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By Judy Ball

He 'Astonished the World'


Rooted in Faith
Rich Legacy
Historical Background

During his lifetime, the whole world knew and loved him simply as Padre Pio. Even now that he is one of the Church's canonized saints—an honor Pope John Paul II bestowed on him on June 16, 2002—this friar is most recognized by the name and title he was known by after his 1910 ordination.

The title saint feels almost superfluous. Padre Pio will do just fine, as it always did. For he sought to be, and was, a humble priest who simply spent his life loving God and helping others do the same. "I only want to be a friar who prays," he often said.

Born into a peasant family in southern Italy in 1887, he was named after a holy man born 700 years earlier: Francis of Assisi. Francesco Forgione entered the Capuchin Franciscans at age 15.

Frequent illnesses—including baffling high fevers that had dogged him as a youngster—often brought him back home even after he had become part of the Franciscan family. Only when he was assigned to the friary at San Giovanni Rotondo, located in a remote town on the Adriatic, did his medical complications disappear.

Soon, however, new and remarkable medical/mystical phenomena emerged. In 1918, Padre Pio had a vision of Jesus. At its conclusion the 31-year-old priest had received the stigmata—the physical wounds of the crucified Christ. The cross had long been Padre Pio's strength. Now, he realized, he was called to spend the rest of his life embodying the sufferings of Jesus.

Rooted in Faith

Throughout Padre Pio's priestly ministry, thousands came to seek his counsel and consolation in the confessional, where he spent up to 12 hours each day. The beloved holy man demonstrated amazing skill for reading hearts, often experiencing insights not yet revealed to penitents. But he was no pushover. Penitents who, he sensed, lacked true sorrow earned a dose of his "tough love."

The extraordinary gifts Padre Pio had been given—especially the stigmata—were often misunderstood, both by his religious community and by officials in Rome. He was investigated more than a dozen times.

Some were convinced he had been singled out by God. Others saw him as an opportunist who used his gifts to attract the pilgrims who flocked to see him, hear him preach, even strain to touch the hem of his habit.

At some periods in his life, he was forbidden to celebrate Mass or hear confessions and lived in almost total isolation. During those dark times he never lost his faith or hope or humility—or his legendary sense of humor.

He was ultimately vindicated in 1963 by Pope Paul VI. At Padre Pio's death in 1968, his stigmata immediately disappeared.

Rich Legacy

Padre Pio's life offers a rich mixture of messages about love of God and neighbor, faithfulness to the Church, devotion to prayer, compassion for the suffering, the role of the cross in the life of every Christian—and hope. In the midst of investigations, he pressed forward. His legacy also includes his Home for the Relief of Suffering at San Giovanni Rotondo. The 1,000-bed hospital still serves the poor today.

At Padre Pio's canonization last summer, Pope John Paul II noted that the holy friar "astonished the world." He continues to do so.            

Historical Background

During the 80 years that Padre Pio lived, much of the world was enveloped in darkness: two world wars, the Great Depression, the Holocaust. By contrast, Padre Pio emanated light and life. His goodness automatically drew people to him.

One of those people was a young Polish priest named Karol Wojtyla, who went to him in confession in 1947. Years later, when he was an auxiliary bishop, the future pope made a special appeal to Padre Pio by letter, asking his prayers for a woman diagnosed with malignant throat cancer. Within two weeks, all signs of cancer had disappeared. The woman, Dr. Wanda Poltawska, was present at the canonization of Padre Pio. Miracles such as hers continue to be reported today.

Judy Ball is managing editor of Every Day Catholic, a monthly newsletter. She edits the print and audio Saint of the Day segments on the Web site listed below.

Find Out More
For more information about saints whose feast days occur this month, visit Saint of the Day.

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