His brother Michele also moved into the village with their father. Padre Pio’s father lived in a little house outside the convent, until his death in 1946.
Padre Pio died in 1968 at the age of 81. His health deteriorated in the 1960s but he continued his spiritual works. On September 21, 1968, the day after the 50th anniversary of his receiving the stigmata, Padre Pio felt great fatigue. The next day, on September 22, 1968, he was supposed to offer a Solemn Mass, but feeling weak, he asked his superior if he might say a Low Mass instead, as he had done daily for years. Due to the large number of pilgrims present for the Mass, Padre Pio’s superior decided the Solemn Mass must proceed. Padre Pio carried out his duties but appeared extremely weak and fragile. His voice was weak and, after the Mass had concluded, he nearly collapsed while walking down the altar steps. He needed help from his Capuchin brothers. This was his last celebration of the Mass.
Early in the morning of September 23, 1968, Padre Pio made his last confession and renewed his Franciscan vows. As was customary, he had his rosary in his hands, though he did not have the strength to say the Hail Marys aloud. Till the end, he repeated the words “Gesù, Maria” (Jesus, Mary). At around 2:30 a.m., he said, “I see two mothers” (taken to mean his mother and Mary).At 2:30 a.m. he died in his cell in San Giovanni Rotondo with his last breath whispering, “Maria!”
His body was buried on September 26 in a crypt in the Church of Our Lady of Grace. His Requiem Mass was attended by over 100,000 people. He had often said, “After my death I will do more. My real mission will begin after my death.” The accounts of those who stayed with Padre Pio till the end state that the stigmata had completely disappeared without a scar. Only a red mark “as if drawn by a red pencil” remained on his side but it disappeared.
Reported supernatural phenomena
Padre Pio was said to have had the gift of reading souls, the ability to bilocate (according to eyewitness accounts), among other supernatural phenomena. He was said to communicate with angels and worked favors and healings before they were requested of him. The reports of supernatural phenomena surrounding Padre Pio attracted fame and legend. The Vatican was initially skeptical.
In the 1999 book, Padre Pio: The Wonder Worker, a segment by Irish priest Malachy Gerard Carroll describes the story of Gemma de Giorgi, a Sicilian girl whose blindness was believed to have been cured during a visit to Padre Pio. Gemma, who was brought to San Giovanni Rotondo in 1947 by her grandmother, was born without pupils. During her trip to see Padre Pio, the little girl began to see objects, including a steamboat and the sea. Gemma’s grandmother did not believe the child had been healed. After Gemma forgot to ask Padre Pio for grace during her confession, her grandmother implored the priest to ask God to restore her sight. Padre Pio told her, “The child must not weep and neither must you for the child sees and you know she sees.”
Padre Pio believed the love of God is inseparable from suffering, and that suffering all things for the sake of God is the way for the soul to reach God. He felt that his soul was lost in a chaotic maze, plunged into total desolation, as if he were in the deepest pit of hell.
Father Gabriele Amorth, senior exorcist of Vatican City, stated in an interview that Padre Pio was able to distinguish between real apparitions of Jesus, Mary and the saints and the illusions created by the devil, by carefully analysing the state of his mind and the feelings produced in him during the apparitions. In one of Padre Pio’s letters, he states that he remained patient in the midst of his trials because of his firm belief that Jesus, Mary, his guardian angel, St. Joseph, and St. Francis were always with him and helped him During his period of spiritual suffering, his followers believe that Padre Pio was attacked by the devil, both physically and spiritually. His followers also believe that the devil used diabolical tricks in order to increase Padre Pio’s torments. These included apparitions as an “angel of light” and the alteration or destruction of letters to and from his spiritual directors. Padre Augustine confirmed this when he said:
Now, twenty-two days have passed since Jesus allowed the devils to vent their anger on me. My Father, my whole body is bruised from the beatings that I have received to the present time by our enemies. Several times, they have even torn off my shirt so that they could strike my exposed flesh.
Padre Pio reported engaging in physical combat with Satan and his minions, similar to incidents described concerning St. John Vianney, from which he was said to have sustained extensive bruising. On the day of Padre Pio’s death, mystic and Servant of God Maria Esperanza de Bianchini from Venezuela reported that he appeared to her in a vision and said, “I have come to say good-bye. My time has come. It is your turn.” Her husband saw his wife’s face transfigured into that of Padre Pio. On the following day, they learned that Padre Pio had died. Witnesses say they later saw Esperanza levitating during Mass and engaging in bilocation. Padre Domenico da Cese, a fellow Capuchin stigmatist, reported that on Sunday, September 22, 1968, he saw Padre Pio kneeling in prayer before the Holy Face of Manoppello, although it was known that Padre Pio had not left his room.
Sainthood and later recognition
Padre Pio was considered holy even during his lifetime. In 1971 three years after his death, Pope Paul VI said to the superiors of the Capuchin Order about the monk:
“ Look what fame he had, what a worldwide following gathered around him! But why? Perhaps because he was a philosopher? Because he was wise? Because he had resources at his disposal? Because he said Mass humbly, heard confessions from dawn to dusk and was–it is not easy to say it–one who bore the wounds of our Lord. He was a man of prayer and suffering. ”
In 1982, the Holy See authorized the archbishop of Manfredonia to open an investigation to determine whether Padre Pio should be considered a saint. The investigation continued for seven years. In 1990 Padre Pio was declared a Servant of God, the first step in the process of canonization. The investigation however did not lead to any public factual clearance by the Church on his previous ‘excommunication’ or on the allegations that his stigmata were not of a supernatural kind. Moreover, Pio’s stigmata were remarkably left out of the obligatory investigations for the canonization process, in order to avoid obstacles prohibiting a successful closure.
Beginning in 1990, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints debated how Padre Pio had lived his life, and in 1997 Pope John Paul II declared him venerable. A discussion of the effects of his life on others followed. Cases were studied such as a reported cure of an Italian woman, Consiglia de Martino, associated with Padre Pio’s intercession. In 1999, on the advice of the Congregation, John Paul II declared Padre Pio blessed. A media offensive by the Capuchins was able to realise a broad acceptation of the contested saint in spe in society.
After further consideration of Padre Pio’s virtues and ability to do good even after his death, including discussion of another healing attributed to his intercession, the pope declared Padre Pio a saint on June 16, 2002. An estimated 300,000 people attended the canonization ceremony.
On July 1, 2004, Pope John Paul II dedicated the Sanctuary of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina (sometimes referred as Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church), built in the village of San Giovanni Rotondo to the memory of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina. A statue of Saint Pio in Messina, Sicily attracted attention in 2002 when it wept tears of blood.
Saint Pio of Pietrelcina is known as the patron saint of civil defense volunteers, after a group of 160 petitioned the Italian Bishops’ conference for this designation. The bishops forwarded the request to the Vatican, which gave its approval to the designation. He is also “less officially” known as the patron saint of stress relief and the “January blues,” after the Catholic Enquiry Office in London proclaimed him as such. They designated the most depressing day of the year, identified as January 22, as Don’t Worry Be Happy Day, in honor of Padre Pio’s famous advice: “Pray, hope, and don’t worry.”
Padre Pio has become one of the world’s most popular saints. There are more than 3,000 “Padre Pio Prayer Groups” worldwide, with three million members. There are parishes in Vineland and Lavallette, New Jersey, and Sydney, Australia, and shrines in Buena, New Jersey, and Santo Tomas, Batangas, Philippines, dedicated to Padre Pio. A 2006 survey by the magazine Famiglia Cristiana found that more Italian Catholics pray to Padre Pio for intercession than to any other figure. (This prayer, more properly understood as a request that the saint intercede to God, is not to be confused with worship, which the Catholic Church teaches is due only to God.)
It was announced in 2009 that a renewable energy statue of Padre Pio was to be built on a hill near the town of San Giovanni Rotondo in the south-eastern province of Apulia, Italy, the town where he is commemorated. The project would cost several million pounds, with the money to be raised from the saint’s devotees around the world. The statue would be coated in a special photovoltaic paint, enabling it to trap the sun’s heat and produce solar energy, making it an “ecological” religious icon.
On March 3, 2008, the body of St. Pio was exhumed from his crypt, forty years after his death, so that his remains could be prepared for display. A church statement described the body as being in “fair condition”. Archbishop Domenico Umberto D’Ambrosio, Papal legate to the shrine in San Giovanni Rotondo, stated “the top part of the skull is partly skeletal but the chin is perfect and the rest of the body is well preserved”. Archbishop D’Ambrosio also confirmed in a communiqué that “the stigmata are not visible.” He said that St. Pio’s hands “looked like they had just undergone a manicure”. It was hoped that morticians would be able to restore the face so that it will be recognizable. However, because of its deterioration, his face was covered with a lifelike silicone mask.
Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, prefect for the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, celebrated Mass for 15,000 devotees on April 24 at the Shrine of Holy Mary of Grace, San Giovanni Rotondo, before the body went on display in a crystal, marble, and silver sepulcher in the crypt of the monastery. Padre Pio is wearing his brown Capuchin habit with a white silk stole embroidered with crystals and gold thread. His hands hold a large wooden cross. 800,000 pilgrims worldwide, mostly from Italy, made reservations to view the body up to December 2008, but only 7,200 people a day were able to file past the crystal coffin. Officials extended the display through September, 2009.
Saint Pio’s remains were placed in the church of Saint Pio, which is beside San Giovanni Rotondo. In April 2010 they were moved to a special golden “Cripta”.
The remains of Saint Pio were brought to the Vatican for veneration during the 2015-2016 Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. Saint Pio and Saint Leopold Mandic were designated as saint-confessors to inspire people to become reconciled to the Church and to God, by the confession of their sins.