By Dom Augustine Marie, OSB
    In a century [the 20th] prominently marked by atheism in theory and practice, God deigned to
    give an obvious sign of His presence. This Capuchin Friar, in whom Jesus Christ wished to
    renew the mystery of His Passion for a half century, is an exceptional witness. Beatified by Pope
    John Paul II on May 2, 1999 [and canonized a saint on June 16, 2002], Padre Pio reminds
    Christians and all of humanity that Jesus Christ is the unique Saviour of the world.
    Francesco Forgione was born in 1887 in Pietrelcina, a village in southern Italy. From the earliest
    age, he received the grace of frequent visions of the Most Blessed Virgin. The devil also
    appeared to him often in the night in terrifying forms. Starting at the age of nine, he began, so to
    speak, a series of serious illnesses which would only end with his death. Nevertheless at the age
    of sixteen, he entered the Capuchin Order in which he took his vows under the name of Fra
    (Brother) Pio. But the young Brother's health did not improve. He had serious problems with his
    left lung; his bouts of fever broke the thermometers! In the hope that a more favorable climate
    would help to cure this inexplicable illness, he was moved to different monasteries several times.
    Then, from 1910 to 1916 he returned to his family in Pietrelcina. In spite of many obstacles, he
    was ordained a priest on August 10, 1910. He said, «How happy I was on that day. My heart was
    burning with love for Jesus… I had begun to taste Paradise.» He finally succeeded in settling
    into the monastery of San Giovanni Rotondo, near Foggia, in the province of Puglia.
    Miracles in the twentieth century
    On September 20, 1918, at the age of 31, he received the grace of the stigmata: bloody wounds
    in the hands, the feet, and the side, reproducing those of Jesus crucified. From that time on, he
    would lose the equivalent of a glass of blood every day for the next fifty years. One of his fellow
    Capuchins said, «There were not just stains on him, but real wounds going through the hands and
    the feet. I was able to observe the one on his side—a real opening that bled continually.» These
    wounds caused him continual spells of weakness, which, even though they were mild, were no
    less troublesome. In the face of such a grace, Padre Pio felt very unworthy, but he was happy to
    be like Christ. His superiors called in reputable doctors to examine the stigmata. These
    specialists confirmed the reality of the wounds. Some people attributed them to magnetic forces,
    others to autosuggestion, others to «psycho-physiological-pathological interactions»; but several
    realized that the cause of these wounds was beyond the realm of medical science. Cardinal
    Journet wrote, «The purpose of these stigmata is to remind us in a stunning way of the sufferings
    of God martyred for us and of the necessity for the entire Church to suffer and die before
    entering into glory… The stigmata are a bloody sermon, at the same time tragic and splendid.
    They will not allow us to forget what the true signs of the sincerity of love are.» At the beginning
    of the month of May, 1919, a little girl was suddenly cured after having a vision of Padre Pio. On
    May 28, a young soldier wounded during the war and declared incurable by the doctors, asked to
    be transported to see Padre Pio, who blessed him: he was totally cured immediately. These two
    miracles, reported in the newspapers, drew crowds. Beginning in 1919, three to five hundred
    pilgrims or curiosity seekers appeared each day at San Giovanni Rotondo. The rumor spread that
    Padre Pio was able to look into one's soul. In fact, it occurred quite often. The beautiful and very
    rich Luisa V., drawn to San Giovanni Rotondo by sheer curiosity, was struck with such sorrow
    for her sins shortly after her arrival that she ended up sobbing in the middle of the church. Father
    came up to her and said: «Calm yourself, my child, mercy is boundless and the Blood of Christ
    washes away all the crimes of the world.» She answered, «I wish to confess, Padre.» He told her,
    «First calm down. You will come back tomorrow.» Not having been to confession since
    childhood, Signora V. spent the night remembering all of her sins. The next day, in the presence
    of the Padre, she was suddenly incapable of remembering her faults. Padre Pio helped her make a
    list of them, then he added, «Can't you remember anything else?» Luisa trembled at the thought
    of a serious sin that she dared not own up to. Padre Pio waited, silently moving his lips…
    Finally, she got a hold of herself: «There is still that one remaining, Padre,» which she then
    confessed. He answered, «Praise God! I give you absolution, my daughter…»
    A clinic for souls
    Padre Pio liked to say, «I am a confessor.» Indeed, it happened that he would spend fifteen to
    seventeen hours a day receiving penitents. More than a tribunal or a pulpit, his confessional was
    a clinic for souls. He welcomed penitents with different styles, depending on the needs of each
    one. To one, he would extend his arms in the exuberance of his joy, telling him where he came
    from even before the person opened his mouth. On others he heaped reproach. He admonished
    them, he even shoved them. Sometimes he was more demanding of a «good Christian» who had
    not fulfilled his duties than he was of a great sinner who was more or less ignorant of the divine
    laws. He severely condemned sins against purity and against the laws of the procreation of life.
    He did not forgive these sins without being assured of an absolutely firm intention, and certain
    penitents would have to undergo months of probation before being absolved. Padre Pio thus
    showed the importance of contrition and firm intention in order to receive the sacrament of
    Penance. But where he found sincerity, he was gentle with a gentleness that filled the heart.
    From the first words that he addressed to the penitent: «When was your last confession?» it was
    understood that Padre expected a confession that was clear, brief, complete and sincere. Five or
    six minutes was all he needed to completely transform someone's existence and to focus a
    dissolute life on God. There were instances when Padre would send away the penitent before he
    was finished: «Out! Go away! I don't want to see you before such and such a day…» His tone
    became imperious and severe. He knew that this «sending away» was a saving measure that
    would shake up the sinner, make him weep, push him to make an effort towards a change of
    heart. This way of doing things, which could be a bit surprising, fit within the framework of
    Padre Pio's pedagogical method. The method can be understood by his personal charisma and the
    enlightenment that he received from the Holy Spirit on the state of consciences. Souls subjected
    to this special energy only found peace when, sincerely penitent, they had returned to the feet of
    the confessor, who then revealed himself to be a father full of tenderness. However, Padre's
    suffering when he had to use these methods was immeasurable. One day he told another friar
    after having sent away a penitent with a bad disposition, «If you knew what arrows had first
    pierced my heart... But if I don't do it that way, there would be so many who would not be
    converted to God!»
    Taking part himself in such an exceptional manner in body and in soul in the sufferings of the
    Redemption, he realized with particular acuity the seriousness of sin. An older gentleman, who
    had not been to confession since the age of seven, knelt one day in the confessional of Padre Pio
    and, little by little, as his conscience unburdened itself, he saw Padre begin to grow pale and to
    sweat. Some penitents affirmed that they saw drops of blood come from his forehead while they
    described their infidelities. «Souls, souls! How costly is your salvation!» Padre cried out one
    Nowadays, sin no longer horrifies people. Pope Paul VI said, «According to today's standards,
    one no longer considers men as sinners; they are catalogued according to whether they are
    healthy, sick, honest, good, strong, weak, rich, poor, educated, ignorant; but the word 'sin' is
    never encountered» (September 20, 1964). Nevertheless, there are men like Padre Pio who do
    not compromise with evil and who are stunned when they encounter sin and the misfortune of
    those who live in a state of mortal sin.
    Padre Pio wept and sobbed when, while reading the Visits to the Most Blessed Virgin by Saint
    Alphonsus de Liguori, he uttered these words: «I thank you for everything you have done for me,
    in particular for having saved me from Hell, which I have so many times deserved.»
    What is essential -- Prayer
    It was in prayer that Padre Pio found the supernatural force to combat evil. Despite the suffering
    caused by his five wounds, he prayed much. Every day he meditated for four hours. He prayed
    with sighs of the heart, with ejaculatory prayers (short prayers shot towards Heaven like arrows),
    but above all with his Rosary. One often heard him say:«Go to the Madonna. Love her! Always
    say the Rosary. Say it well. Say it as often as you can! Be souls of prayer. Never tire of praying,
    it is what is essential. Prayer shakes the Heart of God, it obtains necessary graces!»
    The pinnacle of the day and of prayer for Padre Pio was the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of
    the Mass. «In this Divine Sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered
    Himself once in a bloody way on the altar of the Cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody
    manner» (Council of Trent; cf. CCC 1367). In the image of Christ with his stigmata, Padre Pio
    lived the Mass in intimate union with the Passion of Jesus: «The Mass is a type of sacred union
    between Jesus and me. Even though I am quite unworthy, I suffer all that He suffered, He who
    deigned to unite me with the mystery of the Redemption.» Padre often wept during the
    celebration of the Sacrifice, and as he explained to one person who was surprised about that:
    «Does it appear to you to be such a small thing that a God talks with His creatures? And that He
    be contradicted by them? And that He be continually wounded by their ingratitude and their
    disbelief?» Padre Pio's Mass could last and hour and a half or two hours. A French ambassador
    to the Holy See, having received the grace to participate in one of them, wrote: «I had never in
    my life attended such a stunning Mass. The Mass became—what in reality it is—an absolutely
    supernatural act. When the bells rang at the elevation of the Host, then of the Chalice, Padre Pio
    was immobilized in contemplation. How long?… Ten, twelve minutes, maybe longer. The only
    thing one heard in the crowd was the whisperings of prayer.»

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