While browsing a local thrift store, I found a book called "A Padre Pio Profile" by John A. Schug, OFM, Cap. It was tucked away on the top shelf of a world history section. Intrigued that I had the fortune to spot this little book (obviously out of place), I pulled it down & began thumbing through it. 24 hours later, I've all but devoured it & feel as though my faith has begun to burst at the seams.
Who was this Padre Pio? I had never heard of him til I began my journey to the Catholic
Church. He seemed like just another old guy & I never understood
what made him a saint, or why countless people chose him to be their
patron... What was so special about him? What set him apart? I
noticed that he always seemed to wear fingerless gloves & at first, I
thought maybe he was just cold, having to live in a drafty old
monastery & all... but then I read that he had received the
stigmata- that is, the wounds of Christ- and he kept the gloves on
because his hands bled constantly. Apparently, his feet & side also
bled with regularity & his bedsheets would be routinely soaked with
blood. The idea of stigmata is kind of creepy to this former Evangelical Protestant whatchamacallit. Pio's wounds remained for over 50 years & were well documented. Why would God allow anyone to be afflicted in such a way? What purpose could such suffering possibly serve? I suppose we could ask this question of a great many things in life.
Francesco Forgione (a.k.a. Padre Pio), was an Italian Capuchin friar (an offshoot of the Franciscan Order). He was born in a town called Pietrelcina & lived from 1887 to 1968. He became a novice with the Capuchins at age 15 & was ordained a priest in his early 20's. He was devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary & to the Rosary, believing it to be an effective weapon against the wiles of the devil. He would pray & promote the Rosary often. He's reported to have routinely battled demons, particularly when he was alone in his cell- sometimes he even bore the physical effects of a struggle. He barely slept or ate, but worked tirelessly, saying long, reverent Masses, hearing confessions, meeting with countless people & even establishing a hospital called Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza ("Home to Relieve Suffering"). Despite his own suffering from the stigmata, spiritual attacks & lifelong health problems, he lived to be 81 years old. He is said to have possessed many spiritual gifts such as the ability to "bi-locate" (to be in two places at once), to "read souls" (to know what someone was thinking), to know the future & to perform healings. Many people said that when they saw him, they saw Jesus. I think I know what they meant...
What was it about this book that shook my faith? I can't deny that reading the testimonies made me want to know more, made me want to become a pilgrim & go to San Giovanni Rotundo to see for myself where this man existed. Yet, something within me knows its not the man Pio I seek... its the Spirit of God that resided in him. It gave him the strength to endure both the natural & supernatural hub-bub (good & bad) with wisdom, peace & humility. Padre Pio is a saint not because he met the Vatican's requirements for sainthood, but because he submitted his humanity to Christ & held nothing back for the glory of God. He was a true disciple of Christ- something I desire in earnest, but fear I may never attain...
God our Father, You helped St. Pio to reflect the image of Christ through a life of charity & self-sacrifice. May we follow Your Son by walking in the footsteps of St. Pio of Pietrelcina & by imitating his selfless love. Amen.