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Padre Pio – Path to Sainthood

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Saint Pio  was born in 1887 in a little village called Pietrelcina in the very south of Italy.    His parents, Grazio and Giuseppa Forgione  ( pictured )   were poor hardworking farming people.   They had their baby son baptised Francesco – Francesco Forgione.    At fifteen years of age he joined the Capuchin Friars.    Although his health was very poor he managed to complete his studies and was ordained a priest in 1910.    Then eight years later, in September 1918 he received the stigmata – the wounds of Our Lord’s Passion appeared on his body.   Eventually, worn out by his constant suffering – the wounds of his stigmata bled constantly – and by his constant apostolic work – he heard confessions for about fourteen hours every day – Padre Pio finally passed away at 2.30 a.m. on the 23rd September 1968. The people of San Giovanni Rotondo were in complete shock.  Newspapers  and radio reported the event all over the world.    Pope Paul VI sent a telegram to the Capuchins.    ” The august Pontiff has heard with fatherly sorrow of the passing of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina and he prays the Lord to grant his faithful servant an eternal crown of justice.    The Holy Father sends his apostolic blessing and condolences to the community in their sorrow, to the doctors, the staff and the patients of the Home for the Relief of Suffering and to the whole population of San Giovanni Rotondo”.

At first Padre Pio’s body was placed in a wooden coffin near the communion rail in full view of the huge  crowds of people who filed past in silence.    Later that was replaced by a metal casket with a clear glass cover.   Father Armand remarked  ” He looked so peaceful.   He did not seem to be dead, rather asleep as he lay there with his arms folded across his chest “.      A rosary was entwined around his hands which were covered by the fingerless mittens the people were used to seeing him wear.   The body of Padre Pio remained in the church for three days until Thursday 26th September when it was moved to the crypt below.   Before the burial Mass there was a funeral procession through the town.   About 100,000  people lined the mile and a half route.     Many of them wept openly, others tossed flowers on the funeral cortege.    Some cried out ” Padre Pio, Padre Pio “.    But the procession passed off without any hysteria.

The funeral Mass was concelebrated by Father Clementinus, the Superior General of the Capuchin Order along with twenty six friars and two bishops.    The police locked arms to hold back the eager crowd who surged forward.   After Mass the hearse brought the casket containing the body of Padre Pio to the Home for the Relief of Suffering for a final tribute to the Padre who had founded that great hospital.   Then it was brought back to the church and carried down the marble stairway to the crypt below .   The following day the crypt was opened to the public and an unending stream of visitors began.   Before he died Padre Pio had said ” Watch me when I die.   I will cause even more miracles.    My real mission will begin then”.

The prophets of doom had forecast that after the death of Padre Pio the town of San Giovanni Rotondo would become a ghost town but nothing could have been further from the truth.    Today San Giovanni Rotondo is a thriving modern town full of restaurants and hotels and a multitude of religious goods shops.    Since his death millions of people have visited the small town.

In 1982 the Holy See began an investigation into whether Padre Pio should be considered a saint.    This continued for seven years and in 1990 he was declared a Servant of God, the first step on the way to canonization.    Then the Congregation for the causes of saints debated his heroic life and in 1997 Pope John Paul II declared him a blessed.   We then had Blessed Padre Pio.    Further discussions followed on the Padre’s holiness and on his ability to do good for others even after his death.     Finally on the 16th June 2002 Pope John Paul II declared Padre Pio a saint.     300,000 people attended the canonization ceremony in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican.    he became one of the only saints who was canonized by a Pope who had met him in person.     About 1947 a young Polish priest, Fr. Karol Wotyla, the future Pope visited San Giovanni Rotondo and met Padre Pio.    He attended the Padre’s masses and made his confession to the future saint.     Two years after the canonization on 1 July 2004 the same Pope dedicated a massive new church in San Giovanni Rotondo to St. Pio of Pietrelcina.

In March 2008 the body of Padre Pio was exhumed  from the crypt, forty years after his death.    It was found to be in fair condition and reasonably well preserved.    One witness observed ” His hands looked as if they had just undergone a manicure “.    All trace of the stigmata had disappeared.    Cardinal Martens celebrated mass for 15,000 followers of Padre Pio before the body went on display in a new coffin with a glass top and glass sides and decorated with marble and silver.    Padre Pio can be seen wearing his brown Capuchin habit  with a white silk stole.    His hands hold a large wooden cross.    Then in 2010 the remains were placed in a new crypt beneath the new church of Saint Pio , the big new church that had been built beside San Giovanni Rotondo.    That is where the Padre still rests to this day.

 

Padre Pio – His last moments

After all the celebrations to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Padre Pio receiving the stigmata and the International Convention of the Prayer Groups who could have imagined that the very next day they would all be back for a funeral.

Father Pellegrino recollects.     “Padre Pio  by means of the intercom called me to his cell.    He only asked me to look at the clock and tell him the time.    I dried the tears in his reddened eyes and then returned to the room next door to listen to the intercom which was always switched on.   He called me about five or six times up until midnight and always asked what time it was.    At midnight he begged me to stay with him and he kept asking me the time more frequently.    Then as if he had forgotten all about the clock he asked  ‘My son have you said Mass yet ?’    I smiled and replied  ‘Father it is far too early for Mass’  and he answered  ’Well this morning you will say it for me’.

He wanted to make his confession so I heard his confession.    Afterwards he said  ’If the Lord calls me today ask my brothers to forgive me for all the trouble I have caused them.    And ask them all to say a prayer for my soul’.     Finally he said he wanted to renew his religious vows.   It was about one o’clock in the morning when he said   ’I can’t breathe well here in bed.   Let me get up.    I will be able to breathe better sitting up in my chair’.    He usually used to get up at about three o’clock to prepare for Mass and he would take a little walk in the corridor.    That night to my surprise he got up and walked straight up so I did not have to support him.    He said  ’Let’s go to the terrace for a while.   He himself turned on the light, went to his chair and sat down.   After five minutes he asked to return  to his cell.    Back in his room he was starting to grow pale and he was sweating cold.     He kept on repeating in a voice that grew weaker and weaker   ‘Jesus, Mary,   Jesus, Mary’ “.

Padre Pio was slowly fading and he himself often spoke of his desire to die.  “Only the tomb is missing.   I belong more to the other world than to this one.   Pray to Our Lord that I may die”.   One can read in the Chronicles of the monastery  ” He wanted to die while still actively at work, spending the day as usual in prayer and in the exercise of his ministry for the good of souls”.

A friar came knocking on the door of the Father Superior’s cell at about two o’clock in the morning.    “Father Superior get up quickly please.   Padre Pio is very sick”.   The Superior Father Carmelo said  “I hurried to Padre Pio’s room and found Father Pellegrino, Brother Bill and Doctor Sala with the Padre who was sitting up in his chair.   His eyes were closed, his head slightly bowed and he was breathing very heavily.   I called him several times but he didn’t answer.   Father Paolo gave the Sacrament of the Sick to the Padre while the rest of us knelt and responded to the prayers.   In the meantime he was given oxygen and artificial respiration.   He was no longer breathing though he remained calm  and serene.   We recited the prayers for a dying soul.   Then Doctor Sala stopped feeling his pulse, looked up at us and said sadly  ’He’s gone …’.    It was 2.30 a.m.  on  Monday, 23rd September, 1968″.

All those who were present when he serenely passed away kissed his hand and said a prayer for the deceased Padre.    Padre Pio’s prayer to die had been answered.    He had been taken by God to be with God himself.    We thank God for answering Padre Pio’s prayer and we remember his constant request to his companions – ‘Please pray for me’.    So today we pray for Padre Pio and we thank him for all that he has done for us.

 

Padre Pio’s Sense of Humour

Saints are sad !   That’s a common perception.   In the monastery of San Giovanni Rotondo on the door of  cell number 5 there is a written inscription that reads  “The Glory of the world is always accompanied by sadness”.  For more than 25 years that was Padre   Pio’s cell.  He walked in and out that door many times.   He would have seen that inscription often.

So was Padre Pio a sad man ?    St. Paul said  “Always be happy in the Lord ,  I repeat be happy.”.    The old Latin maxim used to say  “Servite Domino in laetitia”  -   Serve the Lord with joy.

Was Padre Pio a sad man?    On the contrary, Padre  Pio was a happy and joyful person.    Photographs of him at recreation with his fellow Capuchins show him smiling and laughing with his companions.   Padre    Pio was a happy man,  considering his afflictions and his suffering he was amazingly happy and humourous.    Yes, Padre Pio had a sense of humour.    He loved to tell little jokes and funny stories to his Capuchin brothers.

One day the friar who was accompanying him pointed out a gentleman, a famous writer who had travelled all the way from Milan in order to meet him.   “What a fine thing you have come to see,  all the way from Milan.   Don’t you have a prayer book at home ?   You could have saved yourself a long trip.    A Hail Mary is worth more more than any journey, my son”.

Once in reply to someone who was trying to make him see the difficulty that some people have in practising the word of God Padre Pio said “there are three things in life that are  completely useless – washing a donkey’s head, adding water to the ocean and preaching to nuns, monks and priests”.

Often he used to tease the doctors who from the hospital who came to see him each night.   “What do you doctors know ?”     “But Father” they replied “you have built a big hospital”.    “Ah yes” he replied “but only for sick people, not for doctors”.    Then he would remind them “Never forget the old proverb :  a mouse has a better chance with two cats than a sick person has with two doctors.”

One of Padre Pio’s favourite stories concerned the soldier who was being prepared for the visit of the king.  The conversation with the king never varied.   “How old are you ?” the king would ask.    The soldier should answer “Twenty two”.    “How many years of service do you have?”.    “Two” was the correct answer.     “Which do you serve more willingly, your king or your country ?”.      “Either one or the other”  the soldier was told to answer.    Eventually after a long session of practice the sergeant felt the soldier knew the answers well enough.    Finally the king arrived.    He reviewed the troops and asked his usual questions, but in a different order.    How many years of service do you have ?”    “Twenty two” said the soldier confidently.    “How old are you ?”    “Two”.    “Either you are a fool  or I am”  said the king.    The soldier gave the third answer ”Either one or the other, your Majesty”

Whenever he told the joke about the drunkard he always got up from his chair and acted out the part.    A drunkard saw a centipede walking up the wall.   “Why O Lord” he said  “did you give this little creature one hundred legs and to me who can barely stand up straight only two !”.

Our Lady to whom he had immense devotion even found a place in his anecdotes.   “One day the Lord took a walk through Paradise and saw so many ugly faces wandering around that place that is so full of beauty and devoid of all evil that he was amazed and sent for Saint Peter.    ‘ Peter what has happened ?     It seems as if we have transferred the local  jail to paradise’.    Peter replied   ‘Lord I don’t know how they get in’.   The Lord ordered him to guard the gates of Heaven more carefully.    A week later the Lord took another stroll through paradise and to his horror he noticed an increase in the number of ugly faces or jailbirds as he called them.    Again Peter was summoned.    ‘Peter, I told you to be on your guard.  You are no longer doing this job well.    Give me back the keys’.    Peter replied  ‘Lord, I didn’t want to tell you this.    I refuse them entry but no sooner do I turn my back than your mother opens the door and lets them all in.     What should I do when your mother goes to the door ?’.    The Lord thought for a moment and then he answered  ’ Peter, just pretend you don’ see it !’ “.

That story has a message – Our Lady is everyone’s mother and without her Heaven would not be the same.    Padre Pio did not talk for the sake of talking.    All his jokes and stories had a message and a purpose.   He used his sense of humour for his apostolic goal  -  to win people over to Christ.

We thank Padre Pio for teaching us with his sense of humour and we thank God for giving us Saint Padre Pio.