Padre Pio

Padre Pio

Thu 20 Mar 2008 1:00 AM

Padre Pio was already a revered holy man of great humility and piety when he offered himself as a victim to bring an end to WWI, the war considered ‘the suicide of Europe’ by Pope Benedict XV. Between August 5 and 7, 1918, Padre Pio had a vision in which the wounded Christ appeared and pierced his side with a lance. The physical wound left by Christ-called a ‘transverberation’ or piercing of the heart-indicated to him a union of love with God. Padre Pio would suffer the pains of transverberation for the following seven weeks.

Then, on September 20, 1918, while he was kneeling in prayer beneath the crucifix at the Church of Our Lady of Grace in San Giovanni Rotondo, the wounded Christ appeared to him again. This encounter left stigmata-the same wounds that Christ suffered during his crucifixion. At 31 years old, he was the first priest in the history of the Catholic Church to be recognized as having stigmata. He would bear the painful wounds in his hands and feet for the rest of his life.

Padre Pio was born Francesco Forgione to Grazio Mario and Maria Giuseppa de Nunzio Forgione on May 25, 1887 in Pietrelcina, a highly religious farming town in the southern Italian region of Campania. A child of very devout shepherds, Francesco began showing extraordinary signs of faith and devotion at an early age. Throughout his childhood, he experienced many heavenly visions and religious ecstasies. He was reportedly able to see and communicate with his guardian angel, Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.

At the age of five, he consecrated his life to God. In the same period he began inflicting penances on himself. By the time he became a priest, Padre Pio had long endured both physical and spiritual sufferings. Subject to diabolical torments and temptations throughout his life, his celestial visions were often intertwined with demonic apparitions.

After having met the academic requirements set out by the Capuchin Franciscan Order in Pietrelcina, on January 6, 1903, at the age of 15, he entered the novitiate of the Capuchin Friars at Morcone. On January 22 he took the Franciscan habit and the name of Fra (Brother) Pio in honor of Pope Saint Pius V, the patron saint of Pietrelcina. There he took the simple vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. On August 10, 1910, the 23-year-old Fra Pio was ordained a priest. Soon thereafter he took to rural community life with seven friars at Our Lady of Grace Capuchin Friary, located in the Gargano Mountains in San Giovanni Rotondo, Apuglia. He lived there until his death on September 24, 1968.

Aside from the pains of transverberation and the bleeding stigmata, Padre Pio is said to have performed many miracles and manifested other extraordinary spiritual gifts. These included healing, bilocation, prophecy, discernment of spirits, abstaining from both sleep and nourishment, reading hearts and souls, speaking and understanding languages that he had never studied, making conversions, levitation, multiplication of food and seeing his guardian angel and other angelic beings. Considered by many an extraordinary worker of miracles, Padre Pio acquired a large following throughout his life, both in Italy and abroad.

The fragrance that emanated from his stigmata is said to have been similar to that of flowers and was often referred to as the ‘odor of sanctity’. Nonetheless, much controversy surrounded him and his mysterious wounds. He habitually wore gloves in an effort to conceal his bleeding stigmata, which were said to weep one cup of blood daily. Though many physicians examined the wounds, no one was able to find any natural cause for their occurrence.

After the manifestation of the stigmata, accusations began to surface regarding ‘unholy’ and ‘indecent’ behaviour. Several leading archbishops, bishops, theologians and physicians accused him of insanity and indecency towards women (including sexual acts with women in his congregation). He was alleged to have misused church funds and deceived others. Some accused him of being a fraud, arguing that his wounds had been induced with acid and that the so-called odor of sanctity that enveloped him was self-administered perfume. In short, he was accused of violating all three of his monastic vows: poverty, chastity and obedience.

As a result, the Catholic Church became less and less confident in Padre Pio’s mystical experiences, and he was investigated by Vatican officials in 1927. During the probe and in the years following, he was prohibited from performing open-air masses and restricted from hearing confessions and carrying out other priestly duties.

Despite the scandal, his reputation for sanctity and his public following seemed to only increase, perhaps because of his rapport with penitents, who said that he could read their hearts. He was said to have listened to confessions for 10 to 12 hours a day. The rest of his day consisted of constant prayer, usually with a rosary. He ate one small meal daily and slept for no longer than three hours a night.

When he died at the age of 81, his stigmata disappeared. He was buried at the sanctuary at San Giovanni Rotondo in Foggia (Apuglia). It is estimated that Padre Pio’s tomb is visited by seven million pilgrims every year. His picture is still displayed in shops, bars, schools, petrol stations and supermarkets across Italy.

Padre Pio’s lengthy canonization process began in 1982. By virtue of the way in which he lived in life, his extraordinary gifts and inexplicable mystical powers, and his ability to continue to heal the sick after his death, Pope John Paul II officially declared him a saint on June 16, 2002.

Padre Pio Today

On March 3, 2008 Padre Pio’s body was exhumed amid much controversy and was prepared for seven months of public veneration. On April 24, his corpse was placed in a glass coffin to mark the 40th anniversary of his death and the 90th anniversary of the first appearance of his stigmata. Monsignor Domenico D’Ambrosio, Archbishop of Manfredonia, reported that the saint’s body was in ‘surprisingly good condition. As soon as we got inside the tomb we could clearly make out the beard. The top part of the skull is partly skeletal but the chin is perfect and the rest of the body is well preserved. The knees, hands, mittens and nails are clearly visible…The signs of the stigmata are not visible’. Archbishop D’Ambrosio has confirmed that no relic will be retrieved from the body.

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