Padre Pio, stigmatic and Capuchin Franciscan friar, was canonized by Pope John Paul II on June 16, 2002, in Rome.

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The Canonization of Padre Pio

by Julie Zimmerman

Capuchin Franciscan Friar Padre Pio led a life of intense physical suffering, and he was afflicted with poor health nearly his entire life. But his pain inspired countless others and ultimately led them to a deeper faith in Christ. As a result he became a saint of the Catholic Church on June 16, 2002, just 34 years after his death.

Named for St. Francis of Assisi, Francesco Forgione was born in 1887 to a farming family in the southern Italian town of Pietralcina. Devout even in childhood, Francesco was ordained to the priesthood in 1910 and took the name Pio of Pietralcina. Illness had forced him to pursue his studies at home, and he remained there until 1916, when he moved to the seminary at San Giovanni Rotondo. He lived there for the rest of his life.

His intense suffering began in 1918, as he was hearing confessions. Suddenly a figure appeared, mystically piercing his heart with a lance. The same vision occurred again about a month later, sending the priest into screams of anguish. The friars who rushed to him found him unconscious and bleeding profusely and discovered that he had received the stigmata, or visible wounds of the crucifixion. Doctors could find no reason for the marks.

Padre Pio received other mystical signs as well. It is said that the blood from his wounds smelled like flowers, and he was also reported to have had the gift of bilocation. As a result of such signs, a cult grew up around him. While Pope Benedict XV praised the stigmatist's spiritual gifts, he also restricted his active ministry until 1933, out of a desire to verify the phenomenon. The restriction caused Padre Pio great sorrow.

He was allowed to celebrate Mass at San Giovanni Rotondo, and these Masses -- which regularly lasted up to two hours -- attracted huge numbers of pilgrims. The faithful reported that during Mass, Padre Pio appeared to be in great pain, wincing and struggling to speak, with tears running down his face. He slept perhaps a few hours a night and spent the rest of the time in praying and writing to those seeking spiritual advice. He also heard confessions for up to 12 hours a day, and he ate only one meal a day.

In 1956 one of his life's dreams came true with the opening of his House for the Relief of Suffering. He died Sept. 23, 1968, and nearly 100,000 people attended his funeral Mass. He was beatified May 2, 1999.

Julie Zimmerman is managing editor of and sister sites.

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