Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry – Issue 33 – October-December 2007

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Padre Pio and His Friends from Long Island, New York

We recently visited the Reali family at their home in Long Island, New York. Their story of Padre Pio and his intercession in their lives was truly inspiring.

Antoinette (Toni) Masone Reali was born in the small farming town of Pietrelcina in Southern Italy, the same town where Padre Pio was born and raised. All of Toni’s relatives and friends in Pietrelcina either knew Padre Pio or knew of him. They loved to share stories about him and never tired of retelling them.

Toni’s family, especially her mother Maddalena Masone and her Aunt Lucia (Lucia Iadanza) were very devoted to Padre Pio. Toni had the grace to receive her first Holy Communion from the hands of Padre Pio. Toni’s Aunt Lucia, a highly-favored soul, was the sister of Toni’s mother, Maddalena. A devout spiritual daughter of Padre Pio, Lucia’s reputation of holiness was well known in Pietrelcina. She was held in great esteem among the townspeople.

Lucia Iadanza never married. As a young woman she had consecrated her life completely to the service of God. Her home in Pietrelcina was very close to the home of Padre Pio’s family, the Forgiones. Near her home was the well that Padre Pio used to drink from as a youth. Lucia lived just a few doors down from Our Lady of the Angels parish and Padre Pio passed by Lucia’s home every day on his way to Mass. The Iadanza’s had a farmhouse in Piana Romana that was next to the farmhouse of Padre Pio’s family. It was in Piana Romana that Padre Pio received the invisible stigmata in 1910. Eight years later, while praying before a crucifix in the monastery church of Our Lady of Grace, the wounds of the stigmata on Padre Pio’s body became visible and permanent.

Fr. Salvatore Pannullo was the pastor of Our Lady of the Angels, the parish church of Pietrelcina. Fr. Pannullo was the uncle of Toni’s school teacher, Graziella Pannullo. He used to unlock the church for Padre Pio so that he could go inside and pray in solitude. After his ordination to the priesthood, Padre Pio stayed in Pietrelcina for a number of years due to his very fragile health. In Pietrelcina, he assisted Don Salvatore Pannullo at the parish and the two became very close friends.

Padre Pio was transferred to the monastery of Our Lady of Grace in San Giovanni Rotondo in 1916. He lived on in the memory of the local people of Pietrelcina. They shared a deep sense of gratitude and pride that their town had been the birthplace and residence of the saintly priest. Many of the residents of Pietrelcina saved their money in order to make the trip to see Padre Pio and attend his Mass. At that time, the road from Pietrelcina to San Giovanni Rotondo was very poor, but the people did not mind the inconveniences or the hardships. Toni made the trip to visit Padre Pio every month, either with her mother or with her Aunt Lucia.

Aunt Lucia would often stay for long periods of time in San Giovanni Rotondo in order to be close to Padre Pio. She used to cook his favorite vegetable, broccoli rabe, and take it to him at the monastery. In San Giovanni Rotondo, she continued to live a life of prayer, service and sacrifice, happy to be close to her spiritual father.

It was a well-known fact that every year Padre Pio looked forward to the holy feast of Christmas with great joy and anticipation. As a child, he loved to sculpture little clay figures of the Infant Jesus in the manger and Joseph and Mary. Throughout his life, he had a tender devotion to the Nativity of the Lord. Long before Christmas, if anyone asked Padre Pio if he knew how many days there were until the feast, he could always answer immediately and with accuracy. He counted the days until Christmas with a childlike simplicity. He loved the Christmas Carols, the special devotions, the beautiful gold vestments, the Nativity scenes, and all of the preparations. He once wrote, “All the feasts of the Church are beautiful. Easter, yes, is glorification, but Christmas has a gentleness, a childlike tenderness, that captures my heart.” Being with Padre Pio at Christmas time captured the hearts of many of his spiritual children as well.

No one who had the good fortune to attend the Christmas Midnight Mass that Padre Pio celebrated could ever forget it. As the Mass began, Padre Pio became profoundly recollected in prayer. Some noticed a kind of spiritual light that seemed to surround him. His face was beautiful, marked by an expression of wonder and deep joy.

Traditionally, during the Christmas Mass, Padre Pio would carry a statue of the Baby Jesus, in procession, from the choir loft of the church through the cloister of the monastery, and down the corridors and halls. In the darkened church, the friars held candles and sang hymns of praise. Padre Pio finally made his way to the altar and from the altar to the Christmas crib where he placed the little image of Jesus. Softly glowing candles illuminated the rustic 16th century church of Our Lady of Grace and added to the beauty and solemnity of the occasion.

The Baby Jesus would remain in the crib throughout the holy days of Christmas. Padre Pio had the crib placed where he could see it from the confessional and he would often gaze lovingly at the Infant. He once wrote to one of his spiritual children, “Stay very close to the crib of this most beautiful Child.”

On December 24, 1922, Aunt Lucia Iadanza was to witness a Christmas Eve in San Giovanni Rotondo like none before. She arrived early to attend Padre Pio’s midnight Mass and on that particular night, the church was so cold that the Capuchins brought a stove into the sacristy hoping to take the chill off. Lucia along with three other women, sat beside the stove to warm themselves. Lucia’s three companions soon fell asleep but Lucia remained awake and was praying the Rosary. When Padre Pio came down the stairs that led to the sacristy, Lucia saw that he was holding the Baby Jesus in his arms. It was not the little statue that was used each year at the Christmas Mass. It was the real Infant Jesus, a baby very much alive. A halo of light encircled the Infant and Padre Pio’s face was shining with a beautiful radiance. Lucia stared wide-eyed in astonishment. It was then that Padre Pio noticed that she was staring at him. As he walked toward her, the halo of golden light and the Infant Jesus suddenly disappeared. So too did the radiance on his face.

Padre Pio asked Lucia what she had seen. “I saw you holding the Baby Jesus surrounded by a halo of light,” she said. “Lucia, you must never tell anyone what you saw. Do you understand? Never!” Padre Pio said to her. It was always his desire to keep the many graces that God had given him hidden from others. He rarely ever spoke about his spiritual experiences and if he did it was usually with great reluctance.

Lucia Iadanza was not the only person to have the blessed experience of seeing Padre Pio with the Christ Child. Father Raffaele of Sant’ Elia a Pianisi was also privileged to be a witness to the same. Father Raffaele had been the Superior of the monastery of Our Lady of Grace in San Giovanni Rotondo from 1928 to 1941. Altogether, he had lived with Padre Pio for forty years.

In September 1919, while Raffaele was preparing for ordination to the priesthood, he had obtained permission to spend four days in San Giovanni Rotondo. He was able to make his confession to Padre Pio, who welcomed him with great love and told him that he would always assist him in his spiritual life. Raffaele was given a cell in the monastery right next to the cell that belonged to Padre Pio. One night Raffaele found that he could not get to sleep. At midnight, he finally decided to get up. He opened the door of his cell when he saw Padre Pio walking down the hall very slowly, immersed in prayer. His face was radiant, suffused with a beautiful light. In his arms was the Child Jesus. As was the experience of Lucia Iadanza, Raffaele saw that he was not holding a statue or an image, but a real baby. Padre Pio did not notice that Raffaele was standing in the doorway staring at him. This occurred on September 20, 1919. Raffaele later learned that September 20 was the one year anniversary of Padre Pio’s stigmata.

When Toni Masone moved to the United States with her family and settled in New York, she took her precious memories of Padre Pio, her Aunt Lucia, and the good people of Pietrelcina with her. It was in New York that she met Mario Reali and married. Soon they had two beautiful children. Both of the births were very difficult. After her second child was born, because of complications, it took Toni more than seven months under a doctor’s care to recuperate. The doctor talked to Toni and Mario and explained to them that they should never have any more children. Toni would not be able to survive it. When Toni found she was pregnant for a third time, her doctor explained to her the harsh reality of her situation and the danger she was in. Toni was filled with fear. Uppermost in her mind were her two little ones. She wanted to live at all costs and could not bear the idea of leaving her children without a mother. However, when she felt the first movements of the new life within her, she knew she would go forward with the pregnancy. She would have to completely trust in God and let His will be done.

All of Toni and Mario’s relatives and friends in Pietrelcina were notified about the gravity of her situation and were praying for a safe delivery for Toni. When the doctor set the date for the Caesarian delivery, Toni’s mother, Maddalena wrote to Aunt Lucia, asking for special prayers on that day. The family trusted in the efficacy of Aunt Lucia’s prayers. There had been many proofs through the years.

On February 12, 1953, the day that the doctor set for the birth, Toni’s family and friends in Pietrelcina, including her grammar school teacher, Graziella Pannullo, and her Aunt Lucia, traveled to San Giovanni Rotondo to pray and to ask for Padre Pio’s intercession. It was wintertime and transportation from Pietrelcina to San Giovanni Rotondo was difficult. It took three hours to make the journey.

Padre Pio happened to be in the balcony of the church praying when he saw the family and friends of Toni Reali gathered together in the church below. “What are you doing?” Padre Pio asked. “We are praying for Toni Reali,” they answered. “You must go home now. It is late and it is getting dark outside. The Rosary beads are working.” Padre Pio replied. “But we can’t go home,” they answered. “Toni’s life is in danger. The new baby is supposed to arrive today. The doctors do not think Toni will survive it.” Padre Pio answered them, “Go home now because everything is all right. Toni has already had her baby. It is a boy. His name is Michael.” Aunt Lucia was so surprised by his words that she said to him, “Are you sure?” He answered her, “Yes, I am sure. I am telling you the truth. I was there.” Realizing that he had said too much, Padre Pio seemed to regret his words. But the words had slipped out and it was too late to retract them. He would not say any more about it.

It was not long before Toni and Mario’s family and friends learned that what Padre Pio had told them was true. There at Kew Gardens hospital in Forest Hills, New York, Toni had a beautiful and healthy son and had named him Michael. It was a name especially dear to Padre Pio as he had a great devotion to St. Michael, the Archangel. Toni knew that the prayers of her loved ones and Padre Pio, had saved her. But it was only when she learned what had transpired in the operating room that she realized to what extent she had been helped.

The surgeon who was attending told Toni’s doctor that he had an experience in the delivery room unlike any other in all his years of medical practice. As he was about to make the incision in Toni’s abdomen to take the baby by Caesarian section, he felt what seemed like “invisible hands” guiding his own. These “invisible hands” seemed to move and direct his hands. He had no choice but to follow. It almost seemed as though someone else was performing the surgery. The area where he was guided to make the incision, turned out to be perfect. The whole procedure had been flawless. It could not have gone smoother. The baby was healthy and Toni’s recuperation too was very fast.

When little Michael Reali was just a toddler, he contracted tuberculosis. Under his doctor’s care, his condition did not improve but grew steadily worse. Toni was so worried about little Michael’s declining health that she decided to take him to San Giovanni Rotondo to see Padre Pio. At the monastery of Our Lady of Grace, the Reali’s waited near the sacristy of the church, hoping to speak to Padre Pio about their son. Aunt Lucia was holding little Michael in her arms and just as she passed him to one of the Capuchins to hold, Padre Pio walked into the hallway. He looked at Michael and said, “So this is the famous little Michael that everyone in talking about!” Saying that, he put his hand momentarily on Michael’s chest. When the family returned to the United States, X-ray tests revealed that the tuberculosis had vanished as well as the hole that had been in Michael’s lung. He was never troubled again by the disease. Mario, Toni’s husband, who had not been convinced of Padre Pio’s authenticity, became a believer after his son was healed.

After the cure of little Michael, the family visited San Giovanni Rotondo almost every year until Padre Pio’s death in 1968. In thanksgiving for the many blessings they have received, they were instrumental in the construction of the Way of the Rosary which was built on the road that leads from Pietrelcina to Piana Romana. It was the road that Padre Pio used to walk when he went to his family’s farmhouse. The Reali’s also helped in the restoration of two churches in Pietrelcina, both of which Padre Pio attended in his youth – the church of Our Lady of the Angels and the church of St. Anne where Padre Pio was baptized and received his first Holy Communion. Mario, Toni, Michael and his wife Lisa have also been active members of the Padre Pio prayer group in New York as well as Florida. In 2007, Toni and Mario celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. They treasure their faith, their beautiful family, and their abundant blessings. They are well aware that many of those blessings have come to them through the hands of Padre Pio. His presence and his love have remained with the Reali family through these many years.

“For the feast of the Infant Jesus, my wish for you is that your heart may be His cradle adorned with flowers, where He can rest without the slightest discomfort.”

– St. Pio of Pietrelcina

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Fr. Lino Barbati, who was one of two Delegate Postulators of Padre Pio’s Cause for Beatification, traveled to the U.S. to collect testimonies from people who had known Padre Pio personally. The following is a declaration signed by 36 people and submitted to Fr. Lino:

“We, the undersigned, all of us adults born in Pietrelcina and having lived there up to 1918-1925, during which period we emigrated to the United States, testify that we knew Padre Pio when we were children, through contact with the Forgione family and with Padre Pio himself whose name was Francesco, and through our having received private lessons from him at primary school level.

A number of us knew him before he was ordained to the priesthood and later as a priest during the years he spent in Pietrelcina for health reasons.

At that time Padre Pio was very young, very handsome and led a most holy life. He was known to the people of our town as “our little saint.”

Padre Pio was a young friar devoted to prayer in church, at home and beneath a fig tree near his family’s farmhouse at Piana Romana, where he loved to withdraw to meditate in solitude…..

He helped the parish priest, Don Salvatore Pannullo, in the priestly ministry, visiting and administering the sacraments to the sick and imparting religious instruction to the children. He said Mass with quite particular recollection and fervor, which distinguished him from the other priests.

When he passed through the streets of the town he was dignified, modest and mortified, walking with lowered eyes. In dealing with women of any age, even with young girls, he never looked them full in the face. If they approached him to kiss his hand, to greet him or to ask for advice or a blessing, he kept his gaze fixed on the ground.

His purity was indescribable so that he seemed like an angel. He did not tolerate ambiguous, vulgar, improper or immoral conversations or behavior. He reminded all that they must not offend God by suggestive remarks, obscene expressions or by swearing. He was loved and respected by all.

Every day, after he had said Mass, he walked to Piana Romana. On his way he recited the breviary or the Rosary. He greeted and answered courteously all those he met. One day, on the little bridge he had to cross, he beheld the devil in horrible form waiting there in a threatening attitude to attack him and throw him into the ravine. Padre Pio hesitated fearfully for a moment, but soon pulled himself together, made the sign of the cross and put the devil to flight. Piana Romana was Padre Pio’s favorite spot where he gave himself up to prayer and meditation and where he began to suffer the pain of the invisible stigmata…..

He suffered in silence and gladly and he never revealed to others his physical and moral sufferings or his mysterious ailments. All of the people of Pietrelcina loved him, for they caught a glimpse of his holiness when they observed his great virtue, especially his modesty and purity, his gentleness and humility, his charity, his submission to his superiors and to the parish priest.

When he was obliged by obedience to leave Pietrelcina and return to community life, the people were filled with grief and mourned the loss of their “little saint.”

We natives of Pietrelcina, resident in America for many years and who had the good fortune to know Padre Pio personally and at close quarters, consider it our duty to offer this sincere testimony.”

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From our Spiritual Director

We are all aware that many people have received great graces, even miracles, through the intercession of the saints. But I have noticed something interesting in this regard. Many times the graces that have been received, do not bring about a change or a true conversion in the person’s life. Often the person continues to coast through life or worse, falls right back into his old, destructive habits of behavior.

Many of us are guilty of ingratitude. We are not grateful for the blessings we have receive from God. We take it all for granted. If we are guilty of the sin of ingratitude, it is something that we need to mention when we go to confession. The best way to thank God for the many blessings that we have received is to constantly praise Him, to surrender to His will, and to pray with fervor.

Padre Pio used to say to those who thanked him for his prayerful intercession, “Do not thank me. I did nothing. Thank God and the Blessed Mother.” Let us remember that Padre Pio said, “I will be able to do much more for you when I am in Heaven than what I could do for you on earth.” We must never take the blessings and miracles we have received for granted. Even when the graces are slow in coming, we must always have hearts full of gratitude and thanksgiving.

Fr. Louis Solcia, CRSP

Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry – Issue 32 – July-September 2007

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The Clergy Remembers Padre Pio – Part III

A note from the editors: We recently visited Msgr. John Esseff where he resides in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He shared with us his story of meeting Padre Pio in 1959.

Fr. John Esseff, while on a pilgrimage to Rome in 1959, decided to make a detour to San Giovanni Rotondo and visit Padre Pio. His friend on the pilgrimage, Fr. Robert was going to accompany him. As far as Fr. John knew, at that time, there were only two individuals living, who had the stigmata –  Padre Pio who lived in Italy and Therese Neumann who lived in Germany. In 1959, Padre Pio was a controversial figure. Some people said that he had been banished from the priesthood, that his stigmata was self-inflicted, that he could no longer hear confessions. Others believed him to be a living saint, a man in touch with God. Fr. John was of the second opinion.

Fr. John had a small grasp of the Italian language and while in Rome, he was able to understand it to a limited degree. But when he left Rome for Padre Pio’s monastery, all of that changed. He was not able to understand even one word of the Italian language that was being spoken. Someone was able to foresee the problem of the language barrier because he was given some helpful advice. When he and Fr. Robert arrived in San Giovanni Rotondo they were told simply to say the words, “Maria Pyla” to the first person they saw and they would be sure to be directed to the home of Mary Pyle. Mary Pyle was Padre Pio’s American secretary and she greeted the pilgrims and offered hospitality to the many visitors who came  to see Padre Pio. She often helped people find lodging who were staying for a time in San Giovanni Rotondo.

When Fr. John and Fr. Robert stepped off the bus in San Giovanni Rotondo, the words “Maria Pyla” drew an instant response. They were directed to Mary’s home, which was very close to Padre Pio’s monastery. They received a warm welcome from Mary and she invited them to dinner. Padre Pio’s nephew joined them for the meal.

As they were eating dinner, the front door opened and Padre Pio walked in. Needless to say, Fr. John was very surprised. Padre Pio looked directly at Fr. John and said, “Why are you here? Are you one of the curiosity seekers?” “No, not at all,” said Fr. John. “I am a believer.” Padre Pio walked over to the left side of the table where Fr. John was sitting and spoke to him for a few minutes. Then he turned and left. Fr. John was so surprised by the visit that he asked Mary about it. “Does Padre Pio come to your house often?” he asked.  Mary understood that Fr. John had received a special blessing and that the experience was meant for him and for no one else. Mary said to Fr. John, “Padre Pio had something special for you. He sometimes does that. None of the rest of us saw him.”

Fr. John tried to take it all in. For those minutes when Padre Pio was talking to him, Fr. John was somehow not present to the others at the table. Mary Pyle understood and Padre Pio’s nephew understood but Fr. Robert did not. He was completely mystified. “I find the whole experience that happened at dinner spooky,” Fr. Robert said. “I don’t know what to make of it.”

The next morning, in order to get to Padre Pio’s 5:00 a.m. Mass, the two priests got up in the middle of the night. They got to the church at 2:30 a.m. where a huge crowd was already gathered. When the doors opened, the two priests went into the sacristy. About 200 men were already assembled there. When Padre Pio walked through the sacristy, all of the men knelt down. Padre Pio stood right in front of Fr. John and in silence, stared at him. His expression was solemn, almost angry. Everyone looked at Padre Pio as he looked at Fr. John. This went on for what seemed like an hour but Fr. Robert told Fr. John that Padre Pio stared at him for about 15 minutes.

Padre Pio made his way with difficulty through the crowd, to a kneeler where he paused to pray before vesting for Mass. When he finished his prayers and passed through the sacristy again, he once more stopped in front of Fr. John. This time, however, he had a beautiful smile on his face. He had removed his gloves and Fr. John could see the stigmata. There was light passing through the wounds on his hands. The stigmata appeared transparent. Fr. John bent down and kissed his hand and then Padre Pio put his hand on Fr. John’s head in a blessing.

The Mass of Padre Pio was an unforgettable experience. The church was filled to capacity and although his Mass was long, the time passed quickly. Fr. John noticed that after the Mass, the local Italian people took dabs of cotton and touched it to the floor by the altar. There were bloodstains around the altar and it was gathered on the cotton as relics.

Fr. John wanted to make his confession to Padre Pio, but Padre Pio’s assistant, Fr. Dominic Meyer told him it would not be possible. The confessions were booked solid for two weeks in advance. However, Fr. Dominic told Fr. John that he would speak to Padre Pio about him. A short time later, Fr. John received a letter from Fr. Dominic. Padre Pio had sent a message saying that if Fr. John ever needed his help while hearing confessions, to send his guardian angel to Padre Pio and he would help him immediately. Padre Pio added that if he needed help for any other reason, just to send his angel, and he would respond at once.

In the years since his visit to Padre Pio, Fr. John Esseff (now Msgr. Esseff) has kept very busy in his priestly ministry. He has traveled worldwide and has given retreats to the Missionaries of Charity in Lebanon, Haiti, Italy, the U.S., India, and more. He was very close to Mother Teresa and while in India, he served as a confessor and retreat director to her and her religious community. He was appointed director of formation at the seminary in Fargo, North Dakota and at Creighton University he has served as spiritual director for formation of priests and seminarians. He is the creator of Telespond, a program which addresses the needs of the elderly and he has been an advocate for the handicapped, the retarded, the poor, the homeless, and the migrant farm workers. For 12 years he served at the Lackawanna County Prison as a counselor and chaplain to prisoners and their extended families. For his many contributions to humanity, he has received the Pope John Paul II award, “Prelate of Honor.”

In June of 2007, Msgr. Esseff celebrated his 79th birthday. He has been a priest for 54 years. He continues to serve as a retreat master and spiritual director for bishops, priests, and seminarians. He has never forgotten Padre Pio’s words, “Just send me your guardian angel if you ever need my help,” words spoken almost 50 years ago. As a confessor and spiritual director, Msgr. John has needed Padre Pio’s help and guidance on many, many occasions. Frequently, when faced with a difficult case, not knowing the right words to say or the best advice to give, he has sent his angel to Padre Pio. The answer has always come. He continues to send his guardian angel to Padre Pio and has felt Padre Pio’s ever-present help through these many years.

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Memories of Padre Pio

Fr. Joseph Anthony shared a close friendship with Padre Pio. Five years older than Padre Pio, Fr. Joseph Anthony lived side by side with Padre Pio at the monastery of Our Lady of Grace for four years. When Fr. Joseph Anthony was transferred to the monastery of St. Anne in Foggia, his health began to decline. On December 30, 1936, Padre Pio received the news that Fr. Joseph Anthony was gravely ill. His condition had grown steadily worse and he was close to death.

Padre Pio’s prayers were requested. He lifted up his prayers to Heaven, begging God to come to the aide of his friend. What Padre Pio did not know was that Fr. Joseph Anthony had passed away on that very night. While Padre Pio was praying, he heard a knock at his door. When he opened the door, to his great surprise, there stood Fr. Joseph Anthony. “What are you doing here?” Padre Pio asked him. “I was told that you were in a great deal of pain and were gravely ill. I have been praying for you.” “I am well,” said Fr. Joseph Anthony. “All my pains have gone away and I have come to thank you for your prayers.” Saying that, he vanished. It was then that Padre Pio understood that his friend had already passed away. When Padre Pio told the Capuchins about his experience, Fr. Raffaele suggested to him that he was probably dreaming. Padre Pio explained that it was not a dream. He was wide-awake and Fr. Joseph Anthony appeared at his door in flesh and blood. The friary records stated that Fr. Joseph Anthony had passed away at 2:00 a.m. That was the same time that he had visited Padre Pio.

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Fr. Bernardo d’Alpicella had contracted malaria one summer, and even though he was receiving very good medical care, there was no improvement in his condition. Every two days, his fever would return. His doctor told him that it would be a good idea for him to have a change of climate. Perhaps his health would benefit from the change. Acting upon his doctor’s advice, Fr. Bernardo decided to make a visit to San Giovanni Rotondo. However, his condition showed no improvement and the fever remained. One evening Father Bernardo was in the dining room with the friars and Padre Pio. He said, “Padre Pio, will you give me a blessing? I mean one of those strong ones!” The moment that Padre Pio blessed him, the fever disappeared.

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Egidio Vagnozzi (1906-1980), a Catholic priest for 52 years, served as a Bishop for 31 years, the last 13 of those years, as a Cardinal. At one time he was designated Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines, and it was at this assignment that Bishop Vagnozzi encountered many serious problems within the church. The responsibilities of his office and the complex issues he faced each day weighed on his mind. While in Rome, he spoke to the Holy Father, Pope Pius XII and asked for advice. Pope Pius XII encouraged Bishop Vagnozzi to visit Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo and speak to him about the matter. The bishop found the advice hard to understand. Padre Pio never left his monastery and although not technically a cloistered monk, for all intents and purposes, he was. He did not have any training in diplomatic matters. Living in the remote and isolated town of San Giovanni Rotondo, he was not in touch with the real world. How could he possible offer Bishop Vagnozzi any advice?

After thinking it over, the bishop decided to make the trip. He did not tell anyone of his plan to visit Padre Pio as it was his desire to maintain a low profile. When he arrived in the small town of San Giovanni Rotondo, no one recognized him as a bishop. No one in this remote area in southern Italy had ever seen him before. At the monastery of Our Lady of Grace, upon meeting Padre Pio, Bishop Vagnozzi was very surprised to hear Padre Pio greet him with the words, “Hello, Your Excellency.” He was shocked. How did Padre Pio know that he was a bishop?

The bishop confided to Padre Pio the many problems he faced as Apostolic Nuncio. With great kindness, Padre Pio said to him, “Your Excellency, you are the Apostolic Nuncio for the Philippines. Is that correct?” He answered, “Yes.” “Who was it that sent you to the Philippines?” “It was the Holy Father who sent me,” the bishop answered. “Well, who is the Holy Father?” The bishop replied, “The Holy Father is the Pope, the Vicar of Christ.” Padre Pio said, “So then it was Our Lord Jesus Christ who sent you to serve the church in the Philippines. You are a representative of the Pope but you are also a representative of Jesus Christ. If Christ were to go to the Philippines and see all the problems and abuses that you have shared with me, what would He do? Whatever Christ would do, that is what you must do.” The bishop returned to Rome and told Pope Pius XII what Padre Pio had said. The Holy Father told the bishop to take to heart the wise counsel that had been given to him. When he went back to the Philippines, he thought about Padre Pio’s advice and acted upon it. Everything turned out very well.

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Padre Pio’s methods in the confessional sometimes seemed drastic, but they were effective. On occasion, Padre Pio applied a bit of “shock treatment,” by sending the person out of the confessional without absolution. This acted as a wake up call for many. The young man in the following story received one such wake up call and it changed his life.

Father Mariano Paladino, one of the Capuchins in San Giovanni Rotondo, was approached on one occasion by a young man from the northern part of Italy. The young man confided to Father Mariano the many burdens that were in his heart. He was going through a particularly difficult religious crisis and many other problems were weighing on him. After listening, Padre Mariano suggested to the young man that he speak to Padre Pio.

Acting upon the advice, one day the young man went to confession to Padre Pio. But before he could utter even one word, Padre Pio said to him, “I want you to answer either yes or no to the questions that I ask you. Only that and no more.” Padre Pio then began an examination of conscience. One by one, he named a list of serious sins, inquiring as to whether the young man had committed them or not. Much to his embarrassment, the young man had to answer yes to every sin that Padre Pio had named. After this humiliating experience, Padre Pio then told the young man that he should leave the confessional, that is, without absolution. The young man was devastated and began to cry. He cried for three days.

But something impelled him to return to the monastery and so he did. He managed to position himself at a place where Padre Pio was passing by. As he was standing there, he perceived a wonderful fragrance of perfume. The young man assumed that Padre Pio was wearing after-shave cologne.

When he went back to his hotel, he saw a photograph of Padre Pio on the wall. The penetrating gaze of Padre Pio’s eyes was so striking that the young man had to tightly close his own eyes. When he opened them, the photo had disappeared. He asked one of the employees at the hotel about the picture. He was informed that there had never been a picture of Padre Pio hanging on the wall. The young man then realized that Padre Pio’s presence was with him and he began to deeply ponder the encounter he had with Padre Pio. After regaining his peace, he decided to go back to the monastery and visit Padre Pio once again. Again, he made his confession to Padre Pio and he spoke to him about his life’s direction. The young man was able then to act on his desire. He became a Catholic priest.

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In September 1955, Padre Alberto D’Apolito along with 45 others, made a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Tears in Syracuse, Sicily. Padre Alberto invited Padre Pio to accompany them but he declined the invitation. He almost never left the monastery. “Go on ahead. I will stay in San Giovanni Rotondo but I will follow you,” Padre Pio said. He meant that he would be praying for Padre Alberto and his companions while they were away.

On the way to the shrine, they drove through a large area of watermelon farms. In the warm September sunshine, the watermelons looked delicious and so the pilgrims asked the bus driver to stop. Unable to resist the temptation, the pilgrims ate too many of the watermelons. They began to suffer terribly from indigestion and nausea. Fortunately, they were all feeling better by the next day. They visited the beautiful shrine of Our Lady of Tears and then went on toward Palermo. Just as it was getting dark, on a lonely and desolate stretch of countryside, they came to an obstruction in the road. The bus driver stopped and told everyone to get out of the bus. The people became frightened and began to pray to Padre Pio. All at once, a wave of perfume filled the bus. When another wave of perfume passed through the bus, everyone understood that it was Padre Pio and that his presence was with them. They got out of the bus and began clearing away the fallen trees and rocks that were blocking the road. Just then, the Italian State police officers (the Carabenieri) arrived. They told the police officers that they had been praying for Padre Pio’s protection. At the mention of Padre Pio’s name, the police officers all removed their hats as a gesture of respect. “When you see Padre Pio again, please ask him to pray for us,” they said. “As police officers, our lives are exposed to constant danger.”

Padre Alberto received confirmation that Padre Pio had indeed been watching over them on their journey. As he entered the monastery, Padre Pio greeted him and said, “You all made fools out of yourselves with those watermelons!” And then he added, “And that night on the road to Palermo, you were all so frightened. What a scare!”

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Padre Pietro Tartaglia left this very beautiful reminiscence of Padre Pio:

“I can see him today as he appeared to me when I was a youngster. It was beautiful to see him there in the silence of his cell when we Capuchin aspirants went to him for confession. The dim light gave a mystical touch to his emaciated but radiant countenance. Near him was a photograph of his mother who had died a short time before, and a little statue of Our Lady. He spoke about her to us and taught us to love her. At a certain hour he used to walk in the friary garden, absorbed in his sufferings and his love while the beads slipped through the fingers of his wounded hands. And how full and ardent was his voice when he recited the Angelus with the others – in the garden, in the choir, or at the window. Who could fail to be moved by the sight of him as he walked with painful steps towards the altar for evening devotions and in a voice breaking with emotion recited the Visit to Our Blessed Lady.”

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Padre Pio had a great love for the religious habit. He lived in the time when the Capuchins had a habit they wore in the daytime and a night habit which they wore to bed. When Padre Pio became ill, the Superior of the monastery did not want him to wear his habit at night. However, Padre Pio was not in favor of any change in this regard. Only an order could convince him of it. So the Superior gave Padre Pio a dispensation from wearing the habit to bed, in favor of pajamas. Padre Pio started crying upon receiving the news. On the night that he died, September 23, 1968, knowing that his end was at hand, he went and put on his habit. He wanted to give his soul back to God, wearing his religious habit. The following story shows Padre Pio’s deep respect for the habit:

One time when Padre Pio was hearing confessions in the sacristy of the church, he kept looking intently toward one particular man who was in the confessional line. The man noticed it and began to feel very uncomfortable. He moved to another place and tried to remain inconspicuous, but Padre Pio’s penetrating eyes still followed him wherever he went. All of the people nearby noticed it as well and were quite curious as to why Padre Pio was staring at the man. Finally, Padre Pio motioned for the man to come over to him. The man thought there was some mistake and so he did not move. One of the men who was standing nearby told him, “Padre Pio is calling you. You must go to him.” Although nervous, the man approached Padre Pio’s confessional. In a soft voice, just above a whisper, Padre Pio said to him, “Father, go and put on your habit then come back and I will hear your confession.” The man was a Dominican priest. He had come to San Giovanni Rotondo because he had heard much talk about Padre Pio. It seems the opinion was evenly divided. Some people believed that Padre Pio was a living saint and others did not. The man wore civilian clothing because he wanted to find out for himself the truth about Padre Pio. His experience convinced him that Padre Pio was truly authentic.

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Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry – Issue 31 – April-June 2007

Download Newsletter Issue 31, April-June 2007

“I felt that Padre Pio had a direct line to heaven.”
Father Leo Fanning

The Clergy Remembers Padre Pio – Part II

A note from the editors: We met Father Leo Fanning almost accidentally. We were in Northern New Jersey and had stopped for morning Mass on our way to New York. As we were leaving, we gave a Padre Pio newsletter to one of the parishioners. She told us that there was a priest just 40 miles away who had met Padre Pio during World War II and that we should take a detour and visit him. We did just that. Father Leo was happy to speak to us and to recall his memories of Padre Pio. We were deeply inspired by the story he shared with us.

Leo Fanning, from Cornwall on the Hudson, New York, was drafted into military service during World War II and was assigned to the 304th Bomb Wing of the Fifteenth Air Force and stationed in Cerignola, Italy. He worked in the Battle Casualties Department where records were kept of soldiers who were wounded, missing in action, or killed in the line of duty. His work was a ministry of consolation.

In Cerignola, Leo observed how friendly the townspeople were to the allied soldiers. They were poor farming people for the most part, who had been reduced to destitution because of the war. One evening at the base, when Leo went outside to put the leftovers from supper in the garbage can, a number of little children, dressed in very poor clothing, begged him for the scraps of food that he was about to throw away. From that moment on, no unwanted food was ever thrown into the garbage. Leo did what he could to secure clothing for the children and food as well. He noticed that it was the children and the elderly who suffered the most from the terrible consequences of the war.

When Leo had free time from his work, it was his practice to gather the children of Cerignola together and teach them their catechism. Even though he spoke very little Italian, he somehow managed to communicate with them. He prepared them for their first Holy Communion and also visited the homes of many of the residents in Cerignola, encouraging parents to permit their children to receive the sacrament of Confirmation.

One evening, at the Cathedral of Ripalta, in Cerignola, the Bishop came to preside at the Mass and Benediction. Leo noticed the very disrespectful way that people were conversing with each other during the service. Leo could not contain himself. In a voice full of authority, he stood up and told all the people to be silent while the Bishop was celebrating Mass. One day a messenger came, summoning Corporal Leo Fanning to the Bishop’s office. The Bishop told Leo how much he appreciated what he was doing with the children in town and how grateful he was that Leo had spoken to the people in church, advising them to be more respectful.

Frequently in the evening, Leo would go to the Capuchin monastery in Cerignola to receive Holy Communion and to attend Benediction. The regulation was that the American soldiers were permitted to receive Holy Communion at any time when stationed in a combat zone. Padre Paolino of Casacalenda was the Provincial of the monastery and he often invited Leo and his two army buddies, Joe Asterita and Mario Avignone to come inside the monastery after Benediction to visit. Because the monastery had no heating, during the winter months the men would gather around a large container of burning charcoal to warm themselves while they talked together. Padre Paolino would often share stories of Padre Pio, who lived 80 miles away in the Capuchin monastery of Our Lady of Grace in San Giovanni Rotondo. Hearing about Padre Pio, Leo, Joe and Mario decided they must take the first opportunity they could and visit him.

One day Leo had the opportunity to go with Joe to San Giovanni Rotondo. The first person they met at the monastery was Brother Gerardo. They told Brother Gerardo they had come from the military base at Cerignola and they wanted to meet Padre Pio. Brother Gerardo told them that it would be impossible. He pointed to the huge crowd of people who were assembled inside the church. “Are they waiting to go to Mass?” Leo asked. “No,” said Brother Gerardo. “They have already been to Mass. They are all waiting to go to confession to Padre Pio.”

Leo and Joe decided to stay and they hoped that they might be able to see Padre Pio later in the day. Finally, when the confessions were over, Leo and Joe had a chance to greet Padre Pio. Joe, who had already met Padre Pio on a previous occasion, spoke to him in his best Italian. “Padre Pio,” he said, “I want to introduce you to my friend, Corporal Leo Fanning.” “But that is not correct,” Padre Pio said. “It is Father Leo Fanning.” These words of Padre Pio’s were a great encouragement and affirmation to Leo who had been considering a vocation to the priesthood.

On another visit to the monastery, Leo was able to attend Padre Pio’s Mass. His Mass lasted more than two hours, with long periods of silence throughout. “Padre Pio was not here with us for the whole Mass,” Leo said. “His body was here but his soul was somewhere else. The Mass was beautiful. I felt that Padre Pio had a direct line to Heaven.”

On his subsequent visits to San Giovanni Rotondo, Leo became acquainted with the Superior of the monastery, Padre Agostino of San Marco in Lamis. Padre Agostino had been Padre Pio’s confessor and spiritual director for many years. Knowing that Padre Pio was a spiritually gifted soul who had received many special graces and privileges from the Lord, Padre Agostino held him in genuine veneration and their relationship of mutual esteem and deep friendship lasted more than fifty years. Padre Agostino kept a diary in which he recorded their conversations and experiences together.

Padre Agostino was barely five feet tall. Leo still remembers his twinkling blue eyes and his long flowing beard. His leadership in the monastery was marked by firmness, and a broad fatherly spirit. Padre Agostino ran a tight ship, yet was known for his kindness to all. Everyone held him in the highest respect.

Visitors often brought gifts of food and beverages to the monastery for the friars to enjoy, and Padre Agostino always made it a point to check the contents of every package and gift. Most items were allowed, but he would not permit the cigarettes that well-meaning visitors sometimes brought for the Capuchins. One time Leo and Joe brought a bag of candy to Padre Pio. After they had lunch with the friars, someone noticed that most of the candy was missing. Padre Pio said, “So the candy has been taken. Well, I know who took it.” The people who were standing nearby and heard these words of Padre Pio quickly left the area. Nothing could be hidden from Padre Pio and none of those who were guilty wanted to be “found out.”

Angelina, who was a schoolteacher in Cerignola, was a friend of Leo’s. From time to time, she was able to go to Our Lady of Grace monastery to visit Padre Pio. One day she told Leo that she sometimes perceived a beautiful fragrance, like perfume, not only when she was at Padre Pio’s monastery, but also when she was home in Cerignola. The fragrance, Angelina explained, was a sign of Padre Pio’s presence. Leo felt that Angelina was far out of reality to make such a statement. What she had said about the perfume was impossible. Leo concluded that Angelina was a nice person but nevertheless, a religious fanatic with an overactive imagination.

Shortly after that, Leo was working in his office on the military base and was hit with a wave of sweet-smelling perfume. He was alone. There were no flowers in the room or anything else that might have caused the fragrance. He was so shook up by the experience that he went to see the Army chaplain, Father Duggan. He needed to talk about what had just happened. As he was waiting to speak to Father Duggan, Joe Asterita walked in. “Why are you here, Joe?” Leo asked him. “It is because I have been experiencing the perfume of Padre Pio near me, and I am going to talk to Father Duggan about it,” Joe replied.

One day when Leo was getting ready to visit Padre Pio, Angelina asked him to bring back a relic, something of Padre Pio’s, for her to keep. When Leo was with Padre Pio in the dining room, he told him of Angelina’s request. Padre Pio, who had a wonderful sense of humor, looked at the box of cereal that was in front of them. He took out one rice crispy. “Give this to Angelina,” he said. Far from being disappointed, Angelina was very happy with the gift.

Once, on the spur of the moment, Leo and Joe decided to pay a surprise visit to Padre Pio. They asked Padre Paolino if he would like to go with them and he agreed. When they arrived at the monastery, Padre Paolino told them to wait in the jeep for a moment while he went inside. He came out and told them to park in the barn behind the friary and next to the donkeys. Padre Paolino said to them that when he walked into the monastery, Padre Pio said, “Oh good, you have finally arrived. I have been expecting you and the two American soldiers all morning.” They were learning that it was not so easy to surprise Padre Pio.

Leo began to have a strong desire to have a photograph taken of himself with Padre Pio. However, seeing how pressing Padre Pio’s work schedule was and how people were constantly making requests of him, he did not have the heart to add to his burden. One day, without Leo being aware of it, someone took his picture sitting next to Padre Pio in the monastery. To Leo’s great happiness, he was given the picture to keep.

Padre Pio invited Joe, Leo and Mario to come and see him on May 25, his 58th birthday. The year was 1945. Joe said, “We would love to come and see you on your birthday and we will be there with bells on.” Padre Pio wanted to know the meaning of the phrase, “with bells on.” Joe said, “It means that we will be on time.” Padre Pio understood then, and laughed at the expression.

For Padre Pio’s birthday, Leo, Joe and Mario brought a beautiful sheet cake to the monastery with the words, “Happy Birthday, Padre Pio.” That day, Padre Pio walked into the dining room, slightly limping. He had presided at the wedding ceremony for his niece earlier that day, and was exhausted. Leo noticed that Padre Pio enjoyed the conversation during lunch but did not eat one bite of food. Afterward, Leo, Joe and Mario sang “Happy Birthday” to Padre Pio, and at the end of the song, all of the Capuchins, including Padre Pio, broke into applause. Padre Pio had agreed to let Leo and his friends take photographs that day but he changed his mind. He explained to them that he was sorry, but he was too tired from the day’s activities.

This was not the first time that Padre Pio had declined being photographed, and it would not be the last. Dr. Sanguinetti, one of the collaborators in the building of Padre Pio’s hospital, the Home for the Relief of Suffering, told of an incidence when Padre Pio asked that his photograph not be taken. Padre Pio and Dr. Sanguinetti were standing outside the Home for the Relief of Suffering, when Dr. Sanguinetti took a photo of Padre Pio. Just at that moment a gust of wind blew the scarf that Padre Pio was wearing, across his face. When Padre Pio saw the camera, he said, “No, Doctor, no photographs please.” Dr. Sanguinetti apologized to Padre Pio but could not resist the temptation. He stepped into the background and continued to take one picture after another until he had used two rolls of film. All of the photos came out blank except the first one with the scarf blowing across Padre Pio’s face, the one he had taken before being forbidden.

After Padre Pio’s birthday party, Leo, Joe and Mario stopped to talk to Father Ignatius in the monastery. They told him that when they returned to the U.S., they wanted to have something to remember Padre Pio by, a relic. They wanted Father Ignatius to obtain it for them. “What kind of a relic?” Father Ignatius asked. “A bandage that covered his stigmata,” they replied. Father Ignatius turned as white as a sheet at the words. “What you are asking me to do is strictly forbidden,” he said. “I could get into a lot of trouble. It is impossible.” “No one will ever know,” Leo responded. “We promise to keep the secret. It would mean so much to us.” They finally convinced Father Ignatius and he returned a short time later with three bandages neatly tucked in his pocket. He looked frightened. “Now remember,” said Father Ignatius, “do not say a word about this to anyone.”

Not long afterward, Father Ignatius heard Padre Pio’s booming voice summoning him. “Father Ignatius, come here at once,” Padre Pio said. “You did something very wrong. You committed a theft. You know that you are not allowed to give the bandages to anyone, and you did it anyway.” And then he paused a moment and seemed to soften. “I forgive you, Father Ignatius,” he said. “And I forgive the boys, too. Tell them that I wore those bandages over my heart. Go in peace.”

Many people who visited Padre Pio during the war years, asked him for information regarding their loved ones who were on the field of battle. Brother Ludovico, whose family was from San Giovanni Rotondo, was worried about his nephew, who was in the army but had not been heard from for a long time. Brother Ludovico’s sister (the boy’s mother) asked Padre Pio about her son. “He is all right but he cannot write to you. Don’t worry, though, he will return home safely,” Padre Pio told her. As it turned out, he had been taken prisoner by the Germans, but managed to escape and was hiding in the home of a kindly Italian family.

Capuchin Father, Padre Alberto D’Apolito, once asked Padre Pio his impressions about the war. “The war will last a long time,” Padre Pio said. “We are still at the beginning. You will see it pass from town to town like an overflowing river, spreading its destruction, blood and death. May God help us.” He was asked if San Giovanni Rotondo would be spared and he answered, “The Lord, in His infinite bounty, will spare this blessed place and all of the Gargano area.” In fact, time proved the truth of his words. No bombs ever fell on San Giovanni Rotondo.

When the war was finally coming to an end, Joe, Mario and Leo got word of their new assignments. Leo learned that he would probably be stationed in Japan. Mario was going to be transferred to another part of Europe. Joe would be going back home to New York. A new military point system (Accumulated Service Record) had been put into place and Joe had enough points to be discharged.

They went to the monastery together one last time to tell Padre Pio the news and to say goodbye. “Points or no points,” Padre Pio said, “I tell you that you will all be going home together.” Mario told Padre Pio that he would come back again sometime to visit. “Do not do it,” said Padre Pio. “Save your money instead. As your spiritual father, I will be with you always. Just call on me and I will be there.” Mario, who had been greatly edified by his association with Padre Pio, and who, prior to meeting Padre Pio, did not have a deep faith life, became a daily communicant.

Joe asked Padre Pio if he thought he might have a vocation to the priesthood, perhaps the Trappist order. “Joe, you talk all the time,” Padre Pio said. “You cannot keep silent even for a minute. You could never be a Trappist. Your vocation is to the married life.” “But I do not know any girls,” Joe said. “Well, if I have to, I will find a wife for you myself,” Padre Pio answered. ” How could you do that when you live in San Giovanni Rotondo and I will be in New York?” Joe asked. “Leave it to me,” Pio said. Joe soon met a very nice Italian girl and married her. To Leo, Padre Pio said, “You feel that you are to go to the altar of God. I do not want you to go anywhere else.” He kissed the three men on each cheek following the Italian custom and gave each a handful of religious medals. When the men returned to the base, their transfer orders had been changed. They were all to go back to the United States.

Leo entered the seminary and was ordained at St. John’s Cathedral in Paterson, New Jersey on May 30, 1954. Ten minutes before ordination, while waiting in the sacristy, a Western Union worker delivered a telegram to Leo. It said, “Congratulations on the day of your ordination.” It was signed, “Padre Pio.” Leo couldn’t believe it. How did Padre Pio know the exact time and day of his ordination? And yet, that had been his experience with Padre Pio time and time again.

Father Leo has heard that many hotels, motels, restaurants, and souvenir shops have sprung up in the once small and isolated mountain village where Padre Pio lived for more than fifty years. A new and larger church had to be built to accommodate the pilgrims who now come by the thousands to pray at the tomb of Padre Pio. Indeed, there is now an entire “city of Padre Pio.” Father Leo has not had the desire to return to San Giovanni Rotondo. He wants to remember it the way it was when he visited Padre Pio there – the simple and austere monastery, the quiet hills, the small rustic church, the silence, the rocky, expansive landscape, the peace. It is still vivid in his memory.

Father Leo’s devotion to Padre Pio has continued through his priesthood. He organized a Padre Pio prayer group which he led for many years, and has given numerous talks on Padre Pio in various locations. Father Leo knows the great blessing he was given, that day more than 60 years ago when he drove his military jeep up the steep and winding road leading to Our Lady of Grace monastery in San Giovanni Rotondo. Many graces came to him that day and many graces have come to him since. Father Leo is now 84 years old. On May 30, 2007, he will have celebrated 53 years as a priest.

When we walked into the Catholic assisted living facility where Father Leo now resides, we found Father Leo in the chapel, celebrating Mass from his wheelchair, for the many residents that were gathered there. “You believe that you are to go to the altar of God,” Padre Pio once told Leo. “I do not want you to go anywhere else.” Father Leo did not go “anywhere else.” He has dedicated his life to the service of God and to the Church. How proud Padre Pio must be of Father Leo Fanning.

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Padre Pio’s Words of Faith

“Have great compassion for all pastors, preachers and guides of souls, and see how they are dispersed all over the world……pray to God for them, so that saving themselves they may obtain a fruitful salvation of souls. And I beg you not to ever forget me in this because God gives me a great will to never forget you before Him.”

“Let us pray that peace may be restored to all the countries that are at war. But let us also pray for the souls that are involved in spiritual warfare that they may fight like strong ones.”

“May the Lord confirm with His blessings, these wishes of mine, for your happiness is very close to my heart and I work and pray continuously for this end.”

From our Spiritual Director

I learned about one of Padre Pio’s spiritual daughters, Maria, through two friends of mine who have become close to Maria through the years.

Maria was having a great many difficulties in her personal life. Things seemed to be getting worse. One day she picked up a holy card and looked intently at the picture. It was a prayer card of Padre Pio, whom she was not familiar with. “I do not know who you are,” Maria prayed, “but if you are a saint, please help me.” Shortly after that prayer, many of the difficult situations in her life improved, and a peace came into her heart. She learned that the saint on the prayer card was Padre Pio of San Giovanni Rotondo.

Maria decided to go to San Giovanni Rotondo to visit Padre Pio. She stayed at the home of Mary Pyle, Padre Pio’s American secretary. It was a household full of activity and many visitors. One day Padre Pio said to one of his spiritual sons, “I want you to add another story to your home.” “Why should I do that?” the man replied. “I do not need any more living space.” “It will be for one of my spiritual daughters,” Padre Pio replied. The man did as Padre Pio requested and Maria lived happily in the upper story of his home for many years.

Maria worked in the monastery of Our Lady of Grace as a housekeeper for many years. She cleaned the cells of the priests and brothers, did the laundry, and other household chores. One of the other housekeepers told Maria that sometimes when she washed Padre Pio’s linens, the water had a beautiful fragrance of perfume. She did not want to throw the water away.

Once Maria was cleaning Padre Pio’s cell and was dusting the crucifix in his room. She looked at her dust cloth and it was stained with blood. She showed it to one of the Capuchins who lived in the monastery. “You must give that to me, Maria,” he said, and in obedience she gave it to him. Such relics were carefully protected. Maria who is still living, treasures her wonderful memories of being so close to her spiritual father for many years.

– Fr. Louis Solcia, C.R.S.P.

Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry – Issue 30 – January-March 2007

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Blessed Padre Pio, who on the altar elevated a never-ending
prayer to Our Lord and gathered much spiritual fruit
for himself and others, must be an example of holiness to everyone,
because all men are called to sanctity.
 
Cardinal Francis Arinze

The Clergy Remembers Padre Pio – Part I

We recently visited Fr.Flavian Willathgamuwa CMF, PhD where he resides in Duarte, California and he shared his testimony with us regarding the three months he spent with Padre Pio in 1967.

Born in a village in Sri Lanka in 1919, Don Maximus Willathgamuwa entered the De La Salle Congregation of Christian Brothers when he was 17 years old, and thereafter became known to everyone as Brother Flavian. The mission of the Christian Brothers, which is a teaching Order, is to give a Christian education to youth, especially to youth who are poor. Brother Flavian served as the rector of St. Benedict’s College in Sri Lanka and later was elected by his congregation to be the Provincial Superior of the Christian Brothers for the province of Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan. He was appointed as Minister of Education by the President of Sri Lanka and served in that capacity for a time.

In 1967, Brother Flavian was sent to Rome to complete a year of studies. While in Rome, he read a newspaper article about Padre Pio, whom he had not heard of before. The article said that Padre Pio had a reputation for holiness and went on to mention some of the miracles and extraordinary spiritual gifts that were manifested in his life.

Brother Flavian had always been greatly attracted to individuals who had a reputation for sanctity and as a Brother of the De La Salle Religious Congregation, he had met a number of very holy people in his life. Living in Sri Lanka, very close to India, he had the privilege to meet and work with Mother Teresa. She invited him to come to India and be the Chaplain for her Missionaries of Charity sisters. He accepted her invitation and served at her convent in Calcutta.

He also met Sister Lucia Dos Santos, the Carmelite nun of Coimbra, Portugal, who, along with Jacinta and Francisco Marto, (both have since been beatified) received the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima. He felt fortunate to visit the stigmatist and suffering soul, Sister Agnes Sasagawa of Akita, Japan. For years, the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary that were received by Sister Agnes in the convent chapel in Akita were scrutinized and studied by the Church. In 1988, the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at that time, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, gave definitive judgement on the Akita apparitions as supernatural in origin, reliable and worthy of belief. In New York, Brother Flavian worked with the famous Catholic advocate for human rights, Dorothy Day, and at the Trappist monastery in Gethsemane, Kentucky, he met the famous Christian writer and Trappist monk, Father Thomas Merton.

Brother Flavian found the newspaper article about Padre Pio so interesting that he decided to make the four-hour train trip from Rome to San Giovanni Rotondo to visit him. He arrived at his destination in the middle of the night and was told that if he wanted to attend Padre Pio’s 5:00 a.m. Mass, he should go at once to the church and wait for the doors to open. Brother Flavian did just that. He couldn’t believe the large crowd that was already assembled in front of the church, waiting in the darkness. When the church doors finally opened, the crowd of people rushed forward and ran to the seats in the front of the church. The local Italian people jealously guarded the best seats, close to the altar where Padre Pio would be saying Mass. Brother Flavian had to sit in the very back of the church.

Brother Flavian went to the monastery afterward and introduced himself. The Capuchins welcomed him and asked him to stay in the monastery for the duration of his visit. The next day, he was invited to be up on the altar when Padre Pio celebrated his Mass. He knew what a privilege it was to be so close to Padre Pio at the Mass. During the Consecration, Brother Flavian happened to glance down at Padre Pio’s feet. He saw that they were not touching the ground. He looked again very closely to make sure he was seeing correctly, but there was no doubt. There was the carpeted floor. Padre Pio’s feet were elevated above it. His half gloves were removed during the Mass and Brother Flavian could see the wounds of the stigmata in his hands. He was awestruck by what he had witnessed.

Brother Flavian called the Father Provincial of his Order in Rome and told him that he had been planning to stay in San Giovanni Rotondo for five days but he wanted to stay longer. He told his Superior that he was in a holy place, the very air he breathed was holy. And Padre Pio was a saint. He could not bear to leave so soon. The Provincial gave Brother Flavian permission to stay for three months.

Every day, for the next three months, Brother Flavian attended Padre Pio’s Mass and every week he made his confession to him. He did not speak Italian and Padre Pio did not speak English, but oddly enough there was no language barrier. He spoke to Padre Pio in English and Padre Pio understood him. Padre Pio used to say that one of the special duties of his guardian angel was to translate foreign languages for him.

During Brother Flavian’s three month stay in the monastery of Our Lady of Grace, he was able to observe closely the life of the Capuchins, and in particular, Padre Pio. Padre Pio got up every morning at 3:00 a.m. to pray and begin his preparation for Mass which he celebrated at 5:00 a.m. Afterward, he would have a glass of orange juice and then hear the women’s confessions. Brother Flavian noticed that Padre Pio had a slow and dragging walk and he limped as he made his way to the confessional each day. It was extremely painful for Padre Pio to walk on his pierced feet. He once said that he was always in pain when he carried out his priestly ministry.

Brother Falvian observed that people from all over the world were at Padre Pio’s monastery to attend his Mass and make their confession to him. The confession lines were very long. Everyone had to take a ticket and wait for their number to be called in order to make their confession to Padre Pio. People sometimes waited eight days or longer.

He heard the women’s confessions until 1:00 p.m., had a very light lunch, and then heard the men’s confessions until 4:00 p.m. It was not unusual for him to hear confessions much longer and at times he would spend sixteen hours a day in the confessional. In his lifetime, Padre Pio reconciled thousands of people back to their faith through the sacrament of confession.

Padre Pio had a great capacity for work and a great capacity for suffering. It was extraordinary that he was able to spend such long hours in the confessional, especially considering his chronic health problems. His doctors were never able to successfully diagnose and treat the mysterious illnesses that plagued him throughout his life. He once said, “Confession is a work, but when one is ill, it becomes a sacrifice.” Pope Paul VI said of Padre Pio, “He was a man of prayer and suffering.”

After Padre Pio finished hearing confessions for the day, he walked on the veranda of the monastery for a short time of relaxation. Even then, people were trying to get near him, to speak to him a moment, to ask for his help and his prayers.

There were letters too, hundreds of them, that Padre Pio received every day from all over the world. One of the rooms in the monastery was converted into a small post office and a team of Capuchins, who spoke a variety of languages, were assigned to help. For many years, Mary Pyle, who lived nearby, answered the mail almost singlehandedly. Although Padre Pio prayed almost continuously throughout the day, he felt the need to pray even more, considering the tremendous number of prayer requests that were coming in through the mail.

At 4:30 p.m. Padre Pio blessed religious articles. At 5:30 p.m., he had a glass of beer and afterward gathered with the other Capuchins for a brief time of fellowship and conversation. After the evening prayers with his religious community, he went to his cell. The Superior of the monastery told Brother Flavian that when Padre Pio retired to his cell, it was not to sleep but to continue his prayers. He slept very little, not more than three hours every night.

Brother Flavian was curious about the daily glass of beer that Padre Pio drank. Being from Sri Lanka, this was not a part of the culture that Brother Falvian was accustomed to. In Sri Lanka, the clergy did not drink beer, wine or any other alcoholic beverages. He asked the Superior of the monastery about it. The Superior explained to him that there was a problem with the quality of the drinking water in San Giovanni Rotondo. Practically everyone drank beer instead, enjoyed it, and considered it much safer to drink. Brother Flavian also noticed Padre Pio’s extremely small intake of food. Every afternoon in the refectory, while he and the other Capuchins enjoyed their meal, Padre Pio would take only a few bites of food. He skipped breakfast and dinner altogether.

Several times Brother Flavian walked passed Padre Pio’s cell at the monastery, and saw that he was kneeling, deeply absorbed in prayer. His whole life was prayer, suffering the wounds of Christ’s Passion, carrying out his priestly ministry, serving the people, more prayer, more work, more suffering, more service.

For Padre Pio, every day was exactly the same as the previous. The schedule never changed. The article that Brother Flavian had read in the newspaper in Rome had been right. Padre Pio was indeed, a man of miracles, but perhaps the greatest miracle of all was his ability to endure the exhausting schedule, day in and day out, with very little rest or leisure. He kept up the enormous burden of work for more than fifty years without taking even one day’s vacation.

The three months passed very quickly and when it was time for Brother Flavian to return to Rome, he knelt down and asked Padre Pio to give him a word of advice for his religious vocation as a De La Salle Christian Brother. Padre Pio said to him, “Have a great love for the Mass and for the Holy Eucharist and have a great devotion to the Virgin Mary and to her Rosary. If you do this, you will enter Heaven and I will meet you there.”

Brother Flavian took the advice of Padre Pio to heart and consecrated his religious vocation to the Eucharist and to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He has also made great efforts to promote the Holy Rosary, the prayer that Padre Pio loved above all others.

While studying for an advanced degree in Chicago, Illinois, one of Brother Flavian’s classmates, a priest who was Chinese, told him that he was going to his father’s funeral in Beijing, China. He asked Brother Flavian if he would like to accompany him and he agreed to go. When they were at the cemetery, as the priest was saying the funeral Mass, soldiers came and arrested him. He was never seen nor heard from again. There are severe restrictions regarding religious services in China and it is illegal to celebrate Mass in public.

The people who were at the funeral begged Brother Flavian to continue the Mass. He tried to explain to them that he could not do so since he was not a priest but a brother. The people did not understand. To comfort the people, Brother Flavian then led a prayer and the sentiments he expressed were more for their sake than for his own. He prayed that if it was God’s will, he would become a priest and would some day return to China and say Mass for the people. Strange to say, shortly after saying the prayer, he began to feel for the first time in his life, a burning desire to enter the priesthood. He searched for a religious congregation that had a strong devotion to Mary, the Mother of God. He found that congregation in the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Hear of Mary, also known asthe Claretians, founded by St. Anthony Mary Claret. At age sixty, he began his studies for the priesthood.

After ordination, Fr. Flavian was able to return to China and celebrate the Eucharist. However, he was arrested by Chinese police officers and put in jail and later ordered to leave the country.

Later, while in England, Fr. Flavian became gravely ill and spent many weeks the hospital. His condition was so serious that he was given the Last Rites. The Mother Superior of the Carmelite nuns in California learned of his illness. Fr. Flavian had regularly celebrated First Saturday Devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Carmelite chapel when he resided in California. The Mother Superior asked him to come to the skilled nursing facility that the Carmelite Sisters own and operate in Duarte, California. The Sisters wanted to provide him with the best medical care possible.

Fr. Flavian accepted the invitation and has lived at the Santa Teresita skilled nursing home for three years. Although confined to a wheelchair and almost blind, and weakened by many serious health problems, he has been able to carry on a busy and fruitful apostolate. He offers two masses daily to the people who visit him at Santa Teresita. Seven days a week he invites everyone to pray the Divine Office with him, followed by the Rosary. The Divine Mercy chaplet is recited at 3:00 p.m. daily. He organized the Pro Life Prayer Warriors prayer group who pray the Rosary together in his hospital room every Saturday for the sanctity of life. He also leads the First Saturday Devotions to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Our Lady of Perpetual Help Devotions are held every Wednesday. In between, Fr. Flavian manages to pray fifty decades of the Rosary daily. “I plan to serve the Lord and use my time for God’s purposes, until I draw my last breath. I consider everything else a waste of time,” Father Flavian said.

At 88 years old, Fr. Flavian is not too many years away from the gate of Heaven. “Stay very close to the Holy Mass and to the Blessed Virgin Mary. If you do, you will enter Heaven and I will meet you there.” These words that St. Pio spoke to Fr. Flavian so many years ago have been a great consolation to him and he has stayed very close to the Holy Mass and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

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A Testimonial

I met Padre Pio only once in my life, when from Rimini, I went to see him in 1938, in order to make my confession. At that time I was 17 years old. I had just left the Capuchin noviciate of Cesena and I had no special program for my future life. During our talk, Padre Pio told me that I would be a missionary and would work in many countries. At that time I had no intention to join the friary again. So I didn’t know if his words were a prophecy.

But the fact is that on November 13, 1938, I was received into the Capuchin noviciate of Cesena and ordained a priest on May 25, 1945. In 1947, I was sent to India where I worked in the diocese of Lucknow up to 1964. After that, I was transferred to Tanzania, then sent to Ethiopia and for the last 12 years have been working in Dar es Salaam.

Now, remembering the words that Padre Pio told me in 1938, I realize that they have come true. So I am convinced that Padre Pio was a saint, who had the gift of prophecy. He has followed me silently in my missionary activities, though for a long time I did not remember him. Now, more than ever, I feel that he has protected me in all the critical moments of my life and so I feel very grateful to him.

Fr. Costanzo Perazzini 

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Memories of Padre Pio

Padre Pio had a great, lifelong esteem for the missionary vocation. Even before he was ordained, Padre Pio had thought about becoming a missionary. After he became a priest, he approached his Superiors and requested that he be sent to serve in the Capuchin missions in India, but his Superiors did not grant him permission.

On February 17, 1921, Padre Pio wrote a letter to the Capuchin missionary, Angelo Poli, O.F.M. Capuchin, Bishop of Allahabad, India. He asked Bishop Poli to pray regarding his fervent desire to become a missionary. Padre Pio wrote, “May you also recommend this affair to Jesus and tell Him that if He wishes me to be among His missionaries, let Him dispose my Superior’s will accordingly. And meanwhile, since it is not yet conceded to me to be in reality, one of His missionaries, I will do my best to be a missionary in spirit.” In another letter to Bishop Poli, Padre Pio wrote, “How much I desire and how content I would be if I also could find myself there so as to offer my poor work for the spreading of the faith.”

However, Divine Providence had other designs for Padre Pio and serving in the foreign missions was not a part of God’s plan for his life. One is reminded of the French Carmelite nun, St. Therese of Lisieux. Padre Pio had a devotion to St. Therese and had read her autobiography, “The Story of a Soul.” She, too, expressed a desire to be sent to the foreign missions but it was not meant to be. As a cloistered Carmelite nun, Therese’s vocation was to prayer within the convent walls.

Padre Pio wanted above all things, to live and act according to God’s will. Without ever leaving the monastery in San Giovanni Rotondo, he carried out an immensely fruitful apostolate and helped countless souls by his wise counsel, by his continual prayers and by his fidelity to God. Instead of going out to the world, as in the ordinary missionary sense, the world came to him. The poor and obscure monastery of Our Lady of Grace became the destination of thousands who were seeking a deeper spiritual meaning in their lives. For more than fifty years, Padre Pio exercised his priestly ministry in a true missionary spirit.

 

 

From Our Spiritual Director

Every week, I hear many beautiful testimonies of blessings and miracles that people are receiving through the intercession of St. Pio. One incident that happened recently regarded three non-Catholics who came to our Padre Pio Devotions. When they were returning home, they noticed the fragrance of roses which permeated their car to the extent that they had to stop the car and roll all of the windows down. The fragrance was so strong that it was overpowering.

A lady told me recently that an intense fragrance of perfume filled her home and she could find no explanation for it. She said it was a definite fragrance of perfume, although it was not her favorite perfume. She asked me the meaning of it. I told her that it was Padre Pio and that he often made his spiritual presence know by such a fragrance. He was giving her a blessing in this way.

A woman recently told me that she had a very vivid dream of Padre Pio. In her dream, Padre Pio was staring at her and the expression on his face was one of great seriousness. As he looked at her, he seemed very sad. The lady asked me what this dream might mean. I told her that Padre Pio was not happy with her double life. “You must go to confession and amend your life,” I said.

Padre Pio used to say that he would be able to do more for us when he was in Heaven than he could do for us while on earth. St. Pio is keeping his promise. The graces people are receiving from his intercession are truly amazing. But I believe that we do not thank him enough for what he has done for us in the past, what he is doing for us now, and what he will do for us in the future. We must remember to thank Padre Pio every day for his intercession and help in our lives.

Fr. Louis Solcia C.R.S.P.

Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry – Issue 29 – October-December 2006

Download Newsletter Issue 29, October-December 2006

“Always be happily at peace with your conscience, reflecting that
you are in the service of an infinitely good Father,
who comes down to His creatures out of sheer goodness, to raise and
transform them in Him, their Creator.”
 
– St. Pio of Pietrelcina

Clara and Dan Steele
Two Lives Blessed by Padre Pio

Clara met Dan Steele in 1947 in her hometown of Trieste, Italy. Dan, a military police oficer in the U.S. Army was stationed in Trieste at the time.Clara and Dan became good friends and when she introduced Dan to her mother, her mother seemed to like him at once. Because she was always looking out for the best interest of her daughter, she soon suggested to Clara that Dan would make a wonderful husband. But Clara was not looking for a husband. She was only fifteen years old and marriage was the farthest thing from her mind.

One day when Clara was in church, a woman whom she did not know came up to her and said, “Do you need a grace?” Clara asked the woman what she meant. “There is a saint living in San Giovanni Rotondo named Padre Pio,” the woman answered. “If you need a grace or if you have a special intention, you should go and see him.”

Clara thought about the conversation she and her mother had just had about Dan Steele and decided it would be a good idea to go to San Giovanni Rotondo and talk to Padre Pio about him. Clara and her mother arrived at the little church of “Our Lady of Grace,” at 4:30 a.m., and already there was a large crowd assembled outside. When the doors opened, people ran as fast as they could to get a seat near the front of the church. After Mass, Clara made her confession to Padre Pio and then said to him, “I would like to know if Dan Steele would be a good marriage partner?” Padre Pio said, “Is he a good Catholic?” “He is a devout Protestant,” Clara replied. “You don’t know what you are doing,” Padre Pio retorted in a loud voice. “You are trying to buy a cat in a bag.” Obviously angry, Pio closed the shutter of the confessional. Clara had been dismissed. Angry and embarrassed, she left the confessional. “Let’s leave at once,” Clara said to her mother.

But on the way back to Trieste, Clara began to ponder Padre Pio’s words. What did he mean by a “cat in a bag?” she wondered. “Perhaps I do not know what I am doing. Maybe Padre Pio is right,” she said to herself. As she thought more about the encounter with Padre Pio, her anger began to subside. Padre Pio often made remarks in the confessional which were hard to understand and he did it for a reason. It caused people to stop and think, and to reflect on their lives. Clara came to realize that Padre Pio had done her a great favor. She needed to be shaken up and to think seriously about her life. It was true, as a young girl of fifteen, she really didn’t know what she was doing. Padre Pio’s abruptness was just the kind of “shock treatment” she needed to move forward and to consider important life decisions. The short encounter with Padre Pio, which seemed so unpleasant at first, actually marked a great and positive change in Clara’s spiritual life. It had been a blessing.

Dan did not know that Clara and her mother had gone to see Padre Pio. When he saw Clara again, he told her that he had an unusual experience. He was taking a walk and enjoying the fresh air and suddenly there came over him a very strong desire to become a Catholic. He told Clara that it really had nothing to do with the fact that she was a Catholic. It was something he had to do for himself and he felt convinced that this was what God wanted for him. His desire to become Catholic occurred at about the same time that Clara and her mother were in San Giovanni Rotondo talking to Padre Pio.

Dan was baptized into the Catholic Church by Padre Pio in 1948. He was 19 years old. Mary Pyle, Padre Pio’s American secretary, acted as his godmother. Although very nervous, and with very limited Italian, he made his first confession to Padre Pio. Due to the fasting rules, Padre Pio said that he must wait till the following day to receive his first Holy Communion. Without realizing it, Dan had absent mindedly put a little twig, like a toothpick, in his mouth and Padre Pio had noticed it.

Dan and Clara wanted to get married in San Giovanni Rotondo but because of Army regulations, they were married in Trieste instead. Shortly after, Dan spoke to Padre Pio and asked him if he could bring Clara to San Giovanni Rotondo to have their marriage blessed. Padre Pio smiled at him and agreed. Dan would recall later, after many visits to the monastery, that was the one and only time that Padre Pio had ever smiled at him. By nature, Padre Pio was serious and reserved. His smile was indeed, a blessing in itself. On one of these visits, Dan asked Padre Pio if he would accept him as his spiritual son. Padre Pio thought for a moment and then said to him in Italian, “As long as you stay good.”

In the beautiful 16th century church of Our Lady of Grace, Clara and Dan knelt before Padre Pio as he blessed their marriage. Clara prayed silently to him for his intercession regarding her future. She was only sixteen years old and was somewhat apprehensive about her newly married status. During the blessing, Padre Pio smiled at Clara, and said, “To you I offer my hand.”

Whenever they could, Clara and Dan would travel to the monastery to see Padre Pio. One time Clara made the journey because her mother was very ill, and she wanted to ask Padre Pio for his prayers. Clara arrived at the church at 4:00 a.m. and waited in a corridor, because she knew he passed by there each morning on his way to the sacristy. A large number of people had also assembled there with the same intention, to say a word to him or to ask for his prayers. As he came into view, a man pointed to Clara and said to Padre Pio, “Pray for that girl’s mother. She is ill.” Another person called out to Padre Pio and pointed to Clara, “Pray for the soul of that girl’s mother.” Clara could not understand it. Both of the individuals were strangers to her and she had not told anyone that her mother was sick. When the two men asked him to pray for her mother, Padre Pio lifted his eyes upward as though to Heaven and remained completely motionless. Soon, one of the friars closed the door to the hall where Padre Pio was standing, and never lowering his eyes, or moving, he disappeared from view. What she did not know at the time was that her mother had already passed away. When she arrived home, she learned that her mother had already been buried.

Dan was transferred to a military base in Germany and as time went by, he and Clara were blessed to have a family of seven beautiful children. In 1964, the Steeles were able to travel to San Giovanni Rotondo once again. They were always very grateful whenever they could attend Padre Pio’s Mass. The beauty and spirituality of his Mass was impossible to explain to someone who had not experienced it. Padre Pio did not simply recite the prayers of the Mass and voice the responses. He saw Jesus during the Holy Sacrifice and talked to Him. In doing so, he lost track of time. That was why his Mass lasted so long.

At the time of their visit to San Giovanni Rotondo in 1964, Clara was having many difficulties in her life. All through the Mass, she prayed silently to Padre Pio, asking for his help. Her great desire was to speak to him. She felt that if she could just say a few words to him, even for a moment, her many burdens would be lightened.

As soon as the Mass was over, Padre Pio left the sanctuary of the church and went to a window of the monastery where he customarily blessed the people who were standing outside. Dan rushed out of the church with all the others to stand outside beneath the monastery window and receive Padre Pio’s blessing. Clara and her six children were left behind in the church. She knew that she would not be able to speak to Padre Pio on that day. There were just too many people there. It would be impossible. She was so disappointed that she started to cry. Suddenly she looked up in the balcony and saw Padre Pio. All of her children saw him as well. Her 12 year-old son Bobby, said to her, “Mother, look how Padre Pio is staring at you!” Rays of light were coming from Padre Pio’s eyes. As she gazed at him, the church interior and everything else seemed to disappear. She felt such a sense of joy that it was like Heaven, Heaven on earth. Padre Pio was in the balcony of the church looking at Clara and her children and at the same time he was greeting the pilgrims from the monastery window. She could still hear the clamor of the people outside, calling to him and greeting him. When he turned and left the balcony, Clara noticed, by the way that he was walking, that he was suffering intensely from the wounds of the stigmata.

All during her visit to San Giovanni Rotondo, Clara had prayed to Padre Pio to lift the many burdens she was carrying. When she returned to Germany, her outward circumstances did not improve. However, she felt a great sense of peace and a renewed strength. Her burdens had been lifted, not exteriorly but interiorly. She knew that she had received a spiritual healing.

Clara’s extended family also benefitted in many ways from Padre Pio’s ministry to souls. Clara’s aunt, who was a Communist, decided one day to go to confession to Padre Pio. He said to her, “You came here with no sorrow for your sins and no faith. I cannot give you absolution and you cannot receive Holy Communion.” The characteristic “shock treatment,” often typical of Padre Pio, worked is magic in her heart and it wasn’t long before she returned to her Catholic faith.

Through the ensuing years, Clara had several vivid dreams which confirmed to her that Padre Pio, even though separated by distance, was guiding her spiritually. When the Steeles were stationed in Nigeria, at least 15 or more stray cats were always at Clara’s door. She tried to feed them and to find homes for them but it was a “no win” situation and it caused her a great deal of anxiety. During that time, she had a dream in which she was walking with Padre Pio in a beautiful, heavenly place. The sky was a brilliant blue. Padre Pio said to her, “You are worried about many things that are not so important. This is what is important.” Then he knelt down in prayer and Clara perceived the fragrance of incense. His arms were cradled as though he were holding the Baby Jesus.

In another vivid dream, Clara repeated the beautiful words of a prayer of St. Francis of Paola to Padre Pio. “May the good Lord accompany you all the days of your life because that is the greatest gift.” “Yes, I know that prayer,” Padre Pio said to Clara in her dream. “That is what I have come to tell you.”

During the last years of Clara’s life, she offered many prayers and sacrifices for her family members who had strayed away from their faith. She would pray in her little chapel in her home from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. each morning and then attend the Morning Mass. Even during the winter months in Long Beach, New York, where she and Dan lived, she offered the discomfort of attending Mass in the cold weather and many other sacrifices for the conversion of her family. It seems that Padre Pio was walking with her and listening to her prayers.

Clara passed away after a short illness, on June 16, 2006, the same day as the day of Padre Pio’s canonization. (Padre Pio was declared a saint on June 16, 2002.) She was 73 years old. Clara’s dying wish was that two of her children who had not spoken to each other for ten years would be reconciled. Shortly before her funeral, her two children made peace with each other. Five of her relatives went to confession on the eve of her funeral, all of whom had not received the sacrament in over five years. Clara’s family was reaping the benefits of her prayers. One of her children, who had not been to confession in more than ten years, returned to the sacrament a few days after Clara’s death.

A note from the editors:We visited Clara and Dan Steele in 2005 in their home in Long Beach, New York where they shared their memories of Padre Pio with us. We decided to visit again in 2006, before the printing of this story, and were very sad to learn that Clara, after a short illness, had passed away. Dan shared with us that although Clara’s death has been a time of sadness for all, the extended family has received bountiful spiritual graces since her passing.

 
Eternal rest grant unto Clara, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.


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Recalling Clara Steele’s dream of Padre Pio, as he knelt in prayer with the Baby Jesus, we are reminded of Padre Pio’s great lifelong devotion to the Madonna and Child. He once said that the Blessed Mother always stood beside him in the confessional in his ministry of reconciling souls back to God. Throughout his life, she gave him strength in times of interior trials and physical sufferings. On August 15, 1929, on the Feast of the Assumption, Padre Pio described an experience he had during the celebration of the Mass, when the Virgin Mary came to him, holding the Baby Jesus in her arms:

“This morning I went up to the holy altar, I know not how. Physical pain and interior grief competed as to which could most afflict all my poor being . . . A mortal sadness pervaded me through and through and I thought that all was finished for me . . . At the moment of consuming the Sacred Species of the Host, a sudden light flooded through me and I clearly saw the Heavenly Mother with the Christ Child in her arms who together said to me, ‘Stop worrying! We are with you. You belong to us and we are yours.’ This said, I saw no more . . . and I felt myself the whole day submerged in a sea of sweetness and indescribable love.” — Padre Pio Letters IV


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A Testimony

We recently spoke to Father John Hampsch, CMF, a Catholic missionary priest of the Claretian congregation. Father Hampsch has ministered in all 50 states in the U.S. and in 57 countries. His Claretian tape ministry is one of the largest Catholic tape outreaches in the world. He currently resides in Los Angeles, CA.

In 1958, while on a pilgrimage to a number of Catholic shrines in Europe, Father Hampsch spent three days in San Giovanni Rotondo and he was blessed to be the altar server at Padre Pio’s Mass. Being right beside Padre Pio on the altar, Fr. Hampsch was able to observe the great reverence and solemnity with which he celebrated Mass. The wounds in his hands were visible and bleeding during the Holy Sacrifice. At the time of the consecration, Padre Pio became completely still, lost in God. It was his long pauses of silent prayer during the Mass that caused it to be so lengthy.

On the day that Fr. Hampsch served his Mass, Padre Pio received a little girl who was making her first Holy Communion, and he also gave Holy Communion to a man who was blind. The other priests who were present distributed Holy Communion to the rest of the people in the congregation.

The people who lived in San Giovanni Rotondo knew that Padre Pio only distributed Holy Communion to a small number of people each day. Some of the local people had a very possessive attitude toward Padre Pio. They believed that they should have the privilege of receiving Holy Communion from his hands rather than those who were visiting from far away places, and they would use whatever means necessary, including pushing, pulling, elbowing, and the like, to secure their own place at the Communion rail. The noise, the rudeness, and the irreverent behavior in the church surprised and disappointed Fr. Hampsch. He noticed that it was also upsetting and disheartening to Padre Pio, who always desired silence and reverence in the house of God.

The Capuchin priests and brothers were always close beside Padre Pio, acting as bodyguards and trying to protect him and shield him from the crowds. The people were forever trying to touch him, squeeze his hand, cut off a piece of his habit, obtain a relic. During the three days that Fr. Hampsch was there, he noticed that Padre Pio was always trying to disengage himself from the crowds and the noise. He could not seem to relax or to fully accept the situation.

While Fr. Hampsch was in San Giovanni Rotondo, he met Mary Pyle, Padre Pio’s American secretary, and she took him on a tour of Padre Pio’s hospital, The Home for the Relief of Suffering. Mary explained many detailed and interesting facts of Padre Pio’s life and apostolate. She told him that the most painful wounds of the stigmata, that Padre Pio experienced, were the wounds in his feet. Mary said that it was almost impossible for him to stand for any length of time on his pierced feet. That explained why he only gave out Communion to a few people each day at Mass. He literally could not stand up any longer.

Fr. Hampsch had brought a number of letters with him to the monastery. When he handed them to Padre Pio, he was very surprised that Padre Pio seemed to know the contents of each one, even though he did not open them. Padre Pio handed the letters individually to his secretary, saying, “This is a Mass stipend, this is a donation for the Hospital, this is a prayer request.” His powers of discernment and knowledge were a gift that the Lord had given him and it was with amazement that people observed his gifts.

Although his visit to Padre Pio occurred almost 50 years ago, the memories are still deeply impressed on his mind. It was a blessing and a privilege. Fr. Hampsch has always known that. You can learn more about the apostolate of Fr. Hampsch at www.claretiantapeministry.org


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From our Spiritual Director

During Padre Pio’s lifetime, many people received graces and miracles from him. So many in fact, that it would be impossible to calculate. However, they often did not realize that there was a price to be paid for the graces they received. The price was often pain and suffering that Padre Pio experienced in his own body. Once when someone came to thank him for a grace, he said to the individual, “You do not realize how much you have cost me.” He was not complaining. He was expressing a reality.

Even now, after Padre Pio’s death, the number of miracles and cures that people have received through his intercession is truly amazing. Some of the stories involving healings that occurred a number of years ago, through the intercession of Padre Pio, have only recently come to light. One impressive story that has come to attention lately, involved the great Italian author, Giovanni Papini. When Giovanni lost his sight, a friend of his told him to invoke the intercession of Padre Pio. Giovanni’s friend suggested to him that he give him his photograph and he would take it to Padre Pio to pray over. The friend begged Padre Pio to help Giovanni. Padre Pio took the photograph and prayed and Giovanni’s sight was restored.

People often criticized Padre Pio for his sometimes abrupt way of speaking to the pilgrims who came to San Giovanni Rotondo to see him. When he was confronted about it, he would respond, “I treat people as I am directed to by God.” His motivation was always to do the will of God rather than to tell people what they wanted to hear.

Fr. Louis Solcia C.R.S.P.

Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry – Issue 28 – July-September 2006

Download Newsletter Issue 28, July-September 2006

“Father Pio is a giant of sanctity. We wish to thank our Father who is in
Heaven for having given rise in the Holy Church of God to a man of
great faith, of that unshakable faith that moves mountains and creates
gigantic good works in this century of struggles, fratricidal wars and egoism.
God has given rise in the Italian Church, in this noble region of Puglia,
to a giant of sanctity whose heroic virtues recall men of today to their vocation
as God’s created beings and sons of the Father who is in Heaven.”

– Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican Secretary of State

Padre Pio and His Friends from East and West

Father Pio Francesco Mandato, F.M.H.J., of Eastern, PA, Danny D’Agosto of Brooklyn, NY, and James Hurlburt of San Diego, CA, each shared their memories of Padre Pio with us for this issue of “Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry.”

Father Pio Francesco Mandato, F.M.H.J., was born in Italy in 1956 to Graziella and Andre Mandato. His family lived in Pietrelcina, the town where Padre Pio was born and raised. Fr. Mandato’s family and extended family, including his great-grandfather, received many graces through the years from their spiritual father, Padre Pio. Their stories of Padre Pio were told and retold with the greatest pleasure.

Fr. Mandato’s grandmother, Maria DeNunzio once asked a friend who was going to San Giovanni Rotondo to deliver a letter to Padre Pio for her. She fixed her friend a cup of espresso and they had an enjoyable visit. Then he left for the monastery. He was able to talk with Padre Pio and when it was time to say good-bye, Padre Pio surprised him by saying, “Aren’t you forgetting something?” “Not that I can think of,” Maria’s friend replied. “Not only did you enjoy a cup of coffee and a visit with Maria, but you promised her that you would give me the letter that is in your back pocket!” At once he remembered and quickly placed the letter in Padre Pio’s hands.

In Pietrelcina, everyone called Padre Pio, Il Monaco Santo, “the holy friar.” Everyone felt very proud that the “holy friar” was a fellow citizen of Pietrelcina. The people from Pietrelcina were characteristically simple, devout, hard-working, and strong in their Catholic faith. Many people in the area were related or distantly related to each other. Pio Francesco’s mother was related to Padre Pio through her paternal grandmother.

Padre Pio never forgot the town from which he had come. He loved Pietrelcina and he loved the people who lived there. He said that he remembered Pietrelcina, “stone by stone.” Padre Pio wrote a letter to his brother Michael Forgione, who still resided in their hometown and said, “Pietrelcina is totally in my heart.” Regarding his spiritual life, Padre Pio once said, “Everything happened in Pietrelcina. Jesus was there.” It was in Pietrelcina that the Lord began to pour out his graces on the young Capuchin. Padre Pio once made the prophetic statement, “During my life I have cherished San Giovanni Rotondo. After my death I will cherish and favor Pietrelcina.” How fitting that today he is known as St. Pio of Pietrelcina.

During World War II, the people of Pietrelcina were worried about their safety. “Do not worry,” Padre Pio said. “Pietrelcina will be protected.” History bears out the truth of his statement. Padre Pio was transferred to the Capuchin monastery of Our Lady of Grace in San Giovanni Rotondo in 1916 and remained there until his death in 1968. A number of the residents of Pietrelcina moved to San Giovanni Rotondo to be closer to their spiritual father.

Once Paris DeNunzio, Pio Francesco’s grandfather, made a trip to San Giovanni Rotondo from Pietrelcina to see Padre Pio. The road that led up to the monastery was steep and dangerous. Paris’ companion, who was driving, fell asleep at the wheel and the car swerved and veered off the road. Paris, who was very frightened, began praying, “Padre Pio, helps us!” At the last moment, the driver was able to gain control of the car. When they arrived at the monastery and went to Padre Pio’s cell, Paris told his spiritual father about the near accident. “And were you frightened, Paris?” Padre Pio asked. “Yes, I was frightened,” Paris replied. “Well, don’t you know who was driving?” Padre Pio asked. Paris asked him what he meant. “I was driving the car,” said Padre Pio, “and you all arrived safely!”

Paris used to pray daily to Padre Pio, recommending to him his wife, his daughter, his son and other family members. Once when he was talking to Padre Pio, he asked him to pray for his family and began to name them. Padre Pio said to him, “You do not need to tell me their names. I hear their names every day in your prayers.” Another time, Paris was experiencing pain in his chest and was worried that perhaps he had heart trouble. He told Padre Pio about it and Padre Pio replied that there was nothing wrong with his heart. “Of course there is something wrong,” Paris said. “If there wasn’t something wrong, I would not be in so much pain.” Padre Pio told him to stop talking about it. “If you don’t stop, I will give you a punch,” Padre Pio said. He then gave Paris a light punch on his chest. From that moment on, he never experienced another pain in his chest.

Pio Francesco’s mother, Graziella, met Padre Pio for the first time when she traveled to the monastery with her father, Paris DeNunzio. Graziella was ten years-old. When they arrived, they found Padre Pio inside the 16th century friary church of Our Lady of Grace, surrounded by a large group of people. Being small, Graziella was unable to get close to him. She could only see the top of his head. When Padre Pio saw Graziella, he extended his arm over the people, and allowed her to kiss his hand. His eyes made a profound impression on her, an impression that she would never forget.

In 1946, a few days before Christmas, Graziella and her brother made a visit to see Padre Pio. He blessed Graziella by placing his hands on her head. Then in his paternal way, he gave her a fatherly embrace. At once, she became aware of the beautiful scent of roses. She believed that the fragrance was coming from the wound in his side.

One time Graziella told Padre Pio that she had met a man she was thinking of marrying. “Don’t do it. He is not for you. You don’t know what kind of coat he wears,” Padre Pio said to her. She and her father did a little research and found out that the man was a communist. When she inquired about a second suitor, the answer was again a firm “no.” When she finally named a third man, Andre Mandato, Padre Pio said, “The angel of God has passed. Do it with the blessing of God.” She married Andre in 1955.

Because of the popularity of Padre Pio’s confessional, a booking system had to be put in place at the monastery. People would take a ticket and wait for their number to be called. It sometimes required a wait of eight days or more. Once Graziella had a tremendous desire to speak to Padre Pio. The way to speak to him was through the vehicle of the confessional but Graziella did not want to wait that long. She somehow had the courage to approach the confessional without a ticket. The woman at the front of the line told her she could go ahead of her.

Just as she stepped into the confessional, Padre Pellegrino, Padre Pio’s assistant, whose job it was to check tickets, told Padre Pio that Graziella had just entered without a reservation. Padre Pio said to him, “And when she did, who were you watching?”

Graziella was permitted to make her confession regardless and she told her spiritual father that she and her husband were expecting their first child. “You will have a son,” he said. “Name him Pio Francesco.” When her baby boy arrived on July 6, 1956, she was delighted that he shared not only Padre Pio’s baptismal name, Francesco, but also his name in religion, Pio. Padre Pio sent his blessing as well as a medal with the Blessed Virgin on one side and St. Michael the Archangel on the other.

Pio Francesco Mandato was four years old when his grandfather, Paris, took him for the first time to see Padre Pio in his cell. Padre Pio blessed little Pio Francesco and embraced him. Little Pio came just up to the middle of Padre Pio’s waist. Afterward, he told his mother, “Padre Pio has perfume on his tummy.” Graziella told her son that he did not wear perfume. The fragrance was a spiritual gift that the Lord had given him, one among many gifts. It was a sign of grace for those who perceived it.

Paris took little Pio Francesco with him a number of times to the monastery to visit Padre Pio. The men were allowed to go into a gathering area and converse with Padre Pio. Women were not allowed. Pio Francesco remembers what joyful occasions they were for all concerned. In the presence of a number of Capuchins and laymen, Padre Pio enjoyed the fellowship and he loved to tell jokes and to make his friends laugh.

Seven year-old Pio Francesco and his younger brother Vincent received their first Holy Communion from Padre Pio on October 3, 1964, on the feast of the Transitus of St. Francis of Assisi (the celebration of the death of St. Francis of Assisi). Afterward Padre Pio said to the young boys, “I pray that your last Holy Communion will be even more beautiful than your first.” Pio Francesco remembers the solemnity and the great devotion with which Padre Pio celebrated Mass. Although his Mass was long, the time seemed to pass very quickly. Another remarkable aspect of Padre Pio’s Mass was that although it was always very crowded, a profound silence pervaded the church.

The Mandato family emigrated to the United States in 1964 and settled in New Jersey. Naturally, they missed Padre Pio immensely. Father Alessio Parente, Padre Pio’s secretary, relayed a message to Graziella from Padre Pio. He said, “Tell Graziella that I always have her present in my prayers and I am united to her whole family.”

On September 22, 1968, Graziella had a vivid dream of Padre Pio. “I come to say goodbye to you,” he said. She said to him, “Don’t leave,” and he replied, “The Lord is calling me.” The next day Graziella learned that he had passed away in the early morning hours.

Pio Francesco Mandato was ordained to the priesthood in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1985. He and his family made a trip to Italy so that he could celebrate his first Mass in Pietrelcina at the Madonna Della Libera altar (Our Lady of Liberty), at Our Lady of the Angels parish. It was the very same church and altar where Padre Pio had celebrated his first Mass on August 14, 1910.

Today, fifty year old Father Pio Francesco Mandato, F.M.H.J., belongs to the Franciscan Missionary Hermits of St. Joseph and lives in Eastern Pennsylvania. He continues to live out his priestly vocation in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi. He feels that Padre Pio is still guiding him and helping him on his spiritual journey. “More than anything else, I remember Padre Pio as a very loving man, like a loving father,” Father Pio Francesco said. The words that Padre Pio said to his mother so many years before remain a consolation to him, “Tell Graziella that I always have her present in my prayers and I am united to her whole family.” Father Pio Francesco Mandato continues to carry on the work of the Lord.
 
“Don’t doubt my prayers, which are certainly poor, but still solicitous for you. I have never ceased, nor will I cease to pray to the most sweet God that He may be pleased to accomplish His holy work in you; that is, that you may have a strong desire and intention to reach perfection in the Christian life; a desire which you must love and nurture tenderly in your heart, as the work of the Holy Spirit, and a spark of His Divine fire.”
– St. Pio of Pietrelcina

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James Hurlburt shared his testimony at the Padre Pio Devotions in San Diego. When he talked about seeing Padre Pio for the first time, James was visibly moved, and it was hard for him to continue speaking. James said, “The experience of seeing Padre Pio in prayer was so powerful that I still cannot talk about it without crying.”

James Hurlburt “I spent 24 years in the U.S. navy, and as a chief petty officer, I had become accustomed to many deployments in a number of different countries around the world. However, there is one trip that stands out among all the rest. It was my visit to the monastery of Padre Pio in 1960. It has remained one of the greatest experiences of my life.

At that time, the ship I was assigned to was stationed in Naples, Italy where we serviced navy ships of the 6th Fleet. My shipmate, Stan had met an Italian man who had told him about Padre Pio. They had decided to go to San Giovanni Rotondo to see Padre Pio and invited me and one other shipmate to go with them. I had never heard of Padre Pio but the idea of taking a few vacation days appealed to me. I thought it would be enjoyable to see the southern part of Italy and so I accepted the invitation.

When we arrived at the monastery in San Giovanni Rotondo, I noticed many women dressed in black with rosaries in their hands, climbing solemnly up the stone steps to the entrance of the church. The next day we visited the church in the afternoon and saw many of the same devout ladies, rosaries in hand, praying. I noticed a young priest who was sitting in the church and he acted strangely. He seemed ill-at-ease as he shifted around in his seat. He somehow didn’t seem to belong there among so many devout people.

On Sunday morning we got up early to attend Padre Pio’s Mass. We were there well before the Mass began and found seats on the left side of the church, near the altar. I looked up in the balcony and saw Padre Pio. It almost took my breath away. He was kneeling and had his hands folded in prayer. He seemed to be totally wrapped in God. Motionless, he was looking up at a fixed point. He remained completely still for what seemed like a long time. I felt like I was looking at Jesus. I will never forget it as long as I live.

His Mass too, was unforgettable. From our seats near the altar, we could see him well. His movements were slow and reverent. It was very impressive to see him as he opened the tabernacle and then prayed. He seemed somehow to be out of his earthly existence, talking to Jesus. He seemed to be in Heaven.

After the Mass, we went to a small reception room near the church. We could hear Padre Pio’s booming voice, full of authority, speaking to someone nearby. He was speaking to the priest who had seemed so troubled the previous day. Our Italian companion told us that Padre Pio had said to the priest, “You must go to confession if you want to save your soul!” Then the young priest left the church.

The next morning we left for Naples to return to our ship. What began as just a sightseeing trip across Italy turned out to be a glimpse into the world of the supernatural. The visit to San Giovanni Rotondo was a profound experience and it had a great impact my life. I am now 89 years old. Seeing Padre Pio and attending his Mass is a memory that I will cherish forever.”

“We belong eternally to God to love and bless Him always, and I live wholly in Him and His Divine Son.”
– St. Pio of Pietrelcina

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Donato (Danny) D’Agosto, growing up in Controne, Italy, had always heard talk about Padre Pio, and had a desire to visit him. However, San Giovanni Rotondo was a long distance away and Danny could not afford to make the trip.

In 1954, when Danny was eighteen years old, he emigrated with his family to the United States. He took a bus to the boat that would take him to his new home and as the bus passed through the city of Pompeii, Danny noticed the beautiful church of Our Lady of Pompeii (Padre Pio had always had a great devotion to Our Lady of Pompeii). Passing the church, Danny made a promise to God that he would someday return to Italy and fulfill his dream of meeting Padre Pio, and he prayed, asking for God’s help and blessing in the matter.

Danny and his family settled in Brooklyn, New York. Four years later, when he was 23 years old, Danny had saved enough money to return to Italy and realize the desire of his heart. He managed to get a personal meeting with Padre Pio. “It was 5:00 a.m. when I arrived at the church,” Danny said. “Padre Pio was there greeting visitors in the sacristy before Mass. I knelt down to kiss his hand and my heart was full of emotion. Padre Pio looked at me and said, ‘You kept your promise. You came to see me!’ Padre Pio had never seen me before and had no way of knowing about the prayer and the promise I had made to God four years earlier. It still gives me the chills when I think about it.”

Danny had a desire to honor Padre Pio in a special way in New York, where he has lived for the last fifty-two years. With the permission of the parish priest of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, in Brooklyn, Danny purchased the property across the street from the church and built a shrine to Padre Pio. A large statue of Padre Pio sits behind a glass partition in an attractive alcove where many visitors come to pray. Pilgrims to the shrine have included two Bishops and one Cardinal.

The shrine remains a work in progress. Danny was able to have the name of the street facing the shrine changed to “Padre Pio Way.” Mass is celebrated at the shrine on Padre Pio’s birthday, May 25 and on September 23, the day that he died. “Padre Pio was like a light, like a bright and shining star,” Danny said.” “His holiness was tangible.”

“Where did Padre Pio get that light which he so successfully communicated to all those who met him? Undoubtedly from prayer, in listening to God, in prolonged penances, but above all through the celebration of the Mass which was the center of his existence.”
– Pope John Paul II

What Makes Up True Holiness

As a Capuchin priest, Padre Pio led a life of profound holiness. He wrote a beautiful reflection on holiness:

“Let us keep before our minds that which makes up real holiness. Holiness means getting above ourselves; it means perfect mastery of all our passions. It means having real and continual contempt for ourselves and for the things of the world to the point of preferring poverty rather than wealth, humiliation rather than glory, suffering rather than pleasure. Holiness means loving our neighbor as our self for love of God. In this connection holiness means loving those who curse us, who hate and persecute us and even doing good to them. Holiness means living humbly, being disinterested, prudent, just, patient, kind, chaste, meek, diligent, carrying out one’s duties for no other reason than that of pleasing God and receiving from Him alone the reward one deserves.”

Padre Pio (Letters III)

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From Our Spiritual Director

I like very much the true story about Donald Fitzgerald of Dublin, Ireland and the grace he received from Padre Pio. Donald had been ill and a friend gave him a relic badge of Padre Pio. Donald always wore it around his neck.

Donald found a job in County Galway on a fishing boat and on one occasion, he and a crew of five others set out on a ten day fishing trip. On the fourth day, 200 miles off the Irish coast, winds built up to gale force. The Captain gave orders to head for shore. The waves were reaching 20 feet in height. One strong wave after another bashed against the boat. A double wave hit the boat and Donald lost his balance. A large bag of prawns swung against him and knocked him into the sea.

Donald, who cannot swim, was carried about 500 feet from the boat. He realized he was going to drown. He grabbed the relic of Padre Pio that was around his neck, and prayed to Padre Pio for his intercession. He perceived a beautiful perfume.

Donald suddenly saw Padre Pio in front of him. Padre Pio told him not to worry, he would not die. He felt someone lift him out of the water and put him back on the boat. The next day the crew was able to return to port with their catch.

Donald Fitzgerald’s testimony has been recorded and is kept in the Cause archives. We are to remember that God is always with us and often sends his saints and his angels to protect us. We have nothing to fear. And Padre Pio has reminded us that he will be able to help us more from Heaven, than he was able to when he was on earth.

Fr. Louis Solcia, C.R.S.P.

Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry – Issue 27 – April-June 2006

“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

Memories of Padre Pio

Joe Peluso was an American soldier who was stationed in Italy during World War II. One day he received a letter from his mother and she told him that there was a holy priest named Padre Pio living in Italy. She did not know what part of Italy he lived in but she wanted Joe to find out and to visit him. Joe asked the military chaplain on the base if he knew anything about Padre Pio. The military chaplain started laughing and pointed to the mountain that was directly in front of them. “Padre Pio lives right on that mountain,” he said to Joe. Curiosity got the better of him and Joe decided to make the short trip to see him. It was October 6, 1944.

Padre Pio loved the visits of the American soldiers and always greeted them cordially. His counsel to the soldiers was unique. He used simple and childlike words when talking to them and giving them advice. Sometimes he would pat them on the head in a paternal way and simply say, “Be a good boy.”

Over the next ten months, Joe was able to visit Padre Pio many times and they became very close. Often he was invited to eat with the Capuchins at the monastery. While everyone else enjoyed their food, Joe noticed that Padre Pio simply pushed his food around on the plate. His daily intake of food would only fill the cup of his hand. He once said, “I need very little of this world’s goods. I need just a little bit of food, a little sleep and few possessions.”

It was Padre Pio’s habit to give each visitor a religious medal when they came to the monastery. Because of the war, religious medals and rosaries became scarce and almost impossible to acquire. Padre Pio felt very bad that his supply of medals was exhausted and he had none to give his visitors. Mary Pyle and Joe talked about it and Joe wanted to help. He decided to take the 220-mile trip from his military base to Rome to try to obtain the medals. Padre Pio and Padre Pio’s brother Michael both gave him letters to deliver to their sister, Sister Pia. She was a nun of the Order of St. Bridget and lived in the Brigittine Convent in Rome.

When he arrived in Rome, something prompted him to follow a road leading up a hill. As he drove up the hill, he saw a large sign, Cloistered Motherhouse of the Benedictine Nuns. Joe remembered that the St. Benedict medals were a favorite of Padre Pio. Joe knocked on the door and the nuns were extremely happy to give him a large supply of medals for Padre Pio.

Once Padre Pio asked Joe to select a name for his guardian angel. “Pick a name for your guardian angel and call him by that name always,” Padre Pio said to Joe. “When you send him to me, he will come instantly.”

One day Joe asked Padre Pio if he would accept him as his spiritual child. Padre Pio readily agreed. Then he asked him if he would accept his wife as his spiritual child and he agreed as well. Realizing the wonderful opportunity, he then asked Padre Pio if he would accept his daughter. Joe’s aunts and uncles then came into his mind. Somehow, the way the conversation was going struck both of them as funny. Joe and Padre Pio began to laugh. They laughed so hard that tears were rolling down their faces.

Suddenly Padre Pio became very serious and said to Joe, “Joe, when the war is over and you return to the United States, tell the American people, that for those who would like me to be their spiritual father, my answer is yes. I accept all Americans as my spiritual children. I only have two requirements — that they lead very good Catholic lives and that they regularly receive the sacraments. And please, tell them never to embarrass me in front of Jesus and Mary. You must tell them, Joe.”

Joe felt that it was an impossible request. He lived in a very small town in Pennsylvania. He was not an important person. He did not know many people. How could he tell all of America what Padre Pio had asked him to? Nevertheless, when he returned to the U.S. he tried to do what was asked of him. He made a slide show presentation of Padre Pio’s life and over the years he showed it to thousands of people. Joe died in 1996, after having spent 50 years sharing the message of Padre Pio with more people than he could have ever imagined.

“Remember, I accompany you always and everywhere.” – St. Pio of Pietrelcina

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A Letter from Padre Pio to Padre Benedetto

Padre Pio wrote the following letter to his spiritual director, Padre Benedetto Nardella, concerning a vision he had regarding World War I. This divine visitation seemed to signal the approach of peace.

“In one of the visits I had from Jesus recently, I asked Him more insistently to have pity on the unfortunate nations so sorely tried by the misfortune of war and to let His justice give place at last to His mercy. Strange to say, He made no reply except a sign with His hand which meant, ‘Slowly, slowly’ . . . What on earth does this mean, dear Father? I myself cannot tell you. However, I can tell you this, that whenever I had spoken to the Lord previously about the war, He gave me no sign that I can recall, but always kept complete silence . . . Does it mean that He himself means to intervene to calm this worldwide upheaval? May He be pleased to do so without delay.”

Letters I, December 19, 1917

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Maria Pompilio who was one of Padre Pio’s spiritual daughters, left this testimony.

“At the end of Padre Pio’s Mass one morning toward the end of 1919, a number of people gathered around Padre Pio. By my side was a man who looked fixedly at Padre Pio. He said breathlessly, “Oh God, it is him, truly him. I am not mistaken.” The man began crying and fell to his knees. He said, “Padre Pio, thank you for saving me from death! Thank you!” Padre Pio put his hands on the man’s head and said, “You must not thank me, my son. Thank our Lord and the Virgin of Graces.” They spoke together in an undertone for a few minutes. Padre Pio then went to the choir to pray.

Several men who were nearby questioned the man about the words that Padre Pio had spoken to him. I was also present and the man told us the following story: “I was a Captain in the infantry, and one day on the battlefield, during a terrible hour of fighting, a little distance away from me, I saw a delicate, pale friar with beautiful, expressive eyes. He was not dressed as a chaplain but as a simple friar and he hurriedly and gently called to me saying, “Captain, move away from that place. Come to me quickly.” I ran toward him and had not even reached him when, in the place where I had previously stood, a grenade exploded, opening up a pit. If I had been there, my body would have been blown into the air in shreds. I wanted to thank the little friar who had called me, but he was no longer there. He had disappeared without my realizing it and even though I looked around for him I never saw him again.

On the same day that my life was saved, another person told me that a beautiful monk had saved him from death as well. Other soldiers at the Italian base said they had seen a friar among them who looked toward Heaven and prayed. One of these soldiers said that the priest who had been on the battlefield was Padre Pio who lived in San Giovanni Rotondo. I wanted to come here and see if he was the friar who had saved me as his face remained imprinted in my mind. Now I know that it was him. You can imagine what gratitude I feel toward this holy priest. I am happy to have been able to thank him personally and to kiss his hand.”    – Maria Pompilio

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A note from the editors: Jim Cunningham of Coral Springs, Florida, recently shared his inspiring story with us.

My name is Jim Cunningham. I was born in 1924 and was in the military during World War II, stationed in Foggia, Italy. I was assigned to a photo reconnaissance squadron and I heard about Padre Pio from the townspeople in Foggia. One day I decided to visit him so I took two other G I’s with me and drove a military jeep up the mountain to the monastery. It was in 1945 and I was twenty-one years old. I attended his Mass and felt very fortunate as all of the soldiers that were present were invited to sit right up on the altar, very close to Padre Pio. I was able to clearly see the wounds on his hands. Seeing his devotion at Mass was a very moving experience. He celebrated Mass in such a way that I was able to comprehend the sacredness of the Mass. His whole being inspired me.

Padre Pio was a very humble man and at the same time he was open and friendly. I had learned that Padre Pio liked grapefruit juice, so on my second visit to San Giovanni Rotondo I brought some juice. I was able to go to San Giovanni three times to see Padre Pio.

Mary Pyle, Padre Pio’s secretary, invited me to lunch at her home. She told me that she had come to Italy from the U.S. just for a visit. Shortly after she met Padre Pio, she decided to stay permanently. Her esteem for him was such that she had a great desire to be near him. She stayed in San Giovanni Rotondo for the rest of her life. Mary’s life was one of complete dedication to Padre Pio. She helped him in so many ways.

Meeting Padre Pio and attending his Mass truly changed my life. It was a great blessing. I have never met anyone in my life who had such a great devotion to God. On a number of occasions I have been invited to church groups to speak about Padre Pio. Today I am 82 years old. Many years have gone by, but my wife and I still feel his presence with us. It is overwhelming.

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Father Joseph Pius Martin – who assisted Padre Pio for a number of years, received the following testimony from Kevin Patrick Fitzpatrick.

Kevin Patrick Fitzpatrick who worked in Manchester, England in 1947 became acquainted with a man who had been a soldier in the British Army during World War II. During their advance against the German Army, this soldier and the others in his company came to the area of San Giovanni Rotondo. For some days British artillery had been firing into the areas surrounding the friary, but to their amazement none of the shells were exploding. When British Intelligence officers questioned the local Italian people, they were told that this was not to be wondered at since a very holy priest, Padre Pio lived at the friary.

One of the British Army officers was staying at the friary. One night he heard a voice constantly calling out. He went to investigate to see where the sound was coming from. When he came to the door of Padre Pio’s cell, he heard Padre Pio praying the Glory Be to the Father. He repeated the prayer slowly, over and over again. The soldier was deeply edified.

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A Grace in Time of War

My brother was serving in the army and had been sent to Viet Nam. Every night our family prayed for his safe return. I carried Padre Pio’s photo with me and prayed to him often for my brother. I felt Padre Pio’s presence with me and shortly after that, my brother wrote to say he would be coming home. When he did come home, he was a different person. After that terrible war he became more quiet and serious. We never asked questions about his experiences and he never spoke much about it. He did mention one experience which seemed very peculiar to him. He said that one day his company was sent ahead of the others to check for the Viet Cong. They were looking through the bush with their guns, when suddenly all of the soldiers smelled the fragrance of roses. They kept saying “Where are the rose bushes? It sure smells good out here.” They never did find the rosebushes and were sent back to camp. Another company was sent out to inspect the same territory. How tragic to say that the company was ambushed and not one survived the attack. According to the calculations, the Viet Cong had been there lurking in the bush all along, when my brother and the others in his company were in that area. But for some strange reason, they were not attacked and they very easily could have been. I know it was Padre Pio who saved my brother’s life.    – I. Ahmadzai

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A Letter from Padre Pio to Padre Agostino

“We are passing through a solemn hour. Up to the present we have not been involved in this grievous war which has now gone on for a year . . . We must all cooperate for the common good and make God’s mercy propitious to us in this difficult time, by humble and fervent prayer and by the amendment of our lives.

We must not be down-hearted, dear Father, or lack the filial confidence we owe to our God just because He appears to be angry with us. If it is to come to pass again today that he looked around at them with anger ( Mark 3:5) let us fully understand this. God still loves us, He is still merciful toward us. His looking around with anger, Father, is the language of His sorrowful love; this is the expression which comes from His sorrowing heart at the sight of our wickedness. These are the artifices to which His mercy resorts in order to stop us on our way to perdition. . . .”

– Letters I, May 31, 1915

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From our Spiritual Director

During Padre Pio’s lifetime many people asked for his help through his prayers. He would often say to individuals who requested his intercession, “You have cost me a lot.” We know that he suffered for others in order to help them. He made sacrifices and denied himself and offered all of his sufferings to God.

He often sent his Guardian Angel to people to assist them. Many times he advised people to send their own Guardian Angels to him. “When you send your Guardian Angel to me, the angel comes instantly,” he said. He was familiar and comfortable with the realm of angels.

Padre Pio communicated with his spiritual children in many ways. A delicate perfume often announced his invisible presence. It suggested that he was with the person in spirit, listening to their prayers. It expressed his compassion, his presence and his help. What a grace it has been for so many who have become aware at some time of the beautiful fragrance of perfume or roses, so often a sign that Padre Pio was near.

 – Fr. Louis Solcia, CRSP

Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry – Issue 26 – January-March 2006

“With all my heart I bless the children, who are the specially chosen flowers of Jesus.”

– St. Pio of Pietrelcina

 

Testimony of Anna Maria D’Orazi

Ten-year-old Anna Maria D’Orazi and her mother made a trip to San Giovanni Rotondo in order to attend Padre Pio’s Mass. They planned to stay for several days. During the time of their visit, a number of children were getting ready to makepio nonoCropped2 their first Holy Communion. Anna had not made her first Communion yet. It was delayed because her mother had many preparations to make for a party in honor of Anna’s first Holy Communion.
The church of Our Lady of Grace looked particularly beautiful on the day that the children were to receive their First Communion. It was decorated with lovely flower bouquets and illuminated with soft candlelight. The girls had on pretty white dresses and the boys were all dressed in suits. Anna had a great desire to join the other children and to receive her first Holy Communion that day from Padre Pio.

Anna’s mother did not want her to do so. Being a dress designer, she had been planning to make Anna a beautiful dress for that very important day. She discouraged Anna by saying that there would be no gifts for her, no party, and no beautiful dress. Her mother felt that it would be a great shame for Anna to make her first Holy Communion in her plain green dress, while all of the other girls were dressed up.

Anna explained to her mother that she did not care about the party, the gifts, or a beautiful dress. Finally, her mother told her to speak to Padre Pio about it. If he gave his permission, she would go along with it. However, she did not think he would agree to it.

Anna rushed to the confessional and after making her confession to Padre Pio, she asked him for permission to make her first Holy Communion that day. Padre Pio had a slight smile on his face as Anna spoke to him. She explained to him that she had been preparing for her Communion at her parish and had studied the catechism at her school. She told Padre Pio that there was only one problem. She was wearing a simple green dress. Padre Pio said to her, “It is more pleasing for Jesus to come to you. You may certainly make your First Communion today.”

With a great joy in her heart, Anna ran back to her mother and told her she had received Padre Pio’s permission. Her mother had no choice then but to relent. She reasoned that she could make up for it at Anna’s confirmation and have the desired party then.

Anna told the ladies who were directing the group of children that she had been given permission to make her Communion that day. She moved forward to join the other girls but the ladies rudely pushed her back. The most humiliating incident occurred when Anna was made to stand to the side and then forced to wait until all the boys went ahead of her. She took her place at the end of the line, the very last of all the communicants.

Anna’s mother became furious when she saw the way her daughter was being treated. She jumped up and was about to rush up to the sanctuary to get Anna when her friend held her back. She did not want her to make a scene and ruin the day that was so special for Anna.

All of the children were then instructed to kneel down at the altar rail. Anna looked up and saw Padre Pio coming toward her. He smiled at her and told her to follow him. He walked up the altar steps to the very top and she followed behind him. He then gave her Holy Communion in front of the tabernacle. She was the only child to receive such a privilege that day. Everyone in the church watched in silence and awe. Some had tears in their eyes. Anna was overwhelmed by his loving gesture and her mother was also deeply moved. Anna and her mother would never forget the graces they received on that very special day.

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When Gabby Silsby was a child, her family made frequent trips from their home in England to San Giovanni Rotondo to see Padre Pio. Her parents’ devotion to Padre Pio was such that they visited the monastery whenever they could. Once, when Gabby was six years old, she was standing along with many other pilgrims at the altar rail in the monastery church. As Padre Pio passed by, the people at the altar rail kissed his hand. When he passed in front of Gabby, he stretched out his hand to her. Not knowing any better, she took his hand in hers and shook it. When Padre Pio winced with pain, she immediately realized her mistake and felt terrible about what she had done. Padre Pio spoke to her with great kindness and said, “Yes, these are the wounds of Christ.” He then put his hand on her head in a blessing. The moment he touched her, she had the sensation of an enormous weight pressing on her head. It was of such force that it felt like it was pushing her into the ground.

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A little boy of five years old, Nunzio Fugaccio, from Naples, had found a way to dodge the doorkeeper at the monastery of Our Lady of Grace. Nunzio would then run directly up to Padre Pio who was usually surrounded by visitors. He enjoyed greeting Padre Pio and receiving his blessing. When it was time for everyone to leave, Nunzio would leave too.

A priest from Bari, had often noticed the little Nunzio among the group of pilgrims. One evening after everybody had left, and Padre Pio was about to go to his cell, the priest said to the boy, “Nunzio, Padre Pio has candy with him. If you ask him for a piece, he will give it to you.” He thought he was making a good suggestion but Nunzio did not see it that way. He answered very indignantly, “You ask the saints for graces, not for sweets!” Visibly upset, little Nunzio then turned around and left. Amazed, the priest went to Padre Pio and told him what Nunzio had said. Padre Pio enjoyed the story so much that he could not stop laughing.

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Padre Pio and his Friends from the East Coast

A Note from the editors: Eublio Cardone and Giacomo Piraino recently shared their testimonies with us regarding their experiences with Padre Pio.

Giacomo Piraino was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. In 1958 the Piraino family made a trip to Calabria, Italy to visit relatives. While there, Giacomo, eight years old at the time, became critically ill with typhoid fever. He entered what doctors believed to be an irreversible coma. It was thought that he contracted the illness by eating the cherries from his aunt’s orchard.

Giacomo’s family and friends knew about Padre Pio, the priest who bore the wounds of Christ and at this time of crisis, they turned to him for help. Giacomo’s mother, Ida, had written letters to Padre Pio on previous occasions and she had great faith in his prayers. Giacomo remembers from his childhood that Padre Pio’s photographs had always graced their family home.

Ida contacted her brother, Romano Esposito who was an attorney and worked for the Ministero dell’ Interno in Rome. When he learned of his nephew’s serious condition, he made an effort to contact Padre Pio. He was able to speak to Padre Pio on the telephone and Padre Pio told him, “Do not worry. Giacomo will recover.” Ida also was able to speak to Padre Pio on the telephone and she said to him, “Padre, this is my only son. He has a temperature of 105 degrees. The doctors cannot offer us any hope.” Padre Pio responded, “Tomorrow his fever will be normal and he will recover. But his future is dubious. He has four years of darkness ahead. But after that, all will be well.”

Giacomo recovered from his illness. When he finally awakened after being in a comatose state for two months, he found jubilant family members and friends surrounding his bed, thanking God for the miracle.

As Giacomo grew to adulthood, he took a path that lead him further and further away from his faith in God and in the Church. It was a painful period in his life. It was a time of unhappiness. One day as he was reflecting on the many experiences of his life, the words Padre Pio had spoken to his mother so many years before came to his mind, “Your son’s future is dubious. He has four years of darkness ahead.” He did some quick calculations and realized that it had been exactly four years since his life had taken the wrong turn. The reflection proved to be a turning point for him and he began to renew his relationship with God. A vivid dream in which Padre Pio said to him, “Go forward, my son,” gave him great encouragement.

These days, Giacomo is keeping very busy with a number of spiritual endeavors. In devotion to Padre Pio, he regularly leads pilgrimages to Padre Pio”s monastery in San Giovanni Rotondo as well as to other Catholic shrines in Europe. His musical talents too, he has dedicated to Padre Pio. His love for his Catholic faith is an increasing love and he has felt Padre Pio’s presence in the many challenges life can bring. “Go forward, my son,” are the words that remain with him today. And that is the direction his life continues to take, thanks to Padre Pio.

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Eublio Cardone was born in 1921 in Pietrelcina, Italy, Padre Pio”s hometown. Eublio’s parents were close friends with Padre Pio’s parents, Giuseppa and Grazio Forgione, who lived just down the road from the Cardones. Everyone in Pietrelcina either knew Padre Pio or knew of him and everyone held him in the highest esteem.

When Eublio’s parents were getting married, Padre Pio’s mother, Giuseppa, gave them as a wedding present, the bed and pillow that had belonged to Padre Pio. By that time, he had moved from the family home and was living at the Capuchin monastery in San Giovanni Rotondo. Because of their great respect for Padre Pio, the Cardones treasured their very special wedding gift.

When Eublio was just a boy, he became gravely ill with pneumonia. The doctor could offer no hope to the family. He told Eublio’s mother, Angelina, to buy a coffin and burial clothes, which she did. Noting Eublio’s very high fever, the doctor did not expect him to last through the night.

In desperation, Angelina knelt down in front of a picture of Padre Pio that was in her home and prayed, asking Padre Pio to intercede and save the life of her son. Eublio’s condition began to improve dramatically and in a short time he was well. Everyone in Pietrelcina heard about his miraculous recovery. The whole town was overjoyed.

Michael Forgione, Padre Pio”s brother, heard about Eublio’s healing and brought him a puppy to keep him company. Eublio, to this day, remembers Michael as well as Padre Pio’s two sisters.

Angelina made a promise that someday she would travel to San Giovanni Rotondo and thank Padre Pio in person for the miracle. Some time later she and her son were able to make the trip. When Eublio entered the monastery and walked into the sacristy, he saw Padre Pio for the first time. He realized at once that he was in the presence of a saint. Eublio was seven years old. Padre Pio greeted him warmly and called him by his name. “You are Eublio,” he said. “How are you feeling now?” Eublio was surprised at his words for this was the first time they had met.

Angelina and Eublio had a wonderful visit with Padre Pio. They shared memories of Pietrelcina and stories about Padre Pio’s parents and many of their mutual friends. It was an experience that they would never forget.

Eublio moved to the United States in his youth and was not able to take Padre Pio’s bed with him. But he was able to take Padre Pio’s pillow. Today Eublio is 84 years old. He has been sleeping on the pillow for more than seventy-five years.

Eublio has been keeping very busy lately with a project close to his heart, the Padre Pio shrine, chapel, and monument that are being built in Landisville, New Jersey. Already, many graces have been received by people who have come to the shrine to pray. Eublio has felt Padre Pio’s guidance and protection many times through the years. He will be forever grateful to his spiritual father.

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Let us empty our hearts and keep far away from us all human prudence. We must try to keep our thoughts pure, our ideas upright and honest, and our intentions holy. We should also endeavor to have a will that seeks nothing but God and his glory. If we make every effort to advance in this beautiful virtue, he who teaches it will enrich us continually with new light and new heavenly favors.

– St. Pio of Pietrelcina 

Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry – Issue 25 – October-December 2005

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“Padre Pio’s whole life can best be described as a Way of the Cross.
He was fully aware that he had been chosen by God to be a collaborator in
Christ’s redempive work and that this collaboration would not be achieved unless he
shouldered the cross with Jesus.”

– Mary Ingoldsby

 

Padre Pio’s Way of the Cross

“Jesus knows that my entire life has been consecrated to Him and to His sufferings.”
– St. Pio of Pietrelcina

Padre Pio shared and lived the whole Passion of Jesus. The first indication of the stigmata appeared in 1910, shortly after his ordination to the priesthood. Although the visible signs disappeared for a time, the extreme pain of the wounds remained. In addition, he suffered the crowning of thorns, the scourging, the shoulder wound, the transverberation of his heart, and the Passion wounds in his hands and feet. Added to this was a chain of illnesses which began in his youth and ended only with his death. Doctors were never able to successfully diagnose the many mysterious illnesses that plagued his body. He experienced many moral and spiritual sufferings as well.

Valuable information as to the complete state of victimhood which Padre Pio experienced is contained in his correspondence with Padre Agostino of San Marco in Lamis (Padre Agostino Daniele). Padre Agostino, one of two spiritual directors that Padre Pio was to have, had been his former theology professor and he exercised a deep influence on Padre Pio’s life. He comforted him in his spiritual trials and was always near him in the many vicissitudes which characterized his life. Padre Pio loved him like a father and the relationship of mutual esteem continued for over fifty years.

In a letter to Padre Agostino dated January 1912, six years before the permanent stigmatization, Padre Pio wrote, “From Thursday evening until Saturday is a time of suffering, of great suffering. The whole scene of the Passion is presented to me and imagine if any consolation can exist in the midst of all this.”

On October 10, 1915, in a long and touching letter, Padre Pio wrote a reply to a number of questions that had been asked of him by Padre Agostino regarding the invisible stigmata and the crowning with thorns. Padre Pio wrote:

“You ask if the Lord granted this soul the ineffable gift of the holy stigmata. To this the reply must be in the affirmative and the first time Jesus deigned to grant this favor the signs were visible. This soul was greatly terrified by the phenomenon and asked the Lord to withdraw the visible signs. Since then, the signs have no longer been seen. However, though the wounds have disappeared, the intense pain has not ceased on this account and it continues especially in certain circumstances and on certain days. By your last question you want to know if the Lord made this soul experience his crowning with thorns and his scourging and how many times. The reply to this question must also be affirmative. As regards the number of times, I am unable to specify this. All I can say is that this soul has suffered these things for several years, almost every week.”

Capuchin Brother Modestino of Pietrelcina was close to Padre Pio for many years and was an eyewitness to his many sufferings. He left this testimony:

“In January of 1945, when still not many people came to San Giovanni Rotondo, I used to serve Padre Pio’s Mass at dawn, with about twenty people present. In those times, Padre Pio’s Mass would last one hour to one hour and a half. Tired from remaining on my knees, I would move to the side of the altar to continue assisting at the Holy Sacrifice while standing. From that position I was able to follow carefully the gestures, movements, tears, sighs and profound recollection of Padre Pio.

When my eyes fell on his forehead and the nape of his neck, I noticed that his skin would seem blistered and on his forehead were marks similar to pricks made by thorns.

With the middle finger of his right hand, Padre Pio frequently seemed to want to remove something bothering him around his temples. In the end, I noticed imprinted on his forehead a small cross of about three centimeters. I was assisting at the crowning of thorns of Padre Pio.”

A precious relic that has been preserved is a cloth that was used by Padre Pio to wipe his forehead. It is stained with blood. To one of his spiritual children who asked him if he suffered the crowning with thorns, Padre Pio responded affirmatively and said, “Otherwise the immolation would be incomplete.” The thorns, he assured, were “all around his head,” and during Mass there were many as well as before and after Mass.

Padre Pio also relived in his body and soul the painful scourging that Jesus suffered in His Passion. When someone inquired whether he was alone or in company during the experience of the scourging, Padre Pio replied, “The Holy Virgin assists me and all paradise is present.”

Another insight into Padre Pio’s participation in the Passion is related by Padre Alberto D’Apolito:

“In 1950, a young university student, Bruno G. Di Lucera, who had a low regard for religion and who did not believe Padre Pio to be a saint but an impostor and a charlatan, was persuaded by his fiancée to go to San Giovanni Rotondo to see for himself.

The first morning, out of curiosity he went to attend Padre Pio’s Mass. All of a sudden, at the moment of Consecration, he became pale. He had witnessed something extraordinary. On Padre Pio’s head he saw a triple crown of thorns and his face was covered in blood like the Ecce Homo (Jesus crowned with thorns). Believing it to be a hallucination or a trick of the eyes, he said nothing to his fiancée nor to anyone else.

The second morning, the same thing happened. And again for fear of being thought a fanatic he told no one. However, he began to reflect and change his opinion about Padre Pio.

The third morning, the final blow came. At the moment of Consecration, he saw Padre Pio suspended from a cross. His face was like the face of Jesus and on his head was a triple crown of thorns. Seeing this, he burst into tears.”

Cleonice Morcaldi, one of Padre Pio’s spiritual children, heard about Bruno’s experience of seeing Padre Pio crowned with thorns. She heard that on seeing the serene and beautiful expression on Padre Pio’s face, Bruno was moved to tears. She also heard that Padre Pio told him not to say a word to anyone about the experience but to go home and thank God.

Cleonice wanted to know if the story was true and so she asked Padre Pio directly. He answered her, “Do you have any doubt? You are like St. Thomas. You don’t believe.” His reply seemed so evasive that she wanted to ask him a second time but was reluctant. She prayed to the Virgin Mary, “Madonna, please let Padre Pio tell me if it is true that he wears the crown of thorns.” Time passed and one day while she was making her confession to Padre Pio, she asked him again and said, “Father, do you wear the crown of thorns in all your Masses?” Padre Pio answered, “How many things you want to know! Yes, I wear it before and even after the Mass because I can never take off that diadem which is the crown of thorns that God has put on me. I wear it before Mass, during Mass, day and night.”

Another spiritual child of Padre Pio, Professor Gerardo De Caro, in a conference held in Pavia, Italy on May 25, 1983, shed further light on Padre Pio’s painful way of the cross. Professor De Caro said:

“One evening as I was standing by his cell, I saw Padre Pio return from the choir, walking with his shoulders bent over and with his chest almost touching his knees. His sandals shuffled across the ground as he dragged himself along like one carrying the cross.

He must have been in great pain walking. He rested his weight on the edges of his feet and his heels so as not to press on the wounds of his feet. I looked at him and he looked at me. Immediately, and with great effort he straightened himself.

For an instant I saw him like Jesus under the cross. After confession I said to him, ‘Padre, you are like Jesus.’ And Padre Pio tried to reprove me.”

These were the sufferings which constituted Padre Pio’s calvary and which caused him to be in a state of great pain his entire life.
 
 

Padre Pio prays and suffers; he suffers and prays.
– Padre Agostino of San Marco in Lamis

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Padre Pio and his California Friends:
Emelio Noriega and Gloria Plank

A note from the editor: We spoke to Emelio and Evelyn Noriega at their home in Los Angeles, California regarding their visit to San Giovanni Rotondo and their meeting with Padre Pio in 1966.

Emelio Noriega, although raised a Catholic, had become indifferent to his faith and to the spiritual dimension of his life. His attitude changed completely when he read a book on Padre Pio. He found the book so interesting that he read it four times. Emelio had assumed Padre Pio had passed away. When he found out that he was still living in San Giovanni Rotondo, although elderly and in very poor health, he decided that he needed to go immediately to Italy and meet him.

When Emelio’s employer told him that he could not allow him to take the time off from work, he arranged for his brother to substitute at his job until his return. Securing a loan from the bank proved to be a greater obstacle. “So you want a loan to take a vacation,” the loan officer said. “No, not at all,” Emelio answered him. “This is not for a vacation. It is a necessity. I have got to get to Italy as fast as I can. I am going to see a priest.” Unfortunately he did not qualify for any type of loan. He had not worked for his current employer long enough and he had no letter of recommendation and reference. The loan officer reviewed with him, each paper in his file. He was sorry but nothing could be done. Something told Emelio not to leave the bank but to try one more time. “Surely there must be something that can be done,” Emelio said. “No, there is nothing,” the bank employee replied. To prove it, he picked up Emelio’s file to show him again and there in the papers was the letter that was needed, a letter that Emelio had never requested and knew nothing about. It was from the Social Security Department and although unsigned, it was accepted.

Emelio was full of anticipation when he and his wife Evelyn and their two little children touched down in Italy in June, 1966. When they arrived at the monastery in San Giovanni Rotondo, the first person they met was Padre Pio Maria, Padre Pio’s assistant. With a big smile on his face he greeted Emelio and said, “Oh, I see you have arrived. We have been expecting you.” The words seemed very mysterious to Emelio for he had told no one he was coming to this remote monastery in Southern Italy.

The next day, Padre Pio Maria asked Emelio if he would like to serve at the altar at Padre Pio’s Mass. Emelio had been away from the sacraments for a long time and could not remember the duties of the altar server. He told the priest that if he would let him carefully observe the altar server that morning, he would be able to remember and could assist the following day. Padre Pio Maria agreed.

The morning that Emelio served Padre Pio’s Mass, he felt confident. At the appointed time, he took the Book of the Gospels to Padre Pio for the scripture reading. When the time came to take the chalice to Padre Pio, Emelio looked at it but could not pick it up. There on Padre Pio’s chalice he saw the face of Christ, bleeding and crowned with thorns. He looked up to see if it might be a reflection on the wall but it was not. Another person had to step forward and take the chalice to Padre Pio.

After the Mass, Padre Pio went to the sacristy to make his thanksgiving in front of a statue of Our Lady of Fatima. Padre Pio Maria directed Emelio to kneel behind him. With his eyes lifted up to Heaven and with his face bathed in tears, Padre Pio whispered, “Tata, Perché?”(Father, why?) over and over. Emelio said to him, “Let me help you.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Padre Pio replied.

Later Padre Pio blessed Emelio’s family. He told them to pray the Rosary every day. Emelio was holding his four-year-old son in his arms when Padre Pio said, “Your son is going to meet with much suffering in his life. I ask you to never, never abandon your child.” The words frightened Emelio and Evelyn who loved their little son so much. The words also proved to be prophetic. As their son grew to adulthood, he experienced many sufferings – physical, mental and spiritual. He has been supported through his many trials by his parents’ love and prayers.

The visit to San Giovanni Rotondo proved to be a turning point in Emelio’s life. His faith in God and his love for the Catholic Church, which had laid dormant for many years, began to grow and to be rekindled in his heart. When he returned to his home in California, he shared the message of Padre Pio with friends and neighbors and was instrumental in starting many Padre Pio prayer groups in the Los Angeles area. He is still spreading the message today.

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A note from the editor: We visited Gloria Plank in her home in San Diego, California, in order to learn about her visit to Padre Pio in November, 1965. Gloria’s gentleness and kindness recalled to our minds the extremely apt word Padre Pio used when he called her “Bellisima” (beautiful one).

In 1965, Gloria Plank and her father, Dulio Piazzai made a trip to Rome to visit relatives. While there Gloria asked her father if he would take her to San Giovanni Rotondo to see Padre Pio. Dulio had no interest in Padre Pio. He had heard the stories about his stigmata but did not believe any of them. He declined his daughter’s request. However, Gloria persisted and her father finally relented and agreed to go.

They arrived at the monastery at 4:30 a.m. and already a huge crowd had gathered, waiting for the doors to open for Padre Pio’s 5:00 a.m. Mass. While waiting, she and her father became acquainted with two seminarians from England. When the doors of the church finally opened, Gloria, Dulio and the two seminarians locked arms so that they would not be separated. The unruly crowd began pushing and shoving and Gloria lost her shoes in the process. The seminarians lifted Gloria up over the step as the press of the people rushed forward, everyone hoping to get a seat close to the altar.

When Padre Pio entered the church, a momentus silence fell upon the crowd. He was aided to the altar by two friars, one on either side. He seemed extremely weak and the suffering Gloria observed on his face filled her heart with pity. She began to cry. The Mass was beautiful, reverent, and holy. At the consecration, Padre Pio lifted his eyes toward Heaven and became completely still, wrapped in ecstasy. Everywhere, Gloria felt the presence of Jesus.

After the Mass, the men in the congregation were allowed to go into the sacristy to greet Padre Pio. Gloria asked her father to take her religious articles there and have them blessed. A few moments later, she saw the two seminarians, one on either side, carrying her father out of the sacristy. They told Gloria that as Padre Pio was leaving the sacristy he stopped in front of her father. In a gesture of respect, Dulio kissed Padre Pio’s hand. When Padre Pio raised his stigmatized hand to bless him, he fainted.

Gloria asked if she could go to confession to Padre Pio but was told by one of the Capuchins that it would not be possible; there was not time. Instead she was directed to a small chapel and told to wait. A few moments later Padre Pio came in. He walked over to her and touching her cheek very gently, he said to her, “Bellisima” (beautiful one). “I saw the gentleness of his penetrating eyes and my heart was filled with joy,” Gloria said. Describing Padre Pio later she said, “He was a father. That was the predominant quality I saw in him. More than anything else, that is how I think of him, as a father. I have had almost forty years since to think about my trip to San Giovanni Rotondo. Meeting Padre Pio is an experience I will treasure for the rest of my life.”

Several years later, while staying in Rome, Dulio was assaulted. He was robbed and beaten so severely that he suffered brain damage. As a result, his memory was impaired. He no longer recognized his family. The only person he spoke of and remembered was Padre Pio.

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Padre Pio’s Words of Faith

Remember, our suffering is brief, but our reward eternal. You must remain calm, or at least resigned, but always convinced of the voice of authority. You must confide in it, without fearing the rages of the storm, because the vessel of your soul will never be submerged. Heaven and earth may pass away, but the Word of God, that assures the one who obeys it will find victory, will never pass away and will always remain fixed in indelible script in the Book of Life: ‘I will exist forever.’
St. Pio of Pietrelcina
 

Jesus, who is infinitely merciful, will not fail to give you now and then a respite from the trial He has sent you. He is so good that He will never allow you to give in. The trial is a very hard one, but the Lord who is so very, very good will not fail to lighten the Cross from time to time.
St. Pio of Pietrelcina
 

From Our Spiritual Director

The word “transverberation” means a wounding of love. We know that Padre Pio experienced this wound. He had a great devotion to St. Teresa of Avila and also to St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus (St. Thérèse of Lisieux). We know that St. Teresa of Avila also received the transverberation of her heart. One of the most beautiful of the sculptures of Bernini shows St. Teresa of Avila in ecstasy. Beside her is an angel with a most beautiful smile, ready to pierce her heart with an arrow.

In a deposition made in February 1967, a part of the document said that a visible, physical wound in Padre Pio’s side resulted from the experience of the transverberation of the heart. Padre Benedetto, Padre Pio’s spiritual director, (Padre Pio had two spiritual directors in his life) once said to him, “Everything that is happening to you is the effect of Love. It is a trial, a calling to co-redeem, and it is a fountain of glory.”

At each Mass we hear these beautiful words, “Make us grow in love.” Love grows only through prayer, adoration and offering ourselves to God each moment of our lives. Let us make progress in love as Padre Pio did.
Fr. Louis Solcia C.R.S.P.

Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry – Issue 24 – July-September 2005

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“I believe that Padre Pio received the grace and the burden
not merely of renewing in a mystical manner the Sacrifice of the Cross
but of living over again, in his heart and in his body, the tragedy
of the Passion.”

Most Rev. Mgr. Giuseppe Petralia, Bishop of Agriegento (Sicily) August 10, 1975

The Transverberation of Padre Pio’s Heart

Padre Pio was ordained to the priesthood on August 10,1910, in Benevento, Italy. He was twenty-three years old. He wrote the following sentiment which was inscribed on his ordination card, “Jesus, my breath and my life, today, trembling, I elevate You in a mystery of love. With You let me be for the world, the way, the truth and the life and for You a holy priest, a perfect victim.”

The reference to “victim” would appear again and again in his thoughts and writings. In a letter to his spiritual director, Padre Benedetto Nardella, Padre Pio asked permission to renew the offering of himself as a victim, “For some time past I have felt the need to offer myself to the Lord as a victim for poor sinners and for the souls in Purgatory. This desire has been growing continually in my heart so that it has now become what I would call a strong passion. I have in fact made this offering to the Lord several times, beseeching him to pour out upon me the punishments prepared for sinners and for the souls in a state of purgation, even increasing them a hundredfold for me. . . but I should now like to make this offering to the Lord in obedience to you. It seems to me that Jesus really wants this.”

Padre Benedetto understood the desire of Padre Pio’s heart and gave the permission that he requested to offer his life to the Lord. It seemed that heaven too heard Padre Pio’s prayers and was watching, waiting, and preparing him day by day for the great mission that was a part of God’s plan for his life.

On Aug 5, 1918, Padre Pio received the mystical wound of love known as the transverberation or transfixion of the heart. The transverberation is a rare mystical gift of sanctifying grace, experienced by a small number of chosen souls in the history of Christianity. It is described in mystical theology as the extraordinary phenomenon in which a celestial being such as an angel or seraph is seen and pierces the heart or side with a lance.

Although the pain is extreme, it is also accompanied by a joy that words cannot describe. St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church, experienced the phenomenon and wrote about it in her autobiography. St. John of the Cross, the Spanish reformer of the Carmelite order, Doctor of the Church and mystical theologian, further explained this phenomenon in his treatise “Living Flame of Love.” St. John said, “It can happen, that the soul inflamed with love of God . . .will feel overpowered by a Seraphim with a dart or arrow of fiery love. . . If God sometimes allows it to appear to the external senses, there will appear a mark that corresponds to the internal wound.”

On August 21, 1918, sixteen days after receiving the extraordinary grace of the transverberation, Padre Pio wrote to Padre Benedetto and described the experience:

“By virtue of obedience, I have made up my mind to reveal to you what happened to me on the evening of the 5th and for the entire day of the 6th of this month. I am quite unable to convey to you what occurred during the period of utter torment. While I was hearing the boys’ confessions on the evening of the 5th, (Padre Pio was spiritual director of the minor seminary from 1916 to 1932) I was suddenly terrorized by the sight of a celestial person who presented himself to my mind’s eye. He had in his hand a sort of weapon like a very long sharp-pointed steel blade, which seemed to emit fire. At the very instant that I saw all this, I saw the person hurl the weapon into my soul with all his might. I cried out with difficulty and felt I was dying. I asked the boy to leave because I felt ill and no longer had the strength to continue. This agony lasted uninterruptedly until the morning of the 7th. I cannot tell you how much I suffered during this period of anguish. Even my internal organs were torn and ruptured by the weapon, and nothing was spared. From that day on I have been mortally wounded. I feel in the depths of my soul a wound that is always open and which causes me continual agony.”

In his letter to Padre Benedetto, Padre Pio was not speaking metaphorically. He had been physically wounded with an opening in his side into his heart that would bleed for the rest of his life. After the transverberation, due to extreme pain and weakness, he remained in bed for three days.

In reply to the letter, Padre Benedetto, a master of the spiritual life and a gifted director of souls, wrote back and said, “All that is happening to you is the effect of love. It is a trial, a call to co-redemption and hence a source of glory. . .The Lord is with you. He Himself, patient, suffering Love, filled with eager longing, His heart and His inmost being crushed and trampled upon, heartbroken, in the shadows of night and even more so in the desolation of Gethsemane. He is associated with your suffering and associates you with His. This is all. . .Your trial is not a purgation but a painful union. The fact of the wound completes your passion just as it completed that of the Beloved on the Cross. Will the light and joy of the Resurrection follow? I hope so, if this is according to His will. Kiss the hand which has pierced you through and cherish tenderly this wound which is the seal of love.”

It is significant the Padre Pio received the transverberation on the eve of the Feast of the Transfiguration. It is also significant that he received the grace when he was hearing confessions, the sacrament that was to play such an important part in his mission and ministry to souls.

Padre Pio lived his entire life in loving conformity with Christ. The culmination of this life with Christ was for Padre Pio, to be crucified with Christ. The prodigy of the stigmata occurred on September 20,1918, a little over a month after the transverberation. The marks would be a confirmation of Padre Pio’s interior likeness to the Savior. Padre Pio, 31 years old, was the first priest in the history of the Church to receive the stigmata.
 

 

Memories of Padre Pio

Padre Carmelo of Sessano was the Father Guardian at San Giovanni Rotondo between 1953 and 1959. He said:

At the end of 1954, I was the Superior of the religious community that included Padre Pio. With the aim of gathering information on the Padre’s first years in San Giovanni Rotondo, I decided to question the Padre’s first spiritual children and I organized some meetings.

I plucked up my courage and decided to question the padre himself. Perhaps some of you might wonder why I said, “plucked up my courage,” as if I was afraid. If so, you certainly have not had the grace or the difficulty of living with an authentic saint.

Saints (and I have reflected on this so often) are like the sensitive mimosa flower which as soon as it is touched, closes in on itself. More than once in fact, I noticed when I questioned the dear Padre on personal matters that it was a great effort for him to answer. In fact, once when we were alone in his cell, I asked him outright, “Padre Pio, I would like to see the wounds on your feet and side.” And completely taken aback and mortified, he looked at me with two imploring tearful eyes, like those of a child and said, “But you don’t really mean that?” I immediately felt sorry and said, “No, Padre, don’t worry. I didn’t mean it.” And everything ended there. But how often after that did I regret what I had done.”

One of the friars who for a long time had the desire to embrace Padre Pio, finally did so. He felt at that moment what he described as a “great warmth” coming from the wound in Padre Pio’s chest. Another one of the friars always kissed Padre Pio’s hand after confession. He experienced a heat that he described as being like a flame which came from Padre Pio’s hand and engulfed him from head to foot.

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Padre Eusebio Notte lived with Padre Pio for five years and was his personal assistant. He said:

I was one of those privileged people, who, because of the office I performed, was close to the person of Padre Pio. I assure you that it will never be erased from my memory, that hand covered with blood, the wound. Neither will I ever forget his gashed chest.

The wounds Padre Pio had were real, deep and resistant to every therapy. In the hands, the wounds went right through the entire thickness from the back to the palm. For fifty years they were present- fresh, beautiful and emanating a perfume.

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Luigina Sinapi, a woman of great personal holiness, was a spiritual daughter of Padre Pio. Once when Luigina was in the church in San Giovanni Rotondo, she saw a beam of fire coming out of Padre Pio’s heart and then projected onto the tabernacle. Padre Pio was in the gallery of the church at the time. Luigina wondered about the meaning and the Lord spoke to her heart and said,”It is Padre Pio’s love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.”

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Padre Paolino of Casacalenda who saw the side wound on a number of occasions and was a witness during the medical examinations, wrote:

I must say that what has impressed me the most in seeing the wounds was the form of the side wound which is revealed to be over the heart and not on the other sided of the chest, as I have heard many people say. It is almost the shape of an X. . .The other thing that impressed me was that this wound has the appearance of a severe burn and that it is not superficial but goes deep into the chest.

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Brother Modestino on a number of occasions was privileged to serve Padre Pio’s Mass. He was very fortunate in that it was Padre Pio himself who taught him the correct way to serve at the altar. Brother Modestino said:

I always tried to observe Padre Pio closely, following him with my eyes from the moment he left his cell at dawn to celebrate Mass. . .As soon as he arrived at the sacristy to put on the sacred vestments, I had the impression that already he was no longer aware of what went on around him. He was absorbed and deeply aware of what he was about to live. If anyone asked him anything, he shook himself and replied in monosyllables. His face which was of normal color became frighteningly pale at the moment he put on the amice (priestly vestment). From that moment he paid no more attention to anyone. . . Having put on the vestments, he set off for the altar. Even though I preceded him for that short distance, I noticed that his gait became more dragging, his face sorrowful. He was more bent down nearly every time. I had the impression he was crushed by the weight of an enormous invisible cross.

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Padre Costantino Capobianco said: I was very close to Padre Pio and one day I saw Padre Pio genuflect. It was a genuflection I have never seen before and have never seen again. I thought of how Jesus fell under the cross. Forty years have passed and I have not forgotten.

The Medical Viewpoints

Padre Pio was very reluctant to speak about himself or the mystical favors he had received from God. He always made the greatest effort to conceal his wounds as they were a source of embarrassment to him. Many of the friars who lived side by side with him, were never privileged to see them. But whenever his Superiors requested that he receive a medical examination of the wounds, Padre Pio cooperated.

On July 15 and 16, 1920, Dr. Giorgio Festa and Dr. Luigi Romanelli made a trip together to San Giovanni Rotondo to examine Padre Pio’s wounds. Dr Romanelli was head physician of the civilian hospital of Barletta and Dr. Festa was doctor to the Capuchins of the Curia in Rome. Padre Pio, who was known for his good sense of humor remarked on one occasion, “It is better to be a mouse between two cats than Padre Pio between two doctors.

Dr. Festa and Dr. Romanelli described the side wound as being in the shape of an oblique cross (a cross on its side), one crossbar wider, the other narrower. The doctors removed a cloth that Padre Pio had placed over the wound on the previous day. It was soaked with blood. Dr. Romanelli described the appearance of the wound as a gash and noted that it looked like it had been caused by a stab wound.

The fact that the wounds never healed, that they never became infected, that they never widened or changed in depth and never changed into scars but kept their symmetry, led the two doctors to conclude that an explanation for the phenomenon was beyond the realms of medical science and that the cause was supernatural.

Six years later, on October 5, l925, Dr. Festa visited Padre Pio again and verified that the wounds had the same characteristics as previously. On October 5, he noticed what he described as evident signs of a “luminous radiation”(rays of light) were emanating from the borders of the wound on the left side under the heart.
 

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Padre Pio’s Words of Faith

I should like to bare my chest for a moment to show you the wound which our tender Jesus has lovingly opened in this heart of mine. My heart has found at last a Lover so attached to me that I am incapable of hurting Him anymore. You already know this Lover. He is one who is never angry with those who offend Him. My heart keeps within itself an infinite number of His mercies. It knows that it doesn’t have anything of value with which to glorify itself before Him. He has loved me and preferred me to many others. He is so much in love with my heart that He makes me burn with His divine fire, with the fire of His love. What is this fire that pervades my whole being? Dear Father, if Jesus makes us so happy on earth, what will heaven be like?. . .I cannot help abandoning myself to this tenderness, this happiness. . .I realize that all this has really been the work of His infinite love. He has never refused me anything and indeed I must say that he has given me more than I asked.

St. Pio of Pietrelcina, Letters-Volume 1

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The Healing of a Child’s Heart

My daughter Margaret, who was born in 1950, had always been ill and taking weak turns. I had her with several doctors, but all said it was weakness and she would grow out of it. A doctor came to her school and sent me a letter, stating that I should take her to a heart specialist at the Royal Belfast. She was about eleven years old at the time. When she was examined and x-rayed, I was told that she had a hole in her heart and that the valves that were going into and out of her heart were small. She would have to have an operation but as she was so weak she was sent home and given medicine to help build her up. Margaret said she would write to Padre Pio. A short time later a nice letter came back to Margaret from him. He told her not to worry but to go to the hospital and she would be all right. When we went to Belfast again the doctor took another x-ray and came and asked me what I had done to her. Nothing, I told him. He showed me both of the x-rays. One had a large hole and the other showed the hole as almost completely closed. She did not have to go for the heart operation.

Mary Cunningham

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Padre Pio and his Friends from California
Father Richard Hopkins

A note from the editors: Father Richard Hopkins who recently celebrated sixty-one years in the priesthood, serves six months of each year in San Diego at Our Mother of Confidence parish and the other six months at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Billings, Montana. We recently spoke to Fr. Hopkins about his meeting with Padre Pio:

“In 1954, I was in Rome attending the canonization of St. Pius X. A priest in Rome invited me to go to San Giovanni Rotondo to see Padre Pio. Although I knew little about Padre Pio, I agreed to go.

We arrived at the friary for the weekday morning Mass which was held in the old church of Our Lady of Grace. There were only about fifteen people present and Padre Pio celebrated his Mass at the side altar of St. Francis of Assisi. We gathered at the side altar and stood for the entire Mass. I stood right beside Padre Pio.

The Mass of Padre Pio, and his profound participation in Christ’s Passion as I observed, was very impressive. Padre Pio’s bearing was serious and solemn. Four or five times during the Holy Sacrifice he stopped abruptly and remained completely still and silent with his eyes closed. During those long pauses, I observed that he was in ecstasy.

I noticed that when he genuflected during the Mass, it was very, very difficult for him to get back up to a standing position. It reminded me of Jesus bowed down under the cross.

Even though there was no homily and no singing, the Mass was long. Afterward, I was able to greet Padre Pio. We spoke together in Latin. His manner was cordial yet serious and reserved. He seemed spiritually centered in Christ even as we conversed.

Being present at Padre Pio’s Mass gave me a renewed appreciation for the Holy Sacrifice and for my own vocation as a priest. I have never forgotten it.”

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From our Spiritual Director

(continued from last issue)

The high temperatures of Padre Pio are equated with the phenomenon known in mystical life as “The Fire of Love.” It passes through different stages from a simple burning heat of the heart to the physical burning of very high fevers. Padre Paolino explains, “In considering the illness that struck Padre Pio during my stay with him in San Giovanni Rotondo, I must accept what a number of serious-minded people who knew Padre Pio well, told me. The crisis of health that Padre Pio experienced was more often caused for moral reasons, for example the conversion of a sinner, the cure of someone seriously ill, etc., which would then be taken out on him so that he would be physically tormented, sometimes in unimaginable ways.”

Padre Pio himself confirmed that his fevers were those of the “fire of love” when he wrote to Padre Benedetto, “I confess in the first place that for me it is a great misfortune to be unable to express and pour out this ever-active volcano which burns me up and which Jesus has placed in this very small heart. It can all be summed up as follows, I am consumed by love for God and love for my neighbor.”

Fr. Louis Solcia, C.R.S.P.