Saint Pio of Pietrelcina
By Agnes the Postulant
A Biographical Sketch
Padre Pio was born in 1887 in a small town of Pietrelcina in southern Italy. He entered the novitiate of the Capuchin Franciscan Friars in 1903 and was ordained a priest in 1910. Soon after his ordination, he received the invisible stigmata and bore it for eight years. In 1918, while he was making thanksgiving after a Mass, he received the visible stigmata and bore it for fifty years. Through his gifts of prophecy, reading hearts and other charismatic gifts he was able to attract and convert thousands of souls separated from God. Padre Pio was painstakingly faithful to the ministry of confession to the very end of his life. It is estimated that Padre Pio heard about five million confessions in his lifetime. He frequently heard confessions fifteen to nineteen hours a day. On the morning of September 22, 1968, he heard his last seven confessions and passed into eternity during the following night.
A Model Capuchin Franciscan Friar
Padre Pio has received wide publicity throughout the world by reason of the extraordinary aspects of his long life: stigmata, bilocation, ability to read hearts, etc. However, if it is God’s will to propose him to the world as a model of Christian life, it will be for the high degree of virtue he showed at all stages of his religious life. Throughout his religious life he allowed himself no halfway measures. Self-denial, mortification, perseverance and sacrifices even in small things expressed his great love for God and souls. On one occasion he spoke of his mission on earth: “I, a friar and a priest, have a mission. As a friar, as a Capuchin, it is the perfect and devoted observance of my Rule and vows.” He loved St. Francis of Assisi with great veneration and devotion. For sixty-five years he was a son of the Poverello of Assisi and lived the perfect observance of the Holy Rule. He died after renewing the professions of his vows a final time. Indeed, he is considered by many as the 20th century St. Francis.
A Priest, a Perfect Victim
Padre Pio knew very well that to become a priest one must also be a victim as well. He offered himself totally, without holding back in any way. Padre Pio’s life was one painful passion, a succession of trials and sufferings in his body and soul. Padre Pio was fully aware of what it cost Christ to redeem men from sin. He freely paid the price for sin and ransomed countless sinners, suffering in union with the redeeming Passion of Jesus. His ardent desire to save souls was a powerful practical force that pushed him to action. His terrible sufferings of every kind – physical and moral, the interior torments, calumnies of the worst type, loss of blood, the apostolate of the confessional – poured an immense good into Christ’s mystical body.
The Three Loves of Padre Pio: Christ, the Church, and the Blessed Mother
These are Padre Pio’s three great loves. These loves are intimately connected; they constitute one love reciprocally strengthening each other.
His whole life bore out his heroic submission to lawful authority out of love of God. For him the Pope was the gentle Christ on earth. The most sincere proof of his fidelity to the Church stood out above all when obedience cost him much. There were serious calumnies against Padre Pio’s doctrinal soundness, his morals, and his mental competence. Form 1931 to 1933 he was secluded in his friary suspended from hearing confessions and forbidden to have any contact with the faithful. Through it all, he would say, “Sweet is the hand of the Church, even when she strikes, for it is the hand of the Mother.” Padre Pio was very severe with those who attacked authority because they felt unjust restrictions had been placed on him. The mayor of San Giovanni Rotondo had prepared an article which he intended to have printed in defense of Padre Pio. But when Padre Pio read it, he took the author by his neck and shouted at him, “Satan, go and throw yourself at the feet of the Church instead of writing this foolishness. Don’t oppose your Mother.”
Padre Pio’s attitude towards the Blessed Mother was not only devotional. He saw the Blessed Mother in the light of God’s saving plan. She introduced him to the mystery of the Cross and helped him enter ever more deeply into the mysteries of God’s plans for eternal salvation, which had been carried out by Jesus on Calvary in the presence of His sorrowing mother. Padre Pio had the extraordinary gift of being able to pray always, and his favorite private prayer was the Rosary. He is known to have prayed forty to sixty rosaries a day. He encourages all men to walk behind the Mother of the Church. “Let us make an effort to always walk close to the Blessed Mother, because there is no other road that leads to life.”
Padre Pio is a man who believed in the mystery of the Church and who abandoned himself to the love of Our Lady. Indeed there is one light that envelops these two realities – motherhood. Stretching out his two hands to the Holy Mother Church and to Our Lady, the Mother of the Church, Padre Pio walked toward perfection, and in this infallible way he cooperated in the building up of Christ’s mystical body.
In the life of Padre Pio we meet a St. Francis who lived in our time. Both bore the stigmata – a visible manifestation of their intimate union with the crucified Jesus; both showed an utmost honor and submission toward the Church and a profound recognition and love for the Mother of God in the light of God’s saving plan. With great strength and power Padre Pio endeavored to accomplish the mission of “rebuilding the Church” which had been entrusted to St. Francis by our Lord at the Church of San Damiano almost eight centuries ago.