Padre Pio had an intense, he had an immense devotion to Mary, to Our Lady, to the Blessed Virgin, call her what you like. She was the mother of God. Padre Pio called her by a different name. In Italian he called her La Madonna and he had great devotion to his Madonna.
The newborn Francesco Forgione, his original name, was baptized in the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli – Mary of the angels. As an octogenarian Padre Pio closed his eyes for the final time close to Santa Maria delle Grazie – Mary of Graces. His whole life was a Marian voyage. Even as a child he used to call in to the church in Pietrelcina to have a chat with his Madonna. Later in his life he always had a picture of her in his cell, to which he could pray.
Padre Pio’s love for the Madonna was that of a friend who has faith, one who believes and one who hopes. It was not just sentimental piety. It was the result of his constant contemplation of the Mother of God, something which had become his way of life. By being closer to Mary he felt closer to Jesus.
The rosary was his favourite prayer. He recited it continually all day, every day. For him it became a constant meditation on the events of the life and death of Jesus and of his blessed mother. He had a special fascination with the Hail Mary and in his rosaries he said it slowly and reverently. Who could count the number of rosaries he said in his lifetime. He was ‘the friar of the rosary’. One day his Father Superior asked him how many he said each day. Padre Pio replied ‘ Well I must tell my Superior the truth – today I have recited thirty four’. Thirty four rosaries of fifteen decades each, that’s 510 decades !
For Padre Pio the rosary was a constant meditation on the events of the life and death of Jesus and of his blessed mother. He had a fascination with the Hail Mary and in his rosaries he recited it slowly and lovingly. He always had his rosary with him. He carried it in his hand or on his arm as if it were a bracelet or a shield. He had more rosaries under his pillow and still more on the bureau in his cell. He used to call the rosary his weapon. One night when he was sick in bed he was unable to find his rosary so he called a friar to him and said ” Young man get me my weapon. Give me my weapon “.
He devoured the rosary with a massive hunger. At certain hours he would walk up and down the central path of the monastery garden totally absorbed in his suffering, in his prayer and in his love for Jesus while the beads slipped through the fingers of his wounded hands. He had lots of rosaries in his pocket also and would give one to anyone who asked for one. How many people there are today who say ” This is a rosary which Padre Pio gave me. I treasure it with all my heart “. I suppose you could describe Padre Pio’s life as one continuous rosary.
He loved to listen to famous singers. He listened with obvious pleasure and always requested them to sing either a hymn to Our Lady or a Neapolitan song. He was particularly moved when the renowned tenor Beniamino Gigli came to the monastery garden and sang Gounod’s ‘Ave Maria’ for him. ( Pictured is Beniamino Gigli with Padre Pio ). So attentive and fascinated was he that he seemed to be enjoying a taste of paradise.
He often got out of bed in the early hours of the morning and opened his window because someone outside was singing ‘ Ave Maria ‘ in his honour. He would listen to them, enraptured, and at the end he would applaud and shout to them ” Bravo, bravo. May the Madonna protect and bless you, my child “.
He waited with great anxiety for the arrival of the pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima. While the statue was leaving Portugal in a helicopter to tour the major cities of Italy Padre Pio lay in his sick bed suffering from serious pleurisy. He had been too weak to celebrate mass for several months, something which caused him great sadness. Each night he uttered a spiritual thought into a microphone which connected to a loudspeaker in the church. His words could be heard by the large crowd who gathered to listen to him.
Finally the big day arrived. Padre Pio announced with a voice full of emotion ” In a few minutes our mother will be in our midst. Let us open our hearts to her “. Despite his condition Padre Pio got up from bed, dressed with help and went to the church. Exhausted, he had to sit down and remained there a long time in front of the image of the Madonna. When the statue was brought to him to kiss it he did so reverently and then placed in her hands a rosary which was a gift he had received from a visiting prayer group.
When finally the helicopter rose from the terrace of the Home for the Relief of Suffering bringing the status away among the eyes that followed it were Padre Pio’s, wet with tears. He addressed her with one final prayer. “Beautiful Madonna I have been sick during your visit to Italy and now you are leaving without curing me”. At that moment he felt a chill run through his body. He turned to his fellow priests and exclaimed ‘ I am cured ‘ and he was truly cured. Word spread rapidly and everyone who saw him looking so fit and well was amazed.
Padre Pio had a deep devotion to Our Lady of Pompei. On the fiftieth anniversary of his receiving the stigmata, shortly before he would die he was presented with a bouquet of roses. He was deeply touched by this gesture and he in turn took from it a rose which he gave to one of his spiritual children and asked that they take it to Pompei and place it in front of the image of the Madonna there. This was done and that rose did not wilt or wither but remained as a fresh and fragrant bloom right up to the day he died. Then it closed up and became a bud again.
For Padre Pio his love for the Madonna meant constant imitation of her. If Jesus is the way and the light that leads us to God the Father then Mary is the way and the light that leads to her Son, Jesus. With Mary’s help and imitating her virtues Padre Pio drew ever closer to Jesus, so close as to be almost transformed into him.
So we thank God for giving us Padre Pio and we thank Padre Pio for showing us how to love his Madonna and our mother, Mary.