God has shown His love for our time in many ways. He gave us leaders such as Pope St. Pius X and Cardinal Mindszenty, and the steadfastness of countless martyrs. He also sent His Mother to us at Fatima. Another of the many extraordinary graces God granted to the 20th Century was St. Padre Pio.
Padre Pio was born of simple,hardworking farming people on May 25, 1887, in Pietrelcina in southern Italy. He was tutored privately until his entry into the novitiate of the Capuchin Friars at the age of 15. Of feeble health but strong will, with the help of grace he completed the required studies and was ordained a priest in on August 10, 1910.
On September 20, 1918, the five wounds of Our Lord’s Passion appeared on his body, making him the first priest with the stigmata in the history of the Church. Many saints have been granted some of the following extraordinary gifts, such as miracles, bilocation, reading of hearts, perfume, the stigmata and prophecy. Padre Pio possessed not one, but all of these gifts. Countless people were attracted to his confessional and many more received his saintly counsel and spiritual guidance through correspondence.
His whole life was marked by long hours of prayer and continual austerity. His letters to his spiritual directors reveal the ineffable sufferings, physical and spiritual, which accompanied him all through life. They also reveal his very deep union with God and his burning love for the Blessed Eucharist and Our Blessed Lady.
Worn out by over half a century of intense suffering and constant apostolic activity in San Giovanni Rotondo, where his monastery was located, he was called to his heavenly reward on September 23, 1968. After a public funeral that attracted 100,000, his body was entombed in the crypt of Our Lady of Grace Church. Increasing numbers flock to his tomb from all parts of the world and many testify to spiritual and temporal graces received.
The Diocesan Process for Padre Pio’s Beatification was concluded on January 21, 1990. His Holiness Pope John Paul II beatified Padre Pio on May 2, 1999 and canonized him on June 16, 2002. That God would send such a great Saint to us is an unequivocal sign of His love for our time, and a call to imitate and emulate this holy man, thereby coming closer to God.
Saint Padre Pio and Our Lady
Padre Pio’s love for and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is legendary. Indeed, he spent much of his ministry extolling Her virtues and urging all Catholics to confidently appeal to Her merciful intercession. One well-known writer has suggested that “behind all the marvelous gifts of Padre Pio, his extraordinary guidance of souls, his gift of bilocation and his camaraderie with the angels, was Our Lady, who cherished him as a mother would a child, even to the point that, after he had been beaten by the devils one night in his room, She came and put a cushion under his head, in order to relieve his suffering.”
Padre Pio wrote often of his love for the Mother of God, reminding us to “rest your ear on Her maternal heart and listen to Her suggestions, and then you will feel all the best desires for perfection being born in you.” He considered Our Lady to be the great harmonizing and directing force behind the Holy Sacrament of Penance and said that “to understand and to make the sacrament more fruitful, you must confide yourself to the inspirations and guidance of the Blessed Virgin.”
As a true son of Our Lady, Padre Pio loved the Rosary and is reputed to have said a 15-decade Rosary as many as 35 times per day. In many photographs, he is shown with his right hand hidden within the pocket where he always kept his Rosary beads. Indeed, he urged all Catholics to “love the Madonna and pray the Rosary, for the Rosary is the weapon against the evils of the world.”
When asked about the role of Our Lady in God’s plan for salvation, Padre Pio responded by saying that “all graces given by God pass through the Blessed Mother.” It was with that understanding that he almost daily offered the Mass of the Immaculate Conception in the last decade of his life on earth. He is quoted as saying of Our Lady that She “accompanies me to the altar and remains at my side while I offer up the Holy Mass.”
Padre Pio and Our Lady of Fatima
Padre Pio daily expressed his special devotion to Our Lady of Fatima as he knelt and prayed at Her shrine within the monastery, before a large picture surrounded by burning candles. Indeed, he credited the Virgin of Fatima with saving his life.
In 1959, the Pilgrim Statue of Our Lady of Fatima visited Italy. At the same time Padre Pio became very ill and was diagnosed with a fatal, cancerous tumor. On August 6, the statue of Our Lady arrived in San Giovanni Rotondo. Rising from his sick bed, Padre Pio prayed before the statue and kissed Her feet. As the statue left by helicopter, he said: “O Mother of mine, when you came to Italy, you found me with this sickness. You came to visit me here in San Giovanni and found me still suffering from it. Now you are leaving and I am not delivered from my illness!”
As Padre Pio spoke this prayer, a miracle occurred. High above the monastery, the helicopter with Our Lady’s statue suddenly circled the building three times. The pilot would later say that he could not explain why. At the same time, Padre Pio felt a shudder immediately run through him. His body was penetrated by a flow of light and he felt the tumor burst. He cried out, “I am healed! Our Lady has healed me!”
“Thank the Virgin of Fatima for me,” he subsequently wrote. “On the very day She left here, I felt well again. I have been back to celebrate Mass since three days ago.”