Saint of the Day – 23 September – St Pio of Pietrelcina O.F.M.Cap. – Priest,Franciscan Capuchin Friar, Stigmatist, Mystic, Confessor. Born Francesco Forgione, he was given the name of Pius (Italian: Pio) when he joined the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin. (25 May 1887 at Pietrelcina, Benevento, Italy – 23 September 1968 in San Giovanni Rotondo, Foggia, Italy of natural causes). Beatified 2 May 1999 and Canonised on 16 June 2002 by Pope John Paul II at Rome, Italy. Patronages – Civil defense volunteers, Adolescents, Pietrelcina, Stress relief, Italy and Malta. Attributes – Stigmata, Capuchin habit. His Incorrupt Relics lie at home in San Giovanni Rotondo.
Francesco was born to Mamma Peppa and Grazio Forgione in the little town called Pietrelcina, in Southern Italy, during the month of flowers, 25 May 1887. He was fifth of eight children. His Mamma Peppa confided he was different from other boys: “he was never impolite or misbehaved”. He had celestial visions and diabolical oppressions from the age of five years and he saw and spoke with Jesus and Our Lady and with his Guardian Angel but unfortunately this heavenly life was interwoven with hell and with the devil.
In 1903, discipline and ill health had been woven together to crown the youth of Pio. Doctors diagnosed him as consumptive and were sure he would die. Strong in spirit Pio received the Capuchin Franciscan garb initialling religious life and therefore; Novitiate twith its intense study, prayer, austerity, penance and finally vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience.
In 1909, St Pio is back at home at Pietrelcina because of his illness, at his mother’s side. Now another intense chapter of extraordinary life opens with mystical afflictions an invisible stigmata and terrible battles with devils that wanted to destroy him began. Yet, “It all happened here”, he said, his whole future was prepared here. On August 10, 1910, he was ordained a Priest in the Cathedral of Benevento.
In 1916 in the church of San Giovanni Rotondo, soon to become his Jerusalem, with the mystical and historical calvary of Gargano, where he was soon recognised as the “saintly friar” by the locals. Here he became a “victim of love”, by the reparation for sin, of the many crowds who flocked to him, to venerate his bleeding wounds of his hands and feet. This very important event occurred in Father Pio’s life on 20 September 1918, while he was praying in front of a Crucifix located in the choir in the little old church, when a strange personage like an angel, gave him the stigmata. Those stigmata have been remained opened and bleeding for fifty years. This was one of the reasons for which doctors, scientists, journalists and common people have gone to San Giovanni Rotondo for years, in order to meet the “Saintly friar “.
In a letter dated 22 October 1918, Padre Pio told his experience of crucifixion: “… What I can tell you about my crucifixion? My God! What a confusion and what humiliation I feel when I try to show somebody else what you have done in me your unworthy creature! It was the morning of the 20th. (September) and I was in choir, after the celebration of the Holy Mass, when a rest, similar to a sweet sleep surprised me. All the inside and external senses, as well as the same faculties of the soul were in an indescribable quiet. There was a deep silence around me and inside me; a peace overcame me and then it all happened in a flash I felt abandonment with the complete loss of all senses. While all this was taking place, I saw before me a mysterious appearance, similar to the one I had seen on 5 August, differing only because His hands, feet and side were dripping blood. The sight of Him frightened me: what I felt at that moment is indescribable. I thought I would die and would have died if the Lord hadn’t intervened and strengthened my heart, which was about to burst out of my chest! The appearance disappeared and I became aware that my hands, feet and side were pierced and were dripping with blood. You can imagine the torment that I experienced then and that I am almost experiencing every day. The wound of the heart bleeds profusely, particularly from the evening of Thursday until Saturday. My God, I die of pain, torment and confusion that I feel in the intimate depths of the soul. I am afraid I’ll bleed to death! I hope that God listens to my moans and withdraws this humiliation from me… “
He usually woke up in the early morning (we could say at night) in order to get himself ready for the Holy Mass. In fact, every morning, at 4 a.m. there were always hundreds and sometimes even a thousand people waiting for the door of the church to open. After the Mass he used to spend most time of his day in prayer and confessions. After fifty years of stigmata he died 23 September 1968, thus he closed his mission of the Heart’s desire, with the real cross and the real crucifixion of his body.
From every part of the world, the believers went to this stigmatised priest, to get his powerful intercession from God. Fifty years lived in the prayer, in the humility, in the suffering and in the sacrifice, he lived his love, the Cross of Christ. Padre Pio had two initiatives in two directions: the vertical one toward God, with the constitution of the “Groups of prayer”, the horizontal one toward his suffering community, with the construction of a modern hospital: “House for the Relief of the Suffering.”
In September 1968, thousands of devotees and Padre Pio’s spiritual children were assembled in conference at St Giovanni Rotondo to commemorate together the 50 anniversary of the stigmata and to celebrate the fourth international conference of the Prayer Groups. Nobody would have imagined that at 2:30 a.m., 23 September, 1968 we the earthly life of Father Pio of Pietrelcina would end.
Focusing too much on Padre Pio’s marvels and mystical phenomena gives the false impression that he led an abnormal life, more angelic than human. While he opened our eyes to heavenly realities, he kept his feet firmly planted on the earth, enduring and enjoying ordinary things, as other human beings did. Today we mainly imagine him as a wonder-working stigmatic with miracles flowing from his wounded hands. But the people who knew him, while they appreciated his marvels, loved him more for his earthiness, his compassion, his gentleness, his humour and his common sense. For instance, when he was asked his opinion of a thief who had stolen valuable gems from a church’s painting of the Virgin, he responded, “What do you want me to say? That poor young man was probably hungry and went to Our Lady to say: ‘Of what use are these jewels to you?’ And probably Our Lady gave them to him. Silly him to get caught with the goods in his pocket.”
Padre Pio embraced his own great suffering as his personal share in the suffering of Christ. But he could not endure the suffering of others. Hundreds came to Our Lady of Grace hoping for a healing and he knew that only some of them would receive a miraculous cure. His compassion for the many who would not be healed led him to work for the establishment of a world-class hospital at San Giovanni Rotondo that would serve the poor. From the outset he planned to name it “House for the Relief of Suffering.”
Padre Pio worked against all odds to achieve his goal of creating a medical center. He faced obstacles that would have deflated the enthusiasm of lesser men. How does a monk vowed to poverty build a hospital without any money in an impoverished town situated on an inaccessible mountain? Padre Pio did it by faith and with a small army of friends. His associates helped him raise money, design and construct the buildings and assemble a top-shelf medical staff. When the House for the Relief of Suffering opened in 1956, many observers believed it could not survive because of its location on a desolate mountain. However, Padre Pio believed otherwise. When he inaugurated the first building, he said, “Now House for the Relief of Suffering is a small seed,but it will become a mighty oak, a hospital that is a small city and a center for clinical studies of international importance.” That prophecy has come true. Today the hospital is a thriving centre whose expanding complex resembles a little city.
Padre Pio’s practical compassion and entrepreneurial genius defy those who might be tempted to dismiss him as a medieval weirdo. Instead he stands for all as a modern icon of God’s inexhaustible love for human beings and his determination to rescue us at all costs.