1887 - 1968
Canonized By: Pope John Paul II
Francesco, named in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, was
born to Giuseppa and Grazio Forgione, peasant farmers, in the
small Italian village of Pietrelcina on May 25, 1887. From his
childhood, it was evident that he was a special child of God.
Francesco was very devout even as a child, and at an early age
felt drawn to the priesthood. He became a Capuchin novice at
the age of sixteen and received the habit in 1902. Francesco
was ordained to the priesthood in 1910 after seven years of
study and became known as Padre Pio.
On September 20, 1918, Padre Pio was kneeling in front of a large crucifix when he received the visible marks of the crucifixion, making him the first stigmatized priest in the history of Church. The doctor who examined Padre Pio could not find any natural cause for the wounds. Upon his death in 1968, the wounds were no longer visible. In fact, there was no scaring and the skin was completely renewed. He had predicted 50 years prior that upon his death the wounds would heal. The wounds of the stigmata were not the only mystical phenomenon experienced by Padre Pio.
The blood from the stigmata had an odor described by many as similar to that of perfume or flowers, and the gift of bilocation was attributed to him. Padre Pio had the ability to read the hearts of the penitents who flocked to him for confession which he heard for ten or twelve hours per day. Padre Pio used the confessional to bring both sinners and devout souls closer to God; he would know just the right word of counsel or encouragement that was needed. Even before his death, people spoke to Padre Pio about his possible canonization. He died on September 23, 1968 at the age of eighty-one. His funeral was attended by about 100,000 people.
On June 16, 2002, over 500,000 Padre Pio devotees gathered
in Rome to witness Pope John Paul II proclaim Padre Pio, Saint
Pio of Pietrelcina. The Padre Pio Foundation and many
benefactors traveled to Rome, San Giovanni Rotondo,
Pietrelcina, Piana Romana and many other holy places to
celebrate Padre Pio's Canonization.
Pope John Paul II - Homily at the Canonization of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, Capuchin Priest - 16 June 2002
1. "For my yoke is easy and my burden light" (Mt 11,30).
Jesus' words to his disciples, which we just heard, help us to understand the most important message of this solemn celebration. Indeed, in a certain sense, we can consider them as a magnificent summary of the whole life of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, today proclaimed a saint.
The evangelical image of the "yoke" recalls the many trials that the humble Capuchin of San Giovanni Rotondo had to face. Today we contemplate in him how gentle the "yoke" of Christ is, and how truly light is his burden when it is borne with faithful love. The life and mission of Padre Pio prove that difficulties and sorrows, if accepted out of love, are transformed into a privileged way of holiness, which opens onto the horizons of a greater good, known only to the Lord.
2. "But may I never boast except in the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ" (Gal 6,14).
Is it not, precisely, the "glory of the Cross" that shines above all in Padre Pio? How timely is the spirituality of the Cross lived by the humble Capuchin of Pietrelcina. Our time needs to rediscover the value of the Cross in order to open the heart to hope.
Throughout his life, he always sought greater conformity with the Crucified, since he was very conscious of having been called to collaborate in a special way in the work of redemption. His holiness cannot be understood without this constant reference to the Cross.
In God's plan, the Cross constitutes the true instrument of salvation for the whole of humanity and the way clearly offered by the Lord to those who wish to follow him (cf. Mk 16,24). The Holy Franciscan of the Gargano understood this well, when on the Feast of the Assumption in 1914, he wrote: "In order to succeed in reaching our ultimate end we must follow the divine Head, who does not wish to lead the chosen soul on any way other than the one he followed; by that, I say, of abnegation and the Cross" (Epistolario II, p. 155).
3. "I am the Lord who acts with mercy" (Jer 9,23).
Padre Pio was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making himself available to all by welcoming them, by spiritual direction and, especially, by the administration of the sacrament of Penance. I also had the privilege, during my young years, of benefitting from his availability for penitents. The ministry of the confessional, which is one of the distinctive traits of his apostolate, attracted great crowds of the faithful to the monastery of San Giovanni Rotondo. Even when that unusual confessor treated pilgrims with apparent severity, the latter, becoming conscious of the gravity of sins and sincerely repentant, almost always came back for the peaceful embrace of sacramental forgiveness. May his example encourage priests to carry out with joy and zeal this ministry which is so important today, as I wished to confirm this year in the Letter to Priests on the occasion of Holy Thursday.
4. "You, Lord, are my only good".
This is what we sang in the responsorial psalm. Through these words, the new Saint invites us to place God above everything, to consider him our sole and highest good.
In fact, the ultimate reason for the apostolic effectiveness of Padre Pio, the profound root of so much spiritual fruitfulness can be found in that intimate and constant union with God, attested to by his long hours spent in prayer and in the confessional. He loved to repeat, "I am a poor Franciscan who prays" convinced that "prayer is the best weapon we have, a key that opens the heart of God".
This fundamental characteristic of his spirituality continues in the "Prayer Groups" that he founded, which offer to the Church and to society the wonderful contribution of incessant and confident prayer. To prayer, Padre Pio joined an intense charitable activity, of which the "Home for the Relief of Suffering" is an extraordinary expression. Prayer and charity, this is the most concrete synthesis of Padre Pio's teaching, which today is offered to everyone.
5. "I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because ... these things ... you have revealed to little ones" (Mt 11,25).
How appropriate are these words of Jesus, when we think of them as applied to you, humble and beloved Padre Pio.
Teach us, we ask you, humility of heart so we may be counted among the little ones of the Gospel, to whom the Father promised to reveal the mysteries of his Kingdom.
Help us to pray without ceasing, certain that God knows what we need even before we ask him. Obtain for us the eyes of faith that will be able to recognize right away in the poor and suffering the face of Jesus.
Sustain us in the hour of the combat and of the trial and, if we fall, make us experience the joy of the sacrament of forgiveness.
Grant us your tender devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our Mother.
Accompany us on our earthly pilgrimage toward the blessed homeland, where we hope to arrive in order to contemplate forever the glory of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Francesco Forgione was born to Grazio Mario Forgione (1860–1946) and Maria Giuseppa Di Nunzio Forgione (1859–1929) on May 25, 1887, in Pietrelcina, a farming town in the southern Italian region of Campania. His parents made a living as peasant farmers. He was baptized in the nearby Santa Anna Chapel, which stands upon the walls of a castle. He later served as an altar boy in this same chapel. Restoration work on this chapel was later undertaken by the Padre Pio Foundation of America based in Cromwell, Connecticut. His siblings were an older brother, Michele, and three younger sisters, Felicita, Pellegrina, and Grazia (who was later to become a Bridgettine nun). His parents had two other children who died in infancy. When he was baptized, he was given the name Francesco, which was the name of one of these two. He stated that by the time he was five years old he had already made the decision to dedicate his entire life to God. He also began inflicting penances on himself and was chided on one occasion by his mother for using a stone as a pillow and sleeping on the stone floor. He worked on the land up to the age of 10, looking after the small flock of sheep the family owned. This delayed his education to some extent.
Pietrelcina was a religious town. Feast days of saints were celebrated throughout the year, and religion had a profound influence on the Forgione family. The members of the family attended daily Mass, prayed the Rosary nightly, and abstained from meat three days a week in honor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Although Francesco's parents and grandparents were illiterate, they memorized the Scriptures and narrated Bible stories to their children. His mother said Francesco was able to see and speak with Jesus, the Virgin Mary and his guardian angel, and that as a child, he assumed that all people could do so.
According to the diary of Father Agostino da San Marco, his spiritual director in San Marco in Lamis, the young Francesco Forgione was afflicted with a number of illnesses. At six he suffered from a grave gastroenteritis, which kept him bedridden for a long time. At ten he caught typhoid fever.
As a youth Francesco reported that he had experienced heavenly visions and ecstasies. In 1897, after he had completed three years at the public school, Francesco was drawn to the life of a friar after listening to a young Capuchin friar who was, at that time, seeking donations in the countryside. When he expressed his desire to his parents, they made a trip to Morcone, a community 13 miles (21 km) north of Pietrelcina, to find out if their son was eligible to enter the Capuchin Order. The Friars there informed them that they were interested in accepting Francesco into their community, but he needed more educational qualifications.
Francesco's father went to the United States in search of work to pay for private tutoring for his son, so that he might meet the academic requirements to enter the Capuchin Order. It was in this period that Francesco received the sacrament of Confirmation on 27 September 1899. He underwent private tutoring and passed the stipulated academic requirements. On January 6, 1903, at the age of 15, he entered the novitiate of the Capuchin Friars at Morcone where, on January 22, he took the Franciscan habit and the name of Fra (Friar) Pio, in honor of Pope St. Pius V, the patron saint of Pietrelcina. He took the simple vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
Commencing his six-year study for the priesthood, he traveled to the friary of St. Francis of Assisi by oxcart. Three years later on January 27, 1907, he made his solemn profession. At 17, he suddenly fell ill, complaining of loss of appetite, insomnia, exhaustion, fainting spells, and terrible migraines. He vomited frequently and could absorb only milk and cheese. The hagiographers say that it was during this time, together with his physical illness, that inexplicable phenomena began to occur. According to their stories, one could hear strange noises coming from his room at night – sometimes screams or roars. During prayer, brother Pio remained in a stupor, as if he were absent. One of Pio's fellow friars claims to have seen him in ecstasy, levitating above the ground.
In June 1905, Padre Pio's health was so weak that his superiors decided to send him to a mountain convent, in the hope that the change of air would do him some good. His health got worse, however, and doctors advised that he return to his home town. But, even there, his health continued to worsen.
In 1910, Brother Pio was ordained a priest by Archbishop Paolo Schinosi at the Cathedral of Benevento. Four days later, he offered his first Mass at the parish church of Our Lady of the Angels. His health being precarious, he was permitted to remain with his family until 1916 while still retaining the Capuchin habit.
On September 4, 1916, Father Pio was ordered to return to his community life. Thus he was moved to an agricultural community, Our Lady of Grace Capuchin Friary, located in the Gargano Mountains in San Giovanni Rotondo in Foggia. At that time with Father Pius, the community numbered seven friars. He stayed at San Giovanni Rotondo until his death, except for military service.
When World War I started, four friars from this community were selected for military service. At that time, Padre Pio was a teacher at the seminary and a spiritual director. When one more friar was called into service, Padre Pio was put in charge of the community. On 16 November 1915 he was drafted into the Italian army and on 6 December assigned to the 10th Mediccal Corps in Naples. Due to poor health, he was continually discharged and recalled until on 16 March 1918 he was declared unfit for military service and discharged. In all, his military service lasted 182 days.
Padre Pio then became a spiritual director. He had five rules for spiritual growth: weekly confession, daily Communion, spiritual reading, meditation, and examination of conscience.
He compared weekly confession to dusting a room weekly, and recommended the performance of meditation and self-examination twice daily: once in the morning, as preparation to face the day, and once again in the evening, as retrospection. His advice on the practical application of theology he often summed up in his now famous quote, "Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry". He directed Christians to recognize God in all things and to desire above all things to do the will of God.
In addition to his childhood illnesses, throughout his life Padre Pio suffered from "asthmatic bronchitis". He also had a large kidney stone, with frequent abdominal pains. He further suffered from a chronic gastritis, which later turned into an ulcer. He also suffered from inflammations of the eye, of the nose, of the ear and of the throat, and eventually formed rhinitis and chronic otitis.
In 1925, Padre Pio was operated on for an inguinal hernia, and shortly after this a large cyst formed on his neck and which had to be surgically removed. Another surgery was required to remove a malignant tumor on his ear. After this operation Padre Pio was subjected to radiological treatment, which was successful, it seems, after only two treatments.
In 1956, he came down with a serious case of "exudative pleuritis". The diagnosis was certified by Professor Cataldo Cassano, who personally extracted the serous liquid from the body of Padre Pio. He remained bedridden for four consecutive months.
In his old age Padre Pio was tormented by arthritis.
Padre Pio believed the love of God is inseparable from suffering and that suffering all things for the sake of God is the way for the soul to reach God. He felt that his soul was lost in a chaotic maze, plunged into total desolation, as if he were in the deepest pit of hell. During his period of spiritual suffering, his followers believe that Padre Pio was attacked by the Devil, both physically and spiritually. His followers also believe that the Devil used diabolical tricks in order to increase Padre Pio's torments. These included apparitions as an "angel of light" and the alteration or destruction of letters to and from his spiritual directors. Padre Augustine confirmed this when he said:
The Devil appeared as young girls that danced naked without any clothes on, as Christ Crucified, as a young friend of the friars, as the Spiritual Father or as the Provincial Father; as Pope Pius X, a Guardian Angel, as St. Francis and as Our Lady.
Now, twenty-two days have passed since Jesus allowed the devils to vent their anger on me. My Father, my whole body is bruised from the beatings that I have received to the present time by our enemies. Several times, they have even torn off my shirt so that they could strike my exposed flesh.
Fr. Gabriele Amorth, senior exorcist of Vatican City stated in an interview that Padre Pio was able to distinguish between real apparitions of Jesus, Mary and the Saints and the illusions created by the Devil by carefully analysing the state of his mind and the feelings produced in him during the apparitions. In one of Padre Pio's letters, he states that he remained patient in the midst of his trials because of his firm belief that Jesus, Mary, his Guardian Angel, St. Joseph and St. Francis were always with him and helped him always.
Transverberation and visible stigmata
Based on Padre Pio's correspondence, even early in his priesthood he experienced less obvious indications of the visible stigmata for which he would later become famous. In a 1911 letter, Padre Pio wrote to his spiritual advisor, Padre Benedetto from San Marco in Lamis, describing something he had been experiencing for a year:
Then last night something happened which I can neither explain nor understand. In the middle of the palms of my hands a red mark appeared, about the size of a penny, accompanied by acute pain in the middle of the red marks. The pain was more pronounced in the middle of the left hand, so much so that I can still feel it. Also under my feet I can feel some pain.
His close friend Padre Agostino wrote to him in 1915, asking specific questions such as when he first experienced visions, whether he had been granted the stigmata, and whether he felt the pains of the Passion of Christ, namely the crowning of thorns and the scourging. Padre Pio replied that he had been favoured with visions since his novitiate period (1903 to 1904). He wrote that although he had been granted the stigmata, he had been so terrified by the phenomenon he begged the Lord to withdraw them. He did not wish the pain to be removed, only the visible wounds, since at the time he considered them to be an indescribable and almost unbearable humiliation. The visible wounds disappeared at that point, but reappeared in September 1918. He reported, however, that the pain remained and was more acute on specific days and under certain circumstances. He also said that he was indeed experiencing the pain of the crown of thorns and the scourging. He was not able to clearly indicate the frequency of this experience, but said that he had been suffering from them at least once weekly for some years.
These experiences are alleged to have caused his health to fail, for which reason he was permitted to stay at home. To maintain his religious life as a friar while away from the community, he said Mass daily and taught at school.
St. John of the Cross describes the phenomenon of transverberation as follows:
The soul being inflamed with the love of God which 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.
World War I was still going on, and in July 1918, Pope Benedict XV, who had termed the World War "the suicide of Europe," appealed to all Christians urging them to pray for an end to the World War. On 27 July of the same year, Padre Pio offered himself as a victim for the end of the war. Days passed and between 5 August and 7 August, Padre Pio had a vision in which Christ appeared and pierced his side. As a result of this experience, Padre Pio had a physical wound in his side. This occurrence is considered as a "transverberation" or piercing of the heart indicating the union of love with God. (On 8 August, the Allies began the Hundred Days Offensive, which led to the armistice with Germany and the end of the war.)
As a side-note, a first-class relic of Padre Pio, which consists of a large framed square of linen bearing a bloodstain from "the wound of the transverberation of the heart" in Padre Pio's side, is exposed for public veneration at the St. John Cantius Church in Chicago.
With his transverberation began another seven-week long period of spiritual unrest for Padre Pio. One of his Capuchin brothers said this of his state during that period:
During this time his entire appearance looked altered as if he had died. He was constantly weeping and sighing, saying that God had forsaken him.
In a letter from Padre Pio to Padre Benedetto, dated 21 August 1918, Padre Pio writes of his experiences during the transverberation:
While I was hearing the boys’ confessions on the evening of the 5th [August] I was suddenly terrorized by the sight of a celestial person who presented himself to my mind’s eye. He had in his hand a sort of weapon like a very long sharp-pointed steel blade which seemed to emit fire. At the very instant that I saw all this, I saw that person hurl the weapon into my soul with all his might. I cried out with difficulty and felt I was dying. I asked the boy to leave because I felt ill and no longer had the strength to continue. This agony lasted uninterruptedly until the morning of the 7th. I cannot tell you how much I suffered during this period of anguish. Even my entrails were torn and ruptured by the weapon, and nothing was spared. From that day on I have been mortally wounded. I feel in the depths of my soul a wound that is always open and which causes me continual agony.
On 20 September 1918, accounts state that the pains of the transverberation had ceased and Padre Pio was in "profound peace." On that day, as Padre Pio was engaged in prayer in the choir loft in the Church of Our Lady of Grace, the same Being who had appeared to him and given him the transverberation, and who is believed to be the Wounded Christ, appeared again and Padre Pio had another experience of religious ecstasy. When the ecstasy ended, Padre Pio had received the Visible Stigmata, the five wounds of Christ. This time, however, the stigmata were permanent and would stay on him for the next fifty years of his life.
In a letter from St. Padre Pio to Padre Benedetto, his superior and spiritual advisor, Padre Benedetto from San Marco in Lamis dated October 22, 1918, Padre Pio describes his experience of receiving the Stigmata as follows:
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.
He quoted, "the pain was so intense that I began to feel as if I were dying on the cross."
Though Padre Pio would have preferred to suffer in secret, by early 1919, news about the stigmatic friar began to spread in the secular world. Padre Pio’s wounds were examined by many people, including physicians. People who had started rebuilding their lives after World War I, began to see in Padre Pio a symbol of hope. Those close to him attest that he began to manifest several spiritual gifts including the gifts of healing, bilocation, levitation, prophecy, miracles, extraordinary abstinence from both sleep and nourishment (one account states that Padre Agostino recorded one instance in which Padre Pio was able to subsist for at least 20 days at Verafeno on only the Eucharist without any other nourishment), the ability to read hearts, the gift of tongues, the gift of conversions, and the fragrance from his wounds.
It is claimed that no more than Anecdotal evidence supports Pio’s alleged mystical abilities. Some of his bilocations are consistent with hallucinations and the supposed odor of sanctity was purported to be Eau de Cologne. He was never watched continually to ensure that chemicals like carbolic acid or iodine were not used to prevent wounds from healing, as has been claimed. Pio over many years wore fingerless gloves which concealed his wounds or prevented him having to tend to the wounds. Near his death Pio avoided covering his hands and there was no sign of injury.
The founder of Milan's Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, friar, physician and psychologist Agostino Gemelli, who met Padre Pio once, for a few minutes, but was unable to examine his stigmata, concluded Padre Pio was "an ignorant and self-mutilating psychopath who exploited people's credulity." In short, he was accused of infractions against all three of his monastic vows: poverty, chastity and obedience. Agostino Gemelli also speculated that Padre Pio kept his wounds open with carbolic acid. As a result of the Gemelli assessment, the wounds were wrapped in cloth. According to believers, the bleeding continued for some 50 years until they closed within hours of his death.
On 29 July 1960, an Italian monsignore, Carlo Maccari, who later became the archbishop of Ancona, began yet another investigation on behalf of Pope John XXIII and the Holy Office. The 200-page report he compiled, though never published in full, is said to be devastatingly critical. Vatican gossip long had it that the “Maccari dossier” was an insuperable obstacle to Padre Pio’s sainthood. According to official Capuchin literature, however, Maccari later recanted and prayed to Padre Pio on his deathbed.
In 1940, Padre Pio began plans to open a hospital in San Giovanni Rotondo, to be named the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza or "Home to Relieve Suffering". The hospital opened in 1956. Barbara Ward, a British humanitarian and journalist on assignment in Italy, played a major role in obtaining for this project a grant of $325,000 from the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). In order that Padre Pio might directly supervise this project, Pope Pius XII, in 1957 granted him dispensation from his vow of poverty. Padre Pio's detractors used this project as another weapon to attack him, charging him with misappropriation of funds.
Padre Pio was subject to numerous investigations. Fearing local riots, a plan to transfer Padre Pio to another friary was dropped and a second plan was aborted when a riot almost happened. In the period from 1924 to 1931 the Holy See made various statements denying that the happenings in the life of Padre Pio were due to any divine cause. At one point, he was prevented from publicly performing his priestly duties, such as hearing confessions and saying Mass.
By 1933, the tide began to turn, with Pope Pius XI ordering the Holy See to reverse its ban on Padre Pio’s public celebration of Mass. The Pope said, "I have not been badly disposed toward Padre Pio, but I have been badly informed."[ in 1934, he was again allowed to hear confessions. He was also given honorary permission to preach despite never having taken the exam for the preaching licence. Pope Pius XII, who assumed the papacy in 1939, encouraged devotees to visit Padre Pio. According to a recent book, Pope John XXIII (1958–1963) apparently did not espouse the outlook of his predecessors, and wrote in 1960 of Padre Pio’s “immense deception." However, it was John XXIII's successor, Pope Paul VI, who, in the mid-1960s, firmly dismissed all accusations against Padre Pio.
The deterioration of Padre Pio's health started during the 1960s and in spite of this, he continued his spiritual works. On September 21, 1968, the day after the 50th anniversary of his receiving the Stigmata, Padre Pio experienced great tiredness. The next day, on 22 September 1968, Padre Pio was supposed to offer a Solemn High Mass, but feeling weak and fearing that he might be too ill to complete the Mass, he asked his superior if he might say a Low Mass instead, just as he had done daily for years. Due to the large number of pilgrims present for the Mass, Padre Pio's superior decided the Solemn High Mass must proceed, and so Padre Pio, in the spirit of obedience to his superior, went on to celebrate the Solemn High Mass. While celebrating the Solemn High Mass, he appeared extremely weak and in a fragile state. His voice was weak when he said the Mass and after the Mass had concluded, he was so weakened that he almost collapsed as he was descending the altar steps. He needed help from a great many of his Capuchin confreres. This would be Padre Pio's last celebration of the Mass.
Early in the morning of September 23, 1968, Padre Pio made his last confession and renewed his Franciscan vows. As was customary, he had his rosary in his hands, though he did not have the strength to say the Hail Marys aloud. Till the end, he repeated the words "Gesù, Maria" (Jesus, Mary). At around 2:30am, he said, "I see two mothers" (taken to mean his mother and Mary). At 2:30 a.m. he died in his cell in San Giovanni Rotondo with his last breath whispering, "Maria!"
His body was buried on September 26 in a crypt in the Church of Our Lady of Grace. His Requiem Mass was attended by over 100,000 people. He was often heard to say, "After my death I will do more. My real mission will begin after my death." The accounts of those who stayed with Padre Pio till the end, state that the stigmata had completely disappeared without even leaving a scar. Only a red mark "as if drawn by a red pencil" remained on his side which then disappeared.
St. Pio of Pietrelcina is currently known as the patron saint of civil defense volunteers, after a group of 160 of them petitioned the Italian Bishops’ conference. The Bishops forwarded the request to the Vatican, which gave its approval to the designation. He is also “less officially” known as the patron saint of stress relief and the “January blues,” after the Catholic Enquiry Office in London proclaimed him as such. They designated the most depressing day of the year, identified as January 22, as Don’t Worry Be Happy day, in honor of Padre Pio’s famous advice: “Pray, hope, and don’t worry.”
Reported supernatural phenomena
Padre Pio was said to have had the gift of reading souls, the ability to bilocate (according to eyewitness accounts), among other supernatural phenomena. The reports of supernatural phenomena surrounding Padre Pio attracted fame and legend. Even the Vatican was initially skeptical.
In 1947, Father Karol Józef Wojtyła, a young Polish priest who was studying in Rome at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum and who would later go on to become Pope John Paul II, visited Padre Pio, who heard his confession. Austrian Cardinal Alfons Stickler reported that Wojtyła confided to him that during this meeting Padre Pio told him he would one day ascend to "the highest post in the Church though further confirmation is needed." Cardinal Stickler further went on to say that Wojtyła believed that the prophecy was fulfilled when he became a Cardinal, not Pope, as has been reported in works of piety. (John Paul's secretary, Stanisław Dziwisz, denies the prediction, while George Weigel's biography Witness to Hope, which contains an account of the same visit, does not mention it.) According to oral tradition Bishop Wojtyła wrote to Padre Pio in 1962 to ask him to pray for Dr. Wanda Poltawska, a friend in Poland who was suffering from cancer. Later, Dr. Poltawska's cancer was found to be in spontaneous remission; medical professionals were unable to offer an explanation for the phenomenon.
Because of the unusual abilities Padre Pio claimed to possess, the Holy See twice instituted investigations of the stories surrounding him. However, the Church has since formally approved his veneration with his canonization by Pope John Paul II in 2002.
In the 1999 book, Padre Pio: The Wonder Worker, a segment by Irish priest Malachy Gerard Carroll describes the story of Gemma de Giorgi, a Sicilian girl whose blindness was believed to have been cured during a visit to Padre Pio. Gemma, who was brought to San Giovanni Rotondo in 1947 by her grandmother, was born without pupils. During her trip to see Padre Pio, the little girl began to see objects including a steamboat and the sea. Gemma's grandmother did not believe the child had been healed. After Gemma forgot to ask Padre Pio for grace during her confession, her grandmother implored the priest to ask God to restore her sight. Padre Pio told her, "The child must not weep and neither must you for the child sees and you know she sees." Oculists were unable to determine how she gained vision.
Padre Pio is said to have engaged in physical combat with Satan and his minions, similar to incidents described concerning St. John Vianney, from which Padre Pio is said to have sustained extensive bruising. He was said to communicate with angels and worked favors and healings before they were requested of him.
On the day of Padre Pio's death, mystic and Servant of God Maria Esperanza de Bianchini from Venezuela reported that he appeared to her in a vision and said, "I have come to say good-bye. My time has come. It is your turn." Her husband then watched as his wife's face transfigured into that of Padre Pio. On the following day, they heard of the death of Padre Pio. Witnesses say they later saw Esperanza herself levitating during Mass and engaging in bilocation Padre Domenico da Cese, a fellow Capuchin stigmatist, reported that on Sunday, September 22, 1968 he saw Padre Pio kneeling in prayer before the Holy Face of Manoppello, although it was known that Padre Pio hadn't left his room.
On 20 September 1918, while hearing confessions, Padre Pio had his first occurrence of the stigmata: bodily marks, pain, and bleeding in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ. This phenomenon continued for fifty years, until the end of his life. The blood flowing from the stigmata smelled of perfume or flowers, a phenomenon mentioned in stories of the lives of several saints and often referred to as the odour of sanctity.
His stigmata, regarded as evidence of holiness, was studied by physicians whose independence from the Church is not known. The observations were unexplainable and the wounds never became infected. His wounds healed once but reappeared. They were examined by Luigi Romanelli, chief physician of the City Hospital of Barletta, for about one year. Dr. Giorgio Festa, a private practitioner, also examined them in 1920 and 1925. Professor Giuseppe Bastianelli, physician to Pope Benedict XV, agreed that the wounds existed but made no other comment. Pathologist Dr. Amico Bignami of the University of Rome also observed the wounds but could make no diagnosis. Both Bignami and Dr. Giuseppe Sala commented on the unusually smooth edges of the wounds and lack of edema. Dr. Alberto Caserta took X-rays of Padre Pio's hands in 1954 and found no abnormality in the bone structure.
However, this condition is said to have caused him great embarrassment, and most photographs show him with red mittens or black coverings on his hands and feet where the bleeding occurred. At the time of Padre Pio's death, his body appeared unwounded, with no sign of scarring. There was a report that doctors who examined his body found it empty of all blood.
Those, both religious and non-religious, who have accused Padre Pio of faking his stigmata, say Padre Pio used carbolic acid to self-inflict the wounds. The sole piece of evidence for this is a single document found in the Vatican's archive — the report of pharmacist Maria De Vito, from whom he requested 4 grams of the acid. This letter was among the material gathered by those who disputed Padre Pio's stigmata at the time. According to De Vito, Padre Pio asked her to keep the order secret, saying it was to sterilize needles (he also asked for other things, such as Valda pastilles). The document was examined but dismissed by the Catholic Church during Padre Pio's beatification process. A 2007 book by Sergio Luzzatto contended that Padre Pio faked his wounds was dismissed by the Catholic Anti-Defamation League, which said Luzzatto was spreading "anti-Catholic libel."
One commentator expressed the belief that the Church likely dismissed the claims based on witnesses who stated the acid was in fact used for sterilization. "The boys had needed injections to fight the Spanish Flu which was raging at that time. Due to a shortage of doctors, Padres Paolino and Pio administered the shots, using carbolic acid as a sterilizing agent.”
Sainthood and later recognition
In 1982, the Holy See authorized the Archbishop of Manfredonia to open an investigation to determine whether Padre Pio should be considered a saint. The investigation went on for seven years, and in 1990 Padre Pio was declared a Servant of God, the first step in the progression to canonization.
Beginning in 1990, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints debated how heroically Padre Pio had lived his life, and in 1997 Pope John Paul II declared him venerable. A discussion of the effects of his life on others followed, including the cure of an Italian woman, Consiglia de Martino, which had been associated with Padre Pio's intercession. In 1999, on the advice of the Congregation, John Paul II declared Padre Pio blessed.
After further consideration of Padre Pio's virtues and ability to do good even after his death, including discussion of another healing attributed to his intercession, the Pope declared Padre Pio a saint on June 16, 2002. An estimated 300,000 people attended the canonization ceremony.
Padre Pio is one of only two saints who were priests living after the Second Vatican Council; the other being Saint Josemaria Escriva. However, both priests have received a dispensation to celebrate private Mass in Latin the first and the second using the old Missal.
On July 1, 2004, Pope John Paul II dedicated the Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church in San Giovanni Rotondo to the memory of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina. A statue of Saint Pio in Messina, Sicily attracted attention in 2002 when it wept tears of blood.
Padre Pio has become one of the world's most popular saints. There are more than 3,000 "Padre Pio Prayer Groups" worldwide, with three million members. There are parishes dedicated to Padre Pio in Vineland and Lavallette, New Jersey and Sydney, Australia, and there is a St. Padre Pio Shrine in Buena, New Jersey. A 2006 survey by the magazine Famiglia Cristiana found that more Italian Catholics pray for the intercession Padre Pio than to any other figure. (This prayer, more properly understood as a request that the saint intercede to God, is not to be confused with worship which the Catholic Church teaches is due only to God himself.)
A statue of Padre Pio will be built on a hill near the town of San Giovanni Rotondo in the southern province of Puglia, Italy, close to the town where he is commemorated. The project will cost several million pounds, with the money to be raised from his devotees around the world. The statue will be coated in a special photovoltaic paint which will enable it to trap the sun's heat and produce solar energy, making it an "ecological" religious icon.
On 3 March 2008, the body of Saint Pio was exhumed from his crypt, 40 years after his death, so that his remains could be prepared for display. A church statement described the body as being in "fair condition". Archbishop Domenico D'Ambrosio, Papal legate to the shrine in San Giovanni Rotondo, stated "the top part of the skull is partly skeletal but the chin is perfect and the rest of the body is well preserved". Archbishop D’Ambrosio also confirmed in a communiqué that “the stigmata are not visible.” He went on to say that St. Pio's hands "looked like they had just undergone a manicure". It was hoped that morticians would be able to restore the face so that it will be recognizable. However, because of its deterioration, his face was covered with a lifelike silicone mask.
Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, prefect for the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, celebrated Mass for 15,000 devotees on April 24 at the Shrine of Holy Mary of Grace, San Giovanni Rotondo, before the body went on display in a crystal, marble, and silver sepulcher in the crypt of the monastery. Padre Pio is wearing his brown Capuchin habit with a white silk stole embroidered with crystals and gold thread. His hands hold a large wooden cross. Eight hundred thousand pilgrims worldwide, mostly from Italy, made reservations to view the body up to December 2008, but only 7,200 people a day were able to file past the crystal coffin. Officials extended the display through September, 2009.
Saint Pio's remains were placed in the church of Saint Pio, which is beside San Giovanni Rotondo. In April 2010 they were moved to a special golden "Cripta".