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Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina

Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina
  • Century: 19th & 20th Century
  • Patronage: Catholic Adolescents, Civil Defense Volunteers
  • Feast Day: September 23rd

St. Padre Pio was born Francesco Forgione in Pietrelcina, a farming town in Southern Italy, in the region of Campania.  His parents made their living as peasant farmers.  He was baptized at St. Ann Chapel there, and later served as an Altar boy.  He had an older brother Michele, and three younger sisters – Felicita, Pellegrina, and Grazia who became a Bridgettine Nun.  He had two other siblings who died in infancy – one of whom he was named after.  He said that by the time he was five, he was going to dedicate his entire life to God, and had begun inflicting penances on himself – sleeping on a stone floor with a stone as a pillow.  

His family was highly religious as was his town.  His family prayed the nightly Rosary together, attended daily Mass, and abstained from meat three days a week in honor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.  As a youth, he reported that he had experienced heavenly visions and ecstasies.  His mother asserted that he was able to speak with Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and his Guardian Angel on a regular basis, and as a child assumed that everyone could.  

In 1897, he decide that he wanted to become a Capuchin Friar, but he needed more education to enter their order.  His father went to the United States in search of work to pay for private tutoring for him, so he could meet his requirements.  Padre Pio underwent his private tutoring, and passed the requirements, and on January 6th, 1903 at the age of 15, he entered the order.  He took the simple vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  In 1910 he was ordained a Priest.  

He was ordered to move to an agricultural community, Our Lady of Grace Capuchin Friary, located in San Giovanni Rotondo in Foggia.  He remained there his entire life, with the exception of his military service.  When World War I started, four friars from his community were selected and he was put in charge of the community.  Then he was called to military service himself.  He was discharged though, several months later due to poor health.  

In repsonse to his growing reputation as a worker of miracles, his superiors assigned him to the Friary in San Giovanni Rotondo.  He became a spiritual director, guiding many and considered them as his spiritual daughters and sons.  He had five rules for spirutual growth – weekly confession, daily communion, spiritual readings, meditation, and examination of conscience.  He summed up his theology teachings as, “Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry”.  He directed the faithful to recognized God in all things and to desire above all things to do the will of God.   

Padre Pio had many spiritual sufferings and believed that the love of God is inseparable from suffering and that suffering all thing for the sake of God is the way for the soul to reach God.  Padre Pio was attacked by the devil, both physically and spiritually.   Padre Augustine, a fellow Capuchin confirmed this when he said, “The devil appeared as young girls that danced naked, as Christ Crucified, as a young friend of the friars, as the Spiritual Father or as the Provincial Father, as Pope Puis X, a Guardian Angel, St. Francis, or as our Lady”.  He could discern the difference of the devil portraying the saints, and the actual saints, because of the interior feelings he had.  He always felt safe because Jesus, Mary, his Guardian Angel, St. Joseph and St. Francis were always with him to help.  The devil would literally wrestled with him, beat him, leaving him bruised.  

Based on Padre Pio’s own correspondence, early in his priethood he experienced the visible stigmata, which would later make him famous.  He wrote in a letter to his superiors in 1911, one year after being ordained that he had a red painful spont about the size of a penny in the palm of his hands.  He wrote that he begged the Lord to withdraw the visible wonds, but would keep the pain to offer up.  He was writing in regards to his stigmata.    

Pope Benedict XV on July 27th, 1918 had termed World War I as the “suicide of Erope” and appealed to all Christians to pray for an end of the World War.  Padre Pio offered himself as a victim for the end of the war.   A few days passed, and between August 5th and 7th, he had a vision in which Christ appeared and pierced his side.  As a result, Padre Pio had a visible wound in his side.  This peircing is an indication of the union of love with God.  As a side note, Padre Pio’s body is incorrupt and blood from his side is exposed for public veneration at St. John Cantius Church in Chicago.  

In September 1918,he was engaged in prayer in Church when Christ appeared again, and Padre Pio had another ecstasy.  When the ecstasy ended, Padre Pio received the Visible Stigmata, the five wounds of Christ.  The stigmata was permanent, and remained with him for the next 50 years of his life.  His friend Padre Agostino recorded that Padre Pio was able to subsist for at least twenty days on only the Eucharist without any other nourishment.  He also said he had the ability to read hearts, gift of tounges, gift of conversions, and the gift of frangrance from his wounds.  

Bilocation is a special gift of God where an individual can be two places as once.  This gift has been given to many saints, including Padre Pio.  A childhood friend of his Ellie Hunt relocated with her family from Pietrelcina to Flushing, NY.  In 1960, Ellie’s grandfather was gravely ill.  He fell into a coma, and they knew his time was close.  Without any expectations, a Capuchin Monk came to the door, said he was there to pray for and bless their grandfather.  He asked that the family pray the Rosary around his bed – saying the Hail Mary’s into his ear, as he could still hear.  They did, and Ellie got a response by her grandfather squeezed her hand.  The monk gave him the Last Sacraments, and left.  They watched as he walked down the sidewalk, and vanished.  The Capuchin Monk was Fr. Padre Pio.  The grandfather was one of Padre Pio’s spiritual sons.  There are countless reports form Padre Pio’s spiritual children of this happening, many times while he was known to be in San Giovanni Rotondo.   

His health continued to decline in the 1960’s, but he continued to work.  On September 21st, 1968 on the 50th anniversary of him recieveing the stigmata, he experienced great tiredness.  The next day, he requested permission to not say the High Mass, but was denied, and was told to continue due to the large number of pilgrims present.  He became so weak that it took many Capuchin friars to assist him off the Altar.  Early on September 23rd, 1968 Padre Pio made his last confession and renewed his Franciscan Vows.  He had his Rosary, but could not say the Hail Mary’s out loud.  Around 2:30am, he said, “I see two mothers”, his and the Virgin Mary.  He breathed his last in his cell in San Giovanni Rotondo with his last breath whispering, “Maria”.  

His body was buried on September 26th, in the crypt in the Church of Our Lady of Grace.  More than 100,000 faithful came to his funeral Mass.  He often said, “After my death, I will do more.  My real mission will begin after my death”.  To this day, his body can be viewed as it lays in a glass casket – incorrupt.  

Practical Take Away

St. Padre Pio is a saint for our time, and of our time.  He believed that we can all grow in holiness by reception of daily Eucharist, weekly confession, prayer, and meditation. He also knew that he was gifted, and used every ounce of his energy to spiritual direct others.  He was a tremendous role model of how a Christian should live, surrending his will to that of God’s.  It is only in emptying himself out, that he was filled with Christ, and many were able to witness his Mass and extreme long lines to confession.  He is only a prayer away, and he said, “After my death, I will do more.  My real mission will begin after my death”.  Many venerate St. Padre Pio to this day, and even Pope John Paul II saught him out for special prayers, and later went on to canonize him in 2002.  His suffering and ability to read souls benefited the many that were blessed to visit him.