Tractor trailers bear his image.
In Italy, it is not uncommon to see semi-tractor trailers zipping down the highway boasting an image of an infamous Capuchin friar. On my own visits to Rome, I have seen this on more than one occasion and just about every practicing Roman Catholic, and probably even some non-practicing but Italian at heart can speak of this interesting guy. It is no wonder why I love that country! September 23 marks the feast day of this fascinating modern-day saint.
St. Padre Pio de Pietrelcina (1887-1968), was born Francesco Forgione in Pietrelcina in a small town in southern Italy. He was noted to have been a very devout child and felt called to the priesthood at a very early age. When he joined the Capuchins he was given the name Pius (Pio in Italian) and became known as Padre Pio. Six years after his ordination he was assigned to a small community at the Our Lady of Grace Capuchin friary located in San Giovanni Rotundo.
The gift of the stigmata.
He was an extraordinary priest known for his supernatural gifts and stigmata. On September 20, 1918 after celebrating Mass and making a thanksgiving, St. Padre Pio had a vision of Jesus. After the vision the wounds of Christ appeared on his hands, feet, and side. Medical authorities who repeatedly investigated the stigmata could not offer a scientific explanation for St. Padre Pio’s gaping bleeding sores that emitted a fragrance described by many as violets, roses, and/or tobacco. The smell is referred to as the Odor of Sanctity. These wounds remained on him for the last 50 years of his life and mysteriously healed leaving no scars after his death. From his letter to Padre Benedetto on Oct. 18, 1918, Padre Pio wrote (obtained from St. John Cantius Church in Chicago website):
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 phenomena of bilocation and ability to read souls.
St. Padre Pio has also been associated with a phenomenon known as bilocation. Many a multi-tasking woman and busy parent have wished for the gift of bilocation. This is the supernatural ability to be at more than one place at a time. Many eye witnesses account several occasions that this humble friar had the ability to supernaturally travel and be at another location when at the same time be at work in his friary. Some say that he had been across the globe in seconds! In addition, he was known to have the ability to read souls during confession. Word of his stigmata, supernatural gifts, and miracles spread and the tiny village of San Giovanni Rotundo was flooded with pilgrims.
A life of suffering.
Throughout his life he suffered physically, emotionally, and spiritually. He experienced bouts of ill-health, which included tuberculosis, typhoid fever, bronchitis, gastritis, otitis, tumors, hernia, arthritis, and extraordinarily high fevers. He was discharged from military service after barely four months due to his frailty. Because of the bazaar nature of his wounds, on more than one occasion he was forbidden by his superiors to celebrate the Mass and hear confessions. Rather than expose his stigmata, he tried to hide the wounds, as he felt humiliated by them. But he also desired to suffer with Christ and to offer his sufferings for the World War which was going on at the time. St. Padre Pio first received a wound on his side which reportedly was a pierce into his heart. Shortly thereafter he received the other wounds of the stigma. Incidentally, a first class relic of a blood-stained cloth from where St. Padre Pio’s side was wounded is on display for veneration at St. John Cantius Church in Chicago, IL.
I have been to San Giovanni Rotundo.
My family and I have had the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to San Giovanni Rotundo in Italy. This little town is noted to have a medical center named “Home for the Relief of Suffering” which was established by St. Padre Pio. My husband was able to tour that facility. At the church in San Giovanni Rotundo, we were able to receive a blessing from one of the bloody gloves of St. Padre Pio. We were able to examine the glove up close and to touch it. I remember the black glove being placed on a table close by where I was standing. Everyone took turns holding the glove and touching it to articles that we had brought with us.
St. Padre Pio’s advice for spiritual growth.
St. Padre’s five rules for spiritual growth were simple: weekly confession, daily Communion, spiritual reading, meditation, and examination of conscience. His advice to his spiritual sons and daughters were to “Pray, hope, and don’t worry.” He told them to recognize God in all things and to desire to do the will of God above all things.
Pray, hope and don’t worry appears to be a simple enough of a formula. Unfortunately however it can seem very difficult for those of us who are worry warts. A reminder from such an extraordinary but humble Saint as Padre Pio can help. They are words we really need to repeat to ourselves everyday. St. Padre Pio, pray for us.