Padre Pio: A Priest
It is truly amazing to recall that there have only been two priests in all of history who have ever borne the stigmata—our Lord Jesus Christ and Padre Pio. It is true that others have had in a visible manner the wounds and sufferings of the crucified High Priest, most notably the patron saints of Italy, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Catherine of Siena, but they were not priests.
Padre Pio died in 1968, only forty-six years ago, three years after the closing of the Second Vatican Council. What does it all mean? Why in the workings of Divine Providence are we given in the 20th century the only stigmatized priest?
“The true Padre Pio we find in the celebration of the Mass and in the ministry of the confessional, that is, in those moments that most qualify the priesthood…the folly of the secularization of the priest has reduced the priest to the humiliating position of having to rediscover his true identity and dignity! The priest, despite all the changes in society, is and must remain a man of prayer, of profound interior life, a man of God, the sacrificial lamb, the dispenser of grace, and the minister of the Eucharist…” (Msgr. Antonio del Gaudio).
There are deep problems in the Church, countless souls in the world are abandoning their harbor of salvation, countless priests and religious in various nations have abandoned their Master’s calling, scandal after scandal of priests in the newspapers.
But there is only one Priest, our Lord Jesus Christ. Any other priest only participates in the one Priesthood of Christ; thus a priest may truly be called “Another Christ” through and only through this true participation received at his ordination. By the will of Jesus Christ, priests are made to be the instruments of salvation. Therefore without good and holy priests, souls are lost. The crisis today is a crisis of the loss of souls, thus it is a crisis of the priesthood, for they go hand in hand by the will of God.
The answer to this crisis lies in the figure of Padre Pio, a simple yet holy priest, a true figure and instrument of Jesus Christ. Padre Pio is the great merciful gift of the Good God given to us. His person marked with the wounds of Jesus Christ Crucified and his life of holiness proclaim boldly that the priest is “Another Christ,” called to offer the same sacrifice of Christ upon the altar, called to forgive sins, called to teach the Catholic faith and morals without compromise, called to save precious souls. Padre Pio is the awakening grace for our time, to all priests and to all the faithful, that a return must be made to the sacredness of the priesthood, the sacredness of the Sacraments, and especially to the sacredness of the august and holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the glory of the Blessed Trinity and the salvation of souls.
Of Noble Lineage
Padre Pio was born one Francesco Forgione on the 25th of May, 1887, in Pietrelcina, Italy. This territory of his ancestors was home to the ancient and tough race known as the Samnites. For nearly half a century, they fought fiercely against the invading powerful Roman legions up until 321 B.C. when the Romans accepted their terms. But strangely, this same freedom-loving people were the first in Italy to surrender to the sweet yoke of Christianity in A.D. 40.
Padre Pio was baptized Francesco (after the famed saint of Assisi who will ever be known for his poverty and reception of the stigmata). His parents, Orazio Forgione and Maria Giuseppa, had five children. They both possessed a deep Christian faith, simplicity and honesty. The Forgione family was poor, they had to work hard in the fields to harvest their daily sustenance. Yet, regardless of the amount of work to be done, the family went to Mass each morning and prayed the Rosary each evening. In their devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the family would abstain from meat on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Although Orazio and Maria were illiterate, these good parents knew by heart the great Scriptural accounts and taught their children the same.
Orazio Forgione would travel to America a number of times to earn wages to support his family, but especially more significantly to pay for the education of Francesco, for the parents knew that something was supernaturally special with him.
Victim for Sin
Padre Pio’s mother relates that her little boy would tell her that he saw and spoke with Jesus, Mary and his Guardian Angel; he simply assumed that all could do so! Yet, in the mystery of Redemption, our heavenly Father seeks out chosen souls “to fill up those thing that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ” (St. Paul). At the age of five, Francesco already wished to dedicate his whole life to God, and he knew well that this meant sacrifice. His mother would scold her little one for finding him sleeping on the stone floor and using a stone as a pillow! At the age of six, he will suffer constant and grave stomach problems. At the age of ten, he will have typhoid fever. At seventeen, he will suffer from terrible migraines, insomnia and fits of vomiting. Although he will live to eighty-one years of age, his health will continue to be racked with hernias, tumors and arthritis.
Joy in Suffering
One day, when Padre Pio was asked why he joined the Capuchin order (a branch of the Franciscans), he smiled wide and replied, “I always liked bearded religious!” Only the one housed on the rock of Christ would be able to keep peace and even joy in such sufferings. It was Padre Pio’s will to suffer, as it was his joy to follow his beloved Master’s will for him.
As a religious, he was given the name “Pius” or “Pio” (after St. Pius V, whom we know as the perpetual patron of the Mass of all time). The same year, the beloved Giuseppe Sarto will assume the name “Pius X” (later to be canonized by Pius XII).
In 1907, Pio will make his solemn profession, forever obedient, chaste, poor and suffering like Christ.
“And the Tempter Coming…”
Like Christ in the desert, the demonic prince of this world in rage will attempt to hinder the path of redemptive sanctity. Satan would appear to Pio in the form of his spiritual director telling him to diminish his overzealous life of penance. Pio, sensing something amiss, ordered him to say “Praise be to Jesus Christ”; the angel of darkness then vanished leaving a horrid smell of sulphur. Still the devil returned in various figures to tempt his chastity, but to no avail. Then he came again as an angel of light, masquerading as our Lord or our Lady. Fed up with their lack of success with this holy friar, the devils appeared in monstrous forms, pounding, tearing and throwing Pio to and fro. Unbearable demonic screams were heard from his cell. However, Pio would relate to his spiritual director, Padre Agostino, that he remained patient in these trials, knowing that our Lord Jesus Christ, our Lady, his guardian angel and St. Francis were with him and helped him always.
Sacerdos in Æternum
In 1910, he was ordained priest. “How could I sleep, with my heart bursting with joy?” “O Jesus, my Victim and my Love! In the joy of these renewed raptures make of me an altar for Thy Holy Cross, a golden chalice for Thy Blood…” With these words (relayed to his spiritual director) burning in his heart, no one was ever seen to offer Mass as Padre Pio. Several times he would be lost in ecstasy before the Holy Eucharist, to the extent that his superior would order the server to ring the bell, and Padre Pio would then have the signified command of his superior to return to the performance of Mass. In perfect obedience, Padre Pio did so.
The approaching World War I would hasten the death of the grief-stricken Holy Father Pius X. His successor to the papal throne, Benedict XV, begged Christians to pray to end this “suicide of Europe.” Padre Pio would take this request of the Pope to heart…to hands…and to feet. He will offer himself to God as a victim to end the war. World War I will end in November 1918, the same year in which Padre Pio will receive the stigmata until death. According to the closest intimate sources of Padre Pio, our Lord permitted the end of World War I through the prayers and sufferings of this chosen victim, and the price he had to pay was the stigmata which he bore for fifty years (Antonio Socci, Il Segreto di Padre Pio, pp. 85-95).
In August 1918, Padre Pio is bestowed transverberation (from Latin meaning “wounded across”). The mystical doctor St. John of the Cross explains: “The soul being inflamed with the love of God 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.”
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
A physical wound now appears in the side of Padre Pio. He relates to his director: “I feel in the depths of my soul a wound that is always open and which causes me continual agony.” He is thrown into deep darkness of soul: “I do not see any hope except in prayers of other people.…The hand of God is heavy upon me.”
Eight years previous, Padre Pio had already received the wounds and pains of our afflicted Lord. But in an indescribable and unbearable humiliation, he begged our Lord to withdraw not the suffering, but the visibility of the stigmata. Our Lord does answer his request.
However, after the August transverberation, on September 20, 1918, while making his thanksgiving after Communion in the choir loft before an image of Jesus Crucified, five luminous rays from the five wounds of Christ will penetrate his hands, feet and side. This time, the visible stigmata will remain for fifty years until his death. Padre Pio swooned in pain and joy; he fell to the floor and bled profusely. Brother Nicola found him thus, and he ran to notify the superior.
Padre Pio opens his heart to his superior and also to his spiritual director: “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 August 5. 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 wounds 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.”
To Test the Spirits
The general superior of the Capuchins ordered him photographed and thoroughly examined by medical professionals. This is in a certain sense normal protocol of the Church, to test the spirits, that is, to see that this is truly from God, not from the devil or from deception.
Dr. Romanelli (a renowned Italian doctor at that time) relayed his report after fifteen months of examining him: “I have not found a clinical symptom that could authorize me to classify those wounds…the environment is conducive to infection, yet the wounds do not fester, show no complications and do not heal.” This conclusion of the wounds will hold true for the next fifty years up to the end.
Also, a Dr. Festa reports on his findings after lengthy investigative examinations: “The wounds scab in the progressive drying of the blood that flows slowly from the wound.…I would state under oath that when the scab falls one may look through the wounds and see in all details an object on the other side.”
“A Saint in Rotondo!”
Padre Pio’s mother receives word of her son’s stigmata; she ran across the field to her husband crying out, “Our son is a saint!” And indeed, these words spread like wildfire not only across Italy and Europe, but even across the seas. Thousands began pouring into the town of San Giovanni Rotondo to kiss the pierced hands, to confess to the one who could read hearts, but especially to assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass celebrated by “another Christ” with the visible wounds of the great High Priest and Victim.
“One of His Own”
However, many are far from being convinced of this mystical figure causing such a continental stir. Perhaps most surprisingly, a certain Father Gamelli, of the Franciscan Order and presumed expert in experimental psychology, will flaunt his reputation and pronounce in 1924 that “Padre Pio is a fake!” This “expert” will state that “the phenomenon of the wounds is caused by self-hysteria causing the nervous system to produce the wounds, which are continuously up-kept with perhaps carbolic acid.” Padre Pio was further accused therein by Father Gamelli of breaking the vows of poverty, obedience and even chastity.
Padre Pio’s self-defense was only silence, leaving all in the hands of the Good God. A sure sign of his maintained inner peace was a mysterious emanating scent of lilies and roses which came from his wounds. So many have testified to this, and even when very far in distance from their beloved Padre.
Even with such adverse publications being made, still the crowds could not be blocked on their path to Rotondo. Tickets had to be issued for confession, police had to be called in to keep order amongst the thousands of pilgrims.
Papal Favor and Disfavor
Pope Benedict XV (the pope of WWI) believed earnestly in the sanctity of this stigmatist. However, the papal successor, Pius XI, will be “badly informed” on this issue, and thus proclaim an absolute prohibition on this renowned friar to publicly celebrate Mass, to hear confessions or his wounds ever to be seen.
The soul of Padre Pio gleamed with the sentiments: “The glory of this world hath always sadness for companion, but not the glory that comes from the testimony of a good conscience.” He was happily now able for a time to live the monastic life without hindrance. Although so fragile in health and suffering immensely, he would perfectly follow the rules of the house as the other friars, in community prayers, meal times and even recreations. The only difference being his diet—with such ailing stomach problems his digestion was limited to soft vegetables.
His obedience to the pontifical order of never showing his wounds would carry him to the point of refusing any type of anesthetic for a laborious operation to remove a hernia, lest the doctor examine his wounds out of curiosity. The doctor later admitted that he indeed would have done so. Only two tears ran down the cheeks of Padre Pio at the cutting of the hernial sac; he prayed, “Jesus, forgive me if I do not know how to suffer as I should.”
After some days of recovery, he could return to his life’s calling to offer the Holy Sacrifice to the One “who gives joy to [his] youth.”
Pius XI eventually orders the Holy See to reverse the ban on Padre Pio a few years before the great Pius XII is seated on the papal throne. Pius XII will greatly encourage devotees to go to Padre Pio. However, his successor John XXIII, who will open the Second Vatican Council, will see the Rotondo friar as an “immense deception.”
“The Foolishness of God”
The conversions, miracles, prophecies and even bilocations of Padre Pio are too numerous to relate, but let us see just a few.
Alberto del Fante was a well-known lawyer and journalist who wrote against the Church and of the “foolishness of Padre Pio.” This atheist and Freemason went to Rotondo to feed his adverse articles. Padre Pio will oblige this visitor with a few words, words which will open Alberto’s heart to grace. Alberto will move to Rotondo and attend Mass each day, which will nourish his writings rather in ardent defense of the Church and also of the simple friar who was foolish in the eyes of the worldling.
The Prodigal Son
Cesare Festa of Genoa, also a well-known attorney and high degree Freemason, travels to Rotondo out of curiosity. The eyes and voice of the friar sternly home in on this strayed sheep…“What, you here?! You, who are a Freemason! What is your intention?” Cesare does not back down: “To fight against the Church!” The two apparent foes have locked eyes and wills of opposition. Padre Pio approaches and takes the unsuspecting hand into his own wounded one, and gently speaks the parable of the prodigal son. Cesare is struck down with deep contrition and kneels to confess to the instrument of his Conqueror. Cesare will then travel to Lourdes in gratitude to the Immaculate Conception for his release from Satan. But Satan will not let go so easily. The Freemasons are furious on receiving word of Cesare’s recent change of heart. The secret lodge of brotherhood orders him to present himself. About the same time, Cesare mysteriously receives another letter of command from his new holy and strong ally Padre Pio: “Never be ashamed of Christ or of His doctrine.” In his renewed and now godly courage, Cesare arrives at the once familiar Lodge of dark secret as a meek lamb ready for slaughter yet also as a lion of valiant Christian honor. To the wolves, he speaks only of his loyalty now to Christ and then presents his renouncement to any and to all of his past Masonic ties. Cesare moves to Rotondo, becomes a Third Order Franciscan and an inseparable adherent to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Italia Betti was a professor in Bologna and also a fanatical Communist who could be seen jumping on her motorcycle to rush to revolutionary clashes to fight and even to kill. She becomes very ill with no hope of recovery. Her little sister innocently dares to tell her to go and visit the famous Padre Pio. Feeling no other option but despair, Italia decides to go. Her frozen heart of evil cannot withstand the love of Christ found in Padre Pio. She receives the sacraments, makes a public abjuration of her errors and moves to Rotondo, becoming also an admirable Third Order Franciscan. At her death, her spiritual father had her laid to rest right next to the grave of his mother, Maria Giuseppa Forgione.
We cannot fail to mention the extraordinary conversion of fallen-away Catholic Louise Vairo of England. Society reveled in this figure of wealth and scandalous lifestyle. A friend of Louise’s called upon her after a tour of Italy; he talks of nothing else but of the holy friar with the stigmata in Rotondo. Spontaneous Louise books luxurious travel to go and see this wonder of Europe. Once in Rotondo, she is very tired but can find no available room in any establishments whatsoever. She is miserable, she drags her way up the broken-stone path to the Church of Our Lady of Grace. Her soul is suddenly further plunged in deepest depression, grief and sorrow. This famous society lady cannot contain herself; she floods the walls of the church with her anguished sobs. The compassion of Padre Pio is drawn to this Magdalen. “Calm yourself, my lady…the mercy of God is infinite. Jesus died on the cross for sinners. Go get food and rest, come back at 3 p.m.” The grievous sins of Louise are so multiplied that she does not even know how to begin her confession of repentance. She does not have to; her confessor lists all her sins to her…all, except one, one which she remembers and is very ashamed of. Two voices speak in the soul of Louise, one telling her she must confess this sin or her confession is sacrilegious, the other saying that if it was necessary then Padre Pio would certainly have mentioned this sin also. She listens to the first voice; her confessor tells her, “At last, I was waiting for this.” He readily absolves and restores the life of God in this precious soul. Louise will remain in Rotondo the rest of her days; few will recognize anymore this once famed person now seen walking barefoot up the broken-stone path to Our Lady of Grace in wind and sleet, her feet bleeding, making reparation for herself but especially for her son, who took the same path of her previous life. Indeed, God cannot resist the tears of a mother; her son returns to the grace of God after miraculously having his life saved while fighting in the war.
Many suffering from demonic possession would be sent to Padre Pio as last resort for deliverance from the devil. Padre Pio in turn would send them to the House of Loreto (the home of the Holy Family of Nazareth which was miraculously carried by angels to Loreto, Italy). Padre Pio himself would be carried by the angels to Loreto to perform the exorcism, while all the time never departing his monastery in Rotondo!
American bomber pilots during WWII were ordered to bomb the region of Pietrelcina, as at that time Italy was allied with Axis-power Germany. But they received order from a higher command to change bombing course in the figure of a bearded, stern friar blocking their path in the sky. After victory was gained over occupied Italy, the pilots had opportunity to join the crowds going to San Giovanni. There in the church they could not believe their eyes when coming again face to face with the figure of that fierce commander in the sky they could never forget!
Pious Love for the Poor
Pius XI one day asked his confidant, Don Orione, if he ever had gone and seen Padre Pio. Don Orione responded at once: “Holy Father…I see him praying at the crypt of Pius X!” The Pope then said, “If you say that, then I believe.” This attestation of his confidant will lead Pius XI to reverse the ban on Padre Pio. It is noteworthy to add here that Padre Pio had a special devotion to Pius X. He will say that “this one is the most lovable of all the popes since the time of St. Peter.” Padre Pio will rejoice greatly at the canonization of this gentle warrior who rigorously fought against modernism. Padre Pio and St. Pius X indeed seemed as kindred souls in their humility, simplicity and great love for the poor.
In his solicitude for the poor and suffering, from 1940 to 1956 Padre Pio will personally direct (as Pius XII wished) the magnificent raising of the “Home for the Relief of Suffering.” This Pietrelcina hospital project will have the best of facilities and a top medical staff to receive our Lord found in the poor, sick and suffering. Even the UN cannot resist this friar’s call to compassion; they will send over $325,000 to assist the project.
“Lord, That I May See!”
One of the most famous cures attributed to the instrumentality of Padre Pio is the case of Gemma di Giorgi. This little girl was born blind with no pupils in her eyes. Her grandma will take her little one on a voyage to Rotondo to seek a miracle. But already on the voyage little Gemma said that she sees ships on the water. The grandmother paid no attention. In Rotondo she directed Gemma to go to confession to Padre Pio and not to forget under any circumstance to ask him to cure her. The little girl begs forgiveness for her sins but completely forgets to beg for a cure. The grandma could not believe how absent-minded Gemma could possibly be, and after such a long journey, after so many days of waiting for a confession time! Padre Pio will approach and take her by surprise: “Why do you doubt the little one? she already sees!” Truly the pupil-less vision of Gemma will dumbfound not only the grandmother, but the medical profession at large.
Padre Pio would not forget his thousands of spiritual sons and daughters throughout the world. He would keep contact especially through the medium of his and their guardian angels. The guardian Brother of Padre Pio relates that he was at times taken aback with the abruptness of his charge: “Don’t you see how busy I am now, with all of them coming to and fro!”
The same guardian Brother relates that once he questioned Padre Pio about whether or not he ever desired to go to Lourdes: “It is not necessary; I see our Lady every night.” This explained why he would always clean and groom himself not in the mornings, but in the evenings.
The population of San Giovanni continues to swell with so many wanting to remain close to this man of God. Not all, however, found a gentle friar in the confessional. Those who came without examining their conscience or without sorrow for their sins found the confessional screen door slammed shut on them. Often these same ones would later receive the grace toward proper dispositions and return to find the paternity of our Lord.
The whole life of this priest centered on the Eucharistic Spotless Lamb. This was the source of his profound spirituality and his meek words of counsel:
- “Walk with simplicity in the way of the Lord and do not torment your spirit…; learn to hate your faults, but with calm.”
- “Pray, hope and do not worry.”
- “Weekly confession, daily Communion, spiritual reading, examination of conscience, meditation…there we find God.”
- “God fills the soul that empties itself of all else.”
- “Prayer opens the heart of God.”
- “To fail against charity is to wound God in the pupil of His eye!”
Death and Canonization
On September 23, 1968, with the words “Jesus and Mary” repeating in faint sound, Padre Pio whispers at 2:30 a.m., “Maria!” before passing from this world. All traces of the stigmata will disappear.
After the investigation process and miracles after his death confirmed, Padre Pio is beatified in May 1999. He is later canonized in June 2002. Over 800,000 pilgrims will file to his displayed body to pray.
Say the New Mass? Never!
“For he testifieth: Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech.” In the 1960s, when clerics and religious worldwide were applauding the new spirit within the Church embracing the world, Padre Pio preferred rather to keep his inseparable embrace of Jesus Christ Crucified. He will petition Pope Paul VI to be dispensed from having to celebrate the New Mass. To his death, the life of his priesthood would not change, as he knew his priesthood was not his own—it belonged from the beginning to Christ alone, whose ways are unchangeable. Padre Pio became “Saint” due to this, and only this true spirit of Jesus the High Priest will reverse the flood tide of apostasy, scandal and indifference of individuals, families and nations. Our Lady of Grace and Sorrow, pray for us sinners.
I Think of Padre Pio
In a world where evil presses all around
And mental health and sanity all but routs,
I think of Padre Pio, in whom is found
A refuge for my faith where die all doubts.
In a Church where priests are shaken, one by one,
Grow dim, and lose their supernatural light,
I think of Padre Pio, who like a sun
Scatters all darkness of the priestly night.
And when I cannot see a forward way,
And lose all heart, and come close to despair,
I think of Padre Pio, through whom, I say,
’Tis Christ that does my wounded soul repair.
Capuchin Monastery of Our Lady of Grace. The Voice of Padre Pio. San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy, 1971-present.
Parente, Pascal P., S.T.D. Padre Pio: A City on a Mountain. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America, 1958.
Socci, Antonio. Il Segreto di Padre Pio, 3rd edition. Rizzoli, 2010.
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Pio of Pietrelcina. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pio_of_Pietrelcina.