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
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.
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.