PADRE PIO-AN ENIGMA
Padre Pio was born Francesco Forgione on May 25, 1887, in Pietrelcina, in Campania, southern Italy. His parents were deeply religious peasant farmers.
Francesco helped his family looking after livestock until he was ten years old, and received only a limited education. When he first applied to join the Capuchin order, he was told he needed to study more; after private tuition at the age of 15, he entered the novitiate of the Capuchin Friars at Morcone, where he took the name Friar Pio.
After entering the friary of St Francis, Pio experienced both severe illnesses and moments of religious ecstasy. Despite being severely ill, he was ordained a priest in 1910. In 1916, he moved to the Our Lady of Grace Capuchin Friary, located in San Giovanni Rotondo in Foggia. Apart from military service, he stayed there until his death.
During the First World War, Padre Pio was drafted into the medical corps of the Italian army. Due to ill health, he had to take time away from his service. He was finally discharged due to ill health in March 1918. On returning to the Friary, Padre Pio became a spiritual director responsible for confession, daily Mass and direction of other members of the community.
Padre Pio had a great impact on those who came into contact with him. Many parishioners were inspired by his teachings and felt he had a spiritual capacity to solve their problems. In particular, he advised people to pray, meditate and try to recognise God in all things. “Through the study of books one seeks God; by meditation one finds him”.
A key feature of Padre Pio’s life was his persistent illness and suffering. He experienced a whole range of illness, including bronchitis, a painful kidney stone, chronic gastritis, arthritis, hernia and a tumour on his ear. He felt that suffering could be taken as a way to approach God. Padre Pio said that suffering in the right spirit could take the soul to God.
From an early age, he reported experiencing the stigmata – the wounds of Christ, especially in the hands. He prayed for the wounds to be taken away; the wounds temporarily disappeared but he continued to experience the pain.
Although Padre Pio sought to keep his stigmata private, his experience became increasingly well known. From 1919, many people came to visit this extraordinary Friar. People started to attribute to him miraculous healings.
Those around Padre Pio felt he was man constantly absorbed in prayer. Pope Paul VI said of him in 1971:“What fame he had. How many followers from around the world. Why? Was it because he was a philosopher, a scholar, or because he had means at his disposal? No, it was because he said Mass humbly, heard confessions from morning until night and was a marked representative of the stigmata of Our Lord. He was truly a man of prayer and suffering.”
Padre’s unique gifts made him a controversial figure. Some claimed his divine gifts were fraudulent. In the 1920s, the Vatican banned Padre Pio from hearing confessions and saying mass. But, despite official misgivings, there was a groundswell of popular support for him. In 1933, Pope Pius Xi reversed the ban and allowed Padre Pio to resume his priestly duties.
In 1940, he announced plans to open a hospital in San Giovanni Rotondo, called the ‘Home to relieve suffering”. The hospital opened in 1956, with the help of Barbara Ward, a British humanitarian who helped secure a grant from the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.
During the 1950s and 60s, his fame continued to spread. He was subject to further investigations by the Holy See, who sought to establish the nature of Padre Pio’s miracles. On September 21, 1968 – one day after the 50th anniversary of receiving the stigmata, Padre Pio felt immense tiredness and became increasingly weak. On 22 September, despite great frailty, he celebrated his last mass for a large number of pilgrims. The next day, the 23rd, he made his last confession and renewed his Franciscan vows. He died in his cell. After his death, his popularity grew. (When he was alive, he had said. “My real mission will begin after my death.”) There are an estimated 3 million members of Padre Pio prayer groups around the world. Pope John Paul II declared Padre Pio a saint on June 16, 2002.
A young Pope John Paul II (then Father Karol Wojtyla) visited Padre Pio in 1947, for confession. It was said that Padre Pio had predicted Fr.Wojtyla would one day ascend to ‘the highest post in the Church.’