Padre Pio of Pietrelcina was a Capuchin monk (an order of friars in the Catholic Church). During his life time he performed many miracles. Through a mystical experience he received the five wounds of the Christ (the wounds of the stigmata) – two on his feet, two on the palms of his hands and one on the side near the heart. Attracted by his miracles people flocked to him from all corners of the globe. Yet it was not his miracles but it was his love – his love for God and his love for man that won people’s hearts. He once wrote, “I am devoured by the love of God and the love of my neighbor. God is always fixed in my mind and stamped in my heart. I never lose sight of Him. I can admire His beauty, His smiles, His vexation, His mercy, His vengeance, or, rather, the rigors of His justice….”1
Padre Pio’s only desire was “to be a poor friar who prays”. He did not take any credit for the miracles that he performed. For him these miracles were “gifts” that came from God and they belonged to God. When his friend Angelo Battisti once questioned him about these things, Padre Pio replied: “Angelo, they are a mystery for me too.”2 Italian journalist, Renzo Allegri, writes, “I was extremely impressed, not so much by the stories of miracles that people told about him but by the extraordinary moral strength that emanated from his whole being…When he would lift his head and look around, his big eyes looked like they were burning, not from pain but from a goodness that he could not contain.”3
Unlike most people when Padre Pio prayed, God literally spoke to him either through a word or a vision. In a letter to his spiritual director Padre Pio wrote, “My ordinary way of praying is this: hardly do I begin to pray than at once I feel my soul begin to recollect itself in a peace and tranquility that I cannot express in words…” Sometimes Padre Pio felt “touched by the Lord … in a way that is so vivid and so sweet that most of the time I am constrained to shed tears of sorrow for my infidelity and for the tender mercy of having a Father so loving and so good as to summon me thus to His presence.”4 Padre Pio once told his friend Padre Agostino that from early childhood he had seen and spoken to Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and his guardian angel. He thought this was something that happened to everyone. “Don’t you see the Madonna?” he asked his friend. When Agostino denied this, Padre Pio shrugged his shoulders and said, “Surely, you’re saying that out of humility.”5
On the one hand Padre Pio had visions of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, & the angels and on the other he was attacked by the devil. When attacking Padre Pio the devil took horrible and frightening forms. The devil started persecuting him from the time he was four years old. Padre Pro himself recounted once: “My mother would turn off the lights, and so many monsters would close in on me that I would cry. She would turn the lights on and I would quiet down because the monsters vanished. Once she turned them off again, I would begin to cry again because of the monsters.”6 The devil did not always limit himself to gruesome appearances. He even beat him to the point where he was bleeding. Once Brother Pio recorded the following note in his diary: “Last night it seemed like the demons wanted to finish me off. I didn’t know what saint to turn to. I called out to my guardian angel, and after having to wait a little, he finally came to my aid.”7
All through his life Padre Pio suffered from a number of illnesses like very high fevers, asthma, intestinal trouble, pulmonary infections and bronchitis. Even more painful than these illnesses was the pain that he experienced in bearing the wounds of the stigmata in his hands, feet, and side. Even the slightest touch to his hands caused him intense pain. When he walked he rested his weight on the edges of his feet and his heels so as not to press on the wounds of his feet.
Padre Pio’s real name was Francesco Forgione. He was born on May 25, 1887 in Pietrelcina, a village in the province of Benevento, southern Italy. His parents were Grazio and Giuseppa Forgione. Grazio and Giuseppa supported the family by doing hard manual labor on their tiny five acre farm land, Piana Romana. Later Grazio traveled twice to America to live and work there in order to provide for the family and for Francesco’s seminary education.
As a little boy Francesco Forgione was called Franci. Little Franci with his blond hair and brown eyes was exceptionally beautiful to look at. He was often referred to as “il bello Francesco” (“beautiful Francis”). Franci liked to hear stories about Christ, Mary, and the saints. He used to “like to remain alone, listening to distant voices, mysterious heavenly utterances, and echoes of invisible bells that sounded only for him,” 8 Francesco rarely went out and played. He preferred to read devotional books and attend prayers at the church. With the help of the guard at the church he would lock himself up in the church, requesting his guard-friend not to tell anyone. Then at a prearranged time the guard would let him out of the church.
When Francesco was ten years old he expressed his desire to become a Capuchin monk. His parents preferred that he become a parish priest. But Franci insisted on becoming a Capuchin monk because he wanted to be a friar with a beard. Five years later on January 6, 1903 he joined the Capuchin novitiate in Morcone. On the eve of his departure to the monastery Francesco started feeling extremely sad at the thought of leaving his friends and family behind. Years later, in a letter to his spiritual director, Fr. Benedetto he recalled this time in his life: “Don’t ever think that this soul never had to suffer in its innermost being when he had to leave his beloved ones, with whom he felt such strong ties. He felt as though his bones were being crushed, and his sorrow was so real that he felt he was on the verge of passing out. As the day of departure drew near, his anguish grew more and more.”9 The day before Francesco left for Morcone, Jesus and Mary appeared to him in a vision and Jesus put his hand on his head in a blessing. They assured him that they would remain with him as he embarked on his new life. After receiving this divine assurance he did not have any difficulty in bidding farewell to his family.
When Francesco joined the monastery at Morcone, he first had to go through the novitiate. This is a one year trial period when the candidate as well as his superiors tries to ascertain whether the candidate is capable of following the rules and regulations of the monastery. On January 22, 1904, Francesco successfully completed the novitiate year and was “clothed” with the Capuchin habit. Following an ancient custom he also received a new name. From then on Francesco became Brother Pio of Pietrelcina. Three days later, Brother Pio along with another young friar was sent to the seventeenth-century monastery of St. Francis of Assisi, in Sant’Elia a Pianisi near the town of Campobasso. Here Brother Pio commenced six years of intensive study for the priesthood. Finally on August 10, 1910 Brother Pio was ordained to the priesthood and came to be called Padre Pio.
In 1904 when Brother Pio joined the monastery in Sant’Elia a Pianisi he started to suffer from strange illnesses. Doctors who checked on him could not find an explanation for them. He suffered intensely from intestinal irritability and had terrible headaches. He often vomited whatever he ate and could hold down only few spoonfuls of water. His health was so precarious that his superiors decided to send him home till he got better. From 1905 he began to return home to his birthplace, Pietrelcina, for long periods of time. Then from 1910 to 1916 he lived in Pietrelcina almost uninterruptedly. From 1916 on he started living in the monastery of Our Lady of Grace in San Giovanni Rotondo where he remained for the rest of his life except during the short period of time he served in the army. Padre Pio passed away on the morning of September 23, 1968.
In spite of the immense goodness of his heart, in spite of his pure holiness and in spite of his invaluable service to thousands of his spiritual children, Padre Pio experienced many difficult trials. His very goodness and holiness was a great threat to some priests. They resented his fame and they falsely accused him of being a hoax. Some of these priests were very influential people and because of their accusations the Vatican office responsible for overseeing questions of faith and morals took some negative decisions against Padre Pio. He was condemned and restrictions were placed on his freedom to carry out his ministry. Allegri notes, “I discovered something about Padre Pio that few people knew: he had endured incredibly enormous suffering throughout his life, consisting of more persecution, humiliation, accusations, slanders, trials, and condemnations than one can imagine.”10
It was in 1973 that the cause for Padre Pio’s canonization was taken up. But for the next ten years nothing happened because Padre Pio’s name was still on the list of people condemned by the Holy Office. It was Pope John Paul II who intervened to remove the obstacles that were preventing Padre Pio from being canonized into a saint. The Pope had met Padre Pio in 1947 and since then he remained an admirer and supporter of Padre Pio. Finally on May 2, 1999 Pope John Paul II beatified Padre Pio and he now became Saint Pio.
Stories from the life of Padre Pio
In December of 1902 as Francesco (future Padre Pio) was making preparations to join the Capuchin monastery in Morcone he had a vision. In the vision he saw a beautiful majestic man who was as resplendent as the sun standing next to him. This man took Francesco by the hand and led him to a big field where there was a huge gathering of men divided into two groups. On one side he saw men of most beautiful countenance. They were dressed in snow-white garments. On the other side he saw men dressed in black garments. They looked like dark shadows.
Suddenly Francesco found himself in the middle of the two groups. Then he saw a very tall monstrous-looking man coming towards him. Francesco wanted to run away. But the enlightened being standing next to him would not permit that. He said, “Your every resistance is in vain. You must fight him. Take heart. Enter confidently into the battle. Go forth with courage. I will be at your side. I will help you and I won’t let him kill you.”11
Francesco started to fight with the monster. The battle was fierce. Finally with the help of the enlightened being, Francesco was able to defeat the monster. The monster then along with all the men dressed in black fled with shrieks, curses, and deafening cries. The enlightened being then put a beautiful crown on the head of Francesco. But the good man immediately took the crown off, explaining: “I have an even more beautiful one set aside for you. Know that you are able to fight the good fight with the being whom you have just fought. He will come back to attack you…. Fight valiantly and don’t doubt my help…. Don’t be afraid of him, don’t be frightened by his formidable might…. I’ll be with you. I’ll always help you, so that you will always succeed in conquering him.”11
Modesto Vinelli, a photographer from San Giovanni Rotondo, took some photographs of Padre Pio, a few months after he had received the stigmata in 1918. In the photographs the wounds were clearly visible.
Modesto was selling copies of these photographs to the faithful. Then one day a man on seeing the pictures began to swear and blaspheme. He took one of the pictures, tore it up, and trampled on it. Modesto flew into a rage. He kicked and slapped the man. A fight started. The man was injured and Modesto was thrown into jail for forty days.
When he came out of the jail, Modesto went to Padre Pio and told him the whole story. After listening to him Padre Pio said, “Modesto, we have fifty years ahead of us.” Modesto did not understand. But he continued to meet Padre Pio every year on the twentieth of September, the anniversary of the apparition of the stigmata. Each time Padre Pio would speak to him with the same symbolic words concerning a certain period of time. Then on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the stigmata, Padre Pio told him: “Modesto, remember that we still have twenty-five years.” Now Modesto realized that Padre Pio was referring to the number of years he had left to live. Finally on September 20, 1968 when Modesto met Padre Pio on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the stigmata, Padre Pio in a sad but very loving way said, “Modesto, the fifty years are over.” Three days later, Padre Pio died.
Lucia Iadanza was a spiritual daughter of Padre Pio. As a young woman she dedicated her life to the service of God and never married. She was very holy and was held in high esteem by the townspeople in her town Pietrelcina. Every month she travelled to San Giovanni Rotondo to attend Padre Pio’s prayer sessions. Here she spent most of her time in prayer and service. She would also cook Padre Pio’s favorite vegetable, broccoli rabe, and take it to him at the monastery.
For Padre Pio the holy feast of Christmas was a time of great joy. He looked forward to Christmas and counted the days until Christmas with the simplicity of a child. He once wrote, “All the feasts of the Church are beautiful. Easter, yes, is glorification, but Christmas has a gentleness, a childlike tenderness, that captures my heart.” Being with Padre Pio at Christmas time captured the hearts of many of his spiritual children as well.12 During this time people noticed a kind of spiritual light that seemed to surround Padre Pio. On his face there was a beautiful expression of heavenly joy.
During the midnight Christmas prayer, Padre Pio would carry a statue of the Baby Jesus in procession. The procession began from the choir loft of the church and passed through the cloister of the monastery, and down the corridors and halls. In the Church all the monks held candles and sang hymns. On reaching the alter Padre Pio would place the baby Jesus in the Christmas crib. On December 24, 1922 during one such midnight Christmas celebration Lucia Iadanza was also present. She came to the church early to attend the midnight prayer. As it was a very cold that night, a stove was kept in the sacristy of the church to keep the place warm.
Lucia and three of her women companions sat near the stove to warm themselves. Soon Lucia’s three companions fell asleep. But Lucia was awake and was praying on her rosary beads. When Padre Pio was leading the procession she saw the he was holding not the statue of Infant Jesus but the real Baby Jesus who was very much alive. She also saw that there was a halo of golden light around the Baby Jesus and Padre Pio’s face was radiating with a beautiful light. As Padre Pio came close towards her the Baby Jesus disappeared. Padre Pio asked her what she had seen and she described to him what she just experienced. Then Padre Pio asked her not to tell this to anyone.
There was one other person who saw Padre Pio carrying Baby Jesus. It was Father Raffaele of Sant’ Elia a Pianisi. In 1919 Raffaele was studying for his priesthood. In the September of that year he obtained permission to spend four days in San Giovanni Rotondo. At the monastery Padre Pio welcomed him with great love and promised to assist him in his spiritual life. Raffaele was given a room right next to Padre Pio’s. One night he could not sleep. Finally at midnight he decided to get up. When he opened the door of his cell, he saw Padre Pio walking down the hall very slowly, immersed in prayer. His face was suffused with a beautiful light. In his arms was the Child Jesus. As was the experience of Lucia Iadanza, Raffaele saw that he was not holding a statue or an image, but a real baby.13 Raffaele had this experience on September 20, 1919 – the one-year anniversary of Padre Pio’s stigmata.
It was in the year 1905 when Brother Pio was studying at Sant’Elia a Pianisi, he had a very extraordinary experience. On January 18, 1905 at around 11:00 p.m. he and Brother Anastasio were in the choir when suddenly Brother Pio found himself far away in a wealthy home where the father was dying while a child was being born. Then suddenly the Virgin Mary appeared and entrusted the child to him and asked him to look after the spiritual well being of the child. She revealed to him that many years from now when the child would have grown into a young woman he will meet her for the first time at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Later the young woman will come to see him at San Giovanni Rotondo. Three weeks after he had this experience Brother Pio wrote it down and submitted it to his superiors. (This deposition of Brother Pio dated February 1905, is still preserved in its original in the archives of the monastery at San Giovanni Rotondo.)
In the mean time on the night of January 18, 1905, a wealthy man by the name of Giovanni Battista Rizzani was dying in the city of Udine, some three hundred fifty miles to the north of Sant’Elia a Pianisi. He was a non believer. But his wife was a very devout Catholic. At the time Giovanni Battista Rizzani was dying his wife, Leonilde Rizzani, was eight months pregnant with their sixth child. As Leonilde realized her husband was dying she started praying fervently to God to help her husband during his last moments. Even though she was in an advanced state of pregnancy her only concern at that time was her husband. As darkness fell their dogs in the courtyard began to howl. So Leonilde went outside to calm them. When she was in the courtyard she went into labor and with the help of a family servant she gave birth to a baby girl. As she was giving birth to the child she saw a young Capuchin monk. In the state Leonilde was she could not figure out whether she was hallucinating or was having a vision. With the newborn baby in her arms she went back to attend to her husband. Giovanni Battista Rizzani died shortly after this. After her husbands death Leonilde along with her children moved to Rome to be near her parents.
Many years later in the summer of 1922, the girl, Giovanna, who had been born the night her father died, was about to enter college. During this period she was assailed by serious doubts about her Christian faith and was seeking answers to a number of questions. One afternoon she went to St. Peter’s Basilica with a friend to speak to a priest who could help her in her dilemma. The guard on duty at that time told them it was too late and that all the priests had already left for the day. Then the two girls started looking at the statues in the basilica. At that time Giovanna saw a Capuchin priest in front of her. She at once went up to him and asked him if he would hear her confession. He agreed and they went into the nearest confessional. In the confessional instead of confessing her sins she asked the priest a number of questions regarding her faith. The priest was able to dispel her doubts in a very convincing manner. Giovanna came out of the confessional in a very happy state of mind. As they were leaving, Giovanna told her friend: “That priest is a very gifted man. Let’s wait for him. I want to ask him where he lives, so that I might speak with him again.” 14 So they waited for the priest to come out from his side of the confessional. Soon they realized that the priest had somehow managed to leave without their noticing him.
The following summer (1923) Giovanna heard about Padre Pio and had a strong desire to meet him. Then she along with an aunt and a few friends made the trip to San Giovanni Rotondo to see Padre Pio. When they reached the church at San Giovanni Rotondo there was a huge crowd already waiting for Padre Pio. Giovanna somehow managed to find a place in front of everyone. When Padre Pio was passing by he stopped in front of her and looking into her eyes smilingly said, “Giovanna, I know you. You were born the day your father died.”15 Next morning when she went to confess to him, Padre Pio said: “My daughter, at last you’ve come to me. I’ve been waiting for you for so many years!”15 When Giovanna said he may be mistaking her for someone else, Padre Pio told her that last year “on a summer afternoon, you went to St. Peter’s Basilica with a friend, looking for a priest who could help you understand the doubts you were having about your faith. You met a Capuchin priest and talked with him. I was that Capuchin priest.”15 He further revealed to her that when she was being born the Virgin Mary took him to her mansion in Udine and entrusted Giovanna to him. Now he said he had to care for her soul.
Many years later in the September of 1968 when Giovanna was in Rome she heard Padre Pio’s voice telling her, “Come immediately to San Giovanni Rotondo because I’ll be going away. If you don’t hurry, you’ll never see me again.”16 The very next day she reached San Giovanni Rotondo. After Padre Pio heard her confession he told her, “This is your last confession with me.” When Giovanna asked Why? “Because my hour has come,” he replied. “I’m going away.”16 Few days later Padre Pio passed away on the morning of September 23, 1968.
References:1. Padre Pio: The True Story; C. Bernard Ruffin; Page 181 2. Padre Pio: A Man of Hope; Renzo Allegri; Page 6 3. Padre Pio: A Man of Hope; Renzo Allegri; Page 5 4. Padre Pio: The True Story; C. Bernard Ruffin; Page 103 5. Padre Pio: The True Story; C. Bernard Ruffin; Page 33 6. Padre Pio: A Man of Hope; Renzo Allegri; Page 12 7. Padre Pio: A Man of Hope; Renzo Allegri; Page 35 8. Padre Pio: The True Story; C. Bernard Ruffin; Page 29 9. Padre Pio: A Man of Hope; Renzo Allegri; Page 24 10. Padre Pio: A Man of Hope; Renzo Allegri; Page 5 11. Padre Pio: A Man of Hope; Renzo Allegri; Page 23 12. Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry; Diane Allen; Page 198 13. Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry; Diane Allen; Page 200 14. Padre Pio: A Man of Hope; Renzo Allegri; Page 140 15. Padre Pio: A Man of Hope; Renzo Allegri; Page 141 16. Padre Pio: A Man of Hope; Renzo Allegri; Page 142