Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry – Issue 47 – April-June 2011

Download Newsletter Issue 47, April-June 2011

You may for a time have to suffer the distress of many trials;
but this is so that your faith, which is more precious than the passing splendor
of fire-tried gold, may by its genuineness lead to praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ appears.

– 1 Peter 1:6-7

Anecdotes of Padre Pio – Part II

Pietruccio Cugino with Padre Pio

Pietruccio Cugino with Padre Pio

Pietro (Pietruccio) Cugino, of San Giovanni Rotondo was just six years old when his father took him to see Padre Pio for the first time. As time passed, Padre Pio grew to love Pietruccio with a fatherly affection. He gave Pietruccio instructions in the Catholic faith and prepared him to receive his first Holy Communion.

In the early days, farmers brought their sheep, horses, and donkeys to the monastery to be blessed by Padre Pio. Pietruccio often helped herd the animals onto the square just outside the church. When Pietruccio was twelve years old, he contracted an incurable eye disease and lost his sight. Even though he was blind, he still found many ways to assist Padre Pio. He liked picking the special wild herbs that Padre Pio enjoyed in his salad. Twice a day he went to the post office to collect the mail for the Capuchins. He did the shopping for the Capuchins as well. He became so familiar with the monastery and the surrounding area that he did not need a cane to get about. He knew every stone, every turn, every step and incline by heart. He became almost a permanent fixture at the monastery.

Padre Pio once said to some of his friends, “Consider the fact that Pietruccio is indeed fortunate. Because of his blindness, he is not able to see the sinful and evil things in this world.” As a matter of fact, Pietruccio used to thank God that he was blind because through it, he felt that he received many extra graces from Padre Pio, graces that were not give to others. He was allowed to go to Padre Pio’s cell whenever he wanted to. He would often visit Padre Pio in his cell in the evening and stay until Padre Pio got in bed. Then he would kneel at his bedside to receive his blessing.

Through the many years of their friendship, Padre Pio kept Pietruccio at his side. When he was weak and unsteady on his feet, he used to say to Pietruccio, “You lend me your arm and I will lend you my eyes.” He would lean upon Pietruccio’s strong arm when he walked from the monastery to the church. When Padre Pio became advanced in years, due to his many ailments, he sometimes had difficulty changing his clothing. Pietruccio counted it a privilege to assist him.

Each morning, Pietruccio was given a great honor. He preceded Padre Pio out of the sacristy when it was time for the Mass to begin and was allowed to stand very close to the altar for the duration of the Mass.

For Pietruccio, just to be near Padre Pio was a great, inestimable gift. It filled him with a deep joy, a joy that sustained him in all the ups and downs of his life. Every morning when Pietruccio woke up, he would reflect on the previous day. In his mind, he would go over everything that Padre Pio had said and done. Because he loved Padre Pio so much, he wanted to savor every memory.

Once, Pietruccio told Padre Pio that he had a great fear. “Padre Pio,” Pietruccio said. “I feel that as long as you are alive, you will always be near to help me. But because of my blindness, I worry about my future. What will happen to me after your death? Who will take care of me?” “The God who helped us yesterday, helps us today, and will help us tomorrow,” Padre Pio replied. “He wants us to abandon ourselves completely into his care.”

A few days before Padre Pio died, he said to Pietruccio, “I am sorry but I have to leave you.” “What do you mean?” Pietruccio asked. “Let us pray about it,” Padre Pio replied. Padre Pio died a few days later.

Pietruccio felt shattered by Padre Pio’s death. The thought of never seeing Padre Pio again was almost too much for him to bear. He began to feel, for the first time in his life, the full weight of his blindness. As he reflected on it, he became convinced that when Padre Pio was alive, he had carried the cross of his blindness for him. At that time, it did not seem to Pietruccio that it was a burden to be blind. But after Padre Pio passed away, he truly felt that it was a heavy cross.

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There was a woman named Michelina who counted herself as one of Padre Pio’s loyal spiritual daughters. She had met Padre Pio for the first time when she was twelve years old. Every year she traveled from her home in Pescara to San Giovanni Rotondo to visit Padre Pio. After Padre Pio passed away, she continued to pray to him and ask for his intercession.

Michelina had experienced many trials in her life. Her husband passed away leaving her a widow at a relatively young age. Her son Alfredo became deeply involved in the dark world of drugs. His life was going from bad to worse. Michelina prayed to Padre Pio every day to intercede for Alfredo and to cure him of his addiction. In her prayers, she told Padre Pio that if he would help her son, she would walk the distance from Pescara to San Giovanni Rotondo to pray at his tomb and offer her thanksgiving.

For six years, Michelina prayed daily to Padre Pio for Alfredo. Finally, one day there was a breakthrough. Alfredo had a fight with one of the drug dealers. He decided to break away from the world of drugs forever. His life underwent a complete transformation and he vowed that he would never to go back to his former lifestyle.

Michelina was overjoyed. She had not forgotten the promise she had made to Padre Pio. She set off from Pescara to San Giovanni Rotondo with her walking stick and Rosary in hand. She was fifty-six years old. When she arrived in the town of Francavilla al Mare, one of her relatives decided to join her on the walk. He made a good effort but he was not able to continue for very long. Michelina passed through the towns of Termoli, Poggio Imperiale, and San Marco in Lamis enroute to the monastery of Our Lady of Grace. By the time she reached San Giovanni Rotondo, she had walked 120 miles. Her knee was swollen and her exhaustion was great, but other than that, she was in good condition. She felt great happiness when she finally knelt at Padre Pio’s tomb. She prayed in thanksgiving for Alfredo’s deliverance from drugs and for his new beginning in life.

Michelina’s relatives, knowing the long and difficult journey she had made, met her in San Giovanni Rotondo. When she finished her prayers and devotions at Padre Pio’s tomb, they offered her a ride back home and she happily accepted.

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On one occasion, Domenico Savino traveled on business from his home in Velletri to the northern part of Italy. On the return train trip home, he struck up a conversation with one of the passengers, a young man named Victor. Victor’s sincerity and goodness were so apparent that Domenico liked him at once.

As the two men talked together, Victor shared some of the burdens that were in his heart. He had used the last of the money in his family’s savings in order to travel to Milan in search of work. Unfortunately, he was not able to find a job there. His aged parents were in need of care and Victor was deeply concerned for them. He loved them both very much. Domenico’s heart went out to Victor. It seemed that he had more than his share of difficulties.

Not long after, Domenico was making preparations to visit Padre Pio’s monastery in San Giovanni Rotondo. On the way to the monastery, Domenico passed through the town of Campania, where Victor lived. He stopped at Victor’s home and invited him to accompany him on the trip. “I assure you that you will feel the wonderful spiritual benefits of visiting the monastery,” Domenico said to Victor. “You can talk to Padre Pio about your many difficulties and ask him to pray for you,” he added. Victor was very happy to accept the invitation.

The trip to Padre Pio’s monastery had a transforming effect on Victor. While there, he made many visits to the little church of Our Lady of Grace and spent much of his time in prayer. He felt renewed in body, mind, and soul.

In San Giovanni Rotondo, Victor bought two photographs of Padre Pio. He was going to put one of the photos in his home. He decided that he was going to keep the other photograph with him at all times.

The days passed far too quickly and soon it was time for the two friends to return to their homes. A month later, Domenico received a letter from Victor. He wrote that he had found work in a mine in Belgium and was doing well. He was very happy because he was now able to send money home to his parents. He told Domenico that he made sure that he had Padre Pio’s photograph with him at all times. It was a spiritual connection to Padre Pio and it filled his heart with a great sense of peace.

Some time later, Domenico received another letter from Victor. Victor wrote that a terrible disaster had struck the mine where he worked. He and some of the other miners had been trapped underground for many hours when the mine shaft that they were working in collapsed.

During that terrible time of waiting, suspended between life and death, Victor talked to the other miners about Padre Pio. He also had Padre Pio’s photograph with him. It took many hours of exhausting work before the rescue crew was able to bring all of the miners to safety. The words that Victor spoke about Padre Pio, and the photograph which he shared, proved to be a great consolation to all the miners.

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Padre Pio with Archbishop Tortolo

Padre Pio with Archbishop Tortolo

In November 1965, Archbishop Adolfo Tortolo of Parana, Argentina was able to spend several days at the monastery of Our Lady of Grace in San Giovanni Rotondo. The Archbishop attended Padre Pio’s Mass and during the celebration of the Mass, he noticed a thin line of fresh red blood on Padre Pio’s left hand. After the Mass had ended, he had the opportunity to hold Padre Pio’s hands in his own. Padre Pio’s hands were so hot that the Archbishop described them as “burning like two lighted coals.”

Later on in the day, the Archbishop knelt before Padre Pio in order to make his confession. Padre Pio’s face was serene and his dark eyes were deep and very beautiful. “You are a bishop,” Padre Pio said. “You must give me your blessing.” Padre Pio then took the Archbishop’s hand and kissed it.

Padre Pio once confided to a friend that the wounds of the stigmata were especially painful to him in the night hours. He said, “One thing carries me to the next, and so the day passes. It is the nights that are hard to bear. If I ever allow myself to sleep, the pain of these wounds is multiplied beyond measure.”

Archbishop Tortola learned by experience the truth of Padre Pio’s statement. One night, while staying at the monastery of Our Lady of Grace, the Archbishop heard moaning sounds coming from Padre Pio’s cell. The next day, he asked the Father Guardian if he knew what the sound could have been. The Father Guardian told him that even when Padre Pio was asleep, he continued to suffer through the night. He never slept more than a few hours, but even then, he was not able to have any relief from his pain.

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Giuseppe Bassi, one of Padre Pio’s spiritual sons, used to attend Padre Pio’s Mass when it was held in the small and rustic 16th century church of Our Lady of Grace. At that time, it was Padre Pio’s practice to say his Mass at the side altar of St. Francis.

On one occasion, Giuseppe arrived at the church at 4:30 a.m. and waited in the darkness along with many others for the church to open. While they waited, some of the people who were standing in line near Giuseppe, began to converse together. Giuseppe listened with interest to the stories of Padre Pio that the devotees were sharing. One man explained how he had been healed of a very serious back condition through the intercession of Padre Pio. As soon as he finished his story, another man spoke up and said, “That is a lie! I am certain that you were not healed by Padre Pio or by anyone else!” Giuseppe and the others who were present were shocked at the man’s unkind remarks.

The man who made the unkind remark looked to be about twenty-five years old. His skin had an unhealthy, sallow color to it. From time to time, vulgar words would escape from his lips. He did not seem to feel the slightest sense of shame using profanities in such a sacred place. Giuseppe heard the man say that he was from the town of Romagna. That was as much as Giuseppe wanted to know about him. His sarcasm and his anger caused the others who were nearby to feel the same way as Giuseppe did. The man moved about in a nervous way and his body seemed to jerk when he shifted his weight from one side to the other. Among the devout and prayerful people who were gathered in front of the monastery church, the man seemed very much out of place.

Before long, one of the Capuchins came out and unlocked the doors to the church. Once inside, Giuseppe quickly made his way to the sacristy. Already, about fifty men were gathered there. Because of his previous visits to the monastery, Giuseppe knew the routine well. A few minutes before 5:00 a.m. the sacristy door would open and Padre Pio would appear. He would then make his way to the side altar of St. Francis where he said his Mass.

On this particular morning, as Padre Pio opened the sacristy door, his face was marked by an expression of deep suffering. All of the men, who had been waiting to see him, knelt down. Padre Pio dragged his feet as he made his way through the crowd. To some, he would offer his hand, to others, he would not. He had his own reasons for doing so.

When Padre Pio saw the man from Romagna kneeling in the sacristy, he paused momentarily and placed his hand on the man’s head. He then gave the man his blessing. From what Giuseppe had already witnessed, the young man certainly needed that blessing. At Padre Pio’s touch, the man’s entire body started shaking. He began to cry. Everyone present could hear his heartbreaking sobs. “Get up, young man,” Padre Pio said to him in an encouraging way. “It is good for you to cry. I know that you are sorry. You must have courage.” When the man finally rose to his feet, he seemed to be at peace.

Later on that morning, Giuseppe returned to his hotel. There in the lobby stood the man from Romagna. He had evidently booked a room in the same hotel. He was talking to several people who were standing in the hotel lobby with him. Giuseppe decided to join the conversation. The man from Romagna explained that he had come to San Giovanni Rotondo mainly out of curiosity. One of his co-workers had told him about Padre Pio and he found the information interesting. “As soon as Padre Pio touched me and looked at me with those eyes of universal judgment, I felt terrified. I felt an overwhelming urge to cry,” he explained.

Giuseppe noticed that the man’s physical appearance looked different. Before, he looked unattractive and unwell. Not anymore. He now had a glow of serenity and happiness on his face. Those few moments with Padre Pio were enough to bring about a remarkable transformation.

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There was a woman (name withheld) who worked in Italy for an international Catholic organization. Her job responsibilities required her to spend much of her time in Rome, where she was in close communication with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In addition, her job required her to travel to many different parts of Italy. It seemed like whatever city she happened to be in, people wanted to talk to her about Padre Pio. They often encouraged her to visit Padre Pio’s monastery in San Giovanni Rotondo but she had no desire to do so. San Giovanni Rotondo was an impoverished village in the southern part of the country. Looking at a map, it was found on the “spur” of the Italian boot. It was not one of the towns that her organization required her to visit and she saw no good reason to make a special trip there. She began to feel irritated by the constant talk she heard about Padre Pio. She grew to dislike even the sound of his name.

The woman observed that most of the people who spoke to her about Padre Pio seemed to be overly zealous and even fanatical in their devotion to him. In her estimation, they were on the wrong track. She thought it was a shame that so many people had put Padre Pio on such a high pedestal.

In 1956, troubling developments occurred in the Catholic organization that the woman worked for. Once again, she heard the common refrain, “You should go to San Giovanni Rotondo and ask Padre Pio for advice. He will be able to help you.” To her, the suggestion seemed absurd. Padre Pio was a priest who practically never left the seclusion of his monastery. In all probability, he knew nothing about the Catholic organization that she worked for. He would be the least likely person to know how to advise her.

The woman sought the counsel of two priests whom she held in great esteem. They both were very familiar with her organization, having implemented it in their own diocese. Both priests listened with attention as she explained the problems within the organization. They advised her to the best of their abilities. However, her immediate supervisor had a completely different idea as to the solution. The woman, after much thought, finally made her own decision on the best course to take. Nevertheless, she was continually tormented by doubts about the decision she had made.

That year, several of the woman’s friends, including one nun as well as a dear friend who was a priest, invited her to spend Christmas in Naples with them. They knew that she was under a lot of pressure from the many responsibilities at her job. She accepted their invitation with gratitude.

One day, during the Christmas vacation, her friends announced that they were making a trip to San Giovanni Rotondo. They wanted to attend Padre Pio’s Mass and they also wanted to deliver a number of Mass offerings which they had received from their friends who were not able to make the trip.

Although the woman had no desire personally to visit the monastery of Our Lady of Grace or to meet Padre Pio, simply to please her friends, she agreed to go. Even though she had previously thought that it would be futile to talk to Padre Pio about her work concerns, she reconsidered. As long as she was going to be visiting his monastery, if the opportunity presented itself, she would try to speak to him about the matter.

At 4:15 a.m. the woman and her little group stood outside of the church of Our Lady of Grace, waiting in the darkness for the doors to open. It was the middle of winter and bitterly cold. When the church doors opened at 5:00 a.m. everyone rushed inside, hoping to find a good seat close to the altar. What the woman and her companions had not bargained for, was the conduct of some of the local women of the area. Without regard for anyone, they pushed, pulled, and elbowed their way to the best seats in the church. The kind nun, who was one of the woman’s companions on the trip, had managed to find an excellent seat on the very front bench. Hard to believe but entirely true, the nun was unceremoniously removed from her seat and knocked to the ground.

The rude conduct in the church of some of the “locals” had been a disgraceful scene to witness. It was almost unbelievable. The woman not only blamed the locals for their outrageous behavior, she also blamed Padre Pio. After all, he was the cause of all the frenzy.

After a time, Padre Pio came out of the sacristy. Silence then descended upon the little church. From his first steps up the altar until the end of the Mass, he remained completely absorbed in prayer. The woman suddenly found herself carried into what she described as “another world.” Attending Padre Pio’s Mass was nothing like she had ever expected. She found it to be a “supernatural experience,” and was deeply edified.

The priest who had come from Naples with the woman and her other companions had been to the monastery of Our Lady of Grace several times before. He had even visited Padre Pio in his cell. Arrangements were made so that the woman and her party would be able to greet Padre Pio before they returned to Naples. They waited in the appointed hallway so that they could speak to him when he passed from the sacristy to the door that led to the Capuchins’ cells.

As it turned out, some of the local women, who had caused so much havoc in the church that morning, had come to wait for Padre Pio in the very same spot. Finally, the door of the sacristy opened and Padre Pio appeared. Assisted by two Capuchins on either side, he moved slowly down the corridor. The woman was close enough to get a good look at him. Padre Pio’s face was beautiful. It seemed to her to be the most beautiful face she had ever seen. His large, dark eyes, which registered both love and pain, reminded her of the suffering Christ.

As Padre Pio drew closer, the locals began to press upon him and crowd him. Not wanting to cause him any more discomfort than what he was experiencing at that moment, the woman drew back. She now stood behind the first row of women in the corridor.

Padre Pio then paused and finally stopped in front of the woman’s two companions and spoke to them. The woman realized that she was no longer in a good proximity to speak to Padre Pio. If only she had stayed in the front row with her friends, she too would have had a chance to speak to him. The many problems she faced at her place of employment suddenly flooded her mind. For a long time, her work situation had been a source of mental agony for her. She thought of the important decision that she had to make soon. She regretted that she would not be able to speak to Padre Pio about it.

Much to the woman’s great surprise, Padre Pio then looked straight in her direction. He smiled at her with great love and held out his hand to her. She had the distinct feeling that he was aware of all the thoughts that were in her mind at that very moment. As she looked in his eyes, she suddenly knew the right course to take regarding her work. Exactly how this could happen, she did not know. The doubts that had plagued her for such a long time, vanished. Without saying one word, Padre Pio had answered her urgent need. A peace, like nothing she had ever experienced before, swept over her. She was assured beyond a shadow of a doubt, that all would be well.

Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry – Issue 46 – January-March 2011

Download Newsletter Issue 46, January-March 2011

With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O Lord . . . I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in thy words. My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate upon thy promise. Hear my voice in thy steadfast love; O Lord, in thy justice preserve my life.

– Psalm 119:145-149


Anecdotes of Padre Pio

Padre Pio and his life-long friend, Dr. Andrea Cardone at the time of their last visit.

Padre Pio and his life-long friend, Dr. Andrea Cardone at the time of their last visit.

In 1910, Padre Pio received the first signs of the stigmata on his hands. He told the parish priest of Pietrelcina, Father Salvatore Pannullo that he became aware of the painful wounds on his hands at the moment when Jesus and Mary had appeared to him. At that time, it was referred to as the “invisible stigmata,” because the marks would alternately appear and then disappear. Dr. Cardone was one of the few people who saw the red, puncture-like wounds of
the stigmata on Padre Pio’s hands before they became permanent. In 1918, when Padre Pio was thirty-one years old, the wounds became permanent. Dr. Cardone also examined Padre Pio’s stigmata after it became permanent and left a written statement regarding it. He wrote that the wounds “pierced the palms of his hands completely through, so much so that one could see light through them.” Shortly after obtaining his license to practice medicine, Dr. Andrea Cardone of Pietrelcina became the family doctor for Francesco Forgione (Padre Pio) as well as the entire Forgione family. In the early days, Dr. Cardone had no idea of the worldwide fame that Francesco would one day receive.

Dr. Cardone remembered that as a boy, Francesco would go to the parish church in Pietrelcina every day. Dr. Cardone sometimes watched young Francesco as he climbed the stairs that led to the church. Even before entering the church, Francesco was already recollected in prayer. He always kept his eyes lowered when he walked through the streets of Pietrelcina on his way to school. Some of the local children were without parental supervision and frequently used bad language. Dr. Cardone remembered that little Francesco would cry whenever he heard their profanities and would run away.

When Padre Pio was a young Capuchin monk in Pietrelcina, Dr. Cardone treated him for his many ailments. Often, Dr. Cardone was at a loss as to how to help him. Padre Pio had a chronic cough and was extremely thin. Many people in the town believed that he had tuberculosis. For this reason, some people avoided him, thinking that his condition was contagious. Dr. Cardone tested him on numerous occasions and was relieved to find out that he did not have tuberculosis. He accompanied Padre Pio to Naples in order to consult with Dr. Castellino, the leading physician of that time. But no matter what remedies were given, Francesco’s health did not improve. His frequent fevers too, were mysterious. Dr. Cardone confided to a friend that he believed that his fevers were of a supernatural origin.

Dr. Cardone remembered that just before Easter, Padre Pio used to gather the youth of Pietrelcina together at his home. He instructed them in the Mass readings of Good Friday and taught them the songs to be sung at intervals between the Passion prayers.

On one occasion, Dr. Cardone was very ill and burning with a high fever. Padre Pio appeared in bilocation at his bedside. He took Dr. Cardone’s wrist in his hand, as though checking his pulse. Dr. Cardone was instantly healed. After that, Dr. Cardone often said, “Padre Pio is a patient who heals the doctor.”

Through the years, Dr. Cardone always felt the beautiful impression of Padre Pio’s goodness, his sweetness, his superhuman modesty, and his many other virtues. Like a number of the other citizens of Pietrelcina, Dr. Cardone said that he felt honored to have Padre Pio as a personal friend. He also felt it a great privilege to be his doctor. “We of Pietrelcina are proud of the divine grace which works through Padre Pio and spreads so much good throughout the world,” Dr. Cardone said.


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Due to Padre Pio’s fragile health, after his ordination to the priesthood, he remained in his hometown of Pietrelcina for more than six years. It was a great disappointment for him to have to be separated from his religious community, but he did his best to accept it. During his years in Pietrelcina, his reputation for sanctity grew. The citizens of Pietrelcina nicknamed him, “our saint.”

Padre Pio found many ways to improve the lives of his fellow townsmen in Pietrelcina. A large number of the citizens who lived there had never had an opportunity to get an education. It was not unusual to see Padre Pio out in the fields with the local farmers and day laborers, instructing them in basic reading and writing. He also taught mathematics to the local people. He organized wholesome games for the citizens to participate in and directed a boys’ choir at the parish.

Padre Pio had only been a priest for several years when a local farmer of Pietrelcina summoned him one day. Lice had infested the farmer’s crops and fruit trees and all seemed doomed for destruction. The farmer asked Padre Pio if he would be willing to go with him to his fields and bless them. Padre Pio agreed to do so. He made the sign of the cross over the man’s land and prayed fervently. Shortly after Padre Pio has blessed the crops, the farmer was amazed to see that the lice had all fallen to the ground. The word spread rapidly among the townspeople. The other farmers decided to ask Padre Pio to bless their land as well. That year the harvest in Pietrelcina proved to be excellent.


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In the early days of Padre Pio’s ministry, a person once asked Padre Pio to come and bless their family home. Padre Pio agreed to do so. He got as far as the kitchen before he stopped. “I cannot go any farther,” he said, and he turned around and walked back out of the house. “The family who lives there spreads rumors,” he explained to his companion. “We can have no dealings with them.”

Padre Pio knew of a priest who used to visit the family. He warned the priest and said, “I would advise you not to go to that home any more. The people who live there spread lies and rumors about others.” On another occasion Padre Pio said, “When you spread rumors about someone, it means you have removed that person from your heart. When you take someone from your heart, Jesus also leaves with them.”


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When Padre Pio (Francesco Forgione) was a child growing up in Pietrelcina, he and his family lived in a very small house, number 32 on Vico Storte Valle (Crooked Valley Lane). It was a stone house with a reed ceiling, very much like all the other houses in the neighborhood. It was the house of poor people, who often struggled in order to survive.

The well at Piana Romana is still standing today.

The well at Piana Romana is still standing today.

The Forgiones also had a small landholding in the countryside of nearby Piana Romana. It included a vineyard and several fields. One day, Francesco’s father, Grazio Forgione, decided to dig a well on his land in Piana Romana. He dug three meters down but was not successful in finding water. Grazio became more and more frustrated in his attempts. Francesco, who was just a boy at the time, watched his father’s futile efforts. Finally Francesco said, “Father, you are not going to find water there.” He pointed to an area a short distance away and said, “But if you dig in this spot, you will find water.”

Grazio was doubtful that Francesco’s words were true. “Son, why should I believe what you are telling me? How do I know that I will find water there?” “You will see,” Francesco replied. Grazio realized that he had nothing to lose, so he decided to follow his son’s advice. Soon water started gushing from the exact spot that Francesco had pointed to. “Son, how did you know that water was there?” Grazio asked. “Jesus told me,” Francesco said simply. As time passed, the well continued to produce a steady and abundant supply of water, more than enough for the needs of the Forgione family.


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Countless people were inspired by the reverence and the intense devotion that Padre Pio exhibited whenever he celebrated Mass. He meditated deeply on every word of the Mass. He often shifted on his painful feet, and paused many times to pray in silence. At the Memento – the prayers for the living and the deceased – his voice sounded weary and strained. At times he trembled and wiped the tears from his eyes with a handkerchief. He once said that during the Mass the Lord allowed him to mystically see all of his spiritual children – those who were living as well as those who had already passed away.

During the Mass, Padre Pio’s eyes remained half-closed. If he opened his eyes at all, it was only to look at the altar. He appeared not to notice the people in the congregation, the lights, or the priests who assisted him. On one occasion, he spoke about the Mass he had just celebrated and said, “I almost forgot being in this world.”

The mayor of San Giovanni Rotondo, Francesco Morcaldi, once asked Padre Pio to celebrate Mass in front of the town hall. When the local citizens as well as people from the surrounding areas heard that Padre Pio had accepted the mayor’s invitation, they were filled with enthusiasm. On the day of the Mass, huge numbers of people descended on the town. The square in front of the town hall as well as the adjacent streets were completely full.

After the Mass, the mayor accompanied Padre Pio back to the monastery. “It was such a wonderful turnout,” the mayor said to Padre Pio. “Did you see the crowds who came to attend your Mass? Did you notice that the streets were full to overflowing?” “No, I did not notice the people,” Padre Pio replied. “As a matter of fact, I was not aware that I was celebrating Mass in the open air. I became so absorbed in the prayers that I did not notice anything.”


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There was once a man from Turin, Italy who had a great desire to speak to Padre Pio. He wanted to seek Padre Pio’s advice on a personal matter that was of great importance to him. Every time he tried to plan a trip to San Giovanni Rotondo, his way was blocked.

The man was finally able to visit Padre Pio but unfortunately the trip had come too late. “I am so happy that I could discuss my situation with you and receive your advice,” the man said to Padre Pio. “But I am sorry to say that time is against me. The information that I discussed with you needs to be received in Turin almost at this very moment. Even if I were to send a telegram, it would not make a difference now. The deadline has come,” the man said.

“Don’t worry about the deadline,” Padre Pio replied. “Write a letter immediately and take it to the post office as fast as you can.” The man did what Padre Pio suggested even though he was convinced that it would do no good. Miraculously, the letter was received in Turin in a half-hour’s time. The postmark was clearly visible on the envelope. The letter had traveled a distance of more than six hundred and fifty miles in thirty minutes. The man was incredulous and also greatly relieved; the information had reached its destination on time.


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On one occasion, one of Padre Pio’s spiritual daughters wanted to give him a gift. After thinking about it for some time, she decided to give him two canaries. One day, with her bird cage in hand, she boarded a train to San Giovanni Rotondo so that she could present him with the unusual gift.

When the woman arrived at the monastery door, she was greeted by the porter. The woman told him that the canaries were a gift for Padre Pio. “We are not allowed to keep anything for ourselves unless we have the permission of our superior,” the porter explained. “There is a strict rule in place regarding gifts of any kind.” “But couldn’t you please try to do something to help? I traveled a long distance by train in order to come here and I have a great desire to give Padre Pio these birds.” The porter then took the birdcage from the woman. He told her that he would let Padre Pio know about her gift.

The porter then took the birds to his own cell temporarily. Soon he heard a knock at the door. To his great surprise, Padre Pio was standing there. “These birds just arrived,” the porter said. “A woman brought them for you and has a great desire that you receive them.” Padre Pio went over to the birds and for a few moments began to play with them. “Please do me a favor,” Padre Pio said to the porter. “Take the cage over to my cell. I would like to keep the birds for an hour or so.” The next day, the porter told the woman that Padre Pio had enjoyed the birds, even though he could not keep them. She was very happy to hear the news and very satisfied.


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Alfonso De Rosa was one of Padre Pio’s spiritual sons. One day, he had the overwhelming urge to see Padre Pio. He could not stop thinking about it. Alfonso decided to make the journey to San Giovanni Rotondo. He felt blessed that he was able to attend Padre Pio’s early morning Mass. After the Mass, he asked the Father Guardian if he could visit Padre Pio in his cell but he was denied permission. Alfonso went back into the church to pray. Sometime later that day, he spoke to the Father Guardian again. For a second time, he asked if it would be possible for him to speak to Padre Pio and for a second time the Father Guardian said no.

Alfonso was very disappointed. He returned to the church once again to pray. He tried to resign himself to the fact that he would not be able to speak to Padre Pio that day. He had done all he could but he had not been able to change the Father Guardian’s mind. While he was sitting quietly in the church, a stranger approached him. “Are you the man who has a great desire to see Padre Pio today?” the stranger asked. Alfonso replied that indeed he was. “Follow me then,” the man said.

The man led Alfonso to the sacristy of the church. Alfonso was very surprised to see that the gate near the sacristy was unlocked. He proceeded to follow the man through the gate. The door which led to the monks’ private quarters was also unlocked. The man opened the door nonchalantly and motioned for Alfonso to follow him. They then entered the corridor that led to the Capuchins’ cells. At that point, the stranger disappeared from Alfonso’s view. Alfonso simply could not figure out where he had gone. He was there one moment and gone the next.

Two Capuchins who were standing in the corridor looked surprised when they noticed Alfonso’s presence. Alfonso knew that they would probably demand that he leave the area at once. He could not allow that to happen. He ran the rest of the way down the corridor to Padre Pio’s cell. Padre Pio was standing at the door of his cell, saying goodbye to several American priests who were taking their leave. Padre Pio then saw Alfonso. He welcomed him lovingly and gave hima blessing. It was what Alfonso had been hoping and praying for all day. Alfonso’s joy was so great that he could not contain himself. Unashamedly, he began to cry.


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Michael Conistabile had often heard people speak of Padre Pio and his remarkable spiritual gifts. He listened but he did not believe. To Michael, the talk about the miracles and healings associated with Padre Pio seemed to be pure fantasy. As far as Michael was concerned, there were a lot of fanatical people in the world with
overactive imaginations. He remained skeptical about Padre Pio.

After a time, the discussions that Michael heard about Padre Pio began to arouse his curiosity. In June 1950, he decided to take his wife and his one year old son, Gianfranco, to visit Padre Pio’s monastery in San Giovanni Rotondo. He wanted to find out for himself the truth about Padre Pio.

Michael found a hotel for his family about one-half mile from the monastery. The next morning, when Michael and his family arrived at the church for Mass, Padre Pio was already at the altar. When the Mass began, Michael had a chance to look at him closely. “He looks just like any other Capuchin,” Michael said to himself. Michael saw nothing singular or special about him. But as the Mass progressed, Michael witnessed something extraordinary.

As the congregation prayed the Our Father, Michael noticed that the palms of Padre Pio=s hands were shining. The wounds in the middle of his hands were a very bright red, a brilliant red. The brightness dazzled Michael’s eyes. He shut his eyes momentarily and then opened them. He looked at Padre Pio’s hands once again. He wanted to make sure that what he had seen was not an hallucination. He knew that it was not. The light from Padre Pio’s hands continued to shine with great intensity. It was as if Padre Pio’s wounded hands were illuminated by a thousand electric lights. Michael lowered his eyes and then knelt down. He felt completely confused by what he had witnessed.

The next day, Michael took little Gianfranco with him to the monastery. He was walking down one of the corridors when, much to his great surprise, he happened to see Padre Pio. With little Gianfranco in his arms, Michael greeted Padre Pio and asked him to give his young son a blessing. “Please pray for my little son so that he may someday become a missionary,” Michael said. “But why a missionary?” Padre Pio asked. “Let him be what God wills him to be.” He then placed his hand on the head of Gianfranco and blessed him. He gave Michael a blessing as well. He spoke to Michael about the nearby shrine in Monte Sant’ Angelo which was dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel. He encouraged him to take his family there for a visit.

Every morning at the monastery, Michael went to the sacristy before Mass and waited for Padre Pio. He helped Padre Pio put on his priestly vestments before Mass. When Padre Pio returned to the sacristy after celebrating Mass, Michael was there to assist him. He and his family were able to spend more than a week in San Giovanni Rotondo. Michael had come as a skeptic. He left as a believer.


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Teresita De Vecchi, went to San Giovanni Rotondo on one occasion in order to make her confession to Padre Pio. As she waited in the confessional line, she was able to see Padre Pio clearly. She noticed that his customary half-gloves covered his hands completely. Teresita had a great desire to see the wounds in his hands. At
the very moment she was thinking about his hands and wishing that she could see them, Padre Pio slowly pulled up one of his gloves so that his entire hand was exposed. Teresita noticed that his hand was very white and smooth. In the center of his palm was a large crust of clotted blood which reached almost to his fingers. After a moment, he slowly pulled the glove back down over his hand.

Teresita made her confession to Padre Pio and before she left the confessional, she kissed his hand. She became instantly aware of a strong smell of carbolic acid. After she left the confessional, it lingered in the air around her for several hours. When she returned to her home, she could not get the thought of Padre Pio out of her mind. She kept thinking about the intensity of his dark and piercing eyes and the terrible wounds in his hands.

Several weeks later, Teresita was on a train trip to the city of Lugano in southern Switzerland. As she passed through a mountainous region, she looked out the window and saw the town that she had grown up in. A feeling of homesickness swept over her. Her heart was aching as she thought of her dear family. Precious memories of days gone by flooded her mind. Suddenly, she noticed the same smell of carbolic acid that she had perceived when she kissed Padre Pio’s hand in the confessional. She knew then that Padre Pio was near and was aware of her sadness.

Not long after, Teresita traveled to San Giovanni Rotondo again. She attended the early morning Mass and afterward she waited in the corridor in order to greet Padre Pio. For some reason, when Padre Pio stepped into the corridor, he looked altogether different from the way he had looked when he was at the altar that morning. He seemed to be much taller. He looked luminous and majestic. As he passed down the corridor, he left a trail of perfume behind him.

On another visit to San Giovanni Rotondo, Teresita obtained a ticket for Padre Pio’s confessional. She waited three weeks but still her name was not called. Finally, having a family commitment to attend to, she could wait no longer. She had to return to her home.

Before leaving San Giovanni Rotondo, Teresita decided to go to the monastery one last time and wait below the little window where Padre Pio appeared each afternoon to give his blessing to the faithful. Just as Teresita got to the area below Padre Pio’s window, she learned that he had already given his blessing for the day. The little window was closed and locked. “Padre Pio has now retired for the day,” Teresita was told. “He will return again tomorrow afternoon to give his blessing.” About twenty people were still standing below Padre Pio’s window, praying the Rosary together. Teresita decided to stay and pray the Rosary with the group.

As Teresita prayed the Rosary, she sent up her fervent petition to Padre Pio. She prayed, “Padre Pio, soon I have to catch a train and return to my home and my family. I waited three weeks to make my confession to you but I was not able to do so. My number was not called. Before I return to my home, I ask you to give me a blessing, a big blessing!”

The little Rosary group continued with their prayers. About ten minutes later, much to everyone’s great surprise, the little window of Padre Pio’s cell opened once again. Padre Pio appeared at the window and looked out on the small group. For the second time that day, he gave his priestly blessing. Afterward, he started waving something in the air. It was not the customary handkerchief that he normally held in his hand each afternoon when he waved to the crowd. It was something much bigger. Teresita looked closely. Padre Pio was waving a bed sheet! The little Rosary group could not believe their eyes. “What on earth is Padre Pio doing?” they said in unison. They began to laugh. But Teresita understood. It was an answer to her petition. It was the “big blessing” she had been praying for.

As time passed, Teresita became aware that Padre Pio was watching over her in countless ways. She had asked him to accept her as his spiritual child and he had agreed to do so. “I will be your father,” he said. “Just don’t do anything to embarrass me!”

One summer day after visiting the monastery, Teresita was getting ready to walk to town. Without warning, she was suddenly caught in a downpour. Unfortunately, she did not have an umbrella with her. She broke into a run. As she ran toward the town, she felt as though she was in a tunnel. It was raining on both sides of her, but not on her. By the time she got to town, she should have been drenched. But instead, she was completely dry. She had just attended Padre Pio’s Mass and had offered her Holy Communion for his intentions.

Teresita knew the privilege that was hers to be able to attend Padre Pio’s Mass. Once, at Padre Pio’s Mass, Teresita felt fortunate to find an excellent seat in the very front of the church. She was able to see Padre Pio clearly. He cried through most of the Mass and he dried his eyes with a white handkerchief that was on the altar. Teresita noticed that the blood from the wounds on his hands had stained the handkerchief. As she looked at the handkerchief, she thought to herself how much she would like to possess it. What a blessing it would be to have a relic of Padre Pio. Several hours later, to her great joy, she was given the handkerchief to keep.


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A special thank you to Josie Grossi of Montreal, Canada who sent us her testimony through the Send Your Testimony link at our website, www.saintpio.org.

I Asked Padre Pio to Send Me a Sign

A few years ago I was praying to St. Pio and I asked him to send me a sign that he was listening to my prayers. Well, about a week later I received a package in the mail from Italy. The package came from San Giovanni Rotondo. A letter inside the package informed me that I had won the “Epiphany Raffle.” I had never even heard of the Epiphany Raffle. I won books on St. Pio, a number of beautiful photographs of St. Pio, a St. Pio hat and many other St. Pio items. Padre Pio had given me his sign that he was definitely listening to my prayers.

Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry – Issue 45 – October-December 2010

Download Newsletter Issue 45, October-December 2010

I am ready for everything, as long as Jesus is content to save the souls of my brothers,
especially those he has entrusted to my care.
– St. Pio of Pietrelcina

Stories from the War Years


Teseo Isani was a military officer who was stationed in Verona, Italy during World War II. During that time, a friend confided to Teseo that for many days he had been hiding an American soldier in his home. He was aware of the danger of the situation. If he was caught by the Gestapo, it would be his death sentence. He asked Teseo if he would be willing to take the American soldier and he agreed to do so.

For a temporary solution, Teseo hid the American in his truck under a large load of wood. Unfortunately, soon after Teseo did so, the Gestapo became suspicious. Teseo’s truck was searched and the American was found. Teseo was immediately arrested and placed in custody. He was condemned to death for his crime of harboring an enemy.

In the detention facility, Teseo waited for his execution day. There was nothing he could do to save himself. One day, Teseo suddenly heard a very distinct voice which said to him with great insistence, “Escape! Escape!” Teseo did not know where the voice had come from. He was not sure of the meaning of the message either. He did not have the means to escape. He knew that if he tried to walk out of the detention facility, he would be instantly shot. There were armed guards stationed at every check point who were not afraid to use their weapons at a moment’s notice. However, Teseo reasoned to himself that he was going die anyway. “What does it matter if I die today or tomorrow?” he said to himself.

Teseo opened the door of his cell and looked down the hall. Armed guards were standing at various posts all along the corridor. He decided to take the plunge. He stepped out into the corridor and started walking and to his utter amazement, the guards did not seem to notice him. Suddenly, one of the guards became aware of Teseo and reached for his gun. He pointed it at Teseo and pulled the trigger but it failed to go off. Teseo then broke into a run and managed to flee unharmed.

The Nazis posted Teseo’s picture throughout the city of Verona. A large sum of 100,000 lire was offered to anyone who could find the fugitive. But Teseo was safe. He had already made his way into Switzerland.

Three years later, Teseo listened with great interest as someone told him about a holy priest named Padre Pio who lived in the southern part of Italy. He decided to make a trip to Padre Pio’s monastery in hopes of meeting him. At the monastery of Our Lady of Grace, Teseo was able to make his confession to Padre Pio. That evening when he returned to his hotel, he had a very unusual experience. As soon as he opened the door to his room, he heard a voice which said to him, “Escape! Escape!” It was the very same voice he had heard during the second World War. Since he had just spoken to Padre Pio for the first time, he now recognized the voice as belonging to Padre Pio. He made his way immediately back to the monastery. When Teseo stood in the presence of Padre Pio once again, he was overcome with emotion and burst into tears. Padre Pio understood. Referring all of the credit to God, Padre Pio said simply, “Let us thank the Lord.”

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Francesco Cavicchi and his wife visited Padre Pio’s monastery for the first time in June 1967. Francesco’s wife had a great desire to meet Padre Pio. She spoke to Francesco about it and insisted that he accompany her. He did not share his wife’s enthusiasm regarding the trip to the monastery but in order to please her, he finally agreed to go.

Francesco had learned that Padre Pio would not hear a person’s confession if it had been less than ten days since their last confession. Francesco had been to confession just three days before. But since he had made a special trip to San Giovanni Rotondo, he did not want to miss the opportunity. He decided to take a chance and go to confession anyway and he hoped that he would not be found out.

Padre Pio was hearing the men’s confessions in the sacristy of the old church. As Francesco waited in the confessional line, he grew more and more uneasy. He wondered to himself how he had the nerve to disregard the “ten-day rule.” Padre Pio looked out at the men waiting in the line, and his eyes fell on Francesco. “Come forward, my son,” Padre Pio said to Francesco. “I have been waiting for you for a long time.” Francesco could not grasp the meaning of his words. How could Padre Pio have been waiting for him for a long time? They had never even met.

Francesco knelt down in the dim light of the sacristy. As he made a move to kiss Padre Pio’s hand, Padre Pio withdrew it from him. It was not a good sign and Francesco knew it. Next, Padre Pio asked Francesco the question that he did not want to hear. “How long has it been since your last confession?” There was a silence while Francesco pretended to be thinking about the answer to the question. He told Padre Pio that he could not remember when he made his last confession.

Padre Pio then asked him some other questions, and Francesco breathed a sigh of relief. He had not been sent out of the confessional like he feared. He was grateful that he was still kneeling beside Padre Pio. Once again Padre Pio asked him, “Now tell me, how many days has it been since your last confession?” Before Francesco could answer, Padre Pio changed the subject and began talking about the Prayer Groups. Finally, he said once again, “How long has it been since your last confession?”

Francesco did not know what to say. He was sure that Padre Pio could read his heart and his mind. It seemed obvious that Francesco was trying to avoid the question. Francesco had kept head down and his eyes lowered from the time he had entered the confessional. He did not have the courage to look at Padre Pio full in the face. But now, for the first time, Francesco lifted his gaze and looked directly at him.

Padre Pio was looking at Francesco with an expression of great tenderness and love. “I do not remember how long it has been since my last confession,” Francesco repeated. Padre Pio then became serious. “You have a short memory, don’t you. But let me ask you this. Do you remember the bombardment in Rimini many years back? Do you remember the air raid shelter? Do you remember the trolley bus? But why am I asking you to go back in time? You cannot even remember what you did less that one week ago!”

Padre Pio was speaking to Francesco about an incident that had happened back in 1943, during the second World War. Francesco remembered the incident well. He would never be able to forget it for as long as he lived. He was twenty-eight years old at the time and worked for the State Railway in the city of Rimini.

On that particular November day in 1943, Francesco happened to be riding the trolley bus back to his home for his lunch break. There were about ten other people on the bus that day. Included in the number was a middle-aged Capuchin monk.

Suddenly, the sirens in the city gave warning of an air-raid. Bombs then began to fall all around. The bus driver accelerated to a frantic speed in an effort to escape the danger. When fragments from falling bombs cut the electric power lines, the driver was forced to stop the bus. The passengers were filled with panic. Francesco was certain that he was going to die.

In the midst of great fear and confusion, everyone then exited the bus and ran toward an air-raid shelter that was nearby. Due to an obstacle in his path, Francesco had great difficulty getting off of the bus. He was the last person to enter the air-raid shelter. Inside the shelter, the Capuchin monk who had been on the bus, had already begun to recite the Rosary. It had a calming effect on all who were gathered there. Soon everyone was praying with the Capuchin. Meanwhile, bombs continued to explode all around. The air-raid shelter shook on its foundation and Francesco knew that it could collapse at any moment. However, amid all the noise and destruction, there was no panic or screaming inside the shelter. The Capuchin monk seemed to inspire confidence in everyone. Thirty minutes passed. The small group had just finished reciting the Rosary when the sirens in the city gave the “all clear” signal.

The Capuchin was the first to leave the shelter. Everyone then followed out behind him. “Were you the monk who was on the bus with me?” Francesco asked Padre Pio. “Well, who did you think it was?” Padre Pio answered. “I have already explained to you that Jesus and the Blessed Mother can intervene in our lives, even if we are not aware of it.” Francesco had always known how lucky he had been to escape death that frightful November day. He was convinced that Divine Providence had assisted everyone who was in the air-raid shelter with him. At the time, he had not even heard of Padre Pio.

When Padre Pio saw Francesco in the confessional line, he told him that he had been waiting for him for a long time. The wartime incident that Padre Pio brought to Francesco’s attention had happened twenty-four years before. Had he actually been waiting for Francesco to return after all those years? Francesco was convinced that he had.

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Corporal Joe Asterita was an American serviceman who was stationed in Cerignola, Italy during World War II. Along with other soldiers in his squadron, Joe used to visit Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo when he had the opportunity. Joe was fluent in Italian with the added benefit of being able to understand the dialect of those who lived in San Giovanni Rotondo. He often translated for the other GI’s who wanted to speak to Padre Pio.

On one occasion, Padre Pio told Joe that five people who had visited the monastery needed a ride back to their home in Foggia. He asked Joe to drive them back. Joe told Padre Pio that it was against United States Army regulations to use military vehicles to provide transportation for civilians. Padre Pio was very firm and insisted that Joe do him the favor. Joe carefully considered the matter but finally decided against it. The risk of getting caught was too great. “Army regulations forbid me to transport those who are non-military. I am sorry but I cannot break the rule,” Joe said.

Speaking with authority, Padre Pio then said to Joe, “Remember this. Anytime I ask you to do something for me, it will work out. You need have no fear.” Joe was finally convinced. He then allowed the two men, two women and a little boy to get into his military jeep. Shortly after they were on the road, Joe saw two Military Police Officers coming in their direction. The Military Police Officers looked in the jeep but passed right on by without stopping Joe. At that moment, the air became filled with a delightful perfume. As they continued on the road to Foggia, they encountered one Military Police Officer after another, but they were never pulled over. The fragrant perfume stayed in the air until the five Italian citizens were dropped off safely in Foggia.

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The Souls of the Departed  –  Padre Pio often reminded people of the importance of praying for the souls of the departed. He used to say, “We must empty Purgatory with our prayers.” When Padre Pio celebrated Mass, during the time of the prayers for the living and the deceased, he would pause for an extended period of silence. At times, the Lord enlightened him regarding the state of those who had already passed away. He once said to Father Alessio Parente, “You are going to be amazed to find souls in Heaven who you would never have expected to find there.”


In the monastery of Our Lady of Grace, there was a wooden box mounted to the wall with a notice above it reminding the Capuchins to pray for the deceased. A categorical list was posted, which included souls of deceased priests, souls close to heaven, forgotten souls, etc. Small disks were inside the wooden box with numbers on them referring to the category of souls to pray for. Regularly, Padre Pio would take a disk from the box and pause in silence as he devoutly recited the prayer for the deceased – “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.”

The efficacy of Padre Pio’s prayers for the deceased was revealed on one occasion in a startling way. During the first World War, the main door of the monastery of Our Lady of Grace was locked every evening after the ringing of the Angelus bell. An iron bar secured the door and kept the monastery safe from intruders. One evening, the superior of the monastery, Father Raffaele, heard voices shouting, “Viva Padre Pio! Viva Padre Pio!” (Long live Padre Pio!) He immediately notified the porter, Brother Gerardo. “Strangers have somehow managed to enter the monastery, even though the door is locked,” Father Raffaele said. “They are downstairs in the hallway shouting in unison. You must go down there immediately and make them leave!”

Brother Gerardo left at once to take care of the matter. He returned a short time later and said to Father Raffaele, “The door is locked and secured and there are no intruders downstairs.” Father Raffaele was perplexed. He knew what he had heard and he could not doubt it. He was also well aware that unusual incidents happened from time to time at the monastery of Our Lady of Grace. Those unusual events almost always involved Padre Pio. Father Raffaele had lived with Padre Pio long enough to know that he was living in a supernatural reality. As one of the Capuchins described it, “Padre Pio was living with one foot on earth and one foot in Heaven.”

Father Raffaele decided to ask Padre Pio about the mysterious voices he had heard in the hallway. The next morning he said to Padre Pio, “Something very strange happened last night. Even though the doors were locked and secured, I was certain that intruders had broken into the monastery. I distinctly heard them shouting your name in the corridor and saying, “Viva Padre Pio!” I have no doubt about what I heard. When Brother Gerardo went downstairs to escort the people out, there was no one there. Do you know anything about this?” “Those were the souls of deceased soldiers who had walked up the hill to thank me for my prayers,” Padre Pio replied. “There are more souls of the dead than of the living who climb the hill to the monastery to request my prayers.”

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Jerry Berrigan wrote to us at Padre Pio Devotions regarding his experience with Padre Pio during World War II. This is Jerry’s story:

I met Padre Pio when I served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. I had enlisted in January 1942 and was eventually sent to the U.S. military base in Cerignola, Italy. As a Staff Sargent, I was assigned to the ground crew and worked in the technical supply department for the U.S. fighter planes. I was also the assistant to our chaplain, Father Stanley Kusman, S.M., a Marianist priest.

One day, Father Kusman asked me an unusual question. “Jerry, how would you like to visit a saint today?” He went on to tell me a little bit about Padre Pio and invited me to go with him to Padre Pio’s monastery. I had never heard of Padre Pio but I was happy to accept his invitation. Two other GIs from my squadron went along with us.


Father Kusman drove us to the monastery of Our Lady of Grace in a military jeep. The church of Our Lady of Grace was a poor little country church. It was very plain and very simple. As soon as we walked through the door, I realized that I had forgotten something and I went back out to the jeep to get it. When I walked back into the church, I was overwhelmed by an intense fragrance of fresh flowers. The wonderful scent of carnations, lilies, and roses filled the air. I looked around but there were no flowers anywhere inside.

Father Kusman was in the sacristy, conversing in Italian with a Capuchin who wore a brown habit with a cord at his waist. As I drew closer, I realized that he was talking to Padre Pio. As I looked at Padre Pio, I felt wonderstruck. I knew immediately that he was an extraordinary human being. Father Kusman then introduced me to him. I did not speak Italian but even if I did, I would not have been able to say even one word. I felt overwhelmed by his presence. Father Kusman asked Padre Pio if we could attend his Mass on our next visit and if I could be his altar server. “Si, si,” he replied. There were a few children in the church making noise and Padre Pio let them know in no uncertain terms that they were to be quiet. That was my first brief meeting with Padre Pio.

After we left to return to the base, I told Father Kusman and the other GIs about the beautiful fragrance of flowers in the church. None of them had experienced it. Father Kusman then explained to me that it was a sign of blessing from Padre Pio. Father Kusman also shared more about Padre Pio’s life with us. He told us that Padre Pio had a spiritual connection with the German mystic, Therese Neumann. Therese Neumann was a simple and devout lay woman who lived in a small farming village in Konnersreuth, Germany. Her deep spirituality touched many souls. She had many of the charismatic gifts that Padre Pio possessed, including the gift of reading hearts, miracles, healing, and more. Like Padre Pio, she bore the five wounds of Christ. Many of the American GIs went to Germany to visit Therese at the end of World War II. Padre Pio had a great deal of knowledge about Therese Neumann. Father Kusman had been told
that Padre Pio had visited her through bilocation.

The next time Father Kusman took us to the monastery, I was apprehensive. Thinking about being Padre Pio’s altar server was more than a little unsettling. I hoped that I would be able to perform all the duties of the altar server well and that I would not forget any of the Latin responses.

It turned out to be a very long Mass. As I knelt on the stone floor of the dimly lit church, my knees began to ache. It was very cold inside the church. Since it was wartime, the congregation consisted mainly of women and children. Most of the men in the village had no doubt been called up to serve in the Italian army. During the Mass, everyone stared at Padre Pio’s hands. I saw that the wounds in the center of his hands were bleeding at the time of the Consecration. All of the American soldiers who were there that day were deeply impressed.

Meeting Padre Pio and assisting at his Mass served to strengthen my faith. It also gave me a sense of confidence that I would be protected. As soldiers in the second World War, our lives were in constant danger. I felt a peace within and I knew that I had met a living saint.

After the war, I attended Holy Cross College in Massachusetts. I eventually got a PhD in English and I enjoyed being a college professor for more than 25 years. I turned 90 years old, this year, 2010. The experience of meeting Padre Pio has stayed with me for my whole life.

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There was a woman once (name withheld) who lived in Italy whose husband had died in the second World War. After the death of her husband, her in-laws treated her and her two children very badly. The woman was in great financial need but her in-laws were not willing to help in any way. To make matters worse, they took possession of the home that had belonged to her and her husband.

The woman and her children moved from the city into the country, thinking that it would be less expensive. When her eldest son was about to make his first Holy Communion, the woman had a dilemma. She could not afford to buy the proper clothing for him for that very special day. She decided to alter one of her husband’s suits to fit him. In that way, her son would be able to be dressed appropriately, just like all the other children. Her relatives refused to return her husband’s suit to her. They also confiscated most of the household possessions. Finally, they sold her husband’s home and kept all of the profits for themselves. The woman tried to confront them about the injustice of their actions, but they refused to speak to her.

The woman needed advice about her many problems, especially her desperate financial situation. She wanted to talk to Padre Pio but she could not afford to make the trip to San Giovanni Rotondo. Her faith in Padre Pio was indeed great. She knew in her heart that nothing was impossible and she never lost hope that one day she would be able to visit him at the monastery of Our Lady of Grace.

As it turned out, the woman won 25,000 lire in the Italian lottery. The unexpected money enabled her to make the trip. Everything seemed to work out in her favor. Once she arrived in San Giovanni Rotondo, she began to look for lodging. Finding a room was harder than she had ever imagined. Although she had to settle for sleeping in the corridor of a local establishment, she was grateful that at least she had a roof over her head.

The woman attended Padre Pio’s Mass and was very inspired. She had the unmistakable impression that Padre Pio was in “direct contact with God.” She felt carried away into a place of great peace. The Mass had such an impact on her that she felt totally transformed. She began to have the desire to change her life. She had been living with a man whom she loved very much. She decided that when she returned home, she would end the illicit relationship. She wanted to talk to Padre Pio about her decision.

The woman was very nervous when she stepped into Padre Pio’s confessional. “I want to make a full confession,” she said to Padre Pio. “I want my life to change. When I go back to my home, I want to feel like I have felt during these days that I have spent here in San Giovanni Rotondo.” “Are you truly sorry for your past sins?” Padre Pio asked her. “Yes, I am truly sorry for all of them,” the woman replied. “Go in peace,” Padre Pio said. He gave her absolution and placed his wounded hand on her head. He let his hand rest on her head for quite a long time. “When I return to my home, what can I do so that I will be able to live as I have lived these days near the monastery?” the woman asked. “When you go back to your town, you will meet someone who will help you,” Padre Pio answered.

About a week after returning to her home, the woman happened to make the acquaintance of a kind lady who helped her in incalculable ways. She remembered that Padre Pio had told her that she would meet such a person. Back at the factory where she worked, she made a public statement. She apologized to all of her co-workers and told them that she was sorry that she had used bad language in the past. “I apologize for the off-color jokes I once told you all. I promise you that you will never hear me tell them again.” She let go of the resentment and anger that she had held in her heart for her relatives. She knew that her desire for revenge was wrong and through prayer she was able to overcome her feelings of bitterness.

The woman decided not to marry again. Eventually, she was able to receive her deceased husband’s war pension which was a great financial help to her. She continued to pray to Padre Pio faithfully. Through Padre Pio’s intercession, one of her sons received a physical healing. As the years passed, the woman’s situation continued to improve and she received many graces for which she felt a profound gratitude.

Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry – Issue 44 – July-September 2010

Download Newsletter Issue 44, July-September 2010

 

I feel all your troubles, as if they were my own.

– St. Pio of Pietrelcina

A Testimony by Fr. Louis Solcia, CRSP

Spiritual Director of the Padre Pio Prayer Group of Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, San Diego, CA

Amelie Gonzales was a little girl at our parish who taught me many things. She taught me much about both life and death. Her short life was a blessing to her family and to all those who knew her. It certainly was a blessing to me.

Amelie’s mother, Amata, and her grandmother Marlene, regularly attended our Padre Pio prayer group at Our Lady of the Rosary. The family was very devout. Amelie, who followed the good example of her mother and grandmother, was a very spiritual child. Amata told me that when she took Amelie to the store each week, Amelie always wanted to buy a bouquet of roses to place in front of the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Amelie was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer called Pluropulmonary Blastoma. It is a cancer that occurs most often in infants and children but has also been reported in adults. The doctors hoped that chemotherapy treatments would arrest the cancer. Finally, the doctors told the family that they had done everything in their power to save Amelie. They had used every modern medical means at their disposal. There was nothing more they could do.

Amelie grew weaker as the cancer progressed but strangely enough, she never looked sick. She had a desire to receive Holy Communion. Children ordinarily do not receive their first Holy Communion before the age of seven. Amelie was just five years old. But because she had a spiritual maturity beyond her years and because of her terminal diagnosis, I was able to give her Holy Communion.

Amelie told her mother that Padre Pio had come to her and had given her a blessing. One day, near the end of her life, she was lying in her bed, looking up at the ceiling in her room. Suddenly, the ceiling disappeared, and in its place she saw the evening sky, studded with brilliant stars. Jesus and Mary were there in the sky and they were smiling at her. Later, her mother showed her a holy card of Jesus. “Amelie, did Jesus look like this?” she asked. “No, he didn’t,” she replied. “He was so bright!”

Our Padre Pio prayer group had prayed for many weeks for Amelie. We all hoped in our hearts that she would be healed. But it was not to be. Amelie died peacefully in her mother’s arms on December 14, 2009. On the day that she died, she saw a white butterfly. “Mommy, don’t you see the butterfly?” she asked. But her mother could not see it. No one saw it but Amelie. After her death, Amelie truly looked like a little angel.

I had a desire to visit the cemetery where Amelie was buried and I went there on several occasions to pray. Beautiful red roses in a heart-shaped pattern had been placed on her grave by her mother. In my heart, I felt a great sadness. I wondered why God had taken such a beautiful little girl and left us all with such heavy hearts. I especially felt sorry for Amelie’s family because of their grief. But then I reasoned to myself that God never allows something bad to happen unless He can draw good out of it. I have been a priest for more than fifty years and I have always believed that. But in this situation, I struggled with God. Although at the time, I could not see past the pain of the situation, soon I would see the good that God would draw out of Amelie’s death.

Amelie’s best friend was her eight-year-old cousin, Alexis. The two girls were inseparable. After Amelie’s death, Alexis’ sister, Cassandra, had a vivid dream. In her dream, Amelie was looking everywhere for Alexis. “Where is Alexis?” she asked. “I want to find Alexis!” It was shortly after Cassandra’s dream that Alexis announced that she wanted to take instructions in the Catholic faith and be baptized. Everyone in the family was surprised. Alexis’ desire seemed to come out of nowhere. There was certainly no one in her family encouraging her to take that step. Alexis’ mother had no religious affiliation and she never took the family to church on Sunday. However, she was willing to let Alexis take instruction in the Catholic faith. I had the sense that the dream of Amelie was instrumental in Alexis’ desire to become a Catholic. Amelie’s mother now brings Alexis to our parish once a week. I am giving her the instructions myself and preparing her for baptism, confirmation and for her first Holy Communion.

God can and does draw good out of the hard and painful situations in life. We only have to look and we will see.

 

To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven – A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot … a time to break down, and a time to build up, a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones.
– Ecclesiastes 3:1-4

 

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Melissa Finn contacted us through our website at www.saintpio.org regarding her son Joey’s remarkable story.

Joey Finn of Hudson, New York had been coping with severe asthma for most of his childhood. In 2005, when Joey was ten years old, he was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, an incurable disease that makes it difficult to breathe and eventually destroys the lungs completely. Joey’s lungs already showed the damage from the disease and he would have to have breathing treatments twice a day for the rest of his life. The median survival age for those who have the disease is in the early thirties.

Shortly after Joey’s diagnosis, his mother, Melissa Finn was introduced to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The Make-A-Wish Foundation is a nonprofit organization which offers children with chronic, life threatening diseases, the opportunity to make a wish and have it granted. For the youth who daily struggle with incurable illnesses, the chance to have a wish come true can lift their spirits and enrich their lives. It gives them something positive to look forward to in life. The Make-A-Wish Foundation, in its ministry of compassion, has brought happiness to countless children.

When Joey said that he would like to submit a wish to the Foundation for consideration, his mother assumed that he would request a trip to Disney World in Florida. However, when he told his mother what he wished for, she could not have been more surprised. Joey wanted to travel to San Giovanni Rotondo to pray at the tomb of Padre Pio. He also wanted to see the holy father in Rome. Where did the desire come from? That is a good question. Joey did not grow up in a particularly religious household. Although the Finns were Catholics, they did not attend Mass on Sunday. As it turned out, Joey had seen a documentary on the life of Padre Pio on the History Channel which had greatly inspired him. He learned about Padre Pio’s stigmata, his prayer life, and his deep faith in
God. Like Joey, Padre Pio had suffered most of his life with poor health. He was afflicted with chronic breathing problems, including asthma and bronchitis. It was an acute case of asthma that was a contributing cause of Padre Pio’s death in September 1968.

In thinking of her son’s wish, Melissa had one deep concern. She was afraid that Joey would be crushed if he expected a miracle from Padre Pio and did not receive one. She talked to him about it and he assured her that was not the case. He had a devotion to Padre Pio and wanted to pray at his tomb. He intended to offer up his prayers for all the people in the world who were stricken with cystic fibrosis and to pray that there would someday be a cure. He was certain that there would be no disappointment in that.

One recalls that Padre Pio felt a great call to help the sick and suffering, not only through his daily intercessory prayers but also through concrete action. He founded the Home for the Relief of Suffering for that very reason. He spoke of it as his “earthly mission.” There were many scoffers and detractors who doubted that the project could ever succeed. But against all odds, the Home grew and prospered and has helped countless lives.

Joey Finn’s wish was certainly one of the most unique that had been submitted to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Some of the popular requests included a shopping spree at the mall, an outdoor playground, and a trip to the Super Bowl. Occasionally, children requested a trip to Honolulu or Hollywood. But the request to visit San Giovanni Rotondo in southern Italy had to be a first. The Foundation checked with Joey’s mother to make sure that it was his wish and not hers. She assured them that she was just as surprised as anyone else when she found out Joey’s wish. Joey’s request was finally approved and in June 2007, twelve-year-old Joey along with his mother, father and thirteen-year-old sister made preparations to travel to Italy. Their first surprise came, shortly after they boarded the plane. The pilot came over the loud speaker and proposed a question to all the passengers. “Is it true that Joey Finn, who is sponsored by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, is on board the plane?” the pilot asked. Joey’s excitement intensified when the pilot asked him if he would like to step to the cockpit and turn the key to start the airplane. His reply was an enthusiastic, “Yes!” It was the beginning of an extraordinary journey for the entire Finn family.

The first stop on their remarkable pilgrimage was to Rome, where they toured the Vatican. They spent time at the beautiful Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Catacombs, the Holy Stairs and more. Along with a multitude of others, they were able to see the Holy Father and to receive his papal blessing. Joey took many excellent pictures of the Holy Father.

In San Giovanni Rotondo, the pilgrims who were waiting in line to make a visit to Padre Pio’s tomb, prayed the Rosary while they waited. Joey and his family joined in the prayers. They literally just squeezed into the church as it was closing that evening. Melissa was the very last person allowed to enter before the doors were locked.

Padre Pio’s tomb was below the main altar of the church and was surrounded by an iron enclosure. People were able to draw very close to the tomb but the iron enclosure prevented anyone from actually touching it. On the evening of the Finns’ visit, the little iron gate was unlocked and opened. All those who were present that evening were allowed to place their hand on Padre Pio’s tomb. Melissa Finn was later told that the iron gate is customarily closed and locked at all times.

The Finn family never imagined the impact the trip to San Giovanni Rotondo would have on their lives. Melissa Finn felt compelled to go to confession while visiting the monastery church of Our Lady of Grace. She had not been to confession in more than twenty-five years. Joey told his mother that when he stood and prayed at Padre Pio’s tomb, he had the sense that Padre Pio had heard his prayers. “Padre Pio has taken our family in as his own,” Joey said to his mother.

For the Finns, the time spent at Padre Pio’s monastery was a time of spiritual renewal and positive change. After returning home, they began to attend Mass together every Sunday as a family. It was something they had not done for a long time. Joey had a desire to learn more about his Catholic faith and to serve the Church. He soon became an altar server each Sunday at Mass.

Joey had been able to purchase some very meaningful souvenirs of Padre Pio while in Italy. Back in Hudson, New York, he set up his own little shrine dedicated to his patron saint and placed it on display in his home. Quite unexpectedly, he even received a third class relic of the saint. A nurse who had heard about Joey was touched by his story. She sent him a very special gift. It was a Rosary which had been blessed by Padre Pio. One of her elderly patients had given it to her. “I believe that Joey found something in Italy which is of equal value to finding a cure for his disease,” Melissa Finn said. “He found his faith, the strength that he will need in his lifetime to endure the challenges that lie ahead of him. He prayed, he listened, he learned … He did this of his own free will and with great determination.” In the final analysis, the greatest healings of all are those that take place in the human soul.

 

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We had several extended telephone interviews with Judy Hayes. She is a woman of great faith and inspiration.

Judy Hayes of Holiday, Florida woke up one morning to find that a large lump had appeared on her neck. She went to the doctor that very morning and was put through a
multitude of tests. The results were not good. Judy was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma in stage four, the final stage. The cancer had already spread to her bones.

Before her first chemotherapy treatment, Judy went to a Catholic Gift Shop. She wanted to get some prayer and novena cards of her favorite saints. She was nervous about receiving chemotherapy and planned to pray throughout the treatment.

In the Catholic Gift Shop, the prayer cards and novenas were on a small rack that could be turned in a circular fashion. Three times Judy turned the rack and three times it stopped at a holy card of Padre Pio. However, her devotion was to St. Jude, St. Anthony, and the Infant of Prague. When she found what she was looking for, she made her purchases. She was just opening the door to walk out of the shop when she stopped and turned back. Judy felt guilty. It truly seemed like the little prayer card of Padre Pio had been calling to her. “O.K. Padre Pio, I will take you home with me,” Judy said silently. “I pray that you will be with me and heal me of the cancer.”

The chemotherapy and radiation treatments made Judy very ill. In December, she came down with pneumonia and had to be admitted to the hospital. She became weaker by the day. She lost the ability to walk. Her condition seemed to go from bad to worse. She developed dangerous blood clots and had to be treated for congestive heart failure. She was in and out of the intensive care unit. She had to go into surgery to have her gall bladder removed. Finally, after many months in the hospital, she was sent to a nursing home. However, she soon developed an infection and had to be readmitted to the hospital.

But her condition did not improve. She was placed on a ventilator for nine days. She drifted in and out of consciousness, barely holding on to life. Through the long days and nights, she petitioned Padre Pio to help her. She prayed to him, dialogued with him, entreated him, begged him. For some reason, it was Padre Pio that she addressed her urgent prayers to rather than to the saints that she had been devoted to for years.

One particularly day, as Judy lay silent and immobile in her hospital bed, she heard the nurse supervisor talking to some of the other medical staff. “Before you leave your shift tonight, prepare Judy Hayes’ death certificate,” the nurse supervisor said. “Make sure you have the doctor sign it before he goes home. I have been observing her throughout the day. She is going to die tonight.” Judy was devastated by the words. Everything within her cried out against it. She didn’t want to die. She couldn’t die! She begged Padre Pio to help her.

People everywhere were praying for Judy Hayes. One of her dear friends, who was in a nursing home, prayed a Rosary for Judy every morning at 2:00 a.m. To the amazement of everyone, Judy’s strength slowly returned. She was eventually discharged from the hospital and was able to return to her home.

After Judy’s recovery, she had a great desire to promote Padre Pio. She was convinced that she was alive and well because of his intercession. She made it a habit to keep Padre Pio prayer cards in her purse at all times and she found many opportunities to give them to others. People were inspired by her faith and trust in God. Many people were helped, just by meeting Judy.

One afternoon when Judy was enjoying an afternoon out in the Florida sunshine, she happened to see a woman that she felt urged to speak to. The woman was a complete stranger to her. Not knowing what possessed her, Judy went up to the woman and asked her if she was a Catholic. Judy was not in the habit of asking people their religious affiliation, especially not a perfect stranger. It simply did not seem like an appropriate thing to do. The woman however, did not mind the question at all, and answered in the affirmative. Judy then gave her a Padre Pio prayer card. She told her a little bit about Padre Pio and showed her the beautiful prayer on the back of the card. “Oh, you are an answer to my prayers!” the woman said to Judy. She then went on to explain her situation. For weeks, the woman had been taking care of her dear husband who had a terminal illness. She had become very depressed as she watched him slowly dying. She had not wanted to leave her husband that day but she had done so at the insistence of a friend. Her friend was adamant that she take a needed break. Her friend was taking care of her husband in her place that afternoon.

The woman explained that she had been praying when Judy came up and spoke to her. “Oh God,” she prayed, “Please send me a sign of hope. I need greater faith in You and I need strength to go on. I am so depressed. Please send me someone who will help me!” With her eyes brimming with tears, the woman thanked Judy for the holy card of Padre Pio and assured her that she would pray to him.

 

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Our friend, Marsha Jacques of San Diego County sent us this remarkable testimony.

Marsha Jacques felt very fortunate to possess four shirts which were blessed with a first class relic of Padre Pio. The shirts had also been blessed by a holy priest. Marsha decided to give one of the shirts to her neighbor, Julie Bouldin. Julie suffered from chronic pain and many serious health issues. Julie, who had a devotion to Padre Pio, was very happy to receive the shirt.

Julie was not the only person in her family who could benefit from the relic of a saint. At that time, her brother-in-law, Jim, was in critical condition at the hospital. Jim had suffered a massive heart attack not long before which required quadruple bypass surgery. He made it through the surgery but soon after, he developed pneumonia. His condition deteriorated and his bodily organs began to shut down. He finally had to be placed on life support.

The days passed but there was no change, no improvement in Jim’s condition. He was in a deeply unconscious state and machines were now keeping his body alive. After some time on life support, the doctor told Jim’s wife, Mercy, that Jim was not going to recover. It was just a matter of time. He said that it was time to talk about the idea of discontinuing the life support.

Mercy was in a great state of distress when she called Julie, her sister, to tell her the news. Julie advised Mercy not to make any quick decisions. It was almost Christmas. It would be too hard to even think of removing the life support at Christmas time. She advised her to wait until after the holidays to consider it.

Julie wanted to bring the shirt blessed by the relic of Padre Pio to the hospital and pray for Jim. Mercy thought it was a wonderful idea. Jim was not a person of faith. He was an atheist. Although he did not believe in the power of prayer, his wife and his sister-in-law certainly did.In the Intensive Care Unit, Julie and Mercy placed the blessed shirt over Jim. They prayed the Novena to the Sacred Heart for him and put their complete trust in God. Jim remained completely still and unresponsive.

The next day, when they returned to the hospital, his condition was the same. But on the third day, there was a change. When they went into his room, Jim’s eyes were open. He seemed to be trying to communicate with them but he was not able to since there was a large tube down his throat. Mercy told him that they were praying the Novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for him. She spoke to him of Padre Pio and told him about the relic that they had placed on his chest. She asked him if it was all right with him if they continued the prayers for his healing. Through the expression in his eyes, it seemed as though Jim was trying to tell them that he was glad they were praying and wanted them to continue.

Each day of the novena, Jim became a little more aware, a little more conscious of his surroundings. The doctor was incredulous at his improvement. “Even if he lives, he will be permanently disabled,” the doctor told Mercy. “He will have to spend a long time in a nursing home, relearning motor skills. He will never be able to work again.” But Mercy was not concerned about that. Her husband was now slowly recuperating. Her prayers and her sister’s prayers to the Sacred Heart of Jesus had been answered.

Jim was discharged to a nursing home where he received physical therapy and continued to improve. He insisted that the blessed shirt remain with him at all times. He was either wearing it or had it right beside his bed. His atheistic beliefs are now a thing of the past. He was eventually able to return to his full time job. Jim is convinced that he has been given a second chance at life through the prayers of his family.

 

As for me, I will always have hope, and I will praise You more and more.  – Psalm 71:14

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

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

A Hymn to Padre Pio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Testimony of Bill Gleason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download Newsletter Issue 42, January-March 2010

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

– St. Pio of Pietrelcina

Padre Pio: A Remarkable Intercessor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Father Jim Muntz


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Father Peter Rookey, OSM


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

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

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

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

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

Father Carl Gismondi, FSSP

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

Download Newsletter Issue 41, October-December 2009

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

– St. Pio of Pietrelcina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

St.Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church

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

Download Newsletter Issue 40, July-September 2009

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

– St. Pio of Pietrelcina

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download Newsletter Issue 39, April-June 2009

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

– St. Pio of Pietrelcina

The Testimony of Gene Ricci

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Father Jogues Constance

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

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

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

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

-Joseph Orlando

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– St. Pio of Pietrelcina

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

Download Newsletter Issue 38

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

– Padre Pellegrino Funicelli

The Testimony of Umberto (Bert) Longo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Padre Pio