May 29, 2003
By Kristen Fox / SUN contributing writers
Prayer group to celebrate Padre Pio’s canonization
WHITESBORO — A sign from God is how Christina Gardner describes the formation of the Padre Pio Prayer Group at St. Paul’s Church in Whitesboro. Twenty five years ago, Gardner was new to Utica. Not knowing where to go or what to do, she wandered into a church and for some reason, which she still today is unsure of, decided to stay and see what was going on. Parishioners were watching a video on the life of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, the saint and the first stigmatized priest in the history of the Church. “I felt like I was meant to see the film,” Gardner said. “This is how God works when He has a plan for you –– not like you might expect.” Since that day over 25 years ago, Gardner has had a deep devotion for Padre Pio, whom she said “has intervened in her life in the most wonderful ways.” As she began to share her love of the saint with others, she started hearing similar stories of devotion to Padre Pio. “I thought to myself, ‘It would be so nice to start a prayer group where people could worship and share the many beautiful miracles made through him,’” said Gardner. In 1999, she began the Padre Pio Prayer Group at St. Paul’s. Parishioners come from churches all over –– places like Whitesboro, Rome, New Hartford –– to pray to Padre Pio with the group.
On the first Friday of each month, under the spiritual direction of Father Alfred Lamanna, the prayer group gathers in the Chapel in the Nazareth Building and prays to Padre Pio. They are connected with the monastery in Italy and have received permission from Rome to come together –– making them one of over 3,000 prayer groups across the world devoted to Padre Pio. John Gazak, a parishioner at St. Paul’s Church and regular member of the prayer group, said that Padre Pio is a special model to all Catholics for Christian living. “Padre Pio is a role model to the fact that we have to persevere despite persecution and evil,” said Gazak. “Although he experienced hardships, Padre Pio maintained a deep union with God, a love for the Eucharist and our Blessed Lady.”
On June 16, the Padre Pio Prayer Group will celebrate the first anniversary of Padre Pio’s canonization. A special recitation of the rosary will be held at St. Paul’s at 6:30 p.m. followed by a Mass celebrated by Father Lamanna at 7 p.m. Father Amedeo Guido, who has experienced divine intervention through Padre Pio, will be the guest speaker. Parishioners will also have the opportunity to be blessed by Father Lamanna with a special Padre Pio relic.
Father Lamanna, a priest from Herkimer in the diocese of Albany, has always had a personal devotion to Padre Pio. His parents were from the region in Italy not far from where Padre Pio lived. He also attended a symposium in Rome two years before Padre Pio died where he received a personal blessing from him. Father Lamanna said that he has heard of “many miracles that have been worked through Padre Pio.” He recalled one of a child who was born with a tumor in his brain. “The doctors thought he would surely die,” pointed out Father Lamanna. “However, the child visited Southern Italy and was healed instantaneously. The boy is now an adult and in wonderful health. A true miracle.” This story is only one example of those who in one way or another have been touched by Padre Pio. Each year, increasing numbers flock to his tomb from across the world, and many testify to the spiritual and physical graces received, said Gardner, who also said that Padre Pio has worked many miracles in her life, one which she calls the “Christmas Eve miracle.”
After her husband’s place of employment closed, the family was left with little income. After spotting a advertisement for a job, her husband went on an interview. With many people applying for the job, her husband didn’t think it was possible to get an offer, she said. “But we prayed to Padre Pio. On Christmas Eve, my husband received a letter telling him he got the job,” Gardner said. Jo McLellan is a parishioner of St. Paul’s Church and belongs to the Padre Pio Prayer Group. She agrees with Gardner that there is something divine about Padre Pio. “You become so enthralled listening to the stories of healing and the power of prayer to Padre Pio that you become a devotee,” McLellan said.
Although the Padre Pio Prayer group does ask Padre Pio for intervention, the purpose of the group is not to ask for miracles, said Gardner. Rather, it is an opportunity to pray to the extraordinary saint. “People are drawn to Padre Pio,” she said. “We are trying to get the word out to all about what a remarkable Christian he was.”