Modern Day Saint

Padre Pio of Pietrelcina

The Stigmatic Priest

Padre Pio was born Francis Forgione on May 25,1887. His parents, Orazio and Giuseppa De Nunzio Forgione, were simple, poor, hard-working people living in a small town in southern Italy, not far from Naples. Francis was the second of eight children. It was a religious family with two of the five children that survived entering religious life.

As a youngster, he tended the family's small flock of sheep, but even at an early age he wished to become a priest. His father immigrated twice to America to work and earn the necessary money for Francis' Seminary studies. In 1903 his father entered him into the Capuchin order at Marcone in the province of Foggia. Here Francis received the Capuchin habit and the religious name of Pio (Pius in English). Despite the rigorous novitiate life of penance, prayer, and fasting, he made his first vows on January 22,1904.

During his philosophical and theological studies, his poor health and the Capuchin penitential life often made it impossible for him to keep pace with his classmates. Thus, he had to be sent home to his parents to recuperate. The local parish pastor of the church in Pietrecina tutored him privately. Finally, on August 10, 1910, Padre Pio was ordained a priest in the Cathedral of Benevento. After Ordination, he still had to remain in Pietrelcina to rest. The doctors diagnosed his condition as tuberculosis and anemia.

His poor health was perhaps the first sign of his vocation to "co-redeem," to suffer with Christ as a victim for sinners. He admitted that he had consecrated himself to the Lord and had beseeched Him to give him the punishment prepared for sinners and for souls in a state of purgation. Thus, it so happened that he became the first stigmatized priest in the history of the Church. On September 20, 1918, during his thanksgiving after Mass, he was marked with the five wounds of Our Lord's crucifixion. He was 31 years old and the wounds were to remain with him until death.

Despite the loss of blood each day, the wounds miraculously never closed or festered. No one really knew how much he suffered from those five open wounds. His rather halting gait, swollen feet, and his deliberate slow genuflection at the altar gave plenty of evidence of the pain he suffered.

Padre Pio became one of the most remarkable confessors of the century. Thousands of sinners were reconciled to God and led to holiness. God blessed him with extraordinary charisma or gifts for his mission as a 'victim for sin.' These gifts included bilocation, prophecy, gifts of tongues, healing, reading of hearts, and fragrance, which emanated from his wounds and often announced his invisible presence. He never allowed his powers to encroach on his humility. He always gave God the credit for everything he did.

His ability to read hearts was particularly useful in the confessional, where so many people returned to the sacraments. Many were astonished at his revelations of their hidden sins, sometimes long forgotten.

In the confessional, he counseled all that came to him, and they came in droves from all parts of the world. All classes of people felt welcome, the sick and poor, the notable and unknown. They sought his assistance, certain of his guidance.

His wounds never festered, but often gave off a pleasant aroma. It revealed his presence, even when he could not be seen. It was proof that he was responding to their prayer of petition. Sometimes it was a warning to proceed with or desist from some action, or to pray and to hope.

Bilocation was another manifestation of his love for people in need. He was able to be and to act in two different places at the same time. Even though the Church authorities seriously forbade him ever to leave San Giovannit Rotondo, he was able to extend himself beyond the confines of his friary by bilocation. It is well known that he was seen in Rome, in America, and in many other parts of the world, although it can be proven that he physically never left San Giovannit Rotondo.

Another special gift of Padre Pio was his ability to prophesy and to look into the future. He could tell, for example, the sex of an unborn child, an individual's vocation to the priesthood, religious life, or the marriage state, whether a medical operation was needed or not, as well as the truth of 'missing in action reports' during World War ll. He foretold the building of a Capuchin friary and seminary in his own birthplace 30 years later, and a hospital in San Giovannit Rotondo, 15 years later. Padre Pio received over 500 letters a day, and was aware of their contents before the envelopes were opened.

His glorious memorial of charity is his hospital, called the House for the Relief of Suffering. It was opened and inaugurated on May 5, 1956. It is a very modern hospital of 1,200 beds, which is staffed with distinguished medical personnel and equipped with the most efficient up-to-date equipment. Many doctors and personnel offer their services for free and serve the needs of the poor people of southern Italy.

Padre Pio was a man of prayer. Even with his daily time-consuming duties in the confessional, he always found time to pray. He needed only a few hours sleep each night and arose at 2 AM to spend the quiet hours before Mass in silent prayer. He once wrote: "prayer is the best weapon I have; it is the key to God's heart. Speak to Jesus not only with your lips, but also with your heart; in fact, on certain occasions you should speak to Him only with your heart."

He also said: "One searches for God in books, but will find Him especially in prayer." Padre Pio stressed the importance of prayer with all his penitents and spiritual children. In fact, before his death, he had established more than 700 prayer groups all over the world. By now there are over 2,000 of these prayer groups. His love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament was unparalleled. To fully appreciate the source of his strength, we must look to his Mass. To have witnessed his Mass was an unforgettable experience. In his lifetime, people flocked to him from all parts of the world to attend his Mass, to receive Communion from him, and to participate with him in the afternoon Benediction. Everyone admired and witnessed his living faith and love for his Lord and Savior in the Blessed Sacrament.

Another source of strength and encouragement was our Blessed Lady, to whom he ascribed all the success of his priestly life. His deep devotion for her manifested itself principally through his continual recitation of the rosary throughout every day of his long life. He called the rosary his weapon against Satan and the world. His love for Mary was not the result of an exaggerated Marian devotion. It sprang from deep and abiding faith in Christ and His Mother. He concluded each day, for example, with the rosary and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, because his whole life and all his activities were centered around Jesus and Mary.

He died on September 23, 1968 with the names of Jesus and Mary on his lips. He was beatified on May 2, 1999. This holy priest and servant of God stands before us as a true model of Christian living. He was a Capuchin Franciscan priest who spent all of his Christian life in prayer, in offering Mass, in hearing confessions and as a 'victim for us', suffering excruciating pains for the salvation of souls.

Padre Pio is with us in spirit. His intercession is extremely powerful. His prayers still give health back to the gravely ill, let cripples walk, let the blind see, restore peace and serenity to tormented souls, atheists, and sinners. His message for all of us is one of hope, joy, and comfort. He is still the Good Samaritan, always ready to carry the Cross and to be of service to others, especially as a victim for sinners.

Note: The above was edited from an article in The Wanderer by Fr. Armand Dasseville, O.F.M. Cap.



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