We turn to you, St Pio of Pietrelcina, victim for the salvation of souls and ardent devotee of the Holy Rosary…
His birth and family life in Pietrelcina
Grazio Forgione and Maria Giuseppa di Nunzio were the happy parents of Padre Pio. They were married in 1881. Youthful, upright and sober-minded, they came from families of modest means. Pietrelcina had about three thousand inhabitants when Padre Pio was born in 1887, and given the name Francis. Padre Pio was born on Wednesday, May 25, 1887.. He was baptized the next day in the old parish church of Pietrelcina, which had been dedicated to St. Mary of the Angels, and he was named Francis. Every evening the family recited the Rosary together. In his own way, little Francis began early to show an uncommon appreciation of religion.
His vocation to the religious life
One day Francis was in church and heard a sermon on St. Michael the Archangel. The preacher was Don Giuseppe Orlando, a young priest and a Pietrelcinian. Some years later, after ordination, Padre Pio met Don Giuseppe and told him, .If I am a priest, I owe it to you. I felt my vocation while I was listening to your sermon on St. Michael.. When he heard the sermon, Francis was about ten years old. When he was almost 16 years old, he applied to the Father Provincial of the Capuchins to be admitted. He was accepted, and the date fixed at the friary for his entrance was January 6, 1903. Fifteen days later, on January 22, 1903, he received the religious habit or garb and began his year of novitiate. Once clothed in the habit of St. Francis, made in the form of a cross, Starting on that day Francis Forgione began a new life, using a new name, which was Fra Pio da Pietrelcina. The Master of Novices, that is, the one having charge of the spiritual formation of the young novices, declared that Fra Pio was .a novice beyond reproach. If we reflect on the exceptional strictness of novitiate life and then realize that Fra Pio was a novice beyond reproach, we must realize that Fra Pio was already on his way to becoming a great saint. On Friday, January 22, 1904, before the image of Our Lady of Grace, Fra Pio consecrated himself to God as a victim by making his profession of the three vows of obedience, poverty, and chastity, as a follower of the Seraphic Father St. Francis.
His reparation for the priesthood and Ordination
Now that his novitiate was finished, Fra Pio went back to his studies in preparation for the priesthood. In those days, the students were sent wherever the teaching friars were stationed. During his six years of preparation for the priesthood Fra Pio was at S. Elia a Pianisi in Campobasso, then at San Marco la Catola in Foggia, then at Serracapriola in Foggia, and from there he went to Montefusco in the Province of Avellino. At last, on August 10, 1910, Fra Pio was ordained a priest at the cathedral in Benevento by the bishop, Msgr. Paolo Schinosi After his ordination Padre Pio spent about six years in Pietrelcina for reasons of his health, which was always poor. Each attempt to restore him to religious life in a friary was unsuccessful. On August 12, 1912, there was the mystical experience of a wound of love…
He goes to San Giovanni Rotondo
After staying in Pietrelcina nearly seven years, on February 17, 1916, Padre Pio departed for Foggia, having been summoned by his superior to render a spiritual service. On July 28, 1916, Padre Pio came to San Giovanni Rotondo for the first time. Even more isolated than the town, the friary with its little church, Santa Maria delle Grazie, reflected the poverty and ruggedness of the surrounding terrain, which was rocky and craggy and gave an impression of bleakness. Capuchins had lived there since 1540. At San Giovanni Rotondo, where Padre Pio was to spend so much of his life, the things that were noteworthy to see included the small church with its lovely Fourteenth Century oil painting of the Madonna delle Grazie, and the restful view of the Gulf of Manfredonia and of the town of Siponto, which borders on the plain known as Delle Puglie. Padre Pio made his first trip there at the invitation of the Father Guardian of San Giovanni Rotondo, who had come to Foggia to preach, where Padre Pio happened to be stationed. His visit to San Giovanni Rotondo was brief, from July 28th to August 5th, 1916. It pleased the Father Provincial, who hoped for some improvement in Padre Pio’s health, and Padre Pio did, in fact, gain some benefit. On August 13th of the same year, Padre Pio wrote his Father Provincial, proposing that it might be well that he be sent again .to spend a little time at San Giovanni Rotondo, since the place had been beneficial to his health. The Father Provincial then sent him there under obedience.. So Padre Pio was there again on September 4th .for a short time, for some relief and rest, to get a little mountain air… It was to be temporary, for a rest that would serve the health of his body and spirit. But the Lord fools us when he is designing wonderful things. Padre Pio was to stay at San Giovanni Rotondo for the next fifty-two years, until his death in1968.The short rest became a heavy toil and sacrifice that unaided human powers could not have borne.
It is the supernatural phenomenon of the stigmata, chiefly, that has brought Padre Pio world fame. The mysterious fact that he bore in his body the five wounds of the crucified Christ has drawn countless throngs of souls to Padre Pio. He alone can answer these questions because the wonder of the stigmata happened when he was alone on a Friday in the choir for the purpose of making a thanksgiving after a Mass he had just celebrated at the altar of the Immaculata. He had to tell everything very exactly and out of obedience to his spiritual Father thirty-two days afterwards in a letter dated October 22, 1918.
He wrote this description of the event:… “It was the morning of the 20th of last month. I was in the choir after celebrating holy Mass, when I was startled out of a peace that was like a sweet dream. All my senses, internal and external, even the faculties of my soul, were experiencing an indescribable quiet. There was total silence around me and within me. Suddenly I felt a great peace and submissiveness to a total detachment from everything. It happened in a flash.. As it all proceeded, I saw a mysterious visitor before me, like the one I saw on the evening of August 5th; but he differed in that his hands, feet and side were dripping blood. The sight frightened me. I do not know how to express what I felt at that instant. I felt like I was dying, and I would have died if the Lord had not intervened to safeguard my heart, which I felt was bouncing out of my breast.. Then the vision of the visitor passed away, and I saw that my hands, feet and side were pierced and dripping blood. You will imagine the pain I felt then and that I kept experiencing almost every day continually…” The thing that Padre Pio wanted removed in his stigmatization was not the terrific pain of the wounds, nor the agony of the Passion of his crucified Jesus. It was only the visible marks that he wanted taken away, because they caused him a terrible confusion. He wrote, “I will strongly raise my voice to Him and will not stop begging Him that in His mercy He take from me not the torture, not the pain. for I see that that is impossible and I feel the will to be surfeited with pain. But I ask the removal of these outward marks that for me mean confusion and indescribable and unbearable humiliation.”
The Lord heeded this prayer, but only on his deathbed. His gifts of bilocation, of perfume, of prophecy, of reading hearts, of healing, of interpreting languages, of abstaining beyond man’s natural powers from both sleep and nourishment. These were a renewal of gifts possessed by St. Francis of Assisi, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Joseph of Cupertino, St. Alphonsus Liguori, St. Gemma Galgani, and others. One day a journalist asked Padre Pio who he was. He answered meekly and kindly, .I am a poor friar who prays.. Pope Paul VI likewise described Padre Pio as a man of prayer and suffering. Certainly, prayer has been Padre Pio’s principal activity. One will find that he had the extraordinary gift of being able to pray always, even when asleep.
Some of his apostolic activities
The Home for the Relief of Suffering (Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza)
A great medical center alongside the Shrine of Santa Maria delle Grazie at San Giovanni Rotondo got its start during the evening of January 9, 1940. In May 1947 construction began, and in nine years the hospital complex was completed. On May 5, 1956, the inauguration of the Home for the Relief of Suffering, the Casa Sollievo, took place. A blessing was given by Cardinal Giacomo Lercaro and a discourse of Pius XII was broadcast from Rome.
The Prayer groups were also a work of Padre Pio.
Fifty years bearing the wounds of Christ
No one else has been able to celebrate the completion of such an amazing half century as Padre Pio has. Fifty years of the stigmata; that is, fifty years of wounds and blood, of fever and piercing pains. On the morning of September 20, 1968, at San Giovanni Rotondo there was an atmosphere of festivity and extraordinary rejoicing. People from all parts of Italy and the world made up a countless throng. Thousands of busses parked along the streets and in the public squares of the town. Crowds bustled everywhere. in the church, the restaurants, the hotels, the homes, and on the streets. Padre Pio celebrated Mass at his customary hour before a large crowd attentively and devoutly participating. A dense group of priests and religious were about the altar, while Padre Pio, slowly and painfully, renewed the sacrifice of Christ, in which, by means of the stigmata, he was made to share the pains of his crucified Savior. It was his last Mass but for one more.
Padre Pio died repeating up to the last moment the names he loved: .Jesus, Mary. Jesus, Mary. It happened this way: Sunday morning, September 22, 1968, an immense crowd gathered at San Giovanni Rotondo once more. There was an international meeting of Padre Pio Prayer Groups. Padre Pio was able to celebrate holy Mass that morning, and the Father Superior asked him to do the favor of singing the Mass. Padre Pio was nearing his end. All perceived that he was worn out. He sang the Mass, but he seemed to sing from up on the Cross. His deep voice was hoarse, labored, and painful to listen to. Finally at the end of the Mass Padre Pio had a collapse. He would have fallen if some nearby friars had not grabbed him in time. That evening people were relieved to see Padre Pio at the Eucharist devotions. He was in the gallery, Rosary beads in hand. At the close of the function he stood for a while, supported by some friars, taking his last look at the church full of people. Then he withdrew to his room. Padre Pio began to turn pale. Perspiration formed beads on his forehead. His lips were livid as he repeated,. Jesus, Mary. Jesus, Mary!. It was 2 A.M. Padre Pio received the anointing of the sick. His lips barely moved as he kept repeating, .Jesus, Mary, Jesus, Mary!. It was the end. His head bowed over his breast and he breathed no more. He had passed into eternity. Those present stood recollected in their thoughts and prayers for a long while, almost petrified with grief. Then their feelings were released. They could not holdback the tears. Immediately after Padre Pio’s death something astonishing was discovered about his body. The five stigmata had totally disappeared. The flesh was once more intact, the skin appearing as uniform and smooth as that of an infant. Padre Pio’s funeral was four days after his death. The procession seemed endless. People had come from all parts of the world to honor the remains of the remarkable Capuchin. According to estimates, about a hundred thousand persons had come for the funeral. Padre Pio had said some years before,. I will make more noise when I am dead than when I was alive. Also, .In paradise I will work with both hands.
Immediately following Padre Pio’s death steps were taken toward opening the process for his beatification and canonization. It is true that many faithful followers of Padre Pio, who number millions and millions, would have wanted and would like to have Padre Pio immediately declared a Saint. In their hearts they already considered him one. The voice of the people, the voice of God,. runs the proverb. But the Church’s way requires stages. One step at a time, and one will arrive at the desired day. Pope John Paul II’s visit to San Giovanni Rotondo In 1987 to mark the hundredth anniversary of Padre Pio’s birth was deeply significant. And then, on December 21, 1998, it was announced by Joaquin Navarro-Valls, Director of the Holy See’s Press Office, that .The ceremony for the beatification of
Servant of God Pio da Pietrelcina would take place on May 2, 1999..And so it came to pass, with untold thousands, even millions, present to do honor to this child of Mary honored by the Savior. He was later canonized by St John Paul II in Saint Peter’s Square in Rome on June 16th, 2002.