Padre Pio: Suffering, persecution, and glory

The life of a saint that today is venerated by the faithful all over the world.

padre pio

Newsroom (September 20, 2020 7:32pm Gaudium Press) It was on May 25, 1887, in a modest house in Pietrelcina, a village near Benevento, Italy; that a child was born, baptized as Francis. From a very young age, he expressed to his parents the desire to become a Capuchin friar. He served as an altar boy, prayed, and behaved very well. He felt the mysterious voice of the Lord telling him to follow Him. His parents did not oppose at any time; they gave God his due share. At the age of 16, with his mother’s blessing, he left for the seminary: “Saint Francis has called you, so go on.”

 Francis becomes Pío

On January 6, 1903, he knocked on the doors of the Capuchin convent of Morcone. He began his spiritual practice and was invested with the Franciscan habit, changing his baptismal name to Fray Pio de Pietrelcina. He takes a path full of trials, sufferings, and persecutions. On August 10, 1910, he became a priest. He began to suffer great torments, saying: “the devil wants me for himself at all costs.”

In 1916 he arrived at the convent of San Giovanni Rotondo, located far from the town. Souls, desiring perfection or in need of advice, found out about the arrival of the new friar and went to see him. He had the gift of reading the depths of the souls with supernatural clairvoyance and, that is why the lines of confession were enormous.

 On September 20, 1918, Father Pio took the path of suffering, realizing that “his hands, feet, and side were punctured and that blood flowed from them.” They were stigmata, bleeding daily without healing or causing any infection.

 Even though there were no electronic media like we have today, where the reports of a small event may reach any place in the world almost immediately, the news of his stigmata and virtues spread at an amazing speed. People coming from all over the region flooded the convent. Petitions for prayer or thanksgiving for graces received through his intercession came in, and as you can see: he was alive!

 One of his great achievements, the hospital

Regretting the lack of a hospital, he created the “House of Relief from Suffering,” a hospital that, through the years, came to have 600 beds.

These were quiet times in his generous dedication. Of course, the unjustifiable accusations and slanders against Father Pio and the friars around him began. It was during the Pontificate of Benedict XV who considered him as “an extraordinary man.”

Envy started from the secular clergy. The local bishop Gagliardi (people accused him of having a libertine behavior and of not being a “saint,” facts that an apostolic visitation confirmed years later and they removed from his position) pleaded  Benedict XV to “put an end to the idolatry in the convent because of the deeds of Father Pio.” He had never seen him in person!

The Pope died in 1922, and six months later, the Holy See issued a decree. The period of persecution begins; no other word fits better these events. Fr. Agostino Gemelli (a doctor, a socialist militant, who converted and joined the Franciscans) enters the scene and weighs in on the attitudes adopted by the Roman authorities until 1959. He was known as the “philosopher of persecution”. He claimed that the stigmata came from “a psychopathic condition or were fake.”

In part, the Catholic hierarchy begins to punish him and considers him to be suspicious. Everything was on the rise, to the extent of preventing him from any contact with the external world. In June 1922, they forbade him, for no reason whatsoever, to show his wounds, to talk about them, or to allow anyone to kiss them. They prevented him from answering the letters he received. Even so, the number of faithful who approached the “Capuchin of the Stigmata” continued to increase. On May 23, 1931, they took away the faculties of his sacred ministry. He could only celebrate Holy Mass without anyone present! The confessional, place of conversions, and “miracles,” was forbidden to him.

The basis of the “investigation” was the unsupported opinion of Father Gemelli and the accusations and slanders of the local bishop.

When Padre Pio became aware of these injustices, he looked up to Heaven and exclaimed: “God’s will be done.” He covered his face with his hands, bowed his head, and did not respond anymore. He obeyed, accepting everything with humility and resignation. The stigmatized friar is locked up in profound silence. It was a tormented period of his life.

 The ostracism ends

This forced isolation ended on July 14, 1933. After two years of absence, he celebrated mass in front of a crowd of the faithful. He was unrecognizable: aged, with gray hair, burdened shoulders, and an unsteady pace. He was a man of suffering, not a winner.

The news spread quickly, and the number of faithful increased. His confessional was surrounded like a swarm of bees, full of people wishing to confess with the persecuted friar.

The years passed, but the slanders did not cease. On October 3, 1960, a Vatican press release described his apostolic actions as “a kind of harmful fanaticism.” There were eight hundred news articles all over Italy. It was the second persecution. The issues that came up were not only about him but also about  the project, management, finances, and fundraising for the construction of the “House for the Relief of Suffering.” An article described him as: “The richest capuchin friar in the world.”

January 30, 1964, marked his “liberation,” announcing that: “Father Pio could practice his ministry with complete freedom.”

Pilgrimages arrived, eager to see him, wanting to touch at least the habit, if not his wounded hands.

September 20, 1968, marked the 50th anniversary of the stigmata. Padre Pio said: “This is over, it’s over”; “it’s time, the Lord calls me.” On the 21st, he gave his blessing to the crowd. On Sunday 22, he was going to celebrate the jubilee with a solemn mass; it was to be sung but did not manage to do so. In the end, he fainted. In a wheelchair, while he was going away, he looked at the faithful, stretching out his arms as if he wanted to embrace them, and whispered: “My children, my dear children.” The crowd shouted, “Long live Padre Pio!” He no longer seemed to be the same man, he was pale, trembling, with no strength, and his hands were cold. He could hardly raise his right hand to give a blessing.

 He flies to Heaven

At 2:30 a.m. on September 23, when he received the Anointing of the Sick, he flew to Heaven with the holy rosary in his hands and a “Jesus!…Mary!” between his lips. He was 81 years old.

An enormous crowd of people waited impatiently to approach the coffin, to see, touch, and kiss his venerable remains. It was not the funeral, but the triumph of Padre Pio, the glory; his presence will always be alive and active. On June 16, 2002, Saint John Paul II canonized him before an overwhelming presence of the faithful.

(Originally published in La Prensa Gráfica, El Salvador. September 20, 2020)

 

By Fr. Fernando Gioia, EP

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