St. Pio of Pietrelcina: Humble Servant

Throughout his life, St. Pio of Pietrelcina was a servant of the Lord, an instrument of God. Padre Pio’s devotion to the Blessed Mother and Jesus, and his love for Holy Communion sustained him through all the trials and tribulations he faced. His life has touched many people in the Syracuse Diocese. After being declared Venerable on December 18, 1997 and being beatified on May, 2, 1999, Padre Pio was canonized on Sunday, June 16. Father John Putano, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows in Vestal, was in Rome, Italy, for Padre Pio’s canonization at St. Peter’s Square. Father Putano was among the over 300,000 people in attendance for the historic event.

“When I first heard about the canonization, I was looking for the time and date. I felt drawn to be there for it,” Father Putano said. “The influence of my mother was strong. She was born in Italy and came to the U.S. as a young girl. My mother talked about Padre Pio and how special he was. Since then, I always felt I wanted to know more about him. I have been drawn to the ministry he was involved in and his impact on the faithful.” Padre Pio was born Francesco Forgione, son of Grazio and Maria Forgione, on May 25, 1887. Francesco was one of eight children, but had a special love for the Virgin Mary.

Sean Mulvaney, parishioner at St. John the Evangelist Church in Bainbridge and president of the World Apostolate of Fatima for the Syracuse Diocesan Division, has studied the life of Padre Pio. He and 30,000 others from across the country gathered at the National Centre for Padre Pio in Barto, Pa., for the canonization. Mulvaney said Padre Pio would rather “pray than play” even as a young boy.

“He was very involved in prayer as a child. At the age of five, Francesco’s father found out that he wanted to be a priest. They were a very poor family, and Francesco was the youngest. Even one of his sisters became a nun,” Mulvaney said. “He also conversed with his guardian angel. When he was asked about it, Francesco said, ‘I thought everyone saw their guardian angel.’ His guardian angel was very important to him.”

Francesco was enrolled by his father in a school run by the Capuchin friars. Francesco became a novice at age 16 and received the habit in 1902. After seven years of study, Francesco was ordained on August 10, 1910 and given the name Padre Pio, meaning “Father Pius.”

Mulvaney spoke about Padre Pio being the first priest to bear the wounds of Christ, known as the stigmata. For 50 years, Padre Pio had visible wounds of the crucified Jesus on his hands, feet and side.

“He was the second person to have the stigmata comparable to Christ’s. The other was St. Francis of Assisi,” Mulvaney said. “They called them the Five Mystical Roses. The stigmata smell like roses. That’s the difference between the real and fake stigmata. Some people will self-inflict their wounds. But Padre Pio’s came because of his redemptive suffering. He wanted to redeem souls. He wanted to suffer.”

Padre Pio received the visible wounds on Sept. 20, 1918 while at the Our Lady of Grace Friary in San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy. Padre Pio was found lying on the floor, with the stigmata, after praying. This miraculous event was just one of many Padre Pio would be involved with throughout his life. The stigmata left Padre Pio exactly 50 years to the day he received them, on Sept. 20, 1968. Three days later, Padre Pio died.

“Christ is the only one to bring the wounds to heaven,” Mulvaney said. “That’s why they left Padre Pio. It was a sign the end was near.” Father Putano described the canonization day in Rome as “unbelievable.”

“There was a very, very large crowd. I got there at 7 a.m. and all the chairs in my section were taken. I was in the back part of the second section and leaned against a barricade to rest, because the ceremony didn’t start until 10 a.m.,” Father Putano explained. “I met a priest from Kenya while I was waiting and we started talking. I told him that I had a priest from Kenya [Father Lawrence Mbogo] in residence and he said he knew him, that they had gone to seminary together. He was in Rome studying at one of the universities, and could only stay for a part of the canonization. He had a ticket to get into a closer section and offered it to me and I accepted. I was able to get into the back of the first section. The crowds were unbelievable. There were signs, banners waving and pictures of Padre Pio everywhere. Everyone was all caught up in being a part of the canonization.”

Prior to the canonization, many special Masses and prayer celebrations were held around the country, Father Putano said. He attended one of the services at St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome.

“One thing Padre Pio did was encourage prayer. Many prayer groups were formed because of his influence and at this service, there was a gathering of these different prayer groups,” Father Putano said. “I was most impressed with the young families with children present. There were older people there, but it was encouraging to see so many young families.”

The canonization of Padre Pio began with the formal ceremony. A brief history of Padre Pio was read and then prayers were offered before the official prayer of canonization, Father Putano said.

“When Padre Pio officially was a saint, the whole place went wild. People were waving banners and cheering for St. Pio of Pietrelcina. He was very popular when he was alive, and even after his death the devotion continued. People have a lot of faith in him and people feel they have been healed because of devotion to him,” Father Putano said.

Padre Pio faced many challenges within the Catholic Church over the years. Many people in Rome were skeptical of the stigmata and Padre Pio’s many gifts, such as the gifts of bi-location and prophetic insight. On May 23, 1931, after many years of investigation, the Vatican banned Padre Pio from celebrating public Mass and hearing public confessions. However, he resumed celebrating public Mass in 1933 and hearing confessions in 1934, despite the ban. Not until 1965, three years before his death, was Padre Pio authorized to continue celebrating Mass in Latin. In 1966, Padre Pio was authorized to celebrate Mass in public. “He was persecuted by his own order and the officials of the church,” Father Putano said. “In 1999, at Padre Pio’s beatification, Pope John Paul II apologized for the way the church had treated Padre Pio through the years.”

Reconciliation was an important part of Padre Pio’s ministry. Known as a tough confessor, Padre Pio would reveal people’s sins during reconciliation. “He would spend the entire day hearing confessions. He had the gift of insight. He would confront people and challenge them to deal with whatever is happening in their own lives,” Father Putano said. “People could wait in line for confession and if he didn’t think you were ready, he would turn you away and tell you to come back when you were ready for confession.”

Mulvaney explained that reconciliation brings one closer to God.

“Satan tries to keep us from reconciliation. The connection between ourselves and God is like a lamp. When we commit a venial sin, the light gets dimmer. When we commit a mortal sin, the plug gets pulled out. There is no connection between ourselves and God,” Mulvaney said. “Confession allows us to become one again. The sacrament of reconciliation is what we need. There is nothing God can do but beckon us to change the world.”

Many miracles have been attributed to Padre Pio. Whether by physical touch or through his gift of bi-location, Padre Pio healed the sick across the world. As a young priest, Pope John Paul II asked Padre Pio to heal a person close to him and he did. That is why the Holy Father has always displayed a strong respect for Padre Pio.

Some of Padre Pio’s miracles have come closer to home. Father Amedeo Guida, parochial vicar at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse, has long admired Padre Pio. Father Guida’s family has a strong connection to Padre Pio because of the healing he performed. “In 1965, when my own brother was three years old, he could not walk. My mother wrote to Padre Pio for intercession to help my brother. A couple of days later, he came to her in a dream. Padre Pio picked up my brother and blessed his legs and then disappeared and the dream ended. A few days later, my brother started to walk and he has been healthy ever since,” Father Guida said. “He has been very close to us, at a personal level. It’s important to have a priest like this, keeping in touch with the people — giving them direction, consolation and support. Pastorally, that’s so important.” Mulvaney also shared some stories about Padre Pio’s healing abilities.

“A boy, about the age of 16, was in an auto accident. The boy’s head was almost crushed and people said that he will die soon because there is no way he could live with the damage done to his head,” Mulvaney said. “The boy’s mother asked for the glove of Padre Pio to come to her house so her son could touch it. The mother was so hopeful. When she was walking down the hall to the boy’s room, she didn’t want to open the door. But when she did, she saw her son sitting in a chair across from his bed, reading a book.”

During his ministry, Padre Pio helped bring about the construction of The House for the Relief of Suffering. The home provided a respite for those suffering spiritual and physical ailments. The facility was opened in 1956. During that time, Padre Pio suffered from the pain of the stigmata and the persecution of the church.

Padre Pio was very devoted to Mary and prayed to her regularly.

“Mary is the mediatrix — through her we go to Christ. She purifies our intentions. He prayed so many rosaries. He had a closeness with Mary that was phenomenal,” Mulvaney said. “Mary’s hand is still working in our world today. It’s very important to continue to say the rosary.” Father Guida said Padre Pio is a great role model for priests during this difficult time for the church.

“He was a wonderful priest. He was very earthy and had a great sense of humor. He was very real. He was short with people at times, but it showed that he was human and that we all still have weaknesses,” Father Guida said. “He had a great love for Our Lady and a great love for Jesus.”

Father Guida said Padre Pio’s prayer life and devotion to his spiritual children was tremendous.

“He was a powerful instrument of the Lord in our own times,” Father Guida said. “If you are a friend of Padre Pio, you will meet others like yourself. Padre Pio said before he died, ‘I will work in heaven. I will not rest until all of my spiritual children are in heaven.’”

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