Actor Shia LaBeouf is about to release a major movie. It’s about one of the most iconic saints and public figures of the modern age.. Padre Pio, a priest who lead a pious and sometimes contentious life, and bore the “stigmata”, the phenomena of the bleeding wounds of Christ.
But this spiritual icon is closer to my family then I could have ever envisioned. One afternoon in early 1992, sitting at her table in Ohio, my 82 year-old Italian born grandmother, over a cup of black coffee, told me that she wanted to share a story about “Me and Padre Pio”, as she eagerly put it in her Italian Neapolitan Dialect. I was puzzled, but she certainly had my interest.
In the late 1940s, after WW2, my Italian-born grandmother, Assunta, a young mother at the time and living in southern Italy, had the rare pleasure of an encounter with this true saint…Padre Pio, literally.
Padre Pio, who was canonized by Pope John Paul II and ‘fast-tracked’ to sainthood, was a small town parish priest at the Church of San Giovanni Rotondo in Foggia, Italy. He had been born in the tiny town of Pietrelcina, only a few miles from my grandmother’s birthplace, a town also located in the arid foothills of southern Italy.
Padre Pio’s reputation was gaining wide appeal. Padre Pio bore the stigmata, the wounds of Christ, on his hands and feet, and despite the Church’s cautious indifference to this phenomenon at the time, thousands flocked to somehow be touched by the special man.
Padre Pio was born May 25, 1887, Pio became a priest in 1910. Within a month of his ordination, (September 7, 1910), as Padre Pio was fervently praying, Christ and the Mother of Jesus appeared to the priest and gave him the wounds of Christ as a “gift”, the Stigmata.
For Padre Pio’s and his countrymen, the priest and mystic’s wounds created much confusion, not to mention suspicion on the part of Church authorities. He asked Jesus to take away “the public annoyance,” adding, ” I do want to suffer, even to die of suffering, but all only in secret.” The skeptical Church and local government summoned doctors and psychiatrists to examine him- but they could not offer any explanation.
The wounds went away and the supernatural life of Padre Pio remained a secret…only for a while and the phenomena returned intermittently for an expanse of over 60 years. He would preside over his daily masses with his hands bound up in cloth. He could only wear sandles on his feet.
This was the beginning of a legacy and life of service, great personal personal suffering, and of producing healing miracles to those in his presence and those who invoked his prayers.
The rare pictures and portraits of Padre Pio feature him offering the Liturgy with his hands wrapped in white cloth and frequently bleeding. The Church eventually authenticated his life and phenomenon. In 2002, Pope John Paul II elevated Padre Pio to sainthood by canonization.
In Foggia, Italy, one hot afternoon long ago, as my grandmother recounted, the only thing separating my grandmother and this esteemed Saint was a thin confessional screen. She had traveled with her husband to Foggia in order to perhaps personally receive the saint’s blessings and penance, as did hundreds per year who journeyed to get a glimpse or even hopefully speak with him.
She was fortunate and was able to receive personal penance directly from Padre Pio. It was a life’s experience for her.
She was pregnant, yet not showing, with a son, during the visit. She said that Padre Pio, somehow knowing that she was pregnant while standing in the hot weather , motioned to others to move her to the front of the long line. She told of how the man’s compassion was also tempered by common sense and an instinctive ability to know peoples souls. He seemed to know personal details about her even before she even began to speak with him, including the apparent fact she was expecting a child .
Today, the Shrine of Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo is the second most visited Christian shrine in the world, second only to St. Peter’s Basilica.
Padre Pio’s reputation continues to grow, drawing millions to him annually.
To be touched by the charismatic man, even if only in spirit, is truly something my grandmother never forgot, and annually, traveling pilgrims continue to the shrine to be in the spiritual presence of a true Saint.
You can read this and other stories of inspiration by MichaelAngelo Massa, JD @ Patheos.com