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.

 

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