Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry – Issue 43 – April-June 2010

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We recently heard that a man named Alex Quinn from Northern Ireland had received a very special grace through the intercession of Padre Pio. We were able to contact Alex in Belfast and learn more about his remarkable story.

A Hymn to Padre Pio

In June of 1998 Alex Quinn’s fifteen-year-old son Philip, was sent home from school with a very bad headache. Within hours after coming home, Philip became paralyzed. Alex and his wife Deirdre rushed Philip to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. They were both terrified that their son was dying. The initial tests that were taken indicated that Philip had a brain tumor. But four days later, after a multitude of tests, Philip was diagnosed with the deadly disease called encephalitis. The virus had attacked the part of Philip’s brain that controlled movement, speech and memory.

Alex and his wife Deirdre were devastated. They tried to hide their fear from their son and made every effort to appear upbeat and positive when they visited him in the hospital. Day after day he lay motionless and speechless in his hospital bed, showing no sign of improvement. It was heartbreaking for Alex and Deirdre to witness. Philip still had a slight bit of movement left in his hands. He communicated with his parents by placing his thumb up to say “yes” and placing his thumb down to say “no.”

Alex learned that there was a man in Belfast named Brendan Rogers who possessed a relic of Padre Pio, a bandage that had covered his wounded side. The relic had been given to Brendan by Father Alessio Parente, Padre Pio’s personal secretary. Alex got in touch with Brendan and he kindly agreed to bring the relic to Philip. In the Royal Victoria Hospital, Philip was blessed with the relic of Padre Pio and all who were present prayed for his healing.

Weeks went by but sadly there was no improvement in Philip’s condition. Finally, in September, there was a change. When Alex arrived at the hospital to visit his son, Deirdre was in tears. But they were not the usual tears of sadness, they were tears of joy. With great emotion, she told Alex that Philip had spoken a word to her that day. He had said, “mom.” Alex cried too, not only because his heart was filled with renewed hope, but also because it happened to be September 23, Padre Pio’s feast day. From that day forward, Philip slowly began to improve. He would eventually make a complete recovery.

September 23 marked a turning point in Alex’s life as well. He had prayed to Padre Pio for his son’s healing and Padre Pio had sent him an unmistakable sign that he had heard his prayers. Alex knew that his life would never be the same. He now felt certain that he had a special calling, a special mission to somehow express his gratitude to Padre Pio. He did not know how he would do so but he was determined to find a way.

In 2002, Alex’s wife Deirdre was diagnosed with cancer. The family prayed to Padre Pio for another miracle but on August 15, 2003, on the feast of the Assumption, Deirdre passed away. She was surrounded by her loving family. Alex prayed that he would be able to accept the passing of his dear wife.

The night before Deirdre’s funeral, Alex had a vision of his wife. She had a beautiful smile on her face and she was being carried to Heaven by an angel. Alex was at peace, knowing that his wife was now free of pain and was happy in Heaven. Alex clung to his faith in God and found the strength to go on.

Alex began to regularly attend a Padre Pio prayer group that was held in Belfast. One evening at the prayer group, Father O’Rawe, the spiritual director of the group, said that he would like one of the members of the group to compose a hymn to Padre Pio. As Father O’Rawe said the words, he looked directly at Alex. For many reasons, Alex seemed to be the perfect choice.

In addition to his job as a teacher at a primary school in West Belfast, Alex was also a professional musician and a song writer. He wrote the famous song Belfast which had become a big hit throughout the United Kingdom. Alex belonged to a musical group called Barnbrack. The group had been on tour through Ireland, Scotland, England, and Canada and had even sung for the president of Ireland. People everywhere loved listening to the Irish folk ballads that Barnbrack sang.

Alex thought that Father O’Rawe had a wonderful idea regarding the hymn to Padre Pio. He decided to do his best to write a hymn in Padre Pio’s honor. He felt that he owed Padre Pio a great debt. Alex was certain that his son’s miraculous recovery was due to Padre Pio’s intercession.

After Alex finished writing the song to Padre Pio, he went to a recording studio to have it professionally mastered. When the song was released, it became very popular in Ireland where devotion to Padre Pio has always been strong. The CD also featured thirteen other hymns including traditional favorites such as Our God Reigns and Be Not Afraid. Soon England and other countries as well were listening to the hymn to Padre Pio and buying the CD.

Alex decided to give all of the royalties from the song Hymn to Padre Pio to the monastery of Our Lady of Grace in San Giovanni Rotondo where Padre Pio had lived for more than fifty years. Alex knew that the Capuchins in residence there depended on the generosity of others to carry on their apostolate. Alex planned to go in person to deliver the check.

When Alex’s royalties for his song to Padre Pio reached more than 10,000 Euros, he made preparations for his trip to San Giovanni Rotondo. He felt very insecure about traveling alone. In the past, he had always had his wife at his side whenever he went on a trip. One of Alex’s friends was an Italian man. Alex asked him to write a note in Italian explaining that he was traveling to San Giovanni Rotondo. That way, if he got lost or turned around or had any difficulties on the trip, at least he would be able to have the note in hand which explained his destination. Alex’s friend was happy to provide him with the note.

When Alex arrived at the airport in Rome, he looked for a taxi to take him to the bus station. It proved to be more difficult than he had imagined. Evidently, Alex’s Irish accent made it almost impossible for the taxi driver to understand him. The taxi driver summoned five other taxi drivers in order to see if they could decipher what Alex was saying. Finally, one seemed to understand and motioned him to get in his taxi.

Once at the bus station, Alex had the same difficulty when trying to communicate with the ticket-taker. When he asked for a round trip ticket to San Giovanni Rotondo, the ticket-taker could not understand his “Irish brogue.” Alex repeated his request a number of times but to no avail. He finally had to settle for a one way ticket.

When the bus driver made a stop at a convenience store, everyone got off the bus to get something to eat. After Alex had a bite to eat, he stood close to the bus, waiting for the driver to return. By now it had grown dark. He was very tired but he had to stay alert. He estimated that he would get to San Giovanni about midnight. He had made no hotel reservations and he had no idea where he would be staying for the night.

As Alex was pondering his immediate situation and trying not to give in to a nagging feeling of anxiety, a stranger approached him. He spoke to Alex in Italian but unfortunately Alex did not understand a single word of what he said. Alex then spoke to the man in English but the man was not able to understand him. Finally, because of the communication problem, the man simply stared at Alex. He was so friendly and engaging that it seemed a shame to Alex that they could not talk to each other. Alex then remembered the note in his wallet. He handed it to the man who read it with interest.

Soon everyone got back on the bus. Alex noticed that the kind man who had just spoken to him also boarded the bus. During the journey, Alex observed that the man was constantly on his cell phone, making one call after another. The bus driver made many stops along the way, letting people out at one small town after another. Every time the bus pulled to the side of the road to let people off, Alex would ask the bus driver if they were in San Giovanni Rotondo. He couldn’t relax because he was afraid of missing his stop.

When the bus arrived in the town of Foggia, the kind man communicated to Alex by way of hand signals that he was to get off the bus with him. Alex was confused. He was not traveling to Foggia but to San Giovanni Rotondo. But for some reason, Alex trusted the man completely. He did as instructed. They were the only two passengers who got off at the Foggia stop.

In Foggia, Alex and his new found friend, boarded another bus. Alex learned that it was the bus that went to San Giovanni Rotondo. Alex couldn’t believe it. He had no idea that he needed to transfer to a second bus in order to reach his destination. If he had not been assisted by the man, who knows where he might have ended up that night.

When the bus arrived in San Giovanni Rotondo, the man motioned to Alex to follow him. They walked for about twenty minutes until they arrived at the man’s house. The man then drove Alex to a beautiful hotel. To Alex’s great surprise, it was right next to the monastery of Our Lady of Grace. Alex learned that the man had been using his cell phone on the bus, making one call after another, in order to make a hotel reservation for him.

The man went into the hotel and spoke to the manager. Alex was then given one of the finest hotel rooms available. After the man bid him farewell, Alex never saw him again. Unfortunately, he never even got his name. He had been a true “guardian angel” to Alex.

At the monastery of Our Lady of Grace, Alex received a warm welcome from the Capuchin community. They were very grateful to accept his generous donation.
They were truly happy about the success of his song to Padre Pio. They invited him to eat with them in the monastery refectory, the same refectory where Padre Pio had taken all of his meals.

The Capuchins also took Alex to the private chapel where Padre Pio used to say his Mass during the 1930’s when he was segregated from the public. Alex prayed in thanksgiving for the healing of his son. He also prayed for his wife Deirdre. He knew that she was with God now. He had the great consolation of seeing that she was at peace and that she was happy.

There would be many more occasions in Alex’s life to give thanks to God for blessings received. He was now able to see that much good had come out of the painful experiences of the past. He would continue to see the hand of God working in miraculous ways in his life.

For more information on the CD by Alex Quinn A Hymn to Padre Pio visit www.barnbrack.bandcamp.com or contact Alex Quinn at: alexquinn1@yahoo.co.uk 

 

The Testimony of Bill Gleason

We recently spoke to Bill Gleason , a member of the Padre Pio prayer group at Our Lady of the Rosary parish in San Diego. The following is Bill’s story:

Bill Gleason was getting ready to have shoulder surgery in the winter of 2008. The night before the surgery, Bill decided to go to the rectory at Our Lady of the Rosary parish and ask one of the priests for a blessing. Father Louis Solcia answered the rectory door that evening. He blessed Bill with the holy oil of St. Pio and gave him a prayer card. It had St. Pio’s picture on one side and the novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the other. Bill did not know anything about St. Pio but he was happy to accept the holy card. Father Louis told him to put it in the pocket of his hospital gown and to keep it there during the surgery.

Bill was not too concerned about the surgery. It was going to be a routine operation, a rotator cuff repair. Nevertheless, he was going to have to go under general anesthetic and he was glad that Father Solcia had prayed for him. Bill had been praying quite a lot in recent months. Due to budget cuts in the state of California, he had been laid off from his supervisory position at the County Office of Education. Ever since the lay off, he had prayed to God for guidance. “Lord, show me what you want me to do with my life and lead me in the path you have marked out for me,” he frequently prayed.

Bill had the shoulder surgery and was to be discharged from the hospital that very afternoon. However, during the surgery, Bill’s breathing became erratic. He had to stay overnight in the hospital and receive breathing treatments throughout the night. Late that evening, his wife Mary Ann called his nurse to see how he was doing. She told the nurse that Bill had a Padre Pio prayer card in the pocket of his hospital gown and she wanted to make sure that he still had it with him. The nurse explained to Mary Ann that Bill had put on a new gown and his other gown had already been sent to the hospital laundry room. The nurse was sorry, but it was too late to recover it.

The next morning, Bill was very surprised to see his Padre Pio prayer card in his room. Bill’s nurse told him that she could sense Mary Ann’s disappointment upon learning that the prayer card was gone. The nurse realized that it must have been important. About two o’clock in the morning, she felt a strong urge to go in search of Bill’s holy card. She went to the hospital laundry room and looked through the bins of dirty clothes until she found it.

After Bill was released from the hospital, he told Mary Ann that he thought they should start attending the Padre Pio prayer group at Our Lady of the Rosary parish. Neither of them had ever attended it before. He also wanted to make a commitment to pray the novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus every day. Father Solcia had told him that it was the prayer that Padre Pio had said daily throughout his life. Bill had thought a lot about the fact that his nurse at the hospital had taken it upon herself to search for his Padre Pio prayer card. No one had asked her to do so. Bill was amazed, not only that she went in search of it, but also that she had found it. He felt for certain that the odds were against recovering it. He believed that it was a sign that he should start attending the Padre Pio devotions.

Toward the end of the year, Bill began to feel ill. He had chronic pain which seemed to intensify with each passing day. Finally, he was hospitalized. Tests revealed that he had Crohn’s Disease. His condition continued to deteriorate. Further tests were taken which indicated that Bill did not have Crohn’s disease. His illness remained undiagnosed.

During his hospital stay, Bill contracted pneumonia as well as the potentially deadly bacterial staph infection called MRSA. His condition became critical. He drifted in and out of consciousness. His breathing became erratic, his heartbeat became irregular, and his blood pressure could not be stabilized. As a last resort, his doctor put him into a medically induced coma.

Finally, after Bill had been in a coma for many days, the doctor told Mary Ann that he could offer no hope for her husband. He had done everything that he could for Bill. Bill was dying. The doctor told Mary Ann to take care of any arrangements that she needed to. Mary Ann called Father Solcia and told him the news. He immediately came down to the hospital and gave Bill the Last Rites and the blessing for the dying.

To his family’s great relief, Bill did not pass away. He came back to consciousness after being in a coma for eighteen days. He told Mary Ann that while he was in a comatose state, he had a remarkable experience. He found himself in a place of pitch darkness. There he saw the faces of frightful demons. It was truly a place of pain and suffering. An angel came to Bill and tried to lead him out of the dark ravine. “We have to climb the mountain, Bill. We have to go toward the light,” his good angel would say. No matter how hard Bill tried, he was always pulled back down toward the darkness. More than anything in the world, Bill wanted to get to the place of light.

At one point, Bill saw a saintly man dressed in robes of pure white. Looking closer, he realized that it was St. Benedict. “Save me!” Bill entreated St. Benedict. St. Benedict pointed toward his right, indicating the way that Bill was to go. Bill went in that direction and soon saw a figure close to him. It was Padre Pio. “Stop right there, Bill,” Padre Pio said, in a voice full of authority. “You must go back. Your work is not finished.” “But what work?” Bill asked. Padre Pio made no reply.

Bill knew that the light was up ahead, but he only had a faint glimpse of it. He was never able to reach it. Instead, when he finally opened his eyes, he saw his earthly angel, Mary Ann, at his hospital bedside. How happy his family was to know that Bill had returned to the land of the living!

All together, Bill spent a total of seventy-eight days in the hospital. He weighed 223 lbs. when he was admitted and he weighed 139 lbs. on the day he was sent home. Bill’s recovery took many months. His family took expert care of him. They were just glad that he was alive.

Bill’s experience in the hospital gave him a whole new perspective on life. Before his illness, he had often attended Mass simply to fulfill his Sunday obligation. Not anymore. Today, he looks forward to going to Mass on Sundays. He knows what a privilege it is. His relationship with God has become much deeper and much more real. He has peace of mind and peace of heart. His faith is stronger now than it has ever been in his life.

newsphoto433These days, Bill assists Mary Ann in Our Lady’s Catholic Book and Gift Shop on the grounds of Our Lady of the Rosary parish. He sees his work there as a ministry. He always wears a little pin of St. Pio and a medal of St. Benedict. People often ask him about the pin and the medal. It has become an opportunity for him to share his faith with others. He keeps prayer cards of St. Pio with him and often gives them to the customers at the shop.

At the Padre Pio prayer group one evening, Father Solcia surprised Bill by asking him to step forward and share his testimony with the prayer group. He was happy to do so. Since that time, many people have asked Bill to relate his story of how Padre Pio helped him in the hospital, after his doctors had informed his family that he had no hope of recovery. A number of people have told Bill that his words have strengthened their faith.

Bill feels that he has been given a second chance at life. His family was certain that they were losing him. His own doctor confirmed it. But as our faith teaches us, God always has the final word. Indeed, our lives are in His hands. Bill knows for certain now that he has work left to do. Each new day is a gift from God and an opportunity to share his faith and to serve. Today Bill is alive and well and working in the service the Lord.

Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry – Issue 42 – January-March 2010

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In Heaven, everything will be spring as far as beauty is concerned, autumn as far as enjoyment is concerned, summer as far as love is concerned. There will be no winter; but here winter is necessary to exercise self-denial and a thousand other little but beautiful virtues which are exercised at times of sterility.

– St. Pio of Pietrelcina

Padre Pio: A Remarkable Intercessor

Yvette Levasseur experienced sadness and hardship from her earliest years. Her parents both died when she was just a child. After her parents’ death, her aunt and uncle who lived in Paris, France adopted her. Yvette moved from her home in Great Britain to live with them. Her aunt and uncle owned a small business in the downtown section of Paris where they made shoes for the handicapped. Yvette soon learned the trade and was able to help them in the shoe shop.

When Yvette was sixteen years old, her aunt passed away from cancer. Just two years later, her uncle also died. Yvette was on her own and very much alone in the big and bustling city of Paris. She gained strength by attending daily Mass at Our Lady of Victories parish.

After her aunt and uncle died, Yvette continued to make shoes. She lived alone in a tiny room above the shoe shop. It was a struggle to keep the business going and she barely had enough money for necessities. At times, bread and milk were her only staples as she could afford no more.One day at the bookstore in the parish of Our Lady of Victories, Yvette saw a book on Padre Pio. It looked so interesting that she purchased it. After she read the book, she had a great desire to visit Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo. However, she knew it would be impossible as she did not have the financial means to make such a trip. By a stroke of luck, shortly after reading the book, she met a couple who were going to San Giovanni Rotondo. They invited her to go with them and she happily agreed. The year was 1958. She was able to attend Padre Pio’s Mass and to experience what she called the “true greatness” of Padre Pio’s presence.

After Yvette returned to Paris, she wrote a letter to Padre Pio asking for his prayers. She received a letter back which said that Padre Pio was praying for her and that he sent her his blessing. Shortly after, Yvette was offered a job. A woman wanted to hire Yvette to accompany her family on a two-month holiday trip to Savoia and tutor her two small children. Yvette.thought that it would be to her advantage to accept the job but first she wanted Padre Pio’s approval. She wrote to Padre Pio and asked him for advice. Soon a letter came back in the mail. “Do not take the job; remain in Paris,” were Padre Pio’s words of counsel. Yvette followed his advice.

Meanwhile, business at the shoe shop continued to decline. Yvette decided that it would be better to sell the business and get what money she could out of it rather than continue on a downward spiral and possibly lose everything. She wrote to Padre Pio again and asked for his advice. Once again, the answer from Padre Pio was a definite “no.” Yvette trusted Padre Pio completely and did not put the business up for sale.

A third opportunity soon presented itself. A woman wanted to hire Yvette to work as an assistant in her boutique in Luxembourg. To Yvette, it sounded like a good opportunity. It.would mean that she would have to leave Paris, but she didn’t mind. It was proving to be too difficult for her to make a living there. For the third time, she asked Padre Pio for advice and for the third time, his answer was “no.” Yvette decided to obey him blindly.Shortly after that, Yvette met a very nice man in Paris named Maurice. Before long, they married. Much to Maurice’s surprise, shortly before the wedding, he inherited a very profitable business from one of his relatives. Because of the inheritance, Maurice and Yvette were able to live very comfortably. The financial worries that had plagued Yvette for so long, were over for good. Soon their marriage was blessed with a beautiful son. Yvette returned to San Giovanni Rotondo to thank Padre Pio for his prayers and for her many blessings – her loving husband and her new son. To their great joy, Yvette and Maurice were blessed with two more children.

When Yvette thought about her life and all that had happened to her, it became clear to her why Padre Pio had advised her to stay in Paris. It was in Paris that she met her wonderful husband, Maurice. If she had accepted the job opportunities that had presented themselves, she would have had to leave Paris. If she had left Paris, her life would have taken a completely different turn. How happy she was that she followed Padre Pio’s advice.

After losing her parents and her aunt and uncle when she was young, Yvette had a great desire for a family of her own. Because she had experienced loneliness and personal loss in her youth, she knew the value and the blessing of family life. A good family was a true gift from God. Yvette would never take her family for granted. She had trusted Padre Pio enough to follow his counsel, even though at the time, his advice seemed hard to understand. In the end, his guidance proved to be perfect.

 

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In 1947, Nicola De Vincentis worked as the head station master at the San Severo train station in Italy. One morning upon rising from bed, Nicola’s legs gave way from under him and he collapsed on the floor. His entire body felt paralyzed. He was seen and examined by a number of doctors. None however, were able to determine the cause of his problem. Finally, Nicola was advised by his primary doctor to travel to Rome to see the highly-esteemed and well-known neurologist, Dr. Ugo Cerletti.

Dr. Cerletti diagnosed Nicola with the tropical virus, “poliradicdaneurite.” The long-term effects of the virus were severe and Dr. Cerletti tried to break the news as gently as he could to Nicola. He told Nicola that he would never be able to recover completely from the virus. He believed that with therapy, Nicola would someday be able to walk again. However, he was certain that Nicola would have to use crutches for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, it would be impossible for him to continue working at the San Severo train station.

Nicola was put on an intense physical therapy program which included galvanic stimulation, leg, thigh, and arm massage, and injections. Very slowly, his condition began to improve as movement returned to his body. He had a problem with his equilibrium which caused him to feel dizzy most of the time. Because he was so unsteady on his feet, he was advised to use a walker for support.

After a five-month stay at the rehabilitation clinic, Nicola was finally released. Shortly after returning to his home, he tripped and broke his right foot. He had to go back to the clinic where he spent another forty days. A short time later, the Foggia Administration of Health gave him a thorough physical examination and officially declared him to be disabled. He would never be able to return to his job as station master. The ruling was very difficult for Nicola to come to terms with. Thinking about the loss of his job and his uncertain future, filled him with great anxiety.

Nicola’s friend, Father Placido of San Marco in Lamis, who lived at the Capuchin monastery in San Severo, advised him to visit Padre Pio. Nicola had heard of the saintly priest but he knew very little about him. By this time, he had been suffering from the tropical virus for eighteen months. As a last resort, he decided to accept Father Placido’s suggestion to see Padre Pio.

Nicola and Father Placido took a bus to San Giovanni Rotondo. The bus driver would not take them up the hill to the monastery of Our Lady of Grace because the road was in such poor condition. Instead, they were dropped off at a crossroads with no choice but to walk the rest of the distance to the monastery. Holding tightly to Father Placido’s arm as well as using a cane for support, Nicola made a great effort to walk up the hill. However, after taking just a few steps, he lost his balance and fell to the ground. It became clear that he was not going to be able to walk. Father Placido had no resort but to carry Nicola on his back all the way up the hill. Although he was elderly, Father Placido managed to get Nicola up the incline and to the monastery.

When Nicola and Father Placido finally arrived at Our Lady of Grace monastery, they found Padre Pio taking a few moments of leisure in the monastery garden. Upon being introduced to Nicola, Padre Pio embraced him lovingly. He asked Nicola to sit next to him on the garden bench. Nicola then told Padre Pio about his illness and all that he had suffered since he had contracted the tropical virus. The next morning, Nicola and Father Placido attended Padre Pio’s Mass. Padre Pio made special arrangements for Nicola to sit in a chair that was placed very close to him at the altar.

Father Placido and Nicola had to return by bus to San Severo after the Mass. Father Placido wanted to make sure that Nicola had a chance to say goodbye to Padre Pio. However, Padre Pio had retired to his cell after the morning Mass and nobody was to disturb him. Father Placido took Nicola to the private quarters of the monastery and knocked on Padre Pio’s cell door. “Padre Pio, Nicola and I are leaving now by bus for San Severo. Nicola would like to say goodbye to you,” Father Placido said. Padre Pio opened the door immediately. He gave Nicola a blessing and said to him, “Trust in the grace of the Lord.” He then added, “When you get home, I want you to take a ride on your bicycle. After that, you should make another request for a medical examination from the office of the Central Administration of Health in Rome.”Nicola thought deeply about Padre Pio’s words. Padre Pio’s suggestion that he ride a bicycle seemed like very strange advice. For a man in Nicola’s condition, riding a bicycle was a dangerous proposition. Even if he wanted to, Nicola was quite certain that he would not be able to manage it. He had not even been able to walk up the hill to Padre Pio’s monastery. Father Placido had carried him up. Nicola still had problems with his equilibrium and balance. He had frequent dizzy spells. Padre Pio must have been joking to suggest that he ride a bicycle. But Nicola knew that he wasn’t joking. It was obvious that he was perfectly serious.

On the return trip to San Severo, Father Placido and Nicola discussed the matter. Father Placido had known Padre Pio for a long time and had full confidence in him. He encouraged Nicola to do what Padre Pio had advised him to do. “Padre Pio told you to trust in the grace of the Lord,” Father Placido said. “You must follow his advice. Pray about it as well. He has his own reasons for asking you to ride a bicycle. I think you should do what he said.” Nicola prayed for guidance. After praying, he seemed to have a great boost of faith and greater confidence in Padre Pio. He decided to follow Padre Pio’s unusual advice.

Upon returning home, Nicola got his bicycle out. He waited till the late evening when all of his neighbors had gone indoors. He did not want to make a spectacle of himself. He got on his bicycle and rode it about one hundred yards before taking a fall. He hit the ground so hard that he was almost knocked unconscious. Thinking that he might be dying, he prayed and begged God for help. All of a sudden, he felt someone lift him up from the ground and place him back on the seat of his bicycle. But how was it possible? He was alone. There was no one in sight. Back on the bicycle, he found that he could pedal it with ease. His joints and limbs suddenly felt flexible. The muscle constriction and paralysis had disappeared and he felt strong and energized. His equilibrium had also returned. He knew at that moment that he had been healed.

Like Padre Pio had asked him to do, Nicola went to the Railway Health Administration of Rome and made a request for another medical examination. He marked down on his application that he had received a miraculous healing. A number of doctors and neurologists examined him, under the supervision of Dr. Ugo Cerletti. They were dumbfounded by.the change in his condition. After a thorough examination, he was declared fit to resume his job. He returned to his position as head station master at San Severo and worked there until he reached retirement age. He remained in excellent health, free from any symptoms of the tropical virus. He remained a devoted spiritual son of Padre Pio for the rest of his life.

 

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We recently met Father Jim Muntz at a Catholic prayer breakfast. Father Jim Muntz visited San Giovanni Rotondo four times and was encouraged by Padre Pio to become a priest. This is his testimony:

I was born in Brooklyn, New York and grew up on Long Island, in New York. Somewhere along the way, I heard about Padre Pio and I had a great desire to meet him. I took it upon myself to learn the Italian language so that I could communicate with him. I visited him on four different occasions in San Giovanni Rotondo.

The first time I went to San Giovanni Rotondo and walked into the church of Our Lady of Grace, I could perceive the strong smell of blood. I attended Padre Pio’s Mass and I was very impressed by the reverence with which he celebrated the Mass. The Mass lasted a very long time.

After Mass, I waited to make my confession to Padre Pio. The mens’ confessions were face to face and were held in the sacristy of the church. While waiting in line, I heard Padre Pio shout at the man who was making his confession. Padre Pio raised his voice and said, “What was that you said you did?” All of us who were standing in line felt very sorry for the man. We all backed up in the line so as to give the man more privacy. For his sake, we wanted to make sure that we did not hear his reply to Padre Pio’s question.

I was nervous when I made my confession to Padre Pio for the first time. Padre Pio was very calm as he heard my confession. It only lasted a few minutes. Later, I asked Padre Pio about the desire I had to become a priest. I wanted to know if he thought that I had a vocation to the priesthood. “Yes, you must become a priest,” he said. “You must go to the bishop and insist that you be ordained.” I was very shy by nature. I did not feel that I had the courage to insist on anything to a bishop. But because of the advice Padre Pio gave me, I finally spoke to the bishop. After I completed all my theological requirements, I was ordained to the priesthood.

Before the Mass, Padre Pio would always take his gloves off. Sometimes, a scab from the stigmata on his hands would detach itself and fall to the floor when he removed his gloves. People who were nearby watched for this, and if a scab fell to the floor, they would rush to get it. It was a precious first class relic.

Padre Pio would rarely allow people in his company if they were living immoral or sinful lives, and had no desire to change. He would often send people away with strong words. Many were offended, but almost all returned. He was truly guided by God in his dealings with others. He had the gift of reading hearts, of prophecy, and of discernment of spirits to a remarkable degree. If he counseled a person, he spoke in a direct manner. He did not want to repeat his words.

I went to San Giovanni Rotondo four times. Each time I was able to make my confession to Padre Pio. While in San Giovanni Rotondo, I visited Mary Pyle. Mary lived in a home very close to the monastery and had dedicated her life to Padre Pio. Mary was a member of the Third Order of St. Francis. She spoke to me a lot about the Third Order. I was inspired by Mary’s words and because of her encouragement, I became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis.

Many people came to Padre Pio asking for healing from their illnesses. Padre Pio often spoke to people about his good friend Pietruccio Cugino. He held him up as a model for others to follow. Pietruccio was blind but he never asked Padre Pio to pray for his healing. Each morning at Mass, Padre Pio allowed Pietruccio to sit very close to him at the altar. Padre Pio wanted people to practice prayer and penance. He felt that too many people were seeking physical healing. He once said, “So many come to San Giovanni Rotondo asking for healing. So few ask for the grace to bear their cross.”

I had an undiagnosed illness when I visited Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo. I was not healed of my illness but I received much more that a physical healing. As time went by, I realized the true spiritual greatness of Padre Pio. I have read more than thirty books on his life. I know of no other saint in history that has been given the spiritual gifts that the Lord gave to Padre Pio. I realize how truly blessed I was to meet him.

Father Jim Muntz


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Father Peter Rookey, OSM recently spoke with us about his trip to visit Padre Pio in the early 1950’s. This is his story:

I joined the Order of the Servants of Mary (Servites) and was ordained to the priesthood on May 17, 1941. In 1954, I was appointed as Assistant General of the Servite order. I was sent to Rome and spent six years at this assignment. Two times I traveled from Rome to San Giovanni Rotondo to visit Padre Pio and make my confession to him. I spoke Italian and I was glad that there would be no language barrier. I also wanted to talk to Padre Pio about the many problems I encountered as Assistant General for the Servites. It was a difficult job in many ways. I felt that Padre Pio could help me with his advice.

The beautiful altar of St. Francis where Padre Pio celebrated Mass for many years.

The beautiful altar of St. Francis where Padre Pio celebrated Mass for many years.

Padre Pio did indeed help me. He gave me advice which I have never forgotten, even after these many years. He said to me, “Always, and in all circumstances, be obedient to your superiors.” It was his habit to say a few simple words but his words were filled with wisdom.

At the time I visited San Giovanni Rotondo, Padre Pio said Mass at the side altar of St. Francis at the monastery of Our Lady of Grace. When it was time for the Mass to begin, Padre Pio came out of the sacristy with two Capuchins, one on either side. It was apparent to me that they were there to protect him. They reminded me of bodyguards. Padre Pio said the Mass very slowly with many long periods of silence. He went into ecstasy several times during the Mass and became completely still.

I had made arrangements with the Capuchins to say my Mass after Padre Pio was finished with his. At the conclusion of his Mass, the same two Capuchins stood one on either side of him and escorted him back into the sacristy. The simple side altar of St. Francis had just the bare essentials – an altar cloth, two candles, water and wine, and a crucifix. As Padre Pio walked toward the sacristy, I approached the simple altar where he had just said Mass. As I did, I perceived the beautiful fragrance of roses filling the church. It was a heavenly fragrance, not of this earth. I knew that it was a special blessing imparted by Padre Pio for all who were in the church that day.

– Father Peter Rookey, OSM


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When Father Carl Gismondi, FSSP was assigned to be the pastor at St. Anne’s parish in San Diego, he organized a monthly Padre Pio prayer group. It has been a blessing to those who have attended. We recently learned that Father Gismondi received a very beautiful grace. This is his testimony:

Not long ago, I was hearing confessions at St. Anne’s parish on a Friday, in the middle of the summer. It happened to be a very hot day. We do not have air conditioning at the parish and it can become quite uncomfortable in the summer time. In the confessional, it can be even more stifling.

The confessional is built with maximum insulation in order to be sound proof for the sake of the privacy of the penitent. That means it is also to some degree “air proof.” On this particular day, in that very uncomfortable heat, I suddenly felt a very cool breeze coming down from the top of the confessional. I would describe it as “sprinkling down,” bringing me a great deal of relief. The cool air flowed only from the top. The sides of the confessional were not affected.

I was startled by the gentle and cool breeze. Before I became a priest, I was an engineer. I wondered, from the perspective of an engineer, how a breeze could possibly come be coming from the top of the confessional. I began to analyze the situation but I could come to no conclusion.

After Mass, when I greeted the people who were leaving the church, a woman approached me and said, “Father, I felt so sorry for you while you were hearing confessions. It was so hot in the church that I knew it must be very uncomfortable for you in the confessional. I said a prayer to Padre Pio on your behalf. I prayed, “Padre Pio, please send Father Gismondi a cool breeze to make him more comfortable while he is hearing confessions.”

Father Carl Gismondi, FSSP

Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry – Issue 41 – October-December 2009

Download Newsletter Issue 41, October-December 2009

Let us always keep before our eyes the fact that, here on earth, we are on a battlefield,
and that in Paradise we shall receive the crown of victory; that this is a testing-ground,
and the prize will be awarded up above; that we are now in a land of exile,
while our true homeland is Heaven, to which we must continually aspire.

– St. Pio of Pietrelcina

An Interview with Sister Pia of Jesus Crucified for the Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry Newsletter

Alexandra (Alix) Brown grew up in a wealthy and socially privileged family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was raised as an Episcopalian and although she attended church regularly with her family all throughout her youth, it was not something that she enjoyed. At that time, she could describe churchgoing in one simple word, “boring.” To Alix, people went to church because it was a social custom and obligation and nothing more. Religion was simply a crutch
to try to come to terms with what no one could really understand. And God? God was a “dead word” in Alix’s way of thinking. Church was dry and meaningless and Alix felt that for her, it was unnecessary.

Alix was interested in other things. She enjoyed the wide variety of cultural events that were available in Philadelphia. She found enjoyment in art, music, and the theater. She loved elegant dinner parties, beautiful clothing and the “good things” that money could buy. In her privileged upbringing, money could buy almost anything she wanted.

After completing high school, Alix enrolled in the prestigious Briarcliff womens’ college in Westchester County, New York. There she met many women who, like her, were from wealthy families and who, like her, had been somewhat “spoiled” by an abundance of material advantages.

As the scriptures note, “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under Heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) The “season” for searching out the deeper meaning of life, came to Alix while attending Briarcliff College. Even though she did not believe in God, in some mysterious way, she was searching for Him. She began to spend a lot of time in the college library, reading books on world religions. The Eastern religions of India and Asia attracted her. However, in her study, she found that there were many doctrines in the teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism which she could not accept.

Alix moved to Florence, Italy in her second year of college to study classical art. She had been accepted at the Simi Art Studio in Florence, which was considered to be one of the finest art schools in Italy. One of the students she met at the Studio was a wonderful and gifted man named Antonio Ciccone. Alix enjoyed his friendship and admired him for his remarkable artistic talent.

Antonio, who had grown up in San Giovanni Rotondo, had experienced many hardships throughout his childhood. His father, a widower, was very poor and could barely provide for Antonio and the other children. Antonio tended sheep like many other young boys in the area. He loved to draw and sketch and it soon became obvious that he possessed an amazing artistic talent.

Throughout Antonio’s youth, he had many opportunities to visit Padre Pio and to attend his Mass. Antonio used to try to memorize the fine details of Padre Pio’s face in order to draw it. One time, Padre Pio turned Antonio out of the confessional because he realized that he had come primarily to study his face. Padre Pio had an aversion to being stared at and made it quite clear to Antonio.

Padre Pio used to go to the monastery garden at the end of the day where he enjoyed the company of his friends and fellow-Capuchins. Antonio was able to visit with Padre Pio in the garden on many occasions. Antonio found the time in the garden to be a wonderful opportunity to carefully concentrate on the details of Padre Pio’s face for his drawings. Padre Pio would notice it and say to Antonio, “Why are you looking at me like that?” Antonio would answer, “I am studying.”

Padre Pio used to call Antonio, “Pitturi” (little painter) and he always had Antonio’s best interests at heart. He wanted him to lead an exemplary Christian life. Once, in the confessional, Padre Pio took both of Antonio’s hands in his own and held them for the duration of Antonio’s confession. “Please don’t disappoint me,” he said to Antonio.

At one time, Antonio thought that he might have a vocation to the religious life and considered joining the Capuchin order. In clear and unmistakable words, Padre Pio said to Antonio, “No, you must paint. That is your path.” Years later, Antonio’s remarkably beautiful religious paintings would be placed in the Capuchin monastery of Our Lady of Grace as well as in Padre Pio’s hospital, the Home for the Relief of Suffering.

A wonderful opportunity opened up for Antonio when a devout couple from Florence who knew Padre Pio, invited Antonio to live with them and study art in Florence. They had the financial means to provide for his education. Padre Pio was very happy about the arrangement and Antonio left for Florence with Padre Pio’s blessing.

Alix Brown considered Antonio to be the most gifted student at the Simi Art Studio in Florence. He used to wear a Rosary around his neck, which always looked very striking to Alix. She admired him for his deep spirituality. Antonio told her many stories of his childhood, and of his experiences of knowing Padre Pio. He encouraged her to visit Padre Pio’s monastery in San Giovanni Rotondo.

Because of the example of Antonio, as well as that of other devout Catholics that she had met in Florence, in her private and ongoing study of world religions, Alix decided to take a closer look at Christianity. The information that Antonio had shared with her about Padre Pio was very meaningful to her. She began to ponder the fact that Padre Pio was a Catholic and she had a desire to learn more about the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Alix Brown’s study of Catholicism eventually led her to the decision to enter the Catholic Church, a plan that her family members were opposed to. Her parents would not give their permission and instead told her to delay her decision for two years, until she was twenty-one years old. Alix did what her parents asked of her. She waited patiently until her twenty-first birthday and was finally received into the Catholic church in 1961.

After her conversion to Catholicism, Alix received an invitation from a good friend, Louise, to make a visit to San Giovanni Rotondo. Alix remembered the interesting conversations she had with Antonio Ciccone about Padre Pio and was happy to accept the invitation.

It took thirteen hours for Alix and Louise to drive from Florence to San Giovanni Rotondo. It rained heavily for most of the trip. They felt fortunate to find lodging in the one and only hotel in the area. The town was rural and undeveloped and lacked many of the amenities that most people take for granted. For instance, there was very little hot water available in the hotel, something that Alix found surprising.

The next morning, the girls got up very early in order to attend Padre Pio’s Mass. The “new” church where the Mass was said had been constructed in 1959, and was built right next door to the older one. San Giovanni Rotondo had outgrown the small but beautiful 16th century church of Our Lady of Grace. The new church was large and spacious compared to the original and could accommodate one thousand people. When Padre Pio was taken to see it for the first time, he spoke prophetically, “It is not big enough.” And it was true. Not estimating accurately the crowds that would be coming to San Giovanni Rotondo in the future, those who laid the plans did not make the church large enough. On many occasions, Mass had to be said in an outdoor portico, because the church could not contain the people.

The local Italian people were territorial and aggressive when the church doors opened in the early morning. There was plenty of pushing, shoving, and elbowing that occurred as the people rushed forward to the sanctuary of the church. They obviously felt entitled to the best seats which were closest to the altar. Their conduct did not bother Alix. She had an understanding of the culture from her time spent living in Florence. Although it was noisy in the church as people hurried to find a seat, once the Mass started, the congregation became completely silent and all eyes were on Padre Pio.

Padre Pio said the Mass slowly and prayerfully. One could sense his union with God. Deeply recollected, he seemed to become lost in the mystery of the Mass. A sense of the sacred pervaded the church. Alix was awed by the experience.

Alix had decided that her trip to San Giovanni Rotondo would be an act of thanksgiving for her recent entry into the Catholic church. Yes, she had come to attend Padre Pio’s Mass, but she had also come to thank God for the great gift of faith that she had received and for the blessings of being Catholic. It was easy to pray in San Giovanni Rotondo. It was easy to think about God. The entire area, though poor and unimpressive outwardly, was pervaded with a sense of the supernatural.

After Louise and Alix attended Padre Pio’s early morning Mass, Alix stayed inside the church to pray in silence. It was there that she received the incredible grace of a religious vocation. In an instant, and “deep down in her soul” Alix was suddenly and unmistakably aware that God was calling her to leave everything in the world, and become a religious. It was something she had never even considered as a possibility. She had never felt the slightest attraction to the life of a consecrated religious. She had thought at length about her future and was intending to pursue a career in art. For as long as she could remember, she had wanted to marry and raise a family. She assumed that her future husband would probably be Italian, since she loved living in Italy and planned to live there permanently. But in a flash, everything changed.

Alix felt that she had been given an invitation by God to follow the path of the consecrated life. She knew what that meant. The strict vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience were nothing to take lightly. But she felt convinced that it was God’s will for her and she wanted to follow His will. She knew what a privilege it was to be called to such a vocation. As to which religious order to enter, she did not have the slightest idea. Each order had its own unique charism. There were the Franciscans, the Benedictines, the Cistercians, the Carmelites, and many more. There were missionary nuns, contemplative nuns, teaching nuns, and nursing nuns. She had a great desire to speak to Padre Pio about the matter. She hoped that he would advise her and direct her to a holy religious congregation.

When it was time for Alix and Louise to go back to Florence, Alix knew for certain that she wanted to return again to the monastery of Our Lady of Grace. The visit had been a remarkable experience. She had been able to talk to a number of the residents in the area who shared many stories with her about Padre Pio. The miracles that surrounded his life and his extraordinary spiritual gifts were well known and well documented. They were of course, a part of his spirituality, but to Alix, they were not the most important part. To her, the most significant feature of Padre Pio’s life centered on his all-consuming love for God and for the Church. After attending his early morning Mass, Alix came to the conclusion that his Mass was without a doubt, the greatest miracle of all.

Alix returned to San Giovanni Rotondo the following month. She made her confession to Padre Pio and told him what had happened on her first visit to the monastery, when she felt that God was calling her to a vocation in religious life. She asked him to advise her on the next step she should take. “You must pray,” Padre Pio said simply. He gave her no other words of advice on the matter. Alix was hoping that he would make the decision for her as to which religious order to enter, but no such luck. She made many subsequent confessions to Padre Pio and always spoke to him about her vocation, asking for his guidance and direction. His advice was always the same, “You must pray.” “Padre Pio made me do all the work in finding the right congregation,” Alix said, “He would not do the work for me.”

Alix returned each month to San Giovanni Rotondo for the next six months – sometimes for a few days and sometimes for weeks at a time. She did not mind the thirteen-hour journey from Florence. It was well worth every sacrifice and every inconvenience.

Through her many visits to San Giovanni Rotondo, Alix became acquainted with Padre Pio’s American secretary, Mary Pyle. Mary had become almost a legend in the town. Everyone either knew Mary or knew of her. People sought her out because she had worked tirelessly for Padre Pio and had faithfully assisted him for many years.

Mary, who was born into a wealthy family in New York City, visited Padre Pio’s monastery for the first time in 1923. She was so impressed by attending his Mass and receiving his priestly blessing that she decided to move to San Giovanni Rotondo permanently. When Alix met Mary, she had been living just down the hill from the monastery for more than thirty-five years. Like many others, Alix had a great admiration for Mary and as time passed the two became close friends.

Mary felt a special call, a special vocation to make Padre Pio known to others. Her workload was always heavy as she answered the letters that came into the monastery, baked the hosts that were used for Holy Communion, sewed the priestly vestments of the Capuchins, and greeted the pilgrims who visited San Giovanni Rotondo. Mary had many other duties, too numerous to mention. She was generous and kindhearted and always available to help anyone who needed assistance. Her charity and her many good works were an inspiration to Alix. Alix described Mary Pyle as having a “beautiful radiance” about her person.

Mary would talk about Padre Pio for hours to the visitors who came to the monastery. She never tired of telling the same stories about Padre Pio, over and over again. Alix recognized Mary’s availability to the pilgrims and her willingness to share anecdotes and stories of Padre Pio’s life with them as an important “apostolic work.” Literally thousands of people were introduced to Padre Pio through the years because of Mary Pyle’s efforts.

Mary wore the brown habit of the Third Order Franciscans. On one occasion, she sent one of her new habits over to the monastery to have Padre Pio bless it. However, whether he was jesting or not, for a reason that no one knew, he did not readily bless it but instead complained about it. Mary was told what had happened. “Did he finally bless my habit?” Mary asked. “Yes, he did. He made the sign of the cross over it,” the Capuchin replied. “Where was the habit when he blessed it?” Mary asked. “It was sitting on his lap,” the Capuchin answered. “Well, that is good enough for me!” Mary said and she was filled with gratitude. Mary treasured a word, a glance, a blessing from Padre Pio. Her dedication to him was total.

Mary Pyle was advanced in years and was beginning to have numerous problems with her health when Alix met her. It became difficult for her to walk. After Mass, Alix used to take Mary’s arm and help her down the hill to her home just below the monastery. Mary had a little basket in her home that contained memorial cards with prayer requests for the deceased. Mary referred to the basket as a little “graveyard.” If any memorial cards came in, she asked Alix to be sure and put them with the others. Every day without exception, Mary faithfully prayed for the souls of all who had memorial cards in the basket.

It was Mary’s habit, especially in her later years, to take a nap every afternoon after her midday meal. Alix used to help her up the stairs to her small bedroom on the second floor of her home. It took a great effort for Mary to get up the stairs. She often asked Alix to read to her until she fell asleep. Because Mary had led an intensely active life, it was very difficult for her to accept her declining health. After Alix moved back to the United States, Mary had a stroke. She wrote several letters to Alix and asked for her prayers so that she would be able to accept her condition and surrender completely to God’s will.

Alix knew how fortunate she was to be able to spend so much time in San Giovanni Rotondo, meeting the Capuchins, the pilgrims, and great souls like Mary Pyle, as well as others who had dedicated their lives to assisting Padre Pio’s work.

To Alix, San Giovanni Rotondo, from an architectural and artistic standpoint, was a town that was greatly lacking in style and beauty. It did not have the old world charm of places like Pietrelcina, Assisi, or Perugia, with their cobblestone streets, interesting structures, quaint buildings, and beautiful churches.

While the architectural style may have left much to be desired, Alix nevertheless felt inspired by the geography of the area. The wide-open expanses, the rocky, barren hills, heavy rains in the autumn and winter, the strong winds that often howled and whipped down the Gargano mountain, the cold, bright stars that filled the early morning sky – this was San Giovanni Rotondo. To Alix, there was a mystical feeling to the landscape and the terrain. And most important of all, Padre Pio lived there.

Alix was also aware of the invisible forces that were at work in San Giovanni Rotondo, the age-old battle of good versus evil. Although it was not something that she could see with her eyes, she could sense it and feel it. One recalls that Padre Pio had a vision when he was fifteen years old, of that very battle of good verses evil which takes place within the human soul. His vision was a revelation of the spiritual warfare that he would encounter throughout his life.

In the vision, the young Padre Pio (Francesco Forgione) suddenly saw a majestic and beautiful figure standing beside him. The man had a radiant countenance, similar to the brightness of the sun. He said to Francesco, “I am here to tell you that you are going to have to fight like a courageous warrior.” The resplendent figure took Francesco by the hand and led him to an open field. In the field stood two large groups of men. One group had beautiful and shining faces. They were wearing robes of the purest white. The other group was dressed in black garments. They were ugly and frightening in appearance.

Francesco stood in the middle of the open field with the radiant figure beside him. Suddenly he saw a treacherous and hideous being coming toward him. The gruesome figure was so tall that he appeared to be a giant. “You must fight with this creature,” the resplendent man said to Francesco. “But do not worry because I will be with you.”

Francesco became terrified as the monster-like figure advanced toward him. He felt weak and began to tremble uncontrollably. He thought that he was going to faint. Francesco’s spiritual guide then took his arm to support him. He felt strengthened by the celestial man’s touch. Francesco entered into a violent battle with his dangerous adversary and finally conquered him. The radiant figure placed a magnificent crown on Francesco’s head but then quickly removed it. He said to Francesco, “You will receive a crown that is even more beautiful than this one if you will continue to stand up to the dark being whom you just fought. Be strong and do not fear. I will always be near and will always help you.”

Shortly after, Francesco had another vision and was given the realization that the beautiful and resplendent man who had stood beside him in the vision was Jesus. In truth, it was Jesus who was always with him, assisting him in the many trials and tribulations of his life. In his fight against evil forces and in his life-long battle against demons, Padre Pio would always remain close to God and would be victorious.

If the demons attacked Padre Pio at times, the angels were always nearby to shield and protect him. The angelic realm was very real and very much alive to Padre Pio. Whenever he spoke about angels, he spoke from his own direct experience. He had been able to see and communicate with angels from his childhood.

Monte Sant Angelo, the beautiful shrine dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel, was located approximately twenty-five miles from San Giovanni Rotondo. Padre Pio, who had a life-long devotion to St. Michael, had made a pilgrimage there in his youth. He often encouraged people to visit the shrine. On one occasion, Alix was invited to go with a group of friends to Monte Sant Angelo. They intended to make the pilgrimage on foot, as an act of penance and sacrifice.

In the confessional, Alix told Padre Pio about her plan to visit the shrine and asked him for his blessing on the trip. Padre Pio made no reply. Thinking that he might not have heard her, Alix repeated her request, this time even louder. Once again, there was no response. As it turned out, on the day of the pilgrimage, Alix became ill and could not go with her friends. Most likely, Padre Pio had known that she would not be able to go on the pilgrimage and so had not given his priestly blessing.

Alix went to confession numerous times to Padre Pio. In the confessional, before Alix could name her sins, Padre Pio often began by asking her a number of direct questions regarding those very sins. “Have you told the truth?” he would say. “Have you exaggerated?” he would inquire. While many people do not consider exaggeration to be a matter of consequence, Padre Pio obviously did. It was something that needed to be addressed and corrected. He was particular and exacting to the smallest detail.

Other than a few simple questions that he might ask, Padre Pio usually said very little in the confessional. If he was asked a question directly, he often answered by a simple “yes” or “no.” Although confessions to Padre Pio were generally short, they were extremely beneficial, as so many people testified. Padre Pio was concerned with the soul and how that soul could be saved. Everything else was secondary. “Trust in God and pray,” were his frequent words. There were always long lines of people waiting to make their confession to him and there was simply no time for discussions or extended conversations.

Alix investigated many different religious orders in an effort to find one that would be suitable for her. As Padre Pio advised her, she spent many hours in prayer, invoking God’s intercession. When she read a biography of St. Teresa of Avila, she felt drawn to the Carmelite spirituality. She visited a cloistered Carmelite congregation on the East Coast to inquire about their way of life. The moment she walked through the door, it felt like home. She was accepted into the congregation. Since she chose an enclosed order, there would be no going out into the world, no traveling about. She did not think it would be a difficult adjustment. For Alix, the greatest difficulty that she faced was leaving Padre Pio, knowing that she would never see him again. Before joining the Carmelites, Alix wanted to visit Padre Pio one last time.

In 1963, Alix spent four months in San Giovanni Rotondo. She attended Padre Pio’s early Mass every morning and then spent the greater part of the day in church. At 11:30 a.m. each day, Padre Pio went to the balcony of the church for his private recitation of the Rosary. Most of the pilgrims who visited the monastery were not aware that he did this. Because Alix had spent so much time in San Giovanni Rotondo, she was very familiar with his daily routine. She made sure that she too was in the church at 11:30 a.m. each day to pray her Rosary and to unite her own prayers with Padre Pio’s. It was always a consolation for her to look up into the balcony and see Padre Pio deeply engrossed in prayer. She felt that she benefitted just by being near him.

When Padre Pio finished praying his morning Rosary, he would walk across the upper balcony of the church and through a connecting door into the old church. There he would recite the Angelus, the beautiful prayer to the angel of God, with all who were gathered. Afterward, he would bless the crowd. Daily, Alix recited the Angelus with Padre Pio, and then received his blessing.

Alix attended Benediction every afternoon in the church, with Padre Pio presiding. It was truly a blessed experience. The way Padre Pio held the monstrance for Benediction was something that Alix had never seen before. He was so aware of the true presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament that he held in his hands. His face was radiant during the Benediction. Mary Pyle played the organ and directed the choir which sang at Benediction every afternoon.

In the evening before retiring, Alix joined the local people who stood at Padre Pio’s window and sang their goodnight songs to him. Buona Notte, Padre Pio (Good night, Padre Pio) was one of the favorites.

Alix entered in the cloistered Carmelite convent in June 1964. After six months as a postulant, she became a novice and took the religious habit. At that time, she was invited to choose a new name. The Carmelite tradition allows the novice to choose two names – a first name and a religious title to follow. For her, the decision was easy. Her new name became Sister Pia of Jesus Crucified. She wanted to stay as close to Padre Pio as she could. Taking his name would be a constant reminder of him.

Of all the memories that Sister Pia has of visiting San Giovanni Rotondo, attending Padre Pio’s Mass is the one that she treasures most. The way Padre Pio celebrated Mass was a sermon in itself. His recollection, his reverence, his long pauses of prayerful silence, all spoke of his great love for God. A man who attended Padre Pio’s Mass once said, “When I saw Padre Pio genuflect, I was deeply edified. It reminded me of Jesus, beneath the Cross. I had never seen a genuflection like it before and I have never seen one since. I will never forget it for as long as I live.”

Padre Pio wanted people to make a good preparation before receiving Holy Communion and a thoughtful and prayerful thanksgiving afterward. “The thanksgiving after Mass is something that must never be neglected,” he once said. His own thanksgiving after Mass lasted at least forty-five minutes.

Padre Pio strictly observed the fasting rules of the Church before receiving Holy Communion and he insisted that everyone else do the same. He wanted people to dress modestly in the house of God. He was accused of being old-fashioned and unbending in this regard, but he would not compromise. People would not be admitted inside the church if they were not dressed modestly. There were to be no conversations, no talking for any reason, once inside the church. Instead, a strict silence was to be observed. God was very near; it was a time to put everything else aside but the thought of God.

These considerations are especially important for the times we live in today, when many beautiful and devotional Catholic practices and traditions have been long-since abandoned. Sadly to say, many people have lost a great treasure – a spirit and an attitude of reverence and a sense of the sacred. But in truth, what has been lost can be reclaimed. Let us hope and pray for this intention.

Throughout her many years as a Carmelite nun, Sister Pia has frequently gone back in time to those early days, when she visited Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo. Nothing had been a coincidence. It had all been a God-incidence, leading her step by step to the place where she belonged.

Sister Pia has pondered the fact that she received the grace of a religious vocation, not in Florence where she had studied art, or in New York where she attended college, or in Philadelphia where she had grown up, but on a visit to San Giovanni Rotondo, that small and remote town in southern Italy that seemed so very ordinary and unimpressive and lacking in so many ways. There, in the church of Our Lady of Grace, where Padre Pio had said daily Mass for most of his priestly life, where he had spent countless hours in prayer and in hearing confessions, she received the call to offer her life totally to God and to dedicate herself to prayer and reparation, and live hidden from the world.

In 1965, Padre Pio sent a message to Sister Pia through his assistant, Padre Pellegrino Funicelli. The message said, “Tell Sister Pia to keep herself burning ardently like a little lamp before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.” That is exactly what Sister Pia has been doing for these many years.


Let your desire be to see God; your fear that you may lose Him; your sorrow that you are not having fruition of Him; your joy that He can bring you to Himself. Thus you will live in great peace.

St.Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church

Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry – Issue 40 – July-September 2009

Download Newsletter Issue 40, July-September 2009

Charity is the measure by which Our Lord judges all things.

– St. Pio of Pietrelcina

An Interview with Mario Bruschi for the “Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry” Newsletter

 

In the summer of 1957, Mario Bruschi and his mother Adele, traveled from their home in New York City to the town of Ponte Strambo, in northern Italy, to visit relatives. Mario’s mother had just read a biography of Padre Pio which she had enjoyed immensely. She shared some of the details of Padre Pio’s life with Mario. She decided that she wanted to travel to San Giovanni Rotondo to attend Padre Pio’s Mass and she asked Mario to accompany her. But to twenty-three year old Mario, the prospect did not sound very interesting. He was having a great time in Ponte Strambo, meeting new friends and going dancing at the local night clubs in the area. At that time in his life, his Catholic faith meant very little to him. To his mind, he had a lot more interesting things to do rather than to go to a monastery to see an elderly friar. He declined his mother’s invitation.

However, Mario’s aunt Rina spoke to him about Adele’s plan and convinced him otherwise. “Your mother should not make the trip alone,” his aunt said. “It will be much safer if you go with her.” Mario realized the truth of his aunt’s words and decided to accompany his mother. He thought that they would probably spend one day at Padre Pio’s monastery and then be on their way home. He wanted to spend as much of the summer as he could with his new found friends in Ponte Strambo.

Mario was irritated with his mother for not telling him until after they boarded the train that it would be at least a twelve-hour trip to get to San Giovanni Rotondo. When they finally arrived at the monastery of Our Lady of Grace, the first order of business was to get a ticket for Padre Pio’s confessional. Adele was informed that she would have to wait ten days for her number to be called. The thought of being stuck in San Giovanni Rotondo for ten long days was hard for Mario to accept. There was the monastery and the church and practically nothing else in the area. Adele encouraged Mario to get a ticket for the confessional and told him that she was sure he would not regret it. It would be a wonderful opportunity. Reluctantly, he asked for a ticket from the Capuchin in the booking office.

As the days passed, Mario and Adele became accustomed to the daily routine at Padre Pio’s monastery. Everything revolved around the small 16th century church of Our Lady of Grace. Almost all of the visitors to San Giovanni Rotondo spent their days in the church because that was where they could find Padre Pio. Mario and his mother were surprised to find that the people in the church were often noisy and rude. The Capuchins would frequently stand at the front of the church and order everyone to stop talking. “Silencio!” they would repeat, but no one paid any attention to them. However, when Padre Pio called for order in the church, everyone stopped talking at once.

Mario and his mother attended Padre Pio’s early morning Mass which began at 5:00 a.m. For the pilgrims, it was the highlight of the entire day. For Mario, it was a test of patience. It was the longest weekday Mass that Mario had ever attended in his life. Padre Pio became deeply absorbed in prayer during the Holy Sacrifice, hence the long and extended periods of silence. Mario found himself becoming annoyed with the time it took for Padre Pio to say the Mass. To him, it seemed excessive.

Because the little church was too small to accommodate the crowds and because of the summer heat, the Mass was held in an outdoor arcade. Mario attended the Mass each morning with his mother. He made sure to avoid making eye contact with Padre Pio during the Mass. Having heard that Padre Pio had the gift of reading hearts, the thought of direct eye contact with him made Mario feel uncomfortable.

It was the custom for the Capuchins to invite the pilgrims who had traveled from a distance to serve at Padre Pio’s Mass. Mario was asked if he would like to be the altar server but he declined the invitation. Kneeling on the hard stone by the altar for such an extended period of time was not something that he wanted to attempt.

However, as the days passed, the annoyance that Mario had initially felt during the Mass vanished and instead, he began to feel greatly uplifted. The Mass was still long but for some reason, the time seemed to pass quickly. Mario watched Padre Pio’s movements closely. Sometimes Padre Pio’s eyes would twitch. At times, he would stare upwards in a fixed spot and remain completely motionless. Tears would fall freely from his eyes. He seemed to be seeing something that no one else present could see. His deep communion with God was so apparent.

After the Mass, people stood along the corridors and in the hallways, hoping to catch a glimpse of Padre Pio as he passed by. At noon, the Angelus was recited. Daily, Padre Pio blessed religious articles, and on occasion he also blessed automobiles and sometimes even animals. Mario and his mother attended the afternoon Rosary followed by the Benediction service at which Padre Pio presided. In the evening, the pilgrims made their way to an open field outside the monastery. With lighted candles, they prayed the Rosary and waited for Padre Pio to come to the little window of his cell. He would then open the shutters and wave a handkerchief and say goodnight to the pilgrims. They all waved back in turn and often called out to him, “Padre Pio, pray for my family. Padre Pio, pray for my intentions. Goodnight, Padre Pio. We love you!”

Every day was just like the previous one for Padre Pio. His world revolved around the altar, the confessional, the choir loft, the monastery garden, and his solitary cell. Once in a while there was a special ceremony in the church, a baptism, a wedding or an anniversary celebration.

One afternoon, Mario walked into the monastery church of Our Lady of Grace while a wedding was in progress. Padre Pio happened to be the celebrant that day. Mario had his camera with him at the time and was happy for the opportunity to take some photos. Padre Pio noticed that Mario was taking pictures and motioned for one of the Capuchins to speak to him. He was informed that he was not allowed to take photographs inside the church, so he quickly put his camera away. He was happy that he had been able to take about seven pictures before he was advised to stop. When he went to get the film developed, all of the pictures came out blank. He asked the film developer for an explanation since he had used brand-new film. He told Mario that he could find no reason for the malfunction. Later, Mario learned that it was not unusual for photos to come out blank on the occasions when Padre Pio did not want to be photographed.

Another time, Mario happened to be in the sacristy of the church as Padre Pio was putting on the special vestments in preparation for Benediction. Padre Pio first wrapped a short, white linen cloth called an amice, around his neck and shoulders. Next came the white robe called an alb, then the rope around his waist called a cincture, and finally the stole which he placed around his shoulders, over the alb. The moment that Padre Pio put on the amice, Mario perceived the beautiful fragrance of roses filling the sacristy.

Mario’s attitude underwent a change as the days passed. There were a peace and serenity in San Giovanni Rotondo that could be tangibly felt. It seemed to envelop the whole town. Mario described the beautiful church of Our Lady of Grace as “Heaven on earth.”

The day for Mario to make his confession to Padre Pio finally arrived. He grew increasingly nervous as the time approached. He had heard about Padre Pio’s gifts of discernment and dreaded the thought that Padre Pio might be able to read his soul. Mario was afraid that Padre Pio might see and reveal to him, the sins in his life of which he was ashamed.

He was standing near the front of the confessional line when he saw an incident that filled his heart with trepidation. Padre Pio, in a voice full of authority, reprimanded a man and ordered him out of the confessional. Deeply embarrassed, and with his cheeks flushed red, the man had no other recourse but to walk past all the men who were waiting in the confessional line. Everyone saw what had happened.

Upon seeing the unfortunate man leave the church, Mario lost his courage. He began to tremble and to fear the worst. He hoped that it was time for the confessions to end for the morning, but no such luck. “The same thing will probably happen to me, as happened to that poor man,” Mario said to himself. “After all, I am not in the best shape spiritually. I have been negligent in the practice of my faith for a long time. I am sure that Padre Pio will see it at once.”

Mario told the man who was standing behind him in line that he could go in front of him. “But Padre Pio is pointing at you. He wants to see you,” the man replied. Mario looked in Padre Pio’s direction and found that it was indeed true. Padre Pio was looking directly at Mario and beckoning him to come into the confessional. The man standing behind Mario in line gave him a shove forward.

At that time, the men’s confessions were heard in an open confessional in the sacristy of the old church. Padre Pio sat on a chair and a wooden kneeler was placed in front of him. A curtain was provided for privacy. Very slowly, Mario walked toward the confessional. Slowly, he reached for the curtain and pulled it closed. He was hoping that by his slow and deliberate movements, he would have at least a few minutes to buy some time to collect himself and to regain his composure.

After Mario closed the curtain and knelt down, Padre Pio patted his hand lovingly and said to him gently, “Be tranquil, my son. Calm yourself.” The words seemed to be charged with power for at once Mario felt a great tranquility, a wonderful peace take possession of his soul. The trembling in his body stopped altogether. Padre Pio then asked Mario a number of questions. “Do you say your morning prayers?” Padre Pio asked. “No, I do not,” Mario replied. “Do you say your night prayers?” Padre Pio asked. Once again Mario had to say no. “Do you tell lies?” “Yes, I have told lies,” Mario replied. It went on like that with more questions, more admissions. Padre Pio seemed to know exactly the right questions to ask. They were all related to Mario’s areas of weakness. Mario had the feeling that Padre Pio knew the answers to the questions, even before he asked them. Mario had no need to tell his sins; Padre Pio was naming them for him.

As Padre Pio continued with his questions, Mario could not help but stare at him. Padre Pio’s face was beautiful. There was a luminous quality about it, something Mario had never seen before. Mario felt like he was looking at goodness itself. Padre Pio’s cheeks were rosy. He looked robust and healthy. Most impressive of all were his dark and penetrating eyes. Mario stared at Padre Pio in awe. He was at a loss for words. He felt himself lifted into a heavenly place. A deep and profound feeling of spiritual joy coursed through his body and his soul. “Padre Pio’s eyes were piercing my spirit,” Mario said. “I felt that Christ himself was there hearing my confession.”

“I do not know what to do with my life,” Mario said. “I don’t know what field of study or career to pursue. Could you give me some advice?” “Preghiamo, figiu mi,” (Pray, my son) Padre Pio answered. Padre Pio’s voice was so sweet, so tender. He spoke Italian in the Pugliese / Neopolitan dialect. Mario felt fortunate that he could understand the dialect. Mario then asked Padre Pio about a matter concerning one of his brothers. Padre Pio’s response was, “Preghiamo, figiu mi,” Lastly, Mario spoke to Padre Pio about his mother, Adele. Once again, Padre Pio advised him, “Preghiamo, figiu mi.” Padre Pio was so kind, so gentle. “Go in peace, my son,” Padre Pio said as Mario kissed his hand. He gave Mario a blessing. The confession was over but Mario did not want to leave the confessional. He wanted to stay with Padre Pio forever.

The thought came to Mario that if Padre Pio had asked him to stay on in San Giovanni Rotondo, he would have agreed to it in an instant. He would gladly be willing to do any work, no matter how small or menial, just to be able to be near Padre Pio. But Mario knew that was just wishful thinking. He and his mother would soon be going back to the northern part of Italy and later they would return to their home in New York City.

Mario thought about the long line of men just a few feet away, waiting patiently for the same opportunity, the same blessing that he had just received. He forced himself to get up and walk out of the confessional.

Later on in the afternoon, Mario saw Father Giovanni Battista who asked him how his confession to Padre Pio went. Mario shared that it had been a true gift, a truly “heavenly” experience. He told Father Giovanni Battista some of the details of his confession to Padre Pio. “Did Padre Pio say the words, “Ego te absolvo?” Father Giovanni Battista asked. “No, he did not,” Mario replied. “That means that you received a blessing from Padre Pio but not absolution,” Father Giovanni Battista explained. “Don’t worry about it, though. Padre Pio on occasion withholds absolution. Believe me. He knows very well what he is doing. He has his own reasons and we trust his judgment completely. He is guided by God. Just follow me into the monastery and I will be able to hear your confession and give you absolution. Padre Pio knows that we Capuchins hear the confessions and give absolution to those who, for one reason or another, have not received it from him. That is what we always do in these cases. Everything will be all right.”

But Mario was disappointed, deeply disappointed. He had the highest esteem for Father Giovanni Battista but he had wanted to receive absolution from Padre Pio. Although Father Giovanni Battista tried to assure him that everything was all right, in his heart, Mario wondered what had gone wrong.

There were usually three reasons why Padre Pio would withhold absolution. Those who were insincere, or those who came to see Padre Pio simply out of curiosity, were usually turned away. He would frequently withhold absolution from those who were not properly disposed and had not made a good preparation to receive the sacrament. He would also withhold absolution from those who were not sorry for their sins and had no desire to change.

Many people made their confession to Padre Pio but had no real desire to amend their life. They knew that they would continue to commit the same sins; they were not ready to give them up. It became easy for them to go from sinful acts to confession and right back to the sinful acts. Their souls were in grave danger but they remained completely indifferent to their situation. Padre Pio knew that they had to be shaken out of their spiritual lethargy. Something had to grab their attention. On occasion, he withdrew absolution. Being denied absolution was a definite “attention-grabber.” In this way, Padre Pio let the penitents know that by their own decision, they had forfeited the grace of God. The shock of not receiving absolution often woke them up and brought about the spiritual change that was needed.

Padre Pio was keenly aware of his responsibility to those who made their confession to him. His greatest desire was to help people draw closer to God. It hurt him to see the way people neglected God, their highest good. He wrote a letter to his spiritual director on one occasion and said, “I am alone in bearing the weight of everyone. And the thought of not being able to give some spiritual relief to those that Jesus sends to me, the thought of seeing so many souls who want to justify their sins and thus spite their highest good – afflicts me, tortures me, makes me a martyr. It wears me out, wracks my brain, and breaks my heart.”

Mario followed Father Giovanni Battista into the private quarters of the monastery. Once again, he made his confession. He received absolution and was assured that he was in a state of grace. As Mario and Father Giovanni Battista left the small chapel and walked down the corridor, they passed by Padre Pio’s cell and noticed that the door was open. A young altar boy was assisting Padre Pio and helping him put his sandals on. Mario was startled to see that Padre Pio’s bed was completely covered with letters. The amount of letters was so great that not even the blankets on his bed could be seen.

“Mario, this is your chance,” Father Giovanni Battista said. “Padre Pio is in his cell. Stand right by his door and wait for him. You can ask him for the absolution that he did not give you.” But Mario knew that he did not have the courage to ask Padre Pio for absolution. Just the thought of it was frightening to him.

Padre Pio walked out of his cell and saw Mario standing in the hall. For some reason, Father Giovanni Battista was no place to be seen. As Padre Pio drew closer, Mario knelt down. “What is it you want?” Padre Pio asked. “I think that you forgot to give me absolution when I made my confession to you,” Mario replied. “If it is possible, I would like to receive it at this time.” Padre Pio placed his hands on Mario’s head in a blessing, just as he had done before. Mario once again kissed his hand and waited, but the words, “Ego, te absolvo,” were not spoken. Padre Pio then started to walk down the corridor but before he had gone even ten steps, he stopped and looked back at Mario. With deep concentration, he stared at him in silence. Then he raised his eyes heavenward and remained motionless for some moments. He then turned and continued to walk down the corridor until he disappeared from view.

The next day, Mario and his mother would be leaving San Giovanni Rotondo to take the train back to Ponte Strambo. Father Giovanni Battista knew that Mario wanted to say goodbye to Padre Pio. He told Mario that Padre Pio would be at the monastery stairway at 11:00 a.m. the next morning. If Mario could be there at the same time, he could receive a final blessing from him.

At the appointed time, Mario was standing at the stairs where Father Giovanni Battista had indicated. He was able to speak to Padre Pio briefly. Mario told him that he and his mother were leaving that day and he wanted to bid him goodbye. Padre Pio gave him a final blessing and said, “May the angel of God accompany you on your journey.”

As Padre Pio started to walk down the stairs, Mario took hold of his arm to assist him. One of the Capuchins held his other arm for support. As they descended the stairs, Mario could tell that Padre Pio was suffering greatly. He had to walk slowly for it was very painful for him to walk on his stigmatized feet. Mario knew what a privilege it was to be able to help Padre Pio down the stairs. As they made their way toward the landing, many people were reaching out their hands, trying to touch Padre Pio and speak to him.

Before they left San Giovanni Rotondo to return to Ponte Strambo, Mario’s mother, Adele, obtained another ticket for Padre Pio’s confessional. She explained to Mario that they were going to have to return to the monastery in just a matter of days. She had been so excited about being able to make her confession to Padre Pio that she forgot to kiss his hand, and she had a great desire to do so. When getting her new ticket, she tried to estimate how many days the wait would be before her number was called. She estimated correctly, for she and Mario returned to the monastery on the very day that her name and number were called. She had a chance to see Padre Pio once again and to kiss his hand. To Adele, it was well worth the twelve-hour train trip.

Mario reflected many times on every detail of his trip to San Giovanni Rotondo. It had been a painful experience for him to realize that Padre Pio had not given him absolution. It caused him to do some very deep soul-searching. Mario knew that he had been negligent in the practice of his Catholic faith for a long time. Before visiting Padre Pio, Mario had been fully engrossed in worldly pursuits. He was completely indifferent to the state of his soul. The only reason he went to Mass on Sundays was because his mother expected it of him. Other than that, it meant nothing to him. Although he went to confession on occasion, he knew he would go right back to committing the same sins that he had previously confessed. He was attached to his sins; he did not want to give them up. In San Giovanni Rotondo, while waiting to go to confession to Padre Pio, Mario had not really made a good preparation. He had not made a serious examination of conscience before receiving the sacrament.

Visiting Padre Pio had made Mario aware of the great spiritual distance which separated him from God. He came to realize that he had been offending God by his lifestyle. If Padre Pio had not denied him absolution, he probably would never have realized that his soul was in grave danger. The times that he had made his confession in the past had brought no real change for him. But making his confession to Padre Pio marked a turning point in his life. He would never be indifferent to spiritual matters again.

Mario returned to his home in New York City, but it was not to business as usual. In order to learn more about Padre Pio, he bought a biography of his life and read it with great interest. He prayed for Padre Pio’s guidance and intercession. He began to attend daily Mass. He had the desire to spend time in church in front of the Blessed Sacrament and he asked his pastor if it would be possible to have an all night prayer vigil at the parish. The pastor thought it was a good idea. Mario organized the prayer vigil which began at 9:00 p.m. and continued until 6:00 a.m. the next morning. It was held on the first Friday of the month and was always well-attended.

Continuing his education, Mario graduated from St. John’s University in Queens, New York and went on to get his Master’s Degree from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, New York. He felt very fortunate to find a very good job with the state of New York in the field of social service.

It was in the beautiful church of Our Lady of Peace in New York City that Mario met his future wife, Sarojini Kannangara, a native of Sri Lanka. They married in 1972. Their first child, Pia Angeli, was a true blessing from God. In 1973, the Bruschis’ traveled to Sri Lanka to visit family members.

While in Sri Lanka, a country that is only 7 percent Catholic, Mario gave a talk on Padre Pio and showed a documentary film of his life. The presentation was very well received by both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Mario had only planned on showing the film once while on his vacation in Sri Lanka. He was surprised to receive many requests for additional showings of the film in other parts of the country. He was very happy to answer the requests. The response to the documentary was so enthusiastic that double showings had to be given on many days. Mario spent almost the entire three weeks of his vacation traveling from one end of Sri Lanka to the other, showing the film. Quite unexpectedly, his first trip to his wife’s homeland, turned out to be a “working” vacation. He hardly had time to relax, but sharing the message of Padre Pio proved to be very rewarding.

Mario also received many inquiries regarding the Padre Pio prayer groups. Through his assistance, many Padre Pio prayer groups were established in Sri Lanka for the first time. When his three-week vacation was over, Mario knew that his work on the beautiful tropical island of Sri Lanka was not. He returned to Sri Lanka nine more times, sharing the story of Padre Pio from town to town and village to village.

Most Reverend Dominic Athaide, the archbishop of Agra, India invited Mario to show the documentary film of Padre Pio to the people of India. The archbishop had a great devotion to Padre Pio. He had previously visited San Giovanni Rotondo and had met Padre Pio. Mario accepted the archbishop’s invitation and traveled to India three times, showing the film of Padre Pio in the cities of Madras, Bombay, Agra, Delhi and many others. Although India is less than 2 percent Catholic, Mario noticed the same interest and receptivity as he found in Sri Lanka. In India, he spoke in schools, seminaries, parishes, private homes, hospitals and cloistered convents.

During his travels, Mario made his lodging in the Capuchin monasteries of southern India. He came to have great admiration for the Capuchin priests and brothers who lived in India. Their lifestyle was simple and austere, true to the spiritual ideals of St. Francis of Assisi. In accord with the monastic custom, Mario slept each night on a straw bed with a hard pillow. He traveled to each new destination, not in an automobile, but in a simple rickshaw. He was able to adapt to the culture of India in all ways, except one. The traditional food, namely the very hot and spicy curry dishes, proved to be more than Mario could handle. He finally settled for boiled vegetables only, with no spices.

While in India, Mario showed the film of Padre Pio’s life to the members of a leper colony in the city of Agra. The lepers were very inspired by the presentation. They told Mario that the film on Padre Pio gave them a great sense of hope. Mario was very impressed with Archbishop Athaide’s important work at the leper colony in Agra. In an effort to provide assistance, the archbishop asked the lepers to list their fifteen most immediate needs. After reviewing their comments, the archbishop finally asked the lepers, “What is your greatest need?” Their answer was, “spiritual consolation.” It was the same great need that Mario saw in all of his travels. Everywhere, people were hungry for spirituality, the consolation of a deep prayer life, the need for God.

Through his public lectures as well as the showing of the documentary film, Mario was able to introduce thousands of people in the Far East to Padre Pio. But Mario thought of a way to reach even more. He contacted one of the executives in charge of television programming in Sri Lanka and asked if it would be possible to have the film of Padre Pio shown on Ceylon television, which broadcasts not only to Sri Lanka but also to southern India. The executive viewed the film and approved it. When the program was aired, it is estimated that between 17-20 million viewers watched the program and were introduced to Padre Pio in that way.

It was Mario’s dream that one day the country of Sri Lanka would have a church named in honor of Padre Pio. He spoke about it to Most Reverend Marcus Fernando, the archbishop of the diocese of Colombo, Sri Lanka. The archbishop was very supportive of the idea. The following year, Mario returned to Sri Lanka. He and his brother-in-law, Gamin Kannangara began making plans for the new church. With the help and guidance of Father Bertram Dabrera and Father Kingsley Jayamanne, the dream began to materialize. Mario went back to the United States and raised most of the funds for the project.

On September 23, 2007, Most Reverend Oswald Gomis consecrated the beautiful and stately St. Padre Pio Shrine Church in Athurugiriya, Sri Lanka. It is the first church in Asia to be dedicated to Padre Pio. Several first class relics of St. Pio have been enshrined there for public veneration. A Padre Pio prayer group has also been established there. People now travel from all parts of Sri Lanka to visit and pray at the St. Padre Pio Shrine Church in Athurugiriya.

Back home in New York City, where Mario and his family make their home, Mario has shown the documentary film on Padre Pio’s life in more parishes than he can count. A number of people have told Mario through the years that seeing the film on Padre Pio changed their life. It was the wake-up call that brought about their return to the Church and to the Sacraments.

For more than twenty years, Mario has organized the annual Padre Pio Mass and celebration that takes place every August at the shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Washington, New Jersey.

Three thousand people attend the full day of prayer, adoration, holy hour, Mass and procession. In New York City, Mario is the organizer for the annual Mass for St. Pio at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Mario has personally started twenty-five Padre Pio prayer groups. One of the most rewarding of the Padre Pio prayer groups that he has organized and that he leads each Thursday afternoon, is held at the Metropolitan Correctional Facility, a branch of the federal prison in New York City. The format for the prayer group includes the recitation of the Rosary, the Divine Mercy chaplet, prayer for the intercession of St. Pio, and a talk on the life and spirituality of St. Pio. One of the inmates who attended the Thursday afternoon Padre Pio prayer group felt the beneficial spiritual effects, and wanted to share what she had received with others. When she was released from the Correctional Facility, she returned to her home in Columbia, South America and started a Padre Pio prayer group there.

Mario has also given Padre Pio presentations at the federal prison in Otisville, New York, showing the documentary film on Padre Pio in both English and Spanish. He regularly visits Catholic schools, sharing the story of Padre Pio with children in elementary school and junior high school.

Mario attributes the conversion of his late brother, Dr. Walter Bruschi, to the intercession of Padre Pio. Walter worked as the Chief of Psychiatry at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas. Mario frequently had discussions with his brother about Padre Pio. Walter had a brilliant mind and could hold his own in any conversation. However, whenever Mario talked to Walter about Padre Pio, he felt that his words were falling on deaf ears. Walter had been away from his Catholic faith for most of his adult life. He doubted every word that Mario said about Padre Pio. “It is science that I believe in, not religion,” he would say to Mario. But a turning point in Walter’s life came when tragedy struck the family. His twenty-three year-old son died suddenly, leaving the entire family devastated.

Walter visited Mario in New York shortly after his son’s death. He told Mario that he wanted to find a spiritual director and asked him if he could recommend a good priest to him. Mario gave him the name of an excellent priest who was gifted in the field of spiritual direction. “I would also like to have a Rosary,” Walter said. “Would you happen to have an extra one?” Mario was happily surprised at the request. He gave Walter the Rosary that Padre Pio blessed for him when he visited San Giovanni Rotondo in 1957. Walter told Mario that the grief he experienced over the loss of his son, made him aware for the first time in years of his need for God. Walter began attending Mass on Sunday and eventually became a daily communicant.

After Walter’s conversion back to his faith, he saw his work as a psychiatrist in a whole new light. For his clients who were Catholics, Walter often recommended to them that they go to confession. He would say, “I am only a man. I want to help you but I am limited in what I can do for you. I am not able to relieve you of the guilt that you feel. But God can. Make a good confession as soon as possible and you will experience the healing power of the sacrament and a great sense of freedom.” Later in his life, when Walter was diagnosed with cancer, he united all of his suffering with Christ’s sufferings, and offered it in reparation for sins. When Walter passed away, he was at peace with God. He was buried with the Rosary that Padre Pio had blessed.

Mario continues to lead the all night prayer vigils on the first Friday of each month at Our Lady of Peace parish in New York City. This year, 2009, will mark his 40th year as organizer of the vigils. He is very happy that his son has agreed to continue the prayer vigils and the annual celebration Masses for Padre Pio when Mario is unable to do so.

Mario has recently been invited to Africa to speak to the people there about Padre Pio. He is enthusiastic and excited about future possibilities. “Perhaps God has some new work for me to do,” he says. “Preghiamo, figiu mi,” (Pray, my son), Padre Pio advised Mario each time he asked him for guidance. Mario has learned to entrust all of his plans to prayer.

Mario Bruschi in the St. Padre Pio church and shrine in Sri Lanka

Mario Bruschi in the St. Padre Pio church and shrine in Sri Lanka

Mario, through the years, has learned the supreme importance and value of seeking the deep spiritual realities of life. Once, he found his soul to be in a precarious state. His brief encounter with Padre Pio in 1957, changed all of that and set him on a completely new path. Since that time, Mario has seen miracles both great and small. Most importantly, he has seen countless lives transformed and restored through the message and the intercession of Padre Pio.

There is a quotation which says, “I am only one, but still I am one; I cannot do everything, but I can do something; I will not refuse to do the something I can do.” Mario Bruschi is only one person. Of course we know that he cannot do everything for the Kingdom of God. No one can. But he has never refused to do the work set before him, the work that he has felt especially called to do. And he has done a lot.

Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry – Issue 39 – April-June 2009

Download Newsletter Issue 39, April-June 2009

Be cheerful and tranquilly rest in the arms of Jesus and mitigate your fears with the greatest confidence in Jesus, as it is from him alone that you should expect many blessings.

– St. Pio of Pietrelcina

The Testimony of Gene Ricci

Gene Ricci wrote to us at Padre Pio Devotions about his visit to San Giovanni Rotondo in 1961. We corresponded a number of times with Gene and learned all the wonderful details of his story.

When Gene Ricci read the book, The Priest who Bore the Wounds of Christ, by Oscar DeLiso, he was deeply inspired. Gene learned that Padre Pio had the stigmata, the five wounds of Christ. He believed that what he had read in the book was true and he had a great desire to meet Padre Pio in person. He decided to take his family to Padre Pio’s monastery in San Giovanni Rotondo. The year was 1961. Gene had two sons and two daughters, ranging in age from five years to eleven years old. At the time, he did not have the financial means to make the trip so he borrowed the money. When he looked back on the experience, he said that it turned out to be the best investment he ever made in his life.

No one with whom Gene was acquainted in his home town of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania had ever heard Padre Pio’s name. That was hard for him to understand. If someone had the five wounds of Christ, it seemed to Gene that the whole world should know about it. When Gene and his family stopped in Rome on the way to San Giovanni Rotondo, he assumed that most of the Roman citizens would, at least, have heard of Padre Pio. Much to his surprise, not one person that he spoke to while in Rome knew anything of the saintly priest.

The first day of their visit to San Giovanni Rotondo, Gene and his family waited in the early morning hours for the church of Our Lady of Grace to open. A few moments before the doors were unlocked, a booming voice came over a loudspeaker and said emphatically, “This is the Lord’s house. Everyone is to behave in a dignified and proper manner!” It struck Gene as a rather unusual announcement but soon he would understand the reason. When the doors finally opened, there was a mad rush on the part of those who were waiting to get inside the church as quickly as possible. Gene had to physically brace himself to protect his wife and his four children. He was afraid they might be trampled.

Gene and his family found good seats near the front of the church but soon they were forced out of them by the local people. “These pews belong to us!” Gene was told. There was an obvious resentment toward anyone who had come from a distance to attend Padre Pio’s Mass. Gene and his family were shoved and pushed right out of their seats and forced to sit in a pew farther back.

Padre Pio’s Mass lasted almost two hours. The Consecration was especially long. At the afternoon Benediction service that day, Gene noticed a beautiful perfume that seemed to pervade the whole church. Gene and his family attended Mass and Benediction every day during their visit to San Giovanni Rotondo.

Every morning after Mass, Padre Pio went to the sacristy to make his thanksgiving. One day, Gene decided to follow him into the sacristy. Gene felt extremely lucky for he was able to kneel down right beside Padre Pio for the entire time that he made his thanksgiving. Gene could not resist the impulse to reach out and touch Padre Pio’s habit. He held on to his habit for the duration of the time that they were praying.

One day after the Mass, one of the Capuchins escorted Gene and his two sons into a small room. There were three chairs in it. The Capuchin told them to have a seat and wait because Padre Pio would soon come in to give them a blessing. Gene’s wife and daughters were not allowed to go with them since the area was open only to men. Padre Pio soon came in. His demeanor was serious and very reserved. He spoke not a single word but gave Gene and his two sons a blessing. Looking back on the experience, Gene said, “I cannot see how anyone, having met Padre Pio even once, would not find it in their heart to believe in God.”

Gene became friends with Mr. Bevilacqua, the owner of the hotel that he and his family stayed at while in San Giovanni Rotondo. Mr. Bevilacqua went to the monastery every day and was able to see Padre Pio during the lunch hour. After Gene returned to Pennsylvania, he arranged to send a donation to Padre Pio each month through Mr. Bevilacqua. On one occasion, when Gene sent his donation, he included a note saying that his wife was ill. The doctors could not determine what was wrong with her. Gene was worried and asked Mr. Bevilacqua to relay the message to Padre Pio. A short time later, Gene received a reply in the mail. Mr. Bevilacqua said that Padre Pio began to laugh when he was told about Mrs. Ricci’s illness. “Mrs. Ricci isn’t sick,” Padre Pio exclaimed. “She is expecting a baby!” The whole family was surprised to find out that Padre Pio’s words were correct.

When Gene returned to his home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, even though he could not really afford to do so, he bought fifty books by Oscar DeLiso, The Priest who Bore the Wounds of Christ. He mailed them to his friends and relatives with a card attached to each one, “Please read this book.” Gene began attending a Padre Pio prayer group in his area and enjoyed it very much. One of the members, Joe Peluso, was from a neighboring town. On one occasion, after the prayer meeting, Joe approached Gene and confided to him that he had terminal cancer. He did not have much time left to live.

Joe told Gene that he had a number of Padre Pio’s relics and he wanted to give some of them to him. Gene was very surprised, since Joe was almost a stranger to him. He had seen him at the prayer meetings on occasion but did not really know him. Joe gave Gene a piece of the handkerchief that Padre Pio had used to dry his tears, a piece of his glove, and a medal blessed by both Padre Pio and Pope Pius XII. Joe explained that he had been in the U.S. Army when he was a young man and was stationed near San Giovanni Rotondo. He visited Padre Pio often and they became very close. On one occasion, Padre Pio told Joe that his supply of religious medals had diminished and asked him to see if he could find some for him. When Joe succeeded in obtaining a good quantity of medals, Padre Pio was very happy. Padre Pio blessed them and gave two of the blessed medals to Joe. Then Padre Pio asked for the two medals back. He prayed over them for a second time before returning them to Joe. He explained to Joe that he wanted to give them a special blessing.

Gene was elated to receive the precious relics. The fact that Joe wanted Gene to have them was a blessing in itself. Gene was curious about the special blessing that had been given to the medal. He wondered why Padre Pio blessed it not once, but twice. He asked Joe about it. “What was the second blessing that was given by Padre Pio to this medal?” Gene inquired. “You know, I never asked,” Joe replied.

The spiritual blessings that Gene received by visiting Padre Pio have lasted through the many years since. “My life would not be what it is today if I had not made the trip to San Giovanni Rotondo,” Gene said. His faith was strengthened by the encounter and it has remained strong. As Gene stated, visiting Padre Pio was the best investment he ever made in his life.

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Sr. Patricia Proctor, O.S.C. is a cloistered Poor Clare nun who lives in the Franciscan Monastery of St. Clare in Spokane, Washington. She kindly agreed to let us share the beautiful testimony of Father Jogues Constance, OFM Cap which is taken from her book “201 Inspirational Stories of the Eucharist.”

In the summer of 1958, I completed studies in canon law at the Urban University in Rome. After that, with another American Capuchin, Father Reynold Rynda, I went to San Giovanni Rotondo in Italy to visit Father Dominic Meyer, who was a secretary at the time to our confrere, Padre Pio. The Padre received bags of mail from around the world daily and was loved by many people. Father Dominic arranged that both of us should serve Mass for Padre Pio. It was Sunday morning, June 29, 1958, ten years before Padre Pio’s death.

I clearly remember the experience of that day. The Mass, which was before the Second Vatican Council, was in Latin, and Padre Pio celebrated facing forward, where a large crucifix hung. His Mass that day, without a homily, lasted one hour. There were some periods of what might be described as raptures, when Padre Pio, with eyes open, seemed to be witnessing the events of the Upper Room and of Calvary. At the lavabo of the Mass, or the hand washing ceremony, I poured water over the sacred stigmata. In the sacristy, I kissed his hand.

As a priest myself, I have been offering Mass every day for fifty years. The experience of the Mass of Padre Pio still inspires me with devotion and reverence.”

Father Jogues Constance

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Joseph Orlando
wrote to us at Padre Pio Devotions sharing the testimony of his healing through the intercession of Padre Pio:

My family and extended family are from Italy and some of them knew Padre Pio. My grandfather, Cosmo Orlando, who was a farmer, remembered Padre Pio from the early days. He said that Padre Pio was always the one boy who acted as mediator when disputes arose among friends. My father was twelve-years-old when he moved to America. His mother took him to the monastery to say goodbye to Padre Pio. My father remembers vividly taking hold of Padre Pio’s hand when saying goodbye to him.

In 1958, while on deck in a baseball contest, I was struck in the head with the bat from the player who had just struck out at the plate. I was eight-years-old at the time. I suffered a double skull fracture and underwent an eight hour operation. My life was in the hands of two wonderful neurosurgeons, Dr. Greenberg and Dr. Fromm. Although I survived the operation, Dr.Greenberg informed my mother that the prognosis was very dim. I would probably suffer permanent brain damage and thus a normal life was not likely.

My grandfather, who had an undying belief in Padre Pio, possessed one of his gloves. It was placed on my forehead in the hospital. When I was released from the hospital, I continued my recuperation and a month later, I was able to return to school. After that, I never looked back, even though a plate was inserted in my head the following year. I remained under Dr. Greenberg’s care until I turned twenty-one years old. He always told my mother and me that he could not explain my recovery, especially since a part of my brain had to be removed from the left lobe. Dr. Greenberg used to say that someone else or something else assisted me. He concluded that my recovery was a medical miracle. My father retains the glove of Padre Pio to this day.

-Joseph Orlando

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A note from the editor:
Not long ago, we were introduced to Giuseppe Quaranta and learned that several of his family members had met Padre Pio. This is his story:

Giuseppe Quaranta was born and raised in Bari, Italy. Giuseppe’s grandmother Anna, used to travel to the monastery of Our Lady of Grace to attend Padre Pio’s Mass and to make her confession to him. She told Giuseppe that Padre Pio’s voice was very gentle and sweet whenever he spoke to her in the confessional and she knew it was a great grace to make her confession to the saintly priest.

Giuseppe’s Aunt Archangela make her confession to Padre Pio on one occasion only, when she was thirteen-years-old. It was not an easy experience for her. Confession was serious business to Padre Pio and he wasted no time but said to her, “You have a sin to confess and you have not mentioned it.” A feeling of fear came over Archangela and she started to tremble. She tried to think of a sin she had committed but she could not recall it. For a penance, he gave her ten Hail Mary’s to pray. “This is one tough priest,” Archangela said to herself. Padre Pio spoke with authority in the confessional and it proved to be intimidating to her. She returned to the monastery of Our Lady of Grace many times, but she never again had the courage to make her confession to Padre Pio.

Giuseppe’s good friend and teacher used to take one of his relatives who was wheelchair-bound to Padre Pio’s monastery twice a month for the Wednesday morning blessing of the sick. The sick gathered faithfully every Wednesday both in the morning and in the afternoon to receive Padre Pio’s blessing.

One Wednesday morning, as Padre Pio was about to give his customary blessing to the sick, he noticed three men with video cameras inside the church. Without permission, they were filming him. Padre Pio became irate and spoke to the men in a severe tone of voice, “This is not a show! There is nothing for you to film here. You must leave at once!” The men obeyed but Padre Pio was so upset by the incident that he was not able to give the usual blessing to the sick that morning. Instead, he went immediately back inside the monastery. Later in the afternoon, he returned to the church to give the blessing to the
sick.

Giuseppe had grown up in the parish of St. Rocco in Bari. The Pastor, Father Domenico Labellarte, had a great devotion to Padre Pio. Once, he shared an interesting story with Giuseppe about a friar who was staying at the monastery of Our Lady of Grace. The friar was preparing for his ordination to the priesthood but he became very upset when he learned that he would have to take a fourth vow before receiving Holy Orders. He decided to ask Padre Pio’s advice. One day he found Padre Pio in the church, praying in front of the crucifix. He waited a long time for him to finish his prayers and finally he became impatient. He tapped Pade Pio on the shoulder but he did not respond. He was deeply immersed in prayer. He tapped him harder on the shoulder and spoke in a loud voice, “Padre Pio, I must speak to you!” This time Padre Pio looked up. “I am very upset,” the friar said, “and I need your advice. I will be ordained to the priesthood soon, and my superiors have now told me that in addition to my vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, I am required to take a fourth vow, a vow against modernism. I don’t even know what modernism is and I feel very resentful about the new requirement. I do not want to take a fourth vow. Please explain anti-modernism to me and tell me what I should do.

Padre Pio told the friar that his attitude was in error and he advised him to correct himself at once. “Just take the vow the Church requires of you and don’t question it,” Padre Pio said. “You need to follow the order of your superiors. Obey Holy Mother Church and do what your superiors tell you!” As usual, his words were simple and right to the point. When their conversation was over, Padre Pio once again returned to his prayers.

Although Giuseppe never had the good fortune to meet Padre Pio, he was delighted when he was given a tape recording of his voice. When he played the recording, he was surprised to hear the dialect that Padre Pio spoke. In different parts of Italy, the dialects can be so different that the people from one region often cannot understand the Italian that is being spoken in another region. Near the urban areas, people speak in a dialect that is common to the well-educated and sophisticated members of society. Bari, the city where Giuseppe was raised, is only 70 miles from San Giovanni Rotondo. Giuseppe was able to understood Padre Pio’s words in full. Padre Pio spoke with an accent and in the dialect of country people – the farmers, the simple shepherds, and the day-laborers.

Padre Pio lived all of his life as a poor man. He entered one of the poorest religious orders of the Church. His parents made great sacrifices so that he could have an education and he worked hard and did well in his academic studies. He had always been studious. He had taken a vow of poverty when he entered the priesthood and he identified totally with the Franciscan charism of simplicity and non-possession. The Poverello, St. Francis of Assisi, was his spiritual father and guide. It is hardly to be wondered at that Padre Pio spoke the dialect of the simple and hard-working people of southern Italy, those who lived close to the earth.

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Giuseppe Quaranta’s testimony above described Padre Pio’s strong reaction to the cameramen in the church of Our Lady of Grace. Padre Pio always desired that a spirit of reverence and respect be maintained in the house of God. The following letter which Padre Pio wrote to one of his spiritual daughters, Annita Rodote, expresses his thoughts regarding reverence in Church:

“In order to avoid irreverence and imperfections in the house of God, in church, which the Divine Master calls the house of prayer, I exhort you in the Lord to practice the following: Enter the church in silence and with great respect…Among other pious considerations, remember that our soul is the temple of God and as such, we must keep it pure and spotless before God and his angels. . .Then take holy water and make the sign of the cross carefully and slowly.

As soon as you are before God in the Blessed Sacrament, devoutly genuflect. Once you have found your place, kneel down and render the tribute of your presence and devotion to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Confide all your needs to him along with those of others. Speak to him with filial abandonment, give free rein to your heart and give him complete freedom to work in you as he thinks best.

When assisting at Holy Mass and the sacred functions, be very composed when standing up, kneeling down and sitting, and carry out every religious act with the greatest devotion. Be modest in your glances; don’t turn your head here and there to see who enters and leaves. Don’t laugh, out of reverence for this holy place and also out of respect for those who are near you. Try not to speak to anybody, except when charity or strict necessity requires this. . .

On leaving the church, you should be recollected and calm. First, take your leave of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. . .do no not leave him without asking for and having received his paternal blessing. Once you are outside the church, be as every follower of the Nazarene should be. Above all, be extremely modest in everything as this is the virtue which, more than any other, reveals the affections of the heart . . .You must be modest in speech, modest in laughter, modest in your bearing, modest in walking. . .

Therefore, be humble of heart, circumspect in words, prudent in your resolutions. Always be sparing in your speech, assiduous in good reading, attentive in your work, modest in your conversation…As an example, always keep before your mind the Divine Master’s meekness, which according to the expression of the apostle to the Corinthians, is on a par with his gentleness. “I, Paul, exhort you, by the gentleness and meekness of Christ.” After so perfect a model, change all your external actions so that they are a faithful mirror revealing your interior sentiments.

Never forget this Divine Model, Annita. Try to see a certain lovable majesty in his presence, a certain pleasant authority in his manner of speaking. . .a certain sweet serenity in his face. Imagine that extremely composed and sweet expression with which he drew the crowds, making them leave cities and castles, leading them to the mountains, the forests, to the solitude and to deserted beaches, totally forgetting food, drink and their domestic duties.

Thus let us try to imitate, as far as we possibly can, such modest and dignified actions. And let us do our utmost to be, as far as possible, similar to him on this earth, in order that we may be more perfect and more similar to him for the whole of eternity in the heavenly Jerusalem.”

– St. Pio of Pietrelcina

Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry – Issue 38 – January-March 2009

Download Newsletter Issue 38

Padre Pio let himself be guided solely by the intense
desire to disappear in Jesus. . . He considered this complete and
voluntary subjection to be the whole meaning of his earthly existence
and also of his eternal life. To him, this represented the
only way that he could be useful to his brothers and sisters in Christ.

– Padre Pellegrino Funicelli

The Testimony of Umberto (Bert) Longo

Editor’s note: Initially, Bert Longo wrote to us at Padre Pio Devotions and shared a few facts of his memories of growing up in San Giovanni Rotondo and knowing Padre Pio. We contacted Bert but he was reticent about sharing more of his story. Not long after that, Bert was surprised when his good friend, Fr. James DeVita, sent him Issue #35 of “Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry.” It was the interview we had with Fr. DeVita regarding his memories of Padre Pio. Fr. DeVita and Bert were childhood friends and had both grown up in San Giovanni Rotondo. After learning a little more about our “Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry” publication, Bert contacted us once again and said he would be happy to share his story. We agreed that it would be more fruitful to talk together in person. Deacon Ron and I traveled to Cape Cod, MA and spent two days with Bert and Clara Longo. Their story follows:

Umberto (Bert) Longo was born and raised in San Giovanni Rotondo and lived just one mile from the monastery of Our Lady of Grace. When Bert’s father emigrated to the United States to find work, Bert became very close to his Uncle Gerardo Miniscalchi who became like a father-figure to him. Previously, Uncle Gerardo had joined a religious order, but when
his mother (Bert’s grandmother) became ill, he left his religious community and moved back home to help his family. A devout and prayerful man all his life, Gerardo never married. Every afternoon, he taught Bert a lesson from the catechism. Uncle Gerardo went to church twice daily and eventually became the president of the Third Order of Saint Francis in San Giovanni Rotondo. Padre Pio was a great promoter of the Third Order of Saint Francis. He would say to the members, “Let us act in such a way that Saint Francis will be proud of us.”

Gerardo had a barber shop in San Giovanni Rotondo. For many years he had the honor of being Padre Pio’s barber, as well as barber for the other Capuchins. He went regularly to the monastery to cut their hair and he considered it a great privilege. As a sign of respect, he always wore a suit and tie whenever he went to the monastery to give the Capuchins a haircut.

In 1939, when Bert was eight years old, Uncle Gerardo started taking him each Sunday to the afternoon Vespers service at Padre Pio’s monastery. They walked the one mile distance, since there was no public transportation to the monastery at that time. On the way, Bert and his uncle passed an occasional farmhouse nestled among cherry trees but other than that, the surrounding area was almost completely undeveloped.

Sunday Vespers at the monastery, which included singing, prayers and Benediction, lasted almost one hour. Padre Pio and the other Capuchins always sat in the balcony of the church for the prayers. Very few lay people attended Vespers at the time, probably due to the fact that it was a long uphill walk from the town of San Giovanni Rotondo. After Vespers, Bert and Uncle Gerardo would go into the monastery garden and visit with Padre Pio. There were usually six or eight priests along with several laymen in attendance. A high wall surrounded the entire area, which afforded complete privacy. Past the garden entrance was the monastery’s well. Padre Pio would often hold Bert’s hand and walk down the garden pathways while the other men would follow along behind. Even though Bert was just a small boy at the time, while in Padre Pio’s presence, he felt no desire to play or run about like children often do. Padre Pio would frequently sit on a bench and converse with the adults while holding Bert’s hand.

On one occasion, Padre Pio spoke about Bert’s father to everyone who was gathered. “Just like my own father, Bert’s father, Matteo, has emigrated to the United States in order to make a living,” Padre Pio said. “Many people believe that the United States is so rich that the tiles on the roofs of the homes are made out of pure gold. That is why so many people want to leave Italy and move there,” Padre Pio added. Grazio Forgione, Padre Pio’s father, had traveled to South America and also to the U.S. to work and earn money for his family and for Padre Pio’s education in the seminary.

Bert recalled some of the “regulars” who visited Padre Pio during the period of recreation in the monastery garden after Sunday Vespers. There was Basilio, the town’s electrician, Michaelino, who had a newsstand where he sold tobacco and newspapers, the English Count John Telfener, who owned a villa nearby, and little Pio Abresch, the young son of the monastery’s photographer. Pio Abresch, who attended the same school as Bert, eventually became a priest and was sent to Rome to serve at the Vatican. Not to be forgotten was the monastery’s dog, a German Shepherd who was instinctively good at guarding the Capuchins’ property and keeping strangers at bay.

Although Bert was too young to fully comprehend Padre Pio’s spirituality, he always knew that there was something special about him. For one thing, he always wore brown half-gloves and Bert knew that he did so in order to cover the wounds of the stigmata on his hands. Bert served as altar boy for Padre Pio on one occasion only. The Mass was very long and the Consecration was especially long. It seemed to Bert that it lasted for several hours. Kneeling on the hard marble floor was uncomfortable and making the effort to remain still during the long periods of silence, proved to be almost impossible for young Bert. The Mass took place very early in the morning and although Bert tried to stifle his yawns while serving at the altar, he did not succeed. He never signed up to serve Padre Pio’s Mass again.

Bert also found out by experience that it could be daunting to go to confession to Padre Pio. One memorable confession occurred when Bert was ten years old. Padre Pio heard his confession in one of the cells of the monastery. Bert had not made a good preparation to receive the sacrament and had not given very much thought to what he was going to say. He confessed several venial or minor sins and when he said his final words, Padre Pio asked him, “Is that all you have to confess?” “Yes, it is,” said Bert. “I don’t think so,” said Padre Pio. “I want you to go to my cell and meditate on your sins and then come back.”

Bert did as instructed. He was very familiar with the monastery and knew that Padre Pio’s cell was just down the corridor. Once inside Padre Pio’s cell, Bert saw the kneeler close to his bed. There he knelt as he had been instructed. He remembered that it was common knowledge in San Giovanni Rotondo that Padre Pio was often tormented by the devil. He also knew that Padre Pio led a very penitential life. He looked around the room to see if there were any chains and there were none. As he was kneeling, he suddenly began to remember other sins that had completely slipped his mind. “I talked back to my mother,” Bert reflected. “I was disobedient to Uncle Gerardo,” he remembered. “I neglected my prayers.” Suddenly, Bert became afraid. “I have a feeling that Padre Pio already knows this,” Bert said to himself. “He can probably read my mind and know my sins even before I confess them.” Bert did not have the courage to go back to Padre Pio’s confessional to receive absolution that day. He left the monastery and went straight home.

It was true enough that Padre Pio was exacting and meticulous regarding one’s conduct. Bert Longo learned that lesson from Padre Pio at an early age. On one occasion, Padre Pio was speaking to one of his spiritual sons, Professor Enrico Medi, about the serious sin of telling lies. Medi had recently been elected to Parliament and a prosperous and successful career in politics lay ahead for him. However, in the political world, Medi felt that it was impossible to always tell the truth. Occasionally, one had to tell a lie. He expressed his opinion but Padre Pio saw no room for compromise and strongly disagreed with Enrico. “Well then, if it is wrong to tell even small lies, I must resign from my position as a member of Parliament,” Professor Medi said. Padre Pio was very happy about his decision.

Bert’s Uncle Gerardo used to direct the religious plays that were performed in the hall adjacent to the church of Our Lady of Grace. On one occasion, young Bert was assigned to play the part of a mendicant Franciscan. When it was time for his entrance, he forgot the instructions he had been given. He made his way to the stage, not in a dignified manner, but running full speed. He delivered his lines quickly and ran off stage even faster. Padre Pio was in attendance for Bert’s acting debut. Seeing his ill-fated performance caused Padre Pio to laugh out loud. It was determined by the director that Bert Longo had no acting ability, and he was never cast again in any of the plays.

Bert used to go to Mary Pyle’s home where everyone gathered to rehearse for the plays. There, he became acquainted with Padre Pio’s father, Grazio Maria Forgione, who lived at Mary’s house. Bert and Grazio often played “Scopa” together, a card game they both enjoyed, during the rehearsals for the plays.

Grazio Forgione, a man of deep faith, was described by those who knew him as, “very simple and very good.” His kindness in his dealings with others was always evident. He was careful not to harm any living thing, not even an insect. He and his son, Padre Pio, had always been very close. When Padre Pio was a child, Grazio would take him on day pilgrimages to nearby religious shrines. They alternately walked and rode a donkey. Every year, on the feast day of St. Donato, Grazio took young Padre Pio to the fair in Pontelandolfo to buy sheep. In later years, Padre Pio would speak about the beautiful church in Pontelandolfo that he and his father visited each year on St. Donato’s feast day. After he became a priest, Padre Pio would hear his father’s confession. Grazio said that at times Padre Pio surprised him by informing him of sins which he had forgotten to confess and to which he had told no one.

Grazio understood that his son had received special graces from God. Not only did he have the gift of reading hearts while hearing confessions, he also expressed intuitive knowledge in many other circumstances. When the Holy Family Capuchin monastery and church were being built in Pietrelcina, a big problem presented itself. Many times the area had been probed for water, but with no success. The builders went to San Giovanni Rotondo to discuss the problem with Padre Pio. The construction of the Holy Family monastery was a project that was very close to Padre Pio’s heart and he was anxious for its completion. He was shown a blueprint of the area where the monastery would one day stand. Padre Pio pointed to a certain spot on the blueprint. “Dig five meters in this area and you will find all the water you need,” Padre Pio said. The advice proved to be accurate. When the workers dug in the area indicated, a spring of water came forth which was so plentiful that it supplied more than enough water for the needs of the monastery. The overflow was used by the town of Pietrelcina.

Many people were anxious to meet Grazio Forgione, knowing that he was Padre Pio’s father. “What a beautiful son you have,” they would often say to Grazio. At the words, tears would well up in his eyes. He would say in response, “I didn’t make him. Jesus Christ did.”

Many of the people who visited San Giovanni Rotondo would share their stories about Padre Pio with Grazio. One man from Pietrelcina told Grazio of his experience in Padre Pio’s confessional. The man had left Italy for a time and had moved to America. While there, he committed a terrible crime. He moved back to Italy without anyone knowing that he was the perpetrator of the crime. While making his confession to Padre Pio, he withheld his dark secret. When Padre Pio asked him if he had any other sins to confess, his answer was no. Padre Pio told him to turn around and look behind him. The man did so and saw the whole scene of the crime in miniature, reenacted before his eyes. He was filled with terror. What terrified him even more was seeing the devil standing directly behind him, ready to seize him. The man fainted. When he was revived, he again confessed his sins to Padre Pio, this time, withholding nothing.

Padre Pio had received the stigmata in 1918, in the monastery church of Our Lady of Grace. When the news reached Grazio that his son had received the stigmata, he was profoundly moved. One late afternoon, when Grazio came in from doing the farm work on his small land holding, he saw that his wife Giuseppa’s eyes were red with tears. She told Grazio that she had been summoned that day by the parish priest of Pietrelcina. The priest showed Giuseppa a letter he had received from Padre Pio’s monastery in San Giovanni Rotondo. The letter was to inform him that Padre Pio had received the wounds of Christ on his hands, feet, and side. Padre Pio was the first priest in the history of the Church to receive the stigmata. When Grazio heard the news about his son, he too, cried with Giuseppa.

Following the custom of kissing the hand of a priest, Grazio often tried to kiss his son’s hand, but Padre Pio would not allow it. “It is I who should be kissing your hand, father,” Padre Pio would say to Grazio. One day Grazio managed to succeed in kissing Padre Pio’s hand. “Do not worry. I am not kissing your hand, son. I am kissing the wounds of Jesus Christ,” Grazio said. His respect for his son was so great that he didn’t speak to Padre Pio using the word, “tu,” the familiar second person singular that family members use when speaking to each other. He used the more formal, “voi.” When Grazio passed away, Padre Pio was so grief-stricken that he could not resume his normal priestly duties for many days.

In 1939, Padre Pio attended the dedication ceremony of one of the beautiful and early Via Croce (Stations of the Cross) that had been erected in San Giovanni Rotondo. Bert Longo and his Uncle Gerardo attended the ceremony as well. Though Bert lived in San Giovanni Rotondo for the first twenty years of his life, Padre Pio’s presence at the dedication ceremony that day was the one and only time that Bert ever saw him outside the monastery. Padre Pio was not a cloistered religious. If he had wanted to, he could have gone on outings or taken a vacation like the other Capuchins in his religious community did. But for reasons of his own, he chose not to. It was his desire and his practice to stay within the monastery walls. He spent his time either in prayer or in priestly service to those who needed his help.

Bert and his Uncle Gerardo faithfully attended the Vespers service at Our Lady of Grace every Sunday afternoon for five years. Their weekly visits were curtailed due to an event that happened in San Giovanni Rotondo in February, 1944. That was the year that German soldiers placed a cannon in the center of the town and ordered all the citizens to turn in their hunting rifles, pistols and automobiles. There were only about four automobiles at that time in San Giovanni Rotondo. The cars were taken to the Umbrian Forest and hidden among the trees but the German soldiers soon found them and destroyed them. After that, everyone became more concerned for their safety. For that reason, Uncle Gerardo stopped taking Bert to the monastery for Vespers.

Bert’s high school class in San Giovanni Rotondo consisted of fourteen students. When graduation approached, Bert began to think seriously about his vocation. He had been accepted at the University of Bari but could not decide between medicine or engineering as a career path. He asked Padre Pio for his opinion on which would be a better choice. “Why don’t you go on a retreat and pray about it?” Padre Pio said to him. Bert was a teenager at the time and going away on a retreat for the weekend did not seem feasible. However, he decided to go alone to Monte Calvo, the large mountain that was directly behind the monastery. He spent time there in seclusion as he walked and prayed, asking God to help him with the important decision regarding his future. Afterward, Bert felt that he should choose engineering over medicine. It proved to be an excellent decision. Later, when he thought about his conversations with Padre Pio, he reflected that Padre Pio never told him what to do. Instead, he always suggested that he pray and ask the Lord to guide him.

Bert’s father, Matteo Longo, had been working in the United States for many years to help support the family. In 1951, twenty-year-old Bert, along with his mother and brother, moved to the United States to be reunited with Matteo. Before they left San Giovanni Rotondo, the family wanted to see Padre Pio one last time. Uncle Gerardo arranged for them to meet Padre Pio at a side area of the church to say good-bye and to receive his blessing. It had to be done discretely and almost in secret, since there were so many people who were constantly trying to see Padre Pio.

After Bert relocated to Massachusetts, he kept in touch with Uncle Gerardo and Padre Pio through letters. When Bert needed Padre Pio’s counsel, he would write to his Uncle Gerardo and ask him to relay the message to Padre Pio. Bert became interested in an Irish girl and started dating her. He wrote to Uncle Gerardo and asked him to tell Padre Pio the news. Padre Pio gave Uncle Gerardo a message to pass on to Bert. “Does the girl come from a religious family? Does she go to Mass on Sunday?” Bert reflected on Padre Pio’s words and could not answer in the affirmative. He decided to stop dating the girl. He became interested in a second girl and started dating her. He thought about Padre Pio’s comment, “Is her family religious? Does she go to church?” Again, he could not reply in the affirmative. He stopped seeing the second girl.

Bert served as an usher every Sunday morning at St. Anna’s parish in Leominster, Massachusetts. One of the parishioners was a very nice Italian girl named Clara DiNardo. Bert used to usher Clara to her seat for the Sunday morning Mass. Soon they started dating. He wrote to Uncle Gerardo and told him to pass the news on to Padre Pio that he was dating Clara. A short time later, Uncle Gerardo wrote back. Padre Pio told Uncle Gerardo to tell Bert that it sounded like Clara came from a good Italian family and it sounded like a good match. And indeed it was!

After Bert and Clara got married, Uncle Gerardo would come to visit them and would stay for long periods of time. By that time he had retired, and his brother, Vincenzo had assumed the privileged task of cutting Padre Pio’s hair. Uncle Gerardo still attended church twice each day and gave much of his time to prayer and spiritual reading. Knowing the great esteem that Bert had for Padre Pio, Uncle Gerardo gave him several precious relics. From his days as Padre Pio’s barber, he saved some of Padre Pio’s hair and gave it to Bert. Bert also received a piece of bloodstained linen that covered Padre Pio’s side wound, sent to him from San Giovanni Rotondo by Padre Pio’s personal assistant.

Bert and Clara felt blessed by the visits of Uncle Gerardo to their home. “Why don’t you decide to live here permanently?” Bert asked his uncle on one occasion. “No, I want to die poor, like Saint Francis of Assisi,” he replied. Gerardo moved back to San Giovanni Rotondo and died in 1987 on the auspicious day of October 4. It was the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi. Nobody who knew Gerardo Miniscalchi was surprised.

Not long after he moved to Massachusetts, Bert received a hand-written letter from Padre Pio. Of the various relics and mementos of Padre Pio that Bert received, this was the most precious of all. Writing was difficult for Padre Pio after he received the stigmata. It was not easy for him to hold a pen and compose a letter with painful and open wounds in his hands that pierced them clear through. Not only was writing difficult, it was also forbidden for much of his priestly ministry, by order of his superiors. Padre Pio’s deep affection for Bert Longo is very evident in the letter that he sent to him on May 4,1953. Padre Pio wrote:

Most dear brother in Jesus Christ,
I am very happy to hear that your health is good and from the depth of my heart I am happy when your Uncle Gerardo tells me the current news about you. With love, I remember you in my prayers to the good Lord so that he can bless and help you with the abundance of his grace. I am sending you my paternal blessing with all good wishes. I advise you to always act in the way of a good Christian. Always remember the good instructions you received from your parents. Stay away from the dangerous company of false friends who break both your mind and your heart. Always obey your loved ones and be sure to see to your studies. These paternal recommendations come from my heart and I desire that they enter your heart. I embrace you and I bless you.

Padre Pio

Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry – Issue 37 – October-December 2008

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Padre Pio – The Matchmaker

We visited Ortrud and Dr. Germain Bianchi at their home in Somers, Connecticut. They spoke to us about their memories of Padre Pio. Their story follows:

My name is Ortrud Bianchi and I was born in 1945 in Ronsperg, Czech Republic, the youngest of six children. Several months after my birth, we settled in a small town in Germany. My parents, Sieplinde and Erhard Schumann divorced when I was five years old. There was no religious atmosphere in our home but I did receive religious instruction in school as well as the sacraments of the Catholic Church. On rare occasions, my brother and I attended church. Watching my mother’s difficult life as a divorcee convinced me that I would remain single.

When I was a teenager, my maternal grandmother who lived in Austria, died unexpectedly. My mother traveled to the funeral and decided to remain in Austria. She realized that life can end abruptly and by the grace of God, she began to practice her Catholic faith with great fervor, making up for lost time.

As a result of my mother’s move to Austria, I joined my oldest sister and her husband in Landshut, Germany and finished my schooling there. I looked forward to school vacations so that I could be with my mother in Austria. However, I soon noticed that my mother was on a major mission to convert us children. The more she tried to convert us, the more our opposition grew. I finally made my mother promise not to mention religion to me anymore, otherwise I would discontinue my visits to her. My mother complied. The next time I saw her, she kept silent about her faith in God. When it was time to say goodbye, she handed me a small pamphlet to take home with me. On the cover of it was a picture of Jesus. That was a dead give away to me that it was a religious pamphlet, therefore boring and a waste of time to read. But I took it anyway, in order to avoid an argument.

Months passed and Easter vacation was about to begin. The pamphlet! Suddenly I remembered. Without fail, my mother’s first question would be to ask me how I liked it. The easiest solution would be to read just one small page and then I would be off the hook.

I was home alone and opened the pamphlet randomly. It was from the diary of the Polish nun, Sister (now Saint) Faustina Kowalska. My eyes fell on the text where Jesus explained to Sister Faustina that His mercy was greater than any human or angelic mind could ever fathom. Jesus invited every soul, no matter how sinful, to draw close to His merciful heart. The words hit me like lightning. Jesus loves me! Why be indifferent to the One who loves me more than I can ever imagine? Overwhelmed by deep emotions of contrition, I felt a force that brought me to my knees. I began to cry and I repeated over and over, “Jesus, from now on I want to be your friend.”

The next morning, Sunday, I got up and got ready for church while a puzzled and disbelieving sister and brother-in- law looked on. I made my way to church for confession and Mass. I never missed another Sunday Mass after that and I began to pray for all of the members of my family.

By July, 1964, I lived with my mother in Austria. Two years later, my youngest brother and his fianc were meeting the rest of the family in Rome for their wedding. They mailed the necessary documents for the wedding to Rome and made sure that they were certified, insured and registered. The documents for their wedding disappeared and were never found. Because of that, they were not able to get married.

While everyone was devastated that there would be no wedding, my mother cheerfully announced that she had “Plan B.” A friend had recently informed her of a holy monk, Padre Pio, who had the stigmata and lived in San Giovanni Rotondo. What a perfect opportunity it would be to visit him, since everyone was already in Rome. As we traveled to Padre Pio’s monastery, I became more and more excited at the thought of seeing a saint.

Our first experience was to be present for the opening of the church doors at 4:50 a.m. for Padre Pio’s 5:00 a.m. Mass. People started to push and shove, causing my brother-in-law to lose his shoe. Another person’s glasses flew off. Inside the church, people were racing down the middle aisle and jumping over the pews. It was like a sports event.

Then Padre Pio entered the sanctuary. He looked old, weak and even sickly. I could tell that he was suffering and I felt sorry for him. I thought it would be better for him to have some bed rest rather than to be surrounded by people who seemed more devoted to him than to Jesus and Mary. “Why do these people bother Padre Pio, trying to talk to him and touch him?” I said to myself. “I think they are on the wrong track. They are misled. Don’t they know that we have Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament? We don’t have to run after a person!”

I watched Padre Pio celebrate Mass and nothing extraordinary happened. Somehow I expected holiness to be radiating from him that would at least cause me to have some goose-bumps. Nothing happened inside of me. My final resolve was that I had seen Padre Pio once and that was good enough. There was no need to ever return to San Giovanni Rotondo again.

Two years later, my mother and a young man who was a fellow member of the Legion of Mary and I made a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Loreto in Italy. We had a wonderful time there. My mother suggested that we drive to San Giovanni Rotondo to see Padre Pio. It was a distance of at least 230 miles and there were no highways at that time to get there, only small roads. I told my mother that our car was too old and unreliable to make the trip. Besides, she had already seen Padre Pio. However, all my reasoning with my mother was to no avail. She told me that if I would not take her, she would walk the distance by herself. I told my mother that I would take her but only because I was a good daughter.

It wasn’t too long before our 1949 Volkswagen broke down. Our friend from the Legion of Mary had to hitchhike back to the previous town and since he did not speak Italian, he had to try to explain in sign language the car parts he needed to purchase in order to fix our car. My mother and I sat in a ditch as we prayed the Rosary and waited for him to return.

It took several hours to get the car running again. About 9:00 p.m. the car broke a second time. There was no mechanic shop anywhere near and by now, everything was closed. We grabbed our few belongings, locked the car, and hitchhiked through the night to San Giovanni Rotondo. When we reached the monastery at 5:00 a.m., my mother was overjoyed and made a solemn proclamation, “Isn’t God good! We have arrived on time for Holy Mass.” After Mass, we met a German lady on the plaza in front of the church. She knew how to get tickets to go to confession to Padre Pio and how to get tickets to enter the sacristy where Padre Pio passed after the morning confessions.

My mother obtained tickets and the next morning along with about fifteen other women, we were ushered into the old sacristy. It was no big deal for me. This time around I knew better than to expect anything. I knew that Padre Pio was just a human being. Yes, he might be a saint but I felt it was selfish to bother him the way the people did. “I will just play the game along with my mother,” I said to myself.

The door opened and there stood Padre Pio. We all knelt down for his blessing as he passed in front of each person. He stopped in front of my mother, looked at her and blessed her. I was next. He then placed his hand on my head. My whole body felt that touch. It felt like electricity going through my body and at the same time my soul was touched. I can’t explain what happened but I knew that something had taken place. I knew that a strong bond, a deep spiritual relationship between Padre Pio and myself had been established. He had become my spiritual father and I had become his adopted spiritual daughter. I ran outside the church and started to cry.

Back in Austria, I could not stop talking about Padre Pio. My two sisters, brother, brother-in-law, mother and I decided, only three weeks after my return from San Giovanni Rotondo, to take a trip together to see Padre Pio. Being back in San Giovanni Rotondo felt like being in Heaven and the days we spent there were pure happiness. We stayed for several weeks. I finally realized that the people who came to the monastery to see Padre Pio were not selfish like I had first thought. They were there for the same reason that I was there. Without even saying anything, Padre Pio was taking us closer to Jesus. Just looking at Padre Pio made you want to love Jesus more. He was like a magnet, drawing people closer and closer to God.

The morning of August 25, 1966 was our planned departure and we packed all our luggage in the trunk for our return trip back to Austria. At that moment, I decided to stay in San Giovanni Rotondo and I removed my bag from the car. As a religious education teacher, I still had three weeks of vacation left and I wanted to stay as long as possible. My family tried to reason with me and said to me, “You don’t know the Italian language. You don’t have money for a hotel. You don’t have money for the train ticket back to Austria. You do not even have enough money for food!” “I am twenty-one years old and I can make my own decisions,” I replied. I loved Padre Pio (like all those crazy Italian women) and all I cared about was to be near him.

After I said goodbye to my family, I went back to the church to pray. When I was near Padre Pio, all of my earthly desires seemed to disappear. Being close to him was like being on a retreat. During the afternoon, I asked about lodging but could not find anything in my price range. I asked the German lady who had befriended me if she knew of a place I could stay overnight but she did not know of anything.

After the evening Benediction service, everyone had to leave as the church doors were locked. Slowly, with my bag over my shoulder, I made my way across the plaza. My happy feeling made way for a pressing question, “What now? Where do I sleep?” I did not have money for a hotel and sleeping out in the open air under the stars made me nervous. Not only were there snakes in the area but also stray dogs.

I uttered a short prayer to Padre Pio, “Dear Padre Pio, I have never prayed to you for myself but now I need your help. Please help me to find a place to sleep tonight.” As I finished my cry for help, I noticed that a young man who was sitting on a bench under a tree, got up and started walking toward me. We talked for a few minutes and then I informed him that I had to be on my way for I had to find a place to stay for the night. He asked me to wait on the bench and he would be back soon. With no place to go, the bench seemed very inviting.

Fifteen minutes passed and then he returned. “Come, follow me,” he said. “I found a place for you to stay.” We headed down a hill to the first house across from the monastery. He led me into the house, down the stairs and opened the door to a room furnished with three beds. Pointing to the bed on the right he said, “This one is yours. It is fifty cents a night.” I thanked him and he left. Shortly after there was a knock at the door. To my surprise, it was the young man again. He handed me two paper bags, smiled and said, “This is for you. Good night.” Inside the bags were two delicious sandwiches, an apple and a pear. My mind was racing. How did he know that I had not eaten a meal that day?

The next morning an Italian lady who stayed at the same residence invited me to a little room and served me a big dish of pasta with bread and wine. “Mangia, mangia,” (eat, eat) she said but I really did not need any encouragement and I ate all the food.

That day I ran into the young man again. I learned that he was an American studying medicine in Rome. He had arrived in Rome in August but his school was closed until September. He felt inspired to spend his free time in San Giovanni Rotondo near Padre Pio.

There was no lack of German-speaking pilgrims at the monastery and one day I met a woman named Adelinde from Austria. She urged me to pray for her intention. She confided to me that she was anxious about traveling alone and that she would like Padre Pio to send her a traveling companion for her return trip back to Austria.

I told her that her worries were over. Padre Pio had answered her prayers and she was looking at her traveling companion. The idea popped into my mind that it would be great to have a man in the car, in case we had a flat tire. Adelinde agreed and the American was offered a free ride to Rome which he accepted. Leaving San Giovanni Rotondo the following week was extremely painful to me. The thought of returning soon was the only thing that made it bearable. The three of us traveled to Rome together and once in Rome, Adelinde had some business to take care of and excused herself for a half hour.

While waiting in the car for Adelinde to return, I suggested to the American that we pray the Rosary together. I led the first part of the Hail Mary in German and he answered in English. Adelinde came back and we continued our journey. On the way to the hotel to drop off the American, I felt a hand on my right shoulder. It was the American. The strange thing was that it did not feel like a human hand. I experienced the exact same powerful feeling in my body as when Padre Pio put his hand on my head. The feeling lasted as long as the young man’s hand was on my shoulder. Before leaving the car, he handed me a piece of paper with his name and address and asked for mine. The card he handed me said, “Germain Bianchi, Yonkers, New York.”

Several days after I returned to my home in Austria, the doorbell rang and when I opened the door, there stood the American. I wanted to introduce him to my mother but I could not remember his name. He came to visit me again, just three weeks later. Traveling such a long distance to see me, alarmed me, so I had a talk with him.

I began by saying, “I am not interested in any close relationships. I am very happy being single and I want to remain single. I don’t want to divide my love for Jesus. I like to go to church whenever I please and pray. I love being a religious education teacher. I would never want to take the chance of getting married. These days people make promises and later it is a different story.”

Germain listened and after a pause, he responded to each point I had made. He said to me, “You are very happy to be single but it is also possible to be happy as a married person. You should never divide your love for Jesus. Neither would I. Rather we would help each other to love Jesus more and more. And I would never be unfaithful to you. You have my word.”

“Ortrud, stick to your principles,” I said to myself. “Don’t give in. Don’t get weak!” But I could feel my heart softening just a bit.”Why are we discussing marriage?” I said to Germain. “I don’t even know you and you don’t know me.” “I know you well enough,” Germain said, “that I would like to ask you to marry me. When we were sitting in the car and you asked me to pray the Rosary with you, you were the first girl that ever asked me to pray the Rosary. I knew then that I wanted you to be my wife.”

The next day Germain took a train to San Giovanni Rotondo. In confession, he told Padre Pio that he met a girl that he wanted to marry but that she was not sure about him. Padre Pio, a man of few words, advised him, “Marry her and prepare well for your marriage.” Germain heard what he wanted to hear but I still needed my own sign.

At Christmas time, I went to San Giovanni Rotondo and Germain was there with me. I wanted to ask Padre Pio about marrying Germain. One day I happened to have an excellent position in the front row of a crowded sacristy. There were many other women there as well. Padre Pio would be passing within two feet of me and at that time I planned on speaking to him about Germain.

Brother Joseph Pius, one of the Capuchins who lived at the monastery, approached me and motioned for me to follow him. I told him that I was in an excellent spot to talk to Padre Pio but he insisted that I go with him. I was not thrilled to give up my good place in the front row but I followed Brother Joseph Pius. He led me through the big church, unlocked the door to the monastery and gave me orders to wait there in the middle of a long hallway. A few minutes later he reappeared with Germain, whom he had found in the upstairs hallway waiting with the men for Padre Pio to pass by. He told Germain to stand next to me and then he left without any explanation.

Before we could figure out who had arranged this interesting happening, the door at the end of the hallway opened and Padre Pio, aided by two friars, entered. Knowing that Padre Pio could see into the souls of people, my first reaction was to look down toward the floor and avoid eye contact. Instead, I looked straight into his beautiful brown eyes the entire time he was walking slowly towards us. When he reached us, he stopped. He put his hand on Germain’s head, then on my head and with one blessing, he blessed us both together. No words were spoken, no angel appeared, but I received my sign. I knew at that moment that Germain and I were meant to be together and to marry.

I continued to visit Padre Pio every time I had a vacation. On August 15, 1967, Germain and I became officially engaged. Germain had an engagement ring made for me from a gold miraculous medal surrounded by tiny pearls. Padre Pio kept the ring in his room for many days and blessed it in time for our engagement. Our wedding was on the Feast of the Assumption, August 15, 1968. Padre Pio no longer performed weddings in his later years due to his poor health but he was taken in his wheelchair to meet us before the wedding ceremony began. Germain thanked him for everything. Padre Pio blessed our wedding rings and gave us his blessing. Then he tapped me three times on my head. I felt as though he had opened a valve inside of me for I felt a happiness that was indescribable. By the end of the day I said, “God has to take this feeling away for I feel my heart is ready to burst with joy.”

Our wedding took place in the church of Our Lady of Grace where Padre Pio had received the stigmata, celebrated Mass for most of his life, and heard daily confessions. Father Ermelindo celebrated the wedding Mass. In the afternoon, Brother Joseph Pius and Father Ermelindo surprised us at the wedding reception with their presence. Brother Joseph Pius made this announcement to us, “Germain and Ortrud, I hope you will enjoy this wedding gift from Padre Pio. Because he is often sick, he no longer signs pictures or cards. Instead, we sign them for him. I asked him what I should write on the back of this picture of Our Lady of Grace and Padre Pio answered me, “Give me the picture and let me sign it myself.” Padre Pio wrote, “Maria vi tenga stretta nel sua amore.” (May the Virgin Mary hold you tightly in her love.) For our honeymoon we did not go to a beach resort or vacation spot. We stayed in San Giovanni Rotondo for several weeks, the best place on earth.

One month after our wedding, we heard the very sad news that Padre Pio had died. We went to San Giovanni Rotondo to attend the funeral. As we stood in line to pass by Padre Pio’s coffin and pay our last respects, an Italian woman kept tapping me on the shoulder, advising me to ask Padre Pio for something when I paused at his casket. I did what she suggested. As I stood at his coffin, I prayed, “Padre Pio, please bless our marriage with a child.” Nine months later, our first son was born. It is said that our prayers are often answered in a more abundant way that what we ask. We were blessed with eight beautiful children, the last being twins. The twins were born on the feast of Our Lady of Grace, the patroness of San Giovanni Rotondo. Padre Pio didn’t just bring us together, he has taken care of us ever since. His fatherly care and love has been with us for almost forty years of married life.

Padre Pio, we love you, Padre Pio, we thank you, Padre Pio, we need you to pray to God for us till we shall meet again.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can fathom the work that God does from beginning to end. I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives. – Ecclesiastes 3:11-12

Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry – Issue 36 – July-September 2008

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I am ready for anything as long as Jesus is happy and
will save the souls of my brothers, especially
those he has entrusted to my care.

– St. Pio of Pietrelcina

 

The Testimony of David Doherty

David Doherty wrote to us at Padre Pio Devotions detailing his fascinating story regarding Padre Pio’s intercession. We had many questions to ask David and he answered them all. His testimony follows:

David Doherty of Derry, North Ireland had always taken good care of his health. It came as a complete surprise to him when his doctor told him in 2003 that he needed to have triple bypass heart surgery. He was sent to the Golden Jubilee National Hospital in Glasgow, Scotland for the operation. His doctors were pleased with the outcome of the surgery and considered it to have been a success. Soon after the bypass, a second surgery became necessary. After the second surgery, David’s condition began to deteriorate, and a week later David was moved back into the hospital’s intensive care unit where he drifted in and out of consciousness. The doctors explained the gravity of his situation to his wife, Isabel. They told her that he could pass away at any moment and advised her to notify the family immediately and summons them to the hospital.

Two days after being readmitted to the intensive care unit, David was put on a ventilator. A breathing machine now did the work of breathing for him. Antibiotics could not arrest the infection that was spreading throughout his body. His kidneys then failed and septicaemia (blood poisoning) set in. The doctor told Isabel and the family that they had done everything humanly possible to save David’s life. He had multiple organ failure and his body was shutting down. There was nothing else that could be done.

One of David’s daughters made some inquiries and arranged for Padre Pio’s glove and a piece of bandage that covered his stigmata to be brought to the hospital. In the intensive care unit, the relics were placed on David’s chest while the Rosary was recited by all who were gathered. All prayed for the intercession of Padre Pio.

That evening, as David’s son Georgie was leaving the hospital, he noticed the distinct fragrance of perfume in the elevator. His two sisters, Patricia and Paula were with him but did not notice it. However, shortly after that, they both noticed an unexplainable fragrance of incense at their father’s bedside. That was on a Friday afternoon. On Saturday, a priest came into the intensive care unit and gave David the Last Rites. On Sunday, the surgeon spoke to Isabel and told her that David showed very slight signs of improvement. On Monday, after examining David, another one of the doctors called Isabel aside and said to her, “It is amazing to see the changes in your husband’s condition. He is getting better!” David remained in the intensive care unit for another three weeks and every day he got a little stronger.

David spent a total of nine weeks in the hospital. After he was released, he spent many months at home continuing his recuperation. His family and friends were astonished at his recovery. When they explained to David how close he had been to death, he was stunned. He had no idea. When David was told that Padre Pio’s glove and bandage were brought into the hospital and laid on his chest, the spiritual experience that he had while in the hospital suddenly took on a new meaning. When he shared the experience with his family, it was their turn to be amazed.

David told his family that while laying in his hospital bed, he experienced seeing himself as already dead. He saw his body in a coffin in a small village just outside of Derry. He was watching his own wake. While not all countries have the tradition of a wake, it has long been observed in Ireland. During a wake, the body is kept at home in a coffin where friends and relatives come to pay their last respects to their loved one. Following the wake is the funeral at the church.

After witnessing his own wake, David saw that his coffin was then put in the back of a hearse and driven to Derry. Next he saw himself in a field in which he could see for miles and miles in every direction. But what he saw was horrific. Everywhere the eye could see were millions of bodies crawling over each other and under each other in mud. Everything was bleak and colorless. While he stood there in shock, he thought to himself, “Is this where I am going to spend eternity?” Then a loud voice shouted at him, “Get out! Get out and save some souls!” Next, David saw himself back in his coffin in the hearse. The hearse pulled to the side of the road and stopped. The man in the hearse turned and said to the driver, “Why have we stopped?” The driver then replied, speaking about David, “He has been given a second chance. ”

In reality, David had been given a second chance. Some of the nurses who cared for David in the hospital told him that they had been present when the relics of Padre Pio were brought into his room. Although they could not explain it, they said they felt without a doubt that something happened when Padre Pio’s glove and bandage were placed on his body.

What did David know about Padre Pio? Almost nothing. He knew that Padre Pio had the stigmata but that was the extent of his knowledge. A statue of Padre Pio had been erected at David’s parish in Derry in 1999 but he never gave it a second thought. About ten years before his heart surgery, he had to retire from work because of his arthritis. A friend brought him Padre Pio’s glove but at that time it did not have much significance to him.

David is aware that he received a healing not only for his body, but also for his soul. Was his soul in need of healing? Yes, it was. Before his heart surgery, his spiritual priorities had been on the back burner of his life. He had married Isabel and settled down to a comfortable life. He was devoted to his wife and five children but he had neglected his relationship with God. He went to Mass on Sundays but if something else came up which caused him to skip Mass, he never gave it a second thought. He never attended Mass during the weekdays. Prayer was not an important part of his life and even though he knew that he was going to undergo a very serious heart operation, it had never even occurred to him to pray before the surgery. At the time he was admitted to the hospital, he had not been to confession in more than a year.

These days David goes to confession regularly. He never neglects Sunday Mass and also attends Mass on as many week days as he can. The family Rosary is now a part of the Doherty’s daily routine. And he sees the way his children’s lives have changed as well. His daughters, Paula and Patricia have since become involved in charitable ministries in their parish.

David has seen the many blessings he and his family have received since his close brush with death. Many times he thought about the strong and insistent voice that shouted to him while he was lying in the hospital, “Get up and save some souls!” He knows now that it was Padre Pio’s voice. “What could I possibly do to save other peoples souls? I am having enough trouble saving my own soul!” David wondered. Nevertheless, in thanksgiving for his many blessings, he began to have a great desire to do something for the Lord. He just could not figure out what he should do.

The answer came for him when he was invited to attend a Padre Pio prayer group meeting. After the meeting, he began to reflect how wonderful it would be to have a Padre Pio prayer group in his own large parish in Derry. He was able to get the permission of the bishop of Derry as well as his own parish priest.

The first Padre Pio prayer group meeting was held in January, 2005 in David’s parish of the Holy Family, in Ballymagroarty, in Derry. David made a little booklet on his computer, complete with the prayers of Padre Pio. It is used at every meeting. The prayer group is well attended and the attendance has steadily increased every year.

When a nun from Dublin, Ireland, Sister Mella, heard about the Padre Pio prayer group that David had started, she contacted him and asked for information so that she could start a group in her parish. David went to Dublin and met Sister Mella and provided her with the prayer booklets he made for his prayer group. Sister Mella’s Padre Pio prayer group is going very well. A young woman from Dungiven, Ireland has invited David to come to her parish and assist her in forming a Padre Pio prayer group there. He has also been contacted by an individual in England who expressed interest in forming a Padre Pio prayer group.

In reflecting on his near death experience and all that has happened since, David said, “My life and my family’s life has taken a change in direction I wouldn’t have thought possible. I feel sure that I would not be here today if it had not been for the prayers and the intercession of Padre Pio. I am just happy to be alive!”

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Thomas Carolan of Ireland grew up in poverty. His parents had a very small farm and were used to long hours and hard work. Their little thatched house was in a bad state of disrepair but they could never afford to fix it. The roof had to be propped up and was on the verge of collapse. Tom’s father was forced to seek a loan at the bank but the family’s financial difficulties grew steadily worse.

In May of 1929, Tom’s father suddenly became very ill. He had just finished saying his prayers to the Holy Family, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I give you my heart and my soul,” when he died.

Tom’s mother experienced profound grief at the loss of her husband. When Tom and his mother walked to their parish to attend Mass she would cry all the way to the church and all the way home.

In the afternoon, after they had their lunch, his mother would always go outside to feed their hens. Tom and his mother were just getting ready to go out to the henhouse one day when they saw a monk approaching their house. “Tom, in the name of God, who is that who is walking up to our house?” his mother said. The monk came right up to the kitchen door. He stood there in an attitude of prayer. He had a beard and was wearing a habit. Gloves were on his hands but they were unusual in the fact that his bare fingers were exposed. He put his left hand on his chest and his right hand was raised in a blessing. He said, “There is trouble in this house. You lost your husband. I was sent to tell you that your husband is happy in Heaven but while you are crying and grieving over his death, you are only making him feel unhappy. You are in great financial trouble. To meet this trouble, help will be coming to you from a source you least expect. When your financial troubles are over that source will cease.”

Tom’s mother offered him some tea but he said, “No, I am not allowed anything.” He asked her to kneel down and he made the sign of the cross on her forehead. He also made the sign of the cross on Tom’s forehead. He then looked toward the room where Tom’s father had died. He prayed and raised his right hand in a blessing. He was praying as he left the house. Tom was sent outside by his mother to see which way the monk went. Tom looked in all directions but he was nowhere to be seen.

After the visit of the monk, Tom’s mother felt greatly strengthened in spirit. She no longer cried over the death of her husband. She was surprised when she received a letter from her sister Katie. Katie had lived in the U.S. for 50 years and had never once written to her. Katie sent money in the letter. Tom’s mother wrote back and thanked her and the next month before the bank note came due another letter arrived from Katie with money inside. This went on for a number of years. Right after the bank note was paid in full, the letters from Katie stopped altogether.

A relative from Glasgow used to come on occasion to visit Tom and his mother in Ireland. On one of his visits, he brought a magazine that had a photograph of Padre Pio saying Mass in San Giovanni Rotondo. When he showed the photo to Tom and his mother, they immediately recognized him as the kind monk who had come to their home to console them in 1929 on the Feast of the Sacred Heart.

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The people of Ireland have traditionally had a great devotion to Padre Pio. Every year at the shrine of Knock in County Mayo, Ireland, a Padre Pio commemoration day is observed. Between fifteen and twenty thousand people attend the celebration.

The Knock shrine is truly a place of prayer and pilgrimage. People come from all parts of the world to pray and contemplate the beautiful event that took place there on August 21, 1879. On that date, the Virgin Mary along with St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist made a heavenly visitation to the tiny and impoverished village of Knock. They appeared at the south wall of the parish church of St. John the Baptist. To the left of the figures appeared an altar with a lamb resting on it. Around the lamb were golden stars in the form of a halo and behind the lamb was a cross. The altar was surrounded by angels and the whole area was bathed in a beautiful light.

Everyone who passed by the church that evening, fifteen people in all, ranging in age from six years old to seventy-five years old, saw the apparition. For two hours, the witnesses stood in the pouring rain and beheld the heavenly scene. Although they became drenched in the downpour, no rain fell on the figures or the ground underneath their feet. The wall behind them also remained dry. This reversal of the natural order was regarded as a true miracle. A half a mile away, people reported that they saw what appeared to be a globe of light coming from the gable wall of the Knock church.

The apparition was unusual in that no words were spoken, no message was given. The only sound that was heard were the witnesses own prayers as they gazed at the heavenly scene. Those who were present observed that if they drew too close, the figures would retreat backward toward the wall of the church. St. John held a book in his hands and one of the witnesses was standing so close to him that he could see the words in the book.

Traditionally, the people of Ireland see the Virgin Mary as a queen. At Knock, she came as a queen. Mary wore a white cloak and a crown was on her head. Her eyes were raised up to heaven and her hands were uplifted in prayer.

Fr. Cavanagh, a man of great personal holiness, was the parish priest of the Knock church. He was admired and loved by his parishioners, most of whom considered him to be a saint. Fr. Cavanagh had a great devotion to the souls in purgatory and decided to offer one hundred Masses on their behalf. The one hundredth Mass was said by Fr. Cavanagh on August 21, the day of the heavenly visitation. Many of the people in Knock believed that the Blessed Virgin paid a visit to their village because of their saintly pastor. Fr. Cavanagh who had an intense love for the Virgin Mary, died on the feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1897.

It has also been thought that the Virgin Mary visited Ireland to give the people a sense of hope and spiritual strength. At the time of the apparition, the people of Ireland suffered from many privations including grinding poverty, deadly diseases, and widespread hunger. Despite their many sufferings, the Irish people were long known for their deep and abiding faith and trust in God.

Soon miraculous cures began to be reported. Fr. Cavanagh recorded 300 healings in the first three years after the apparition. Included in the long list of those who were healed was Archbishop John Joseph Lynch of Toronto as well as Archbishop Murphy of Tasmania.

An ecclesiastical commission conducted two official inquiries into the supernatural occurrence at Knock. The testimony of the witnesses was declared to be trustworthy and satisfactory. Pope John Paul II made his own personal pilgrimage to the shrine of Knock in 1979 on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the apparition. Today, Knock is numbered with Guadalupe, Lourdes and Fatima as one of the chief Marian shrines in the world. Over one and a half million pilgrims visit Knock annually.

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The Roman sculptor, Lorenzo Ferri was commissioned to sculpture a number of statues in commemoration of the apparition at Knock, Ireland. When finished, they would become a permanent part of the Knock shrine. A woman named Judy Coyne of Ireland was asked to oversee the project.

Lorenzo completed the clay models for the sculptures and Judy made a trip from Knock, Ireland to Rome to view his work. Judy was disappointed. The expression on the model of the face of the Virgin Mary was not what she had hoped for. It did not portray the Virgin according to the testimony of the witnesses of the Knock apparition. The sculpture model of the lamb, which had been seen in the apparition of Knock, was unsatisfactory as well. The complaint regarding the lamb was that it had an Italian flair and needed to be more in accord with the Irish tradition. Lorenzo too was dissatisfied with his work. He had put forth a great effort but was unable to achieve what he had hoped to.

Judy Coyne decided to go to San Giovanni Rotondo and entrust the entire matter to Padre Pio. She attended Padre Pio’s Mass on November 18, 1960 and during the Mass she prayed to Padre Pio for his intercession on behalf of Lorenzo. She felt a great sense of peace and well-being during the Mass.

When Judy returned to Rome she visited Lorenzo’s studio and was delighted to see a great improvement in the models of the sculptures. The face of the Virgin Mary now looked perfect. Lorenzo told her that a strange thing had happened. He had awakened in the morning and felt a great spiritual strength within. He hurried to his studio and in three hours he redid the models of the sculptures which would have ordinarily taken him three weeks to complete. He was very happy with the final results. He said that in his entire career he had never had such an experience. It happened on the morning of November 18, at the very same time that Judy was at Padre Pios Mass, praying to Padre Pio for his intercession.

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Gerry Fitzgerald of Limerick, Ireland, a spiritual son of Padre Pio, once visited the shrine of Knock, Ireland in the winter time. Because the weather was so cold and harsh, Gerry found himself taking shelter under a tree. He could not help but notice that the sick and infirm who were visiting the shrine that day were exposed to the bitter cold. Gerry felt very sorry for the invalids and felt something had to be done. He spoke with one of the local priests at Knock and suggested that it would be very worthwhile to construct some buildings to provide shelter for the pilgrims who were ill. The priest was in favor of the idea. However, as time went by nothing was ever done to remedy the situation.

Gerry used to go every year to San Giovanni Rotondo to see Padre Pio. He also took groups of people on pilgrimage to Padre Pios monastery. His devotion to him was so great that he talked about him all the time. Once when Gerry visited Padre Pio, he told him about the idea he had of providing shelters for the invalids at the Knock shrine. He asked him for advice as to whether he should pursue the idea. Padre Pio told Gerry that the Virgin Mary was pleased and wanted him to go forward with the plans. Greatly encouraged, Gerry went back to Limerick and formed a committee of six men. The shelters were constructed at the shrine and the work turned out to be a blessing for all.

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Across the sea from Ireland, in Herne Bay, England, devotion to Padre Pio is also strong. Wally and Ann Wall were led to Padre Pio in an unusual way. In Herne Bay, Wally was the caretaker and Ann did the cleaning at the local convent school. One afternoon when Wally was taking a walk, he noticed a magazine laying on the pavement. It was in excellent condition and neither the dirt nor the dampness of the street had marred it. A photograph of a statue of the Virgin Mary on the cover caught Wally’s eye. The name of the magazine was the Voice of Padre Pio.

Wally took the magazine home, read it, and didn’t think too much more about the matter. The next day his wife read the magazine from cover to cover. Afterward, her conscience began to bother her. Though Ann and Wally both worked at a Catholic school, they had not attended church in years. Neither had been to confession in at least twelve years.

After reading about Padre Pio, Ann decided to go to the rectory and ask the parish priest to hear her confession. As she rang the doorbell, she began to feel very nervous. She knew she was losing her courage. She was about to turn and leave when the priest answered the door. Ann made her confession and the next day she told her husband that she was going to be able to receive Communion at the convent school with the children who were going to be making their First Holy Communion. She told Wally she had gone to the rectory and had made her confession. “Why didn’t you tell me you were going to confession? I would have gone to confession as well,” Wally said. “It was because I did not know if I would be able to go through with it,” she replied.

Wally too returned to the sacraments. He and Ann became daily communicants and Wally became a regular altar server at his parish. Soon they began sharing their interest and knowledge of Padre Pio with other people. Because of their conversations with Ann and Wally, others found themselves returning to the sacraments as well. The day Wally picked up the Voice of Padre Pio magazine from the street proved to be a very important day in his life and in the life of his wife, Ann. That day too was important for another reason. It was May 25, Padre Pio’s birthday.

Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry – Issue 35 – April-June 2008

Download Newsletter Issue 35, April-June 2008

We recently spoke to Fr. James DeVita, SDB of Florida and he shared his story of Padre Pio with us.

Father James DeVita, SDB, was born and raised in San Giovanni Rotondo, the town where Padre Pio lived for almost 50 years. Padre Pio’s name was a household word in the DeVita family. Fr. DeVita’s mother, Agnes, was a member of the 3rd Order of St. Francis. Padre Pio often encouraged people to join the 3rd Order of St. Francis, calling it a “school of holiness.” As a young woman, Agnes used to bake pizza and take it to the monastery for the Capuchins to enjoy for dinner.

When Fr. DeVita was a teenager, he used to walk with his boyhood friends to the monastery to attend Padre Pio’s Mass. On one occasion, he was the altar server for Padre Pio’s Mass. It lasted almost two hours with long periods of silent prayer throughout. Padre Pio often lost track of time during the Mass. But as a restless teenager, James DeVita did not lose track of time and to him Padre Pio’s Mass was just too long for comfort.

Fr. DeVita also made his confession to Padre Pio on a number of occasions. At that time, the men’s confessions were held in the sacristy of the church. Confessions were face to face and neither a screen nor a curtain was provided for privacy. The line formed about four feet away from where the penitent was making his confession. The person kneeling before Padre Pio seemed so exposed. Although nobody was trying to listen, one could practically hear the words being spoken. Waiting in line to make one’s confession to Padre Pio could be a nerve-wracking experience. One could easily observe the expression on Padre Pio’s face while hearing confessions. When people confessed that they had missed Sunday Mass, Padre Pio became visibly upset. He was extremely strict in this regard. Unless one was sick, missing Mass on Sunday was a grave omission. As a teenager, James DeVita would miss Mass from time to time due to his own negligence. When this occurred, he did not have the courage to make his confession to Padre Pio. He would choose another priest.

According to the general opinion, making one’s confession to Padre Pio was of inestimable help in the spiritual life. It was true. God gave Padre Pio extraordinary gifts and graces for his priestly work as a confessor. In his lifetime, he reconciled thousands of people back to their faith. He once said that if he had the choice between losing his eyesight or his sense of hearing, he would prefer to lose his eyesight. “Why is that?” someone asked. “It is because with my hearing intact I would still be able to hear confessions,” he answered. And hear confessions he did, often more than twelve hours a day. On the last day of his life, although weak and very ill, he heard a number of confessions. Pope Pius XII called him, “The confessor of Europe.”

Padre Pio saw his priestly role as confessor as a great responsibility and he always prayed for God’s help.”Without the grace of God, we can do nothing,” he said. People often came to Padre Pio asking him for advice as to whether certain actions in their daily living experiences were right or wrong. He usually saw questions of right verses wrong in simple, black and white terms. He was able to counsel people in a way that left no doubt in the person’s mind regarding the right course to take. He was never tempted to tell people what they wanted to hear. His desire was to tell people the truth.

Padre Pio made no distinction between venial sins and mortal sins. He spoke simply of sin. For Padre Pio, sin was something serious, something terrible. There was to be no compromise with sin. It had to be avoided at all costs. “We will never know what it means to rebel against God,” he once said.

Padre Pio said that he had only one fear, that of offending God. He once said, “I would rather undergo death an infinite number of times, rather than openly offend the Lord.” On one occasion a person told Padre Pio that he had lied. He explained that it was a very small lie, a white lie. It was of no consequence. “But Jesus died to defend the truth,” Padre Pio answered. “A small lie is a sin that offends God,” he said. And he went further. He did not condone exaggeration either, even to the smallest degree.

For those who were sincerely seeking to move forward on the spiritual path, confession to Padre Pio was a great blessing. But for the insincere and those who came simply out of curiosity to Padre Pio’s confessional, his spiritual direction was described as “demanding, disturbing, and uncomfortable.”

Time and space and distance did not seem to be a barrier in Padre Pio’s ministry to souls. On one occasion, one of the Capuchins was just about to knock on the door of Padre Pio’s cell when he heard Padre Pio talking to someone inside. He decided not to disturb them but he waited at the door anyway. Soon Padre Pio opened the door but there was no one else inside his cell. “I heard you talking to someone but there is no one there,” the Capuchin said. “Oh, I was hearing someone’s confession,” Padre Pio replied. Through the extraordinary gift of bilocation, Padre Pio was able to be present to people, often great distances away, who were in need of his help.

Padre Pio went to confession frequently and he encouraged others to do the same. When some protested that they did not need to go to confession since they had nothing of consequence to confess, Padre Pio used a simple analogy. “Even if a room is very clean and the door is closed so that no one can enter, the dust will nevertheless collect there and it will require dusting,” he said. Once Padre Pio made his confession to Padre Eusebio Notte and afterward he began to cry. Padre Eusebio was perplexed. He told Padre Pio that the sins that he confessed were indeed very small and insignificant. There was certainly no reason to cry. But Padre Pio did not see it that way. He had a horror of offending God, even in small matters. He was always truly sorry for his sins.

When Fr. DeVita was a teenager, he used to take part as an actor in the religious plays that were performed in San Giovanni Rotondo. The plays included the life of St. Cecilia, St. Agnes, St. Peter and more. Padre Pio and the other Capuchins frequently attended the performances and enjoyed them immensely. Rehearsals were held at Mary Pyle’s home. Fr. DeVita had a great admiration for Mary Pyle. She was often known simply as, “Padre Pio’s American secretary.” “Mary was a person of great holiness,” said Fr. DeVita. “Her love for God and her great willingness to serve Padre Pio’s work was truly amazing.”

Mary Pyle was an American heiress who had been born into a very socially prominent and wealthy Protestant family and raised in New York’s high society. She had become accustomed to every luxury from her earliest years and had traveled extensively throughout the world. When Mary was 35 years old, she accepted an invitation from a girlfriend to visit Padre Pio’s monastery and attend his Mass. During the visit, she was able to speak to Padre Pio briefly. She found her life transformed by the encounter and soon decided to move to San Giovanni Rotondo permanently. She built a house right below the monastery. It was one of the first houses in the area.

Mary joined the 3rd Order of St. Francis and began to lead a simple and austere life, totally consecrated to God. Her workload continually increased through the years but she was always ready and willing to do more to assist Padre Pio. Mary had the heart of a mother, and the charity of a saint. She lived in San Giovanni Rotondo for 45 years until her death in 1968. Her cause for canonization is presently being considered by the Church.

The Capuchins in San Giovanni Rotondo set aside time every day for a period of recreation. For Padre Pio, this time was usually spent in the garden of the monastery, enjoying fellowship with his brothers in religion. As the time drew closer to his ordination day, James DeVita was allowed to visit Padre Pio in the monastery garden anytime he wished. He recalls that Padre Pio delighted in telling funny stories and making everyone laugh. “Padre Pio had a wonderful sense of humor,” Fr. DeVita said. “He was a simple man. He was not an intellectual. He was a man of prayer, a man who loved God above all things.”

Padre Pio wore brown half gloves to cover the wounds of the stigmata. He would always remove the gloves before the celebration of Mass. On several occasions, Fr. DeVita was able to kiss the stigmata on Padre Pio’s hand when his gloves were removed. It was a grace-filled experience and yet it was not something that was easy to do. Fr. DeVita would close his eyes tightly and with trepidation, kiss the wound on Padre Pio’s hand.

Because of the inadequate health care in San Giovanni Rotondo in the early years, many of the people in the area died an untimely death. Padre Pio felt compelled to remedy this situation. He worked tirelessly to make the Home for the Relief of Suffering a reality. Fr. DeVita saw first hand, the great blessings of Padre Pio’s hospital. Not only did it save the lives of many of the sick and infirm, it was also of great benefit to the poor. San Giovanni Rotondo was an economically depressed region and many of its citizens struggled to find work. The Home for the Relief of Suffering provided much needed jobs for many of the families in the town. Fr. DeVita’s own sister Raffaella felt very fortunate to be employed at the hospital.

Fr. DeVita became a patient at the Home for the Relief of Suffering shortly after it opened its doors. He contracted typhoid fever and remained in a coma for four days. A rumor went around San Giovanni Rotondo that James had passed away, but Padre Pio set the record straight. He said, “Do not worry. James has not passed away. He is going to recover.”

In 1957, James DeVita was ordained into the Salesian Order, founded by St. John Bosco. Mary Pyle and the ladies choir that she directed, and that sang for all of Padre Pio’s Masses, came to the parish of San Onofrio in San Giovanni Rotondo to provide the music for James’ ordination Mass. When Fr. DeVita celebrated his first Mass, he had the great joy to wear one of Padre Pio’s priestly stoles.

Before he moved to the United States, Fr. DeVita went to Padre Pio to say goodbye. “But there is so much work for priests to do here in Italy,” Padre Pio said to him. “Why do you have to move so far away?” Fr. DeVita explained that he wanted to be closer to his family who had emigrated to Canada.

June 29, 2007 marked Fr. James DeVita’s golden jubilee anniversary of fifty years in the priesthood. Most of his priestly ministry has been spent serving parishes in New York and New Jersey. Today he is retired and living in Florida where he also assists at a parish. Looking back on his life, Fr. DeVita is very grateful to have grown up in San Giovanni Rotondo and to have had a saint as his role model. Fr. DeVita said that the beautiful words spoken by Pope Paul VI on the life and spirituality of Padre Pio, echo his own sentiments in a profound way. In speaking of Padre Pio, Pope Paul VI said, “What fame he had. How many followers from around the world. Why? Was it because he was a philosopher, a scholar, or because he had means at his disposal? No, it was because he said Mass humbly, heard confessions from morning until night and was a marked representative of the stigmata of Our Lord. He was truly a man of prayer and suffering.”

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Recently, while visiting some friends on the East Coast who had met Padre Pio, we learned about Pasquale D’Andrea. Pasquale, who currently lives in Bayside, New York had a beautiful story to share with us.

Pasquale D’Andrea grew up in Pietrelcina, Italy. His father, Cosimo owned a piece of land in Pietrelcina and earned his living by growing tobacco. One day Padre Pio approached Cosimo and said to him, “You do not go to Mass on Sunday, but you go to the town square.” Cosimo was shocked that Padre Pio knew that he did not attend Sunday Mass. He had never discussed it with anyone. He explained to Padre Pio that he had to spend his Sundays working in the fields to earn his living and support his family. But Cosimo was well-aware that his explanation was unsatisfactory to Padre Pio. From that day forward, he never again missed attending Sunday Mass.

Pasquale’s wife, Giovannina, also had the greatest respect for Padre Pio. On one occasion she had an important decision to make regarding a personal matter. She felt that she needed to seek advice from Padre Pio at once. She went to the church to speak to him, but realized that it would be impossible. On that particular day there was a continuous crowd of people around him. However, Padre Pio answered the questions in her heart in a unique way. At three different times that morning, he fixed his eyes on Giovannina. With a penetrating gaze and a serious expression on his face, he slowly moved his head from side to side, indicating “no.” Without saying a word, Padre Pio had given Giovannina the answer she needed. She felt completely satisfied.

Before leaving Italy in 1955 to make his home in New York, Pasquale went to San Giovanni Rotondo to say good bye to Padre Pio and ask for his blessing. Padre Pio was always very friendly and approachable. He simply said to Pasquale, “There will be three days of storms on your journey, and after that smooth sailing!” Once again, his words proved true.

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Ellie Hunt was one of the pilgrims who we met while traveling with the Padre Pio Foundation of America to the canonization of Padre Pio in Rome. We have remained friends with Ellie ever since. This is her story.

Padre Pio has been a part of Ellie Hunt’s family ever since she can remember. Ellie’s father, James Rummo as well as her maternal and paternal grandparents lived in Pietrelcina, Padre Pio’s hometown. It was a small and close-knit farming town where everybody knew everybody else. Francesco Forgione (Padre Pio) would eventually become Pietrelcina’s most famous citizen, although no one ever imagined it at the time.

Ellie’s maternal grandmother, Anna Maria Scocco was the same age as Padre Pio and knew him as a child. Anna Maria’s family owned a farm in the countryside of Pietrelcina, an area called Piana Romana. Padre Pio’s family, the Forgione’s, also had a small landholding in Piana Romana as well as a vineyard. As a youngster, Padre Pio tended the family’s sheep.

Anna Maria recalled that Padre Pio was very pious as a young boy and always carried a devotional book with him. He was a quiet child and quite shy. Anna Maria once asked him why he was always reading books. Instead of answering, he asked Anna Maria why she didn’t attend school. She told him that it was because her father wanted her to stay home and learn how to cook, clean and sew. At the time, education was not mandatory in southern Italy.

Padre Pio’s health, which was never good, began to deteriorate during his time in the Capuchin seminary. Doctors were never able to successfully diagnose and treat the mysterious illnesses that continually wracked his body. The distressing symptoms of his ailments would come and go with no apparent reason. Padre Pio was forced to interrupt his studies for the priesthood and move back to the family home. For the better part of 7 years, from 1909 until 1916, he remained in Pietrelcina. He spent much of his time in prayer and solitude and did his best to regain his health. It was one of the few times of relative quiet and peace in his life. During this period, his prayer life grew in intensity. It is thought that the 7 years he spent in his hometown were almost like an extended retreat, arranged by Divine Providence, to prepare him spiritually for the great mission that was just up ahead.

It was during the time of his long convalescence in Pietrelcina that Ellie’s father James came in contact with Padre Pio. James’ grandmother, Saveria, would send him with fresh eggs to deliver to Padre Pio. The hope was that the eggs would build up his strength. Everyone in the community knew of his illness and hoped for his recovery. Even in his youth, the townspeople held him in the highest esteem.

It was difficult to make a living in Pietrelcina and for this reason, Ellie’s father, grandparents, and other relatives eventually moved to New York. Once in New York, the men joined the “Pietrelcina Society,” which sent regular financial help to those who had stayed behind.

Alfred, one of Ellie’s cousins, made yearly visits back to Pietrelcina all through the 1950’s. He noticed that St. Anne’s parish, where Padre Pio had celebrated Mass for a number of years, was in a great state of disrepair. “Someday people from all over the world will be coming to our town,” he said to his relatives in Pietrelcina. “They will want to see Padre Pio’s birthplace and the parish of his youth. The church must be kept clean at all times. It must be swept and dusted daily. It cannot be neglected like this!” he said emphatically.

In the 1950’s when Alfred spoke these words, Padre Pio was almost completely unknown throughout the world. The tiny, impoverished town of Pietrelcina was even more unknown. It could barely be found on a map. Many of its residents had long since moved away. But Alfred was convinced that the saintly priest from Pietrelcina would one day become world-famous and that people would be interested in seeing his hometown. His words proved to be prophetic. Gradually people from all parts of the world began to learn about Padre Pio. Today, the pilgrims who annually visit the town of Padre Pio’s birth and pray in the rustic church of St. Anne’s, number in the thousands. The increase in visitors has been so dramatic that the town is hard-pressed to accommodate the crowds.

All through Ellie’s growing up years, she heard the family reminisce about Padre Pio but she was never very interested in these stories from the “old country.” All that changed however due to an incident that happened in 1960, when Ellie was 31 years old. That was the year that her grandfather, Jack Crafa became gravely ill. Ellie and her parents lived close to his home in Flushing, New York and during his illness, the family stayed by his side. When Jack fell into a coma, everyone knew his end was near. One day while Ellie and her parents were at her grandfather’s bedside, a stranger knocked at the door. It was a Capuchin monk dressed in a dark brown habit. Ellie was surprised to see that he was wearing sandals without any socks for it was a particularly cold day and there was snow on the ground outside. He said he had come to pray for her grandfather.

Ellie was perplexed. There were not any Capuchin monks in residence at their parish in Flushing or in any other parish in the area for that matter. Ellie was also annoyed. It should have been the parish priest to come to pray for her grandfather and not a complete stranger. But she was impressed by the kindness and compassion of the young religious. He went in the bedroom and blessed Jack Crafa. He told the family to pray the Rosary while sitting at Jack’s side and to pray the Hail Mary close to his ear. He had the sense that Jack was still able to hear. After the monk said that, Ellie was surprised to find that when she took her grandfather’s hand in hers, she felt a very slight response from him, a very slight squeeze from his hand.

The young monk gave Ellie’s grandfather the Last Rites, he blessed the family and then bid them goodbye. As he walked out the front door, Ellie’s father, James, observed that there was no car waiting for him outside. James watched him as he walked up the street until he disappeared in the darkness. It was that very night that Jack Crafa passed away. He had been in a coma for nine days.

After the monk left, James became pale and appeared quite shaken. Ellie’s mother Lucy, asked him for the reason.”Don’t you know who that was?”James replied. “It was Padre Pio. He came in bilocation to give the Last Rites to your father. He looked exactly like I remember him when I used to deliver eggs to him in Pietrelcina.”

Ellie believed her father’s explanation and she was aware of Padre Pio’s gift of bilocation. Her grandfather, Jack Crafa had been one of Padre Pio’s spiritual sons from Pietrelcina. But Ellie was confused about one thing. The black and white photos she had seen of Padre Pio showed him as having very dark hair, almost black. This monk had sandy colored hair. Later when Ellie read a biography of Padre Pio, the author described Padre Pio’s hair as a dark sandy color. It confirmed her own observation.

Padre Pio had always said that the people of Pietrelcina held a very special place in his heart. Ellie’s mother had a cousin named Rose from Pietrelcina. She was very devoted to Padre Pio. Rose heard that Padre Pio enjoyed American coffee. She used to regularly send packages to her aunt who lived in San Giovanni Rotondo. The packages always included coffee with instructions to take it to the monastery and give it to Padre Pio.

Rose was finally able to make a trip to San Giovanni Rotondo. One afternoon, she was standing among a large crowd of people who were gathered outside the monastery waving to Padre Pio. He was standing at a window, waving a handkerchief in greeting to the crowd below. As he looked at the large gathering of people, he pointed out Rose to one of the Capuchins. The next thing she knew, one of the Capuchins approached her and told her that Padre Pio wanted to speak to her. Rose was escorted inside the monastery and asked to wait. After awhile the Capuchin returned. He apologized to Rose. He said that Padre Pio wanted to come down and personally thank her for the coffee she had been sending to him but he was unable to do so. In that large crowd of people he picked out one of his fellow citizens of Pietrelcina to give a special word of thanks to. He had never seen Rose before nor had she ever seen him. He loved Pietrelcina and he loved his spiritual children from Pietrelcina. Padre Pio once said, “In my lifetime I have made San Giovanni Rotondo known but after my death I will make Pietrelcina known.”

Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry – Issue 34 – January-March 2008

Download Newsletter Issue 34, January-March 2008

“Be of good cheer; abandon yourselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
and let Him take care of everything.”
 
– St. Pio of Pietrelcina

A Soldier’s Story of Padre Pio

Some time ago, we received a letter from a woman who requested that the prayers of Padre Pio be sent to her. In her letter, she mentioned that one of her relatives had met Padre Pio many years before. When we asked for further information, she gave us the phone number of Gene McMahon. We were able to visit Gene and Charlotte McMahon in Stirling, New Jersey in 2007. We followed up the visit with a number of phone calls. This is Gene’s remarkable story:

Eugene (Gene) McMahon, of Plainfield, New Jersey, was very happy he could finish the baseball season and his senior year of high school before receiving his draft notice to report for military duty. It was 1943 and World War II was in full swing. When Gene completed preflight training and gunnery school, he was assigned to the 463rd Bomb Group of the 15th Air Force as a tail gunner and waist gunner on B-17 planes. He was sent overseas to the U.S. air base in Foggia, Italy.

One day at the base, the squadron chaplain, Fr. George Rice, invited Gene and his best friend, Tony Afflitto to take a trip “up in the mountains” to visit Padre Pio. Fr. Rice explained that Padre Pio was a very holy priest who had the stigmata, the wounds of Christ. He never left his monastery but spent much time in prayer and seclusion. Gene found Fr. Rice’s words about Padre Pio intriguing. He had never heard of Padre Pio but he was very anxious to meet him.

Fr. Rice explained that it was customary to bring a gift when making a visit to the monastery and since he heard that Padre Pio enjoyed American beer that was what the soldiers took with them. Fr. Rice drove the military jeep up a long and winding road to the monastery. On the way, they stopped in the town of San Giovanni Rotondo and passed out sticks of chewing gum to the children in the area. It was a poor town in a desolate country. The children were so excited to received a piece of gum that they could not contain their joy and practically mobbed the men.

Gene had no idea what to expect when they arrived at the monastery and walked into the small and rustic church of Our Lady of Grace. The chapel was beautiful and many people were already gathered there waiting for the Mass to begin. Gene was surprised when he and his two companions were escorted to the very front row of the church. Gene learned that Padre Pio had a special regard for the American soldiers that often visited him from nearby military bases.

The Mass lasted one and a half hours but the time seemed to pass too quickly. Padre Pio celebrated the Mass with such reverence, such devotion. He gave no sermon. At various times in the Mass, Padre Pio’s eyes would fill with tears. Gene did not mind at all that the Mass was so long. If it had lasted longer, he would have been happy. The Mass was different from any he had ever attended in his life. Gene felt lifted into a great sense of peace. He felt the presence of God. Fr. Rice had told Gene that the wounds of Christ were imprinted on Padre Pio’s body. It was true. During the Mass, Gene saw the wounds in Padre Pio’s hands and they were bleeding. He was so close to Padre Pio that he could have reached out and touched him.

Afterward he made his confession to Padre Pio. Confessions to Padre Pio were always short, lasting just a few minutes. Gene was able to hold Padre Pio’s hand momentarily. Tony too, made his confession to Padre Pio. He gave Tony a medal of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Treasuring this memento, when he returned to the base, Tony sent it home to his wife for safe keeping.

Gene described Padre Pio as short in stature, with profound and piercing eyes. “His eyes were fabulous,” said Gene. “They had a penetrating quality. When Padre Pio looked at me, I felt that he knew everything about me. His eyes were like a magnet. I felt myself somehow drawn in by his gaze.” One of the men who attended the Mass that morning brought his two year-old son into the sacristy afterward. Padre Pio’s face lit up with joy when he saw the child approach him and he had a little gift for him. He usually kept a supply of candy on hand to give to the children.

Gene, Fr. Rice, and Tony were invited to have dinner with the Capuchins. The meal was a joyful occasion with a lot of laughter and lively conversation. It surprised Gene. He always pictured the Capuchins eating in strict silence and with the greatest reserve. During their stay in San Giovanni Rotondo, they also met Mary Pyle who shared many interesting stories with them regarding Padre Pio. Proficient in Italian, she translated for them when they were speaking to Padre Pio. Tony, who spoke Italian, was not able to understand the Neopolitan dialect that was spoken by Padre Pio. Fr. Rice had an advantage over Gene and Tony. He was able to speak to Padre Pio in Latin. Before they returned to Foggia, Padre Pio blessed them one more time.

On February 25, 1945, just a few days after the visit to Padre Pio, Gene’s plane was shot down over Linz, Austria. It was his 14th bombing mission. Gene’s pilot instructed all the men to bail out. As Gene bailed out of the plane and parachuted down, he prayed to Padre Pio for protection. “Padre Pio, I believe in you. I am too young to die. Please help me,” he prayed. He could hear shots being fired at him from the ground and could hear dogs barking. He was hit in the arm and wrist. When he hit the ground, he landed in deep snow. Removing his parachute, he ran for his life and managed to elude his captors.

Almost two weeks later, Gene was captured in Hungary. He was interrogated regarding future U.S. bombing missions but refused to talk. Behind him were a number of the dead laying in an open grave. Holding him down, the soldiers used boards to beat his feet but he gave only his name, rank and serial number. He believed that he would be killed but he was not. Instead, Gene was forced to march to Vienna and then on to Nuremberg and Frankfurt. With inadequate clothing in the sub-zero temperatures and practically no food, through freezing rain, sleet and snow, he marched. The winter of 1945 was Germany’s coldest in 100 years.

Later, he was crowded into a cattle box car with other prisoners. Without food or water they were transported to the Mooseberg POW camp, just north of Munich. The brutality of the guards and the overcrowded and subhuman conditions of the camp, caused many to refer to it as “hell camp.” Gene pleaded with God many times and prayed. In his mind, he clung to his blessed experience of meeting Padre Pio, holding his hand, attending his beautiful Mass, receiving his blessing. The memory gave him strength.

On April 29, in the Mooseberg camp, the Germans were alerted that U.S. army tanks under General Patton were approaching. The prisoners were informed that they were all going to be shot before their liberators arrived. However, it did not work out that way. The tanks came crashing through the gates of the prison. Gene and the others ran for cover in a grassy ditch while bullets whizzed over their heads. General George Patton himself was there and after the conflict had ended, he gathered the POW’s together and made a heartfelt speech. The day of freedom had arrived.

Gene was placed on a hospital ship and taken back to the U.S. Aboard the ship, he had a lot of time to think. “What had gone wrong?” he asked himself. “I am only 19 years old and look at the condition I am in. Did God abandon me? Did Padre Pio hear even one of my pleas for help? It would have been better for me if I had died. There is nothing left for me now. There is nothing.”

Gene was taken to a hospital in Atlantic City, New Jersey where he spent the next three months. His feet were in a terrible condition. Prolonged frostbite had caused them to turn black and they had been badly injured by the beating he had received after his capture. He remained in a wheelchair for many days and the doctor told him that both of his feet might have to be amputated.

It was in the hospital that Gene’s perspective began to change. Soldiers were being admitted to the hospital who had lost arms and legs in combat. Gene had not. Some were double amputees. Gene’s bodily strength was slowly returning. He weighed 96 lbs. when he was admitted to the hospital. He had lost 90 lbs. in his ordeal. But he was steadily gaining weight. His feet healed with no residual damage. Unlike many who were there, he was going to be able to walk out of the hospital on two good legs.

But it was Gene’s memories of the incredible sufferings of the war that he could not erase from his mind. The worst memory by far was his time in the Nuremberg camp where people all around him were starving to death. The dreadful and nightmarish images haunted him. He would wake up in the middle of the night terrified, and in a cold sweat. Professional counselors, skilled in dealing with the post-traumatic stress condition of veterans returning from the war, were there to help and support him.

After Gene was discharged from the hospital, he was able to move forward with his life. He was signed onto a semi-professional baseball team and was able to pursue the sport he had always loved. He also enjoyed a career at New Jersey Bell, working in management. Gene received the Purple Heart badge of military merit and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal by the state of New Jersey. It is the highest honor that a state can give one of its citizens.

Against incredible odds, Gene had survived his war experience. Miraculously, the other nine crew members that were with him when their plane was shot down, also survived. Of the 10 crew members, three had visited Padre Pio and had received his blessing. One was Gene’s best friend, Tony Afflitto. When Tony and Gene had visited San Giovanni Rotondo, Padre Pio told Tony that he would be home by Easter. His words proved to be true.

Everything Gene thought he had lost, he was able to regain – his life, his health, his peace, his happiness, his family. God had not abandoned him like he once believed. He was there all the time, helping him through every difficulty. Padre Pio had not abandoned him either. He is sure of it.

In 2008, Gene will turn 83 years old. Through the years he has kept in touch with many of the men who served in the war with him, including his military chaplain, Fr. Rice. When the war was over and Fr. Rice returned to the U.S. he made it his personal mission to visit the families of every U.S. soldier in his division who were missing in action or had died in the war. He prayed with the families and offered his love and support. Gene and his wife Charlotte have shared many happy years together. “I want to tell the whole world about Padre Pio and what a great saint he is,” Gene told us when we visited him. That is what he and Charlotte have been doing for a long time.

Brothers and sisters, let us give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light. He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.

– Colossians 1:12,13

 

________________________________

 

Fedora DePamphilis who lives in Massachusetts, visited our Padre Pio Prayer Group in San Diego in 2006. This is her story:

Fedora Circello DePamphilis grew up in the small town of Torremaggiore in the province of Foggia, Italy. Known for its production of wine and olives, Torremaggiore is located just 30 miles from Padre Pio’s monastery in San Giovanni Rotondo. Everyone in Fedora’s town knew of Padre Pio and all had devotion to him. The townspeople would make a day pilgrimage to Padre Pio’s monastery and always stop at Monte Sant Angelo, the shrine dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel, before returning home. Padre Pio loved this sanctuary dedicated to St. Michael and often encouraged people to visit it.

Fedora’s first cousin, Vincenzo Leone had a memorable experience on one occasion while making his confession to Padre Pio. When he entered the confessional, Padre Pio asked him, “How long has it been since your last confession?” “It has been six months,” Vincenzo replied. “But you are lying to me,” said Padre Pio. “You have not been to confession in over three years.” Vincenzo was so shocked that Padre Pio knew the truth about the matter that he went back to Torremaggiore and told everyone about it. “Can you believe it?” said Vincenzo. “I could not conceal anything from him. He knew everything. I know he is a saint!” But Vincenzo was not telling the townspeople anything that they did not already know. They all venerated Padre Pio as a saint.

Fedora’s mother, Angela, once traveled with several of her cousins to San Giovanni Rotondo to see Padre Pio. They waited in the confessional line for two days with no success. At the end of the second day, Angela was very discouraged. She said to her cousins, “We have to return home tomorrow no matter what. Let’s get up before sunrise and be the first ones inside the church when the door opens. Perhaps we will then be able to make our confession to Padre Pio.” Angela’s idea proved to be a good one. But all were surprised when Angela’s cousin came running out of the confessional in tears. When pressed for an explanation, she told her cousins that while she was confessing her sins, Padre Pio said to her, “You are forgetting to tell me something.” “No,” she replied. “I do not think I am forgetting anything.” “But don’t you remember the promise you made to me? You promised that you were going to help the poor and you did not do it. You must go back to your town immediately and do what you said you would do. Then come back and I will hear your confession.”

She explained to Angela and the others that when her husband was critically ill, she said a heartfelt prayer to Padre Pio, begging for his intercession. In her prayer, she promised that if her husband got well, she would give a generous portion of the grain that they produced on their farmland to the poor people in the town. Her husband recovered from his illness but she had completely forgotten about her promise.

Nicola, Fedora’s father went to San Giovanni Rotondo on one occasion, hoping to discuss a personal matter with Padre Pio. But there were too many people at the monastery and it was impossible to approach him. The Capuchins acted almost like bodyguards, making every effort to shield him from the crowds. Padre Pio was often sick and this made his fellow-Capuchins desire even more to protect him from the people. When Nicola expressed his dilemma, one of the visitors at the monastery told him that if he stood in a particular corridor, Padre Pio would probably be passing that way shortly. Nicola waited in the corridor and was able to speak to Padre Pio for a moment. “Padre Pio,” he said. “My wife and I are very concerned about our son, Michael. He has met a girl up in the northern part of Italy and wants to marry her. But my wife and I have our hearts set on him marrying a very nice girl from our town in Torremaggiore.” “Let your son marry the girl up north,” Padre Pio told him. “She is very nice. It is going to work out well.” Nicola returned home and said to his wife, “Listen, we are not going to worry about this any more. Padre Pio told me it would be ok.” As it turned out, Michael married the girl from the north. She proved to be a wonderful wife and they were very happily married.

Fedora and her friends and family would travel from Foggia to San Giovanni Rotondo in a very large transportation vehicle with a canvas that covered the top. It was similar to the military vehicles used by the U.S. soldiers who were stationed at that time at the air base in Foggia. The road was so bad that it was extremely difficult to get up the mountain but they always managed to do it. On one occasion her brother Michael went with her and a large group of family and friends who were going to the monastery to make their confession to Padre Pio. When he walked into the confessional, Padre Pio said to him, “Why have you come here? You have no faith in God and you certainly do not believe in me. Isn’t this true?” “Yes, you are right,” said Michael. “Well, why did you come?” “I came because my other family members and friends were coming. I just came along for the ride.” Then you must leave at once,” Padre Pio said. Michael left the confessional deeply embarrassed and ashamed. But it was after that very short encounter with Padre Pio that his faith in God began to grow. Through the many years since, his faith has continued to deepen and he has remained very close to the Church.

Padre Pio had a reputation for being stern, even at times severe. He would never mince words. Fedora remembers that her parents, from time to time, used to talk about this aspect of his personality. But they understood that his sternness was always tempered with love and with a desire to help people grow closer to God. Many people entered Padre Pio’s confessional with hearts that were not properly disposed and with no desire to change their lives. These people usually received a wake-up call. Although it was difficult to be confronted by Padre Pio, the fruits that resulted from the encounter were frequently life changing. Padre Pio used to say that God directed him in how to deal with each individual soul. Fedora and her family trusted his counsel completely and they had many proofs of his sanctity. Fedora described him as “very strict, very fair and very holy.”

Fedora recalled that during the years her family visited San Giovanni Rotondo, active and militant members of the Communist party would occasionally go to the monastery to see Padre Pio. “What is that in your pocket?” Padre Pio would sometimes ask them. Surprised by his knowledge, they would answer, “It is a membership card for the Communist party.” ” Go and burn it immediately and then come back and I will speak to you,” was Padre Pio’s standard reply.

When Fedora was twenty years old, she decided to move to the United States. She wanted to continue her education and train for a career and this was not possible in her small town. There was only one thing for the women in Torremaggiore to do and that was to marry and raise a family. Her mother Angela was distraught about her decision. She told Padre Pio, “My only daughter has decided to move to America. We do not want her to leave us. What can we do?” Padre Pio answered, “Let her go. The move will be good for her and it will also be good for you and your husband. You will see.”

Fedora settled in Massachusetts and in a short time sent for her parents to come and join her. The arrangement worked out wonderfully. Angela and Nicola enjoyed living in the U.S. Fedora met a wonderful man and married and when she had children, her parents took care of them while she worked. When Angela and Nicola became elderly, Fedora took excellent care of both of them.

When Fedora’s son Gino was just two years old, he was diagnosed with Wilms Tumor. A cancerous tumor was discovered between his kidney and his intestines. He received radiation treatments and lost a great deal of weight. His doctor told the family that it would be a miracle if he survived, as few children survive this type of cancer. During the difficult surgery to remove the tumor, there were complications and one of Gino’s kidneys was destroyed.

The family prayed constantly to their spiritual father, Padre Pio, that Gino would recover. One night Angela had a dream. Padre Pio was standing in front of her. The brown hood of his Capuchin habit was pulled up on his head. In the dream, Padre Pio said to her simply, “Your grandson will be ok.” The dream gave the family a tremendous sense of hope.

Gino recovered from his life-threatening illness and has enjoyed good health ever since. In gratitude for Gino’s recovery, Fedora and her husband traveled to San Giovanni Rotondo in 1968 to say thank you to Padre Pio. Padre Pio had passed away on September 23, 1968, shortly before their trip. When Fedora and her husband walked into the church of Our Lady of Grace, where Padre Pio had spent so many years of his life, they were overcome with emotion. All they could do was cry.

As Fedora looks back through the years, she is aware of the many blessings she has received from God. Her faith has sustained her through it all, the good times and the bad. And Padre Pio has always been nearby to help.
 
 
To Our Spiritual Director
Fr. Louis Solcia, CRSP
on the 50th Anniversary
of his Ordination Dec 8, 1957- Dec 8, 2007
Thank-you for your witness,
your generosity and kindness,
and for the many lives you have
touched in your 50 years in the
priesthood. May our Blessed Mother,
and Saint Pio of Pietrelcina,
continue to watch over you and bless
you in all of your holy endeavors.