By Renae Kranz
If you know the story of St. Padre Pio, you might be thinking, “How could he possibly be like the rest of us?”
His story is remarkable and strange. He had mystical charisms which allowed him to do things few have been able to do.
So again, how could he be like us?
Let’s dive into his life to see what connections we can find.
Padre Pio was born May 25, 1887, in Pietrelcina in southern Italy as Francesco Forgione. He grew up in a poor family of peasant farmers in a town where saint’s feast days were celebrated regularly. He was deeply affected early in childhood by his family’s involvement in the Church, attending daily Mass, praying the rosary each night, and even abstaining from meat three days each week to honor Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Seems pretty normal so far for growing up in Italy at that time. But Padre Pio veered from the ordinary by deciding by the age of five he wanted to dedicate his life to God. Can you imagine a five-year-old child deciding something like that? But for him, this was serious stuff.
When he was young, Padre Pio said he experienced heavenly visions and ecstasies. At the same time he was plagued with poor health and numerous illnesses such as severe gastroenteritis and typhoid fever. He experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows often simultaneously throughout his life.
Many of us experience illness and disease during our lives. Sometimes we don’t handle it so well. We complain. We grow impatient with our suffering. Padre Pio felt great distress at seeing suffering all around him and often prayed to take on other’s physical ailments to relieve their suffering. There are many stories of people’s sufferings leaving them and moving to Padre Pio instead.
Now, I’m not saying we can even do this ourselves. But we can pray to handle our struggles, physical or otherwise, with more grace and forbearance. And we can pray for others as Padre Pio did, maybe even invoking the saint’s intercession.
Padre Pio needed extra tutoring to reach the academic requirements needed to enter the novitiate of the Capuchin friars at Marcone. His father made great personal sacrifices to make this happen for him, going to the U.S. to find work to pay for the private tutor.
At the age of 15, Padre Pio took the Franciscan habit and the name of Friar Pio in honor of Pope Pius I. Seven years later he was ordained and took the vows of a Capuchin priest: extreme poverty, strictness and simpleness.
His health worsened and led him to return home instead of living with his fellow friars. By 1916, he returned to community life, moving to Our Lady of Grace Capuchin Friary in San Giovanni Rotondo where he lived for the remainder of his life.
After World War I, people began to seek out Padre Pio as a spiritual director and for confession. Many close to him claim spiritual gifts became manifest at this time. These mysterious gifts included healing, bilocation, levitation, prophecy, miracles, extraordinary abstinence from both sleep and nourishment, the ability to read hearts, the gifts of tongues and conversions, and pleasant-smelling wounds.
I don’t know about you, but I definitely can’t do any of those things. I can imagine some of these things may have been distressing when they first happened to him, but he bore them with patience and kindness to all around him.
Padre Pio is perhaps most well-known for the stigmata that appeared on his body in August of 1918 and remained throughout the next 50 years until a few days before his death in September 1968. It caused him great pain and bled day after day. And believe it or not, I think this is a place we can find some common ground with Padre Pio.
Shortly after the stigmata appeared, Church authorities started to investigate the phenomena to validate its authenticity. Some who investigated doubted it was real, accusing Padre Pio of faking it and even inflicting the wounds himself. They even went so far as to claim St. Pio was weak in mind and could be easily swayed by the suggestions of his spiritual director, Father Benedetto. By the early 1920s, Church authorities prevented Padre Pio from performing priestly duties such as saying Mass and hearing confessions because of the doubt swirling around him.
Have you ever had a time when many people around you didn’t believe something you claimed or did? Or they doubted you could do something? Maybe someone even thought you were dumb?
You may have experienced this in college or when trying to find that perfect job after college. You probably ran into doubters who thought you wouldn’t make it or weren’t smart enough to land that job. And when you did, they looked incredulous instead of congratulatory.
When these things happen, we often feel a need to prove others wrong, to work harder. Sometimes we lose ourselves in our quest to show others we’re right or able to do the things we claim we can do. It can take our focus away from what’s really important.
By all accounts, Padre Pio didn’t worry about the doubt regarding his stigmata or his intelligence. His focus was always on Jesus. His concern was with how he could help those who needed him. He remained open to God’s plan for him.
It’s a lesson we can take from his life and apply to our own. Be open to the ways God wants to use you for the good of others. We are a gift to the world, but if we don’t open ourselves to become that gift, we may miss out on our own calling.
To endure our trials in life, whether they be pain and illness or what others think of us, we need enormous amounts of patience and focus on the Lord. If we can ignore the chatter around us and simply do what God asks of us, we can find peace in our actions.
We can accomplish this by keeping the famous words of Padre Pio in our minds—“pray, hope and don’t worry.”
Padre Pio did many great things in his life that helped many people. He spent years planning and raising funds for a hospital he opened in the village where he lived most of his life, San Giovanni Rotondo. The hospital, the Home for the Relief of Suffering, opened in May of 1956 and served the most vulnerable in the area. Most people who knew about it doubted he could pull it off. But he persevered once again.
So what about the ban on his priestly duties? That was finally reversed in the early 1930s by Pope Pius XI. By the mid-1960s, Pope Paul VI dismissed any remaining accusations against the future saint.
Padre Pio died September 23, 1968. With his death the stigmata disappeared, leaving no scars or traces it had ever been there. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II on June 16, 2002. He is the patron saint of civil defense volunteers, adolescents, stress relief, January blues and Italy.
The most important thing Padre Pio did in his life was persevere in prayer. He prayed constantly and felt a closeness to the Lord few can even imagine. He used the gift of his calling to intercede for others. And it helped him to become a saint.
Pray, hope and don’t worry. Simple but powerful words we can all live by on our own quest to be a saint.