Today is the feast of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, our beloved Padre Pio.
In light of the recent exhumation of Padre Pio, St. Pio of Pietrelcina, and as the Church celebrates his feast day September 23, we recall the life of this miraculous saint – his tireless battles against evil and sin, and his unshakable devotion to God.
St. Pio was born to humble beginnings in 1887 to a Southern Italian farm family in Pietrelcina; given the name Francesco Forgione, he was one of 8 children – three of whom would die young. The family was not rich by any means, but young Francesco's home life was rich in love and faith. There was no excess, but Padre Pio's mother, Maria, managed the household well and the family was always well cared for and well fed, and she was generous in giving fruits from the farm to the poorer families. The family prayed the rosary together at night, and from an early age Francesco displayed deep appreciation for his faith. He wept when he heard a blasphemy once at the age of 5, upset at seeing God insulted, and as he grew he had an uncompromising attitude towards sin and devoutly attended Mass. Also as a child, he began to have visions, both heavenly and beautiful, and also frightening and ugly. As a child, he didn't realize that these phenomena did not happen to everyone, but they led him at an early to age to see the clear choice between God and the reality of the devil, and to choose God always.
Francesco was such a pious child that it should not be a surprise that he was just 10 when he became motivated to one day join the Capuchin Franciscans. That year, Francesco heard a sermon on St. Michael that made him aware of a strong call to religious life and soon after, a Capuchin friar, Friar Camillo, visited Pietrelcina, impressing Francesco with his humility and simplicity. Francesco told his father that he wanted to be a religious like Friar Campillo and the Forgione family did all they could to assist Francesco in being able to realize his vocation. In 1903, at the age of 15, he entered the novitiate of the Capuchin Friars at Morcone, and took the name Fra (brother) Pio of Pietrelcina. In 1907, he made his solemn profession and was then ordained a priest in 1910.
As his childhood had been, Padre Pio’s adult life was also to be full of suffering, both from poor health that had began around the age 6, and torment from Satan, even to the point of having physical wounds from assaults by the devil. The devil would appear in disguise, in an effort to tempt Padre Pio, and when that failed, would throw and destroy objects, and physically lash and beat him. According to his spiritual advisor, “Padre Pio knew it was his task to live continually in a state of warfare.” Padre Pio never gave in though, and would call on God and on his guardian angel to aid him through his struggles. Padre Pio's constant battles with the devil mirror those of St. Anthony of the Desert, the first monk who lived in the 3rd century of the Church.
During World War I Padre Pio was drafted into the army, though due to his health, his service was minimal and did not last long. Upon his discharge, Padre Pio returned to his Order and served as a spiritual director at the seminary at San Giovanni Rotondo. His days were occupied by meditation, hearing confessions, and the teaching and spiritual direction of the young seminarians. It was here, while praying before a crucifix, that Padre Pio received the wounds of the stigmata, the wounds of Christ crucified. He would bear these wounds for the next 50 years, until the end of his life in 1968.
The stigmata is perhaps the most well-known of the miracles associated with Padre Pio; despite his wanting to suffer alone, they brought him fame and people from all over came to see him and to have him hear their confessions. However, it was not the only miraculous aspect of Padre Pio’s incredible life. Aside from the visions he received of both Jesus and Our Lady, he was able to read souls, and would know if one was holding back in confession, he also displayed the gift of prophecy, and even had the gift of bilocation. His stigmata wounds also had the odor of sanctity, and smelled like roses and violets, though the blood – which is quick to decompose – should have given off an unpleasant odor. There were also multiple instances of healing attributed to the Capuchin priest. The miracles continued after death as well; at least one well documented miracle of healing occurred in 2000 when a young boy, whose internal organs were failing, saw Padre Pio in a vision while in a coma, and then soon improved and awoke.
While most of us will not experience the visions and stigmata that Padre Pio did, his piety and love of God is a gift and a model for all to emulate. And though most of us will not suffer the direct, physical attacks of the Evil One as he did, Padre Pio’s strength, resistance and reliance on God, should also be a guide for us to follow, when we face temptations of the devil in the many more subtle and socially acceptable forms that permeate our modern society.