SAINT PIO of PIETRELCINA (1887-1968), priest and mystic
Today, the Church honors Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, or as he is more affectionately known – Saint Padre Pio – who was a Capuchin friar of the Order of Saint Francis of Assisi and a renowned 20th century mystic.
He was born on May 25, 1887 to Grazio and Maria Forgione in the town of Pietrelcina in Southern Italy. He was baptized the next day and given the name Francesco. At the age of twelve he received the Sacrament of Confirmation and made his First Holy Communion.
On January 6, 1903, at the age of fifteen, Francesco entered the novitiate of the Capuchin Friars at Morcone, where on January 22nd he took the Franciscan habit and the name Brother Pio. At the end of his novitiate year, he took simple vows, and on January 27, 1907 made his solemn profession.
After he was ordained a priest on August 10, 1910 at Benevento, he stayed at home with his family until 1916 for health reasons. In September of that year, Padre Pio was sent to the friary of San Giovanni Rotondo in the province of Foggia, about 75 miles from the seacoast city of Bari next to the Adriatic Sea, and remained there until his death.
On September 20, 1918, as he was making his thanksgiving after celebrating Mass, Padre Pio had a vision of Jesus. When the vision ended, he received the stigmata (the wounds of our Lord) in his hands, feet and side, which would sometimes bleed profusely and place him in considerable agony. The wounds of Christ would remain with Padre Pio throughout the remainder of his life.
As can be imagined, his life then became much more complicated. Medical doctors, Church authorities and curiosity seekers came to see Padre Pio. In 1924 and again in 1931, the authenticity of the stigmata was questioned; Padre Pio was not permitted to celebrate Mass publicly or to hear confessions. He did not complain of these decisions, all which were soon reversed each time.
Padre Pio rarely left the friary after he received the stigmata, and, against his own wishes, the friar’s reputation for holiness and attending miracles began to attract huge crowds. Busloads of people soon began coming to see him. Each morning after he celebrated the 5 a.m. Mass in a crowded church, he would hear confessions until noon. He took a mid-morning break to bless the sick and all who came to see him.
Every afternoon he also heard confessions. In time, his confessional ministry would take 10 hours a day; penitents had to take a number so that the situation could be handled in an organized and unbiased way. Many of them commented that Padre Pio could read their souls and know details of their lives about which they had never mentioned, and which would allow them to reflect upon their past thoughts, words and deeds and make an even more perfect confession.
Padre Pio, conscious of the commitments which he had undertaken when he entered the consecrated life, observed with considerable generosity the vows he had professed. He was obedient in all things to the commands of his Superiors, even when they were burdensome.
He lived the spirit of poverty with total detachment from self, from earthly goods, from his own comfort and from public recognitions. He also had a great love for the virtue of chastity, his behavior being modest in all situations and with all people.
Known for patient suffering, fervent prayer, and compassionate spiritual guidance, Padre Pio also lent his efforts to the establishment of a major hospital on nearby Mount Gargano, which he would call the “House for the Alleviation of Suffering”.
On September 23, 1968, Padre Pio died from natural causes at the age of eighty-one. Pope St. Paul VI described him as “…a man of prayer and suffering.” Padre Pio was beatified in 1999 and canonized a saint on June 16, 2002 in Rome, Italy by Pope Saint John Paul II.
There are many quotations for which Saint Pio is famous, but two which stand out are: “Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.”
And “Prayer is the best weapon we have; it is the key to God’s heart. You must speak to Jesus not only with your lips, but with your heart. In fact on certain occasions you should only speak to Him with your heart.”
His incorrupt remains are interred in a glass sepulcher in the crypt of Santa Maria delle Grazie in San Giovanni Rotondo.
We commemorate his feastday on September 23.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org, padrepio.catholicwebservices.com and vatican.va/news_services)
(The following prayer is from the Franciscan Collect of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina)
“God our Father, in Saint Pio You gave a light to your faithful people. You made him a pastor of the Church to feed Your sheep with his word and to teach them by his example. Help us by his prayers to keep the faith he taught and follow the way of life he showed us.
“Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”