~by Joseph Kaiser
November 5, 2012: St. Padre Pio–Stigmatist of Pietrelcina
On May 25, 1887, Francesco Forgione, who would be known to the world as Padre Pio, was born in the small farming village of Pietrelcina, Italy. Pietrelcina is 35 miles northeast of Naples in the Compania region. His parents, Orazio Forgione and Maria Giuseppa De Nunzio, had eight children, three of whom died in infancy. Francesco’s piety was evident even from his earliest years. His Spiritual Advisor reported that he had had ecstasies and had decided to dedicate his life to God when he was 5 years old.
The Forgione family was extremely poor. In fact, Orazio had to seek work in America twice in order to help to pay for Francesco’s education. There was an Italian community in Jamaica, Long Island, many of whose men worked on the docks. His pay as a longshoremen must have been a fortune to this poor farmer. Orazio’s goal was that Francesco would become a monk. On January 6, 1902 a 14-year old Francesco entered the novitiate at the Capuchin Monastery at nearby Morcone. A year later, he received his Franciscan robe, taking Pio as his Franciscan name in honor of Pope Pius V.
His parents were appalled at his appearance at the end of the year. They thought that their son was being starved. The Father Director assured them that he was being well-fed; that he probably needed a change in air. Although his health did not improve, Fra (Brother) Pio was ordained on August 10, 1910 and thus became Padre Pio. He was assigned to a church in nearby Foggio and was able to visit home frequently. On a trip home on September 20, 1915, Padre Pio complained of a stinging pain in his hands. This was the beginning of the invisible stigmata. He didn’t mind the pain, but prayed that it would remain invisible to avoid becoming a source of curiosity.
Because his health showed no signs of improvement, Padre Pio was reassigned in 1916 to a Capuchin Friary, Santa Maria delle Grazie, in the remote town of San Giovanni Rotondo. The town is located on the Gargano Promontory in Puglia, 180 miles southeast of Rome and 120 miles northeast of Naples, overlooking the Adriatic. There, a church dedicated to St. John (San Giovanni) was built on the spot where there had been a temple to the Roman god, Janus. The word Rotondo in the name reminds us that the temple was circular. Although the assignment was supposed to be temporary, Padre Pio spent the last 52 years of his life there.
By 1918, Padre Pio had settled into the life of Santa Marie delle Grazie. He always described himself as a poor friar who prays. His obscurity would end suddenly on September 29th of that year. In his own words: “Between nine and ten in the morning, while my students were taking their recreation in the garden, I was alone in the choir . . . making my thanksgiving after Holy Mass. All of a sudden, a great light shone round about my eyes. In the midst of this light, there appeared the wounded Christ. From Him there came forth beams of light with shafts of flame that wounded me in the hands and feet. My side had already been wounded on the fifth of August of the same year.” There was no way to hide his wounds, which bleed continuously for the next 50 years, until his death in 1968. From his side alone, doctors estimated he lost a cup of blood a day. In spite of that, he spent from eight to twelve hours a day in the Confessional.
In addition to the stigmata, Padre Pio had a number of other supernatural gifts, including:
Bilocation: Padre Pio often travelled in his mind to distant locations where he was seen.
Spiritual reading of souls: Padre Pio could always tell if the penitent had made a sincere examination of conscience, was sincerely sorry for his sins, and had a firm purpose of amendment. For him, every Confession ought to be a conversion.
Miracle cures: Padre Pio was God’s instrument in the curing of thousands of persons.
On the hilltop above San Giovanni Rotondo stands St. Padre Pio’s “work,” inspired and blessed by God. We might call it a hospital, but Padre Pio called it the Home for the Relief of Suffering (the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza). On the evening of January 9, 1940, with World War II looming, Padre Pio announced his audacious plan for the Casa.. He never doubted its completion, and on May 5, 1956, the Casa opened its doors as a 300 bed facility. Under Vatican management, it has since grown to 1000 beds. A unique feature of Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, given its location,on a mountaintop, is that the main emergency entrance is on the roof — for helicopter arrivals.
On September 22, 1968, he managed to say Mass. Just after midnight, in the early morning hours of September 23, Padre Pio called his superior and asked to make his confession. He then renewed his vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. At 2:30 a.m. Padre Pio died in his cell. Within 10 minutes of his death, all traces of the stigmata had disappeared.
Pope John Paul II canonized Padre Pio on June 16, 2002. His Feast day is September 23.
Following a stint in the Navy, Joe Kaiser received a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Kentucky, where he and his wife of 62 years, Mary, grew up. Following college, Joe had a 50-year career in technical and marketing communications. Always active in parish life, Joe was ordained deacon in Springfield, MA, and is now retired and living in Sarasota, FL.
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