Unveiling the remarkable Italian Catholic Saint, Padre Pio

By Frank Chiment, 14 June 2024
A stained-glass window of St Padre Pio at St Padre Pio Parish, Glenmore Park. Image: Diocese of Parramatta

 

In the history of Catholicism, certain figures stand out not only for their religious devotion but also for their remarkable personal characteristics that have left an indelible mark on the faithful. Among these individuals is Padre Pio, an Italian saint whose life was imbued with extraordinary traits that continue to inspire millions around the world. From his profound spirituality and sense of sacredness to his mystical experiences and unwavering dedication to faith in action, Padre Pio’s legacy is a testament to the power of faith and the resilience of the human spirit.

Born Francesco Forgione on May 25, 1887, in Pietrelcina, Italy, Padre Pio demonstrated an early inclination towards spirituality. Raised in a devout Catholic family, he exhibited a deep dedication for God and a strong desire to commit to religious life. As a young boy, he was known for his devout prayer life, spending hours in contemplation and meditation.

One of the most striking characteristics of Padre Pio was his extraordinary gift of stigmata, the wounds of Christ, which he reportedly had for approximately 50 years until his death in 1968. However, this was concurrently viewed with a sense of amazement and controversy within the Catholic Church at that time.

Padre Pio’s stigmata was not merely a physical phenomenon but a profound spiritual experience that deepened his commitment to serving others. Despite the pain and discomfort it caused him, he openly embraced his sufferings with humility and grace. His willingness to endure such intense physical and emotional agony for the sake of others exemplified the selflessness, compassion and sense of encounter that characterised his life.

In addition to his stigmata, Padre Pio was well recognised for his extraordinary spiritual gifts, including the ability to bilocate, read souls, and communicate with angels. There are various accounts that highlight his supernatural abilities, which he viewed as manifestations of God’s grace. Many who encountered Padre Pio were struck by his profound insight into their lives and his distinctive ability to offer guidance and consolation in times of need.

My family is blessed to have had two special and personal experiences with Padre Pio many years ago. Firstly, my mother, Maria, was a little girl living in the Puglia region in Italy during the time of Padre Pio. As many pilgrims did during that era, my grandparents and my mother went to the parish where Padre Pio resided.

My mother recounts that Padre Pio was facilitating the sacrament of Reconciliation to hundreds of the faithful and the line to see him seemed never-ending. However, my mother, a small girl, placed herself in line and persisted. After a while, she was not too far away from the confessional area. At one stage, an elderly lady pushed into the line directly in front of my mother. My mum – not being shy then and now – began to cause a scene with the lady. Angered and disappointed, she ran to my grandmother close-by and informed her of the issue. At some point, Padre Pio heard this commotion and opened the curtain of the confessional. He spoke up to my mother saying “Maria, Maria.” Mum was afraid and shocked as she had never met Padre Pio before, but he knew her name. A short time later, Padre Pio looked at my mother and pointed for her to approach him. My mum gradually went over, and Padre Pio facilitated the sacrament of Reconciliation for her. After touching her forehead, she went back to her parents.

Another significant Padre Pio experience relates to my uncle Pino in Italy. As a small boy, he was chronically and seriously ill. He was at the stage where he was not eating anymore, and medical practitioners had informed my grandparents that it was only a matter of time before he would pass away. At the time, he was sleeping in bed with my grandparents. One night whilst everyone was asleep, my uncle Pino awoke to a cloud-like figure of Padre Pio from the waist up. My grandparents were still asleep. Uncle Pino was scared. Padre Pio warmly said “Don’t be scared. Do you wish to have holy communion?” My uncle responded “yes”. As such, Padre Pio proceeded to give my uncle communion and then he vanished. The next morning, my uncle uncharacteristically woke up later than usual. He bounced out of bed, entered the kitchen, and asked my grandmother to make him something to eat. The household was shocked as this was a complete turnaround to recent weeks. My uncle commenced eating again and regain his health. After a medical check-up, the local physician could not medically explain how my uncle recovered and did allude that it may have been an act of God. Since then, my family – who have always been dedicated to Padre Pio – attributed his renewed health to Padre Pio.

Padre Pio is a wonderful example of demonstrating devotion to prayer life. He spent countless hours in solitary prayer, communing with God and interceding on behalf of others.

His deep spiritual life served as a source of strength and inspiration for the countless pilgrims – near or far – who sought his counsel and guidance.

Padre Pio’s humility was another defining characteristic that endeared him to believers around the world. Despite his ever-increasing notoriety, he remained steadfastly humble, shunning personal accolades, and attributing all glory to God. He often stressed the importance of humility and simplicity in the spiritual life, encouraging his followers to embrace a life of looking outwards and service to others.

At the core of Padre Pio’s commitment were the principles of poverty, chastity, and obedience, which are key tenets of the Franciscan order to which he belonged. He lived a modest life, not placing any emphasis on material possessions. Rather, he chose to live a life dedicated to prayer and contemplation.

Padre Pio’s profound love for God and people became even more obvious with his extraordinary work with supporting the suffering of others in the community. After much planning and collaboration, he established a hospital in San Giovanni Rotondo, where he and his team provided medical care and spiritual consolation to the sick. He also founded the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (Home for the Relief of Suffering), a charitable institution dedicated to serving the poor and marginalised.

The life of Padre Pio serves as a fine example of the transcendent power of faith and the extraordinary potential of the human spirit. His deep spirituality, mystical experiences, and generous commitment to serving others continue to inspire millions around the world. Indeed, I was initially nervous and apprehensive when getting to know Padre Pio through my family and Catholic writings. This is no longer the case because Padre Pio’s remarkable personal characteristics remind us of his message of love, compassion, and humility, which is especially important in today’s increasingly ego-centric driven world. As we reflect on his life and legacy, may we be inspired by his work and beliefs.

Frank Chiment is the Principal Leader at Patrician Brothers’ College, Blacktown.

 

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