By Lydia O'Kane
Known simply around the world as Padre Pio, this modern day Capuchin Saint is revered because of his great faith and prayerful obedience. But is he also regarded as a minister of Christ who endured tremendous suffering including the pain of stigmata.
According to Irish Capuchin Fr Bryan Shortall, OFM. Cap, the reason he has captured the hearts of so many may have something to do with him being a recent Saint. “I think that he is primarily someone people can reach out to because most people either remember him as having lived in the same lifetime…”
I am just a poor friar who prays
In 1918, while hearing confessions, Padre Pio had his first experience of the stigmata that would continue for the next 50 years. A year after the end of the First World War news of this stigmata began to spread throughout Italy and beyond. But as his fame grew, Fr Shortall points out the Capuchin remained the same simple prayerful man he had always been. “He didn’t particularly worry about the cult of personality that grew up around him… he was asked many times what are you, who are you? And he said, “I am just a poor friar who prays”, and that’s all he ever wanted to be, but the Lord had other plans for him.”
Fr Shortall continues, “he climbed on the cross of Christ everyday and everyday he felt physical pain and the desolation of what it was like for Christ to be crucified; so his faith was tested and he was certainly someone who suffered greatly in terms of his faith, in terms of his prayer life, but he persevered; he was someone who never gave up”
Significance of Papal visit
On Saturday Pope Francis follows in the footsteps of this Franciscan Friar by traveling to Pietrelcina where Padre Pio grew up and San Giovanni Rotondo where he carried out his priestly ministry. Indeed just two years ago during the Extraordinary Year of Mercy, the Pope received the relics of Saint Pio in St Peter’s Basilica. Both events notes the Dublin based Irish Capuchin are highly significant; the first because Pope Francis wanted “to highlight the person of Padre Pio as a minister of Mercy, as a minister of Jesus Christ… and as a priest victim who suffered for Christ. He also emphasizes that by going to San Giovanni Rotondo and Pietrelcina the Pope “wants to acknowledge this great love.”
Padre Pio died in 1968 at the age of 81, so fifty years on from his death what can we learn from him?
Fr Shortall says that“his legacy is that suffering is not a waste of time… Jesus doesn’t ignore people who suffer and who go through a great deal of pain, that God is not blind to suffering, that God feels very acutely people’s suffering and people’s struggles and is in there with them because he suffered himself on the cross.” He “encourages all of us not to be afraid and to place are trust in Jesus Christ”.