Capuchin Franciscan Friar Padre Pio led a life of intense
physical suffering, and he was afflicted with poor health
nearly his entire life. But his pain inspired countless
others and ultimately led them to a deeper faith in Christ.
As a result he became a saint of the Catholic Church on
June 16, 2002, just 34 years after his death.
Named for St. Francis of Assisi, Francesco Forgione was
born in 1887 to a farming family in the southern Italian
town of Pietralcina. Devout even in childhood, Francesco
was ordained to the priesthood in 1910 and took the name
Pio of Pietralcina. Illness had forced him to pursue his
studies at home, and he remained there until 1916, when
he moved to the seminary at San Giovanni Rotondo. He lived
there for the rest of his life.
His intense suffering began in 1918, as he was hearing
confessions. Suddenly a figure appeared, mystically piercing
his heart with a lance. The same vision occurred again about
a month later, sending the priest into screams of anguish.
The friars who rushed to him found him unconscious and bleeding
profusely and discovered that he had received the stigmata,
or visible wounds of the crucifixion. Doctors could find
no reason for the marks.
Padre Pio received other mystical signs as well. It is
said that the blood from his wounds smelled like flowers,
and he was also reported to have had the gift of bilocation.
As a result of such signs, a cult grew up around him. While
Pope Benedict XV praised the stigmatist's spiritual gifts,
he also restricted his active ministry until 1933, out of
a desire to verify the phenomenon. The restriction caused
Padre Pio great sorrow.
He was allowed to celebrate Mass at San Giovanni Rotondo,
and these Masses -- which regularly lasted up to two hours
-- attracted huge numbers of pilgrims. The faithful reported
that during Mass, Padre Pio appeared to be in great pain,
wincing and struggling to speak, with tears running down
his face. He slept perhaps a few hours a night and spent
the rest of the time in praying and writing to those seeking
spiritual advice. He also heard confessions for up to 12
hours a day, and he ate only one meal a day.
In 1956 one of his life's dreams came true with the opening
of his House for the Relief of Suffering. He died Sept.
23, 1968, and nearly 100,000 people attended his funeral
Mass. He was beatified May 2, 1999.
Julie Zimmerman is managing editor of
AmericanCatholic.org and sister sites.