By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
What is it about Padre Pio? What draws people the world over to pray that through his intercession, they might be freed from physical and moral ailments? Why do people, including Pope Francis, still go on pilgrimage to visit his final resting place?
Padre Pio: authentic disciple
Perhaps the answer lies in his credibility. As a Christian, and as a priest, he is the “real deal.” There is nothing fake about him. Padre Pio is the proof that present-day Christians need to believe that it is possible to fulfill our baptismal commitment even in modern times. What is the ultimate proof? “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13).
Padre Pio’s stigmata
Pope Francis has chosen to visit San Giovanni Rotondo on the 50th anniversary of Padre Pio’s death. This year also coincides with the 100th anniversary of the year in which Padre Pio received the stigmata.
After joining the Capuchin Franciscans when he was sixteen, Padre Pio battled with illness. As a young priest he began to touch both the physical and moral illness of others. As an army chaplain in World War I, Padre Pio was forced to witness the effects of the war first hand.
One September day in 1908, Padre Pio remained in prayer in the friary chapel after having celebrated Mass. The suffering he witnessed around him prompted him to pray, “If only I could help you to help others, Jesus.” From that September day in 2018 on, Padre Pio bore a physical sign that his prayer had been answered: the stigmata. Padre Pio himself testified that he suffered continually and intensely from the stigmata.
Padre Pio: confessor and spiritual friend
Padre Pio’s priestly ministry flowed from this event. He spent hours in the confessional assuring penitents of God’s pardon and mercy. His concern for the salvation of the souls of those who entrusted themselves to his priestly ministry went even further. Padre Pio once told someone:
“I have made an agreement with the Lord—that when my soul is purified by the flames of purgatory and is worthy to enter heaven, I will stand at the gates of paradise and will not enter until I have seen the last of my sons and daughters enter.”
Padre Pio: healer
Padre Pio’s solicitude for others’ well-being went beyond the confessional. For years he had wanted to erect a hospital in San Giovanni Rotondo. His dream was realized in 1956 with the inauguration of the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (House for the Relief of Suffering). To those gathered for the event, Padre Pio shared his dream that the hospital would grow to the point of being “technically adequate to meet the highest clinical standards” and that it would be a
“place of prayer and science where mankind finds itself in Christ Crucified as one sole flock with one single shepherd.”
Today the facility has a 1000 bed capacity and is internationally renowned. It still operates according to the ideals given it by Padre Pio: the promotion and protection of the integrity of the person.
Padre Pio: “Prayer moves the world”
Responding to Pope Pius XII’s repeated request for the formation of prayer groups, Padre Pio urged those helping in the construction of Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza to take up this call. Padre Pio himself defined what the Prayer Groups were and how they would fulfill their prayer mission. In 1966, addressing the Second International Congress of what today are known as the Padre Pio Prayer Groups, Padre Pio said:
“It is prayer, this united strength of all good souls, that moves the world, that renews consciences, that supports the ‘Casa’, that comforts the suffering, that heals the sick, that sanctifies labor, that elevates health care, that gives moral strength and Christian acceptance of human suffering, that spreads the smile and blessing of God on the fainthearted and the weak.”
Padre Pio: man of his word
The Lord used Padre Pio in miraculous ways: many people were healed through his prayers, he had the gift of reading souls, at times he foretold people’s date of death, held conversations in languages he did not know, exorcised those possessed by the devil. But the deliverance of others caused him tremendous physical and moral suffering—including demonic attacks on his person. Investigations into his personal and moral authenticity always proved that he was a man of his word.
When all was said and done, Padre Pio remains what he defined himself to be:
“I am an instrument in divine hands; an instrument which only succeeds in serving some purpose when it is handled by the divine Craftsman” (from Volume III of Padre Pio’s Letters).