St. Pio of Pietralchina, canonized by John Paul II, is one of Italy’s most popular saints. Around the world, thousands of the faithful gather in his prayer groups.
Born in southern Italy in 1887 into a poor family, Pio de Pietrelcina’s health was very fragile and he was always ill. From an early age he wanted to become a priest, after meeting a Capuchin monk in the convent of Morcone, Friar Camillio, who passed by his house begging for alms. He decided on his vocation, was ordained a priest in 1910 and was sent to the Franciscan Convent of San Giovanni Rotondo. The town is located in the center of a large valley 20 km from Monte Sant’Angelo and 567 meters above sea level, it still preserves the structure of an ancient mountain village, with white buildings roofed with the characteristic red clay tile. The construction of the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie and the convent of San Giovanni Rotondo date back to the 15th century. The new friar settled there, in a cell that is still preserved, where his books, bed and personal belongings are kept.
In the same year he received for the first time the stigmata of Our Lord Jesus Christ (the wounds on his hands) intermittently and in 1918 he received the wound in the side of his heart in a mystical experience. During his life he suffered a total of five stigmata all over his body, corresponding to the five wounds Jesus had on the cross. They bled for half a century, but he never became anemic. It was also said that Pio had the ability to be in two places at the same time, that he could perform miracles and that he was clairvoyant. The fact that a person has some stigmata means that there is a very peculiar gift of God there. This does not mean that he was believed or understood around him. On the contrary, these mystical phenomena were met with suspicion by his community. There were people who claimed that it was all a hoax. In 1915 he felt severe pains in his feet, his hands and on the right side of his torso. The doctors could not find the reason for this ailment. Three years later, letting out a cry of agony and falling to the ground, he began to bleed in these places, the first stigmata appearing.
After regaining consciousness he returned to his duties and the doctors began to analyze his case, but without getting the real reasons for what was happening to him. The authorities ordered that he be photographed for the record.
In these images Padre Pio can be seen with a very sad expression, very pale, with a tired and tortured face, but also with a lot of shame for having to pose with his bloody hands.
Once the initial clamor subsided a little, Pio returned to his monastery, where he was often transported by a great ecstasy that ended in these hemorrhages, which did not harm his health.
From then on, the fame of this man as a saint spread throughout Italy. Hundreds of people came from far away to meet him and to confess to him. Many of them said that the parish priest knew their sins before they were told. The first miracles soon followed. The first case is that of Gemma di Giorgi, who was born without pupils in her eyes. After the friar visited her, she began to see, as if nothing had happened. A doctor who was interested in her stories said that in several cases it could be a psychosomatic response to believing in Pio, but in others, it was not.
So much so that, in view of the father’s fame, the Holy See sent a specialist in psychology to investigate his case. Agostino Gemelli, a Franciscan priest, doctor of medicine, founder of the Catholic University of Milan and friend of Pope Pius XI, declared that the stigmata did not have a supernatural origin, but a neurotic one. In the following years there were three other decrees and the last one was condemnatory, prohibiting visits to Padre Pio or any relationship with him, even epistolary.
He was dearly loved by his faithful in San Giovanni Rotondo, who even went so far as to hold him by force when the Holy See ordered his transfer.
Slandered by those envious of his holiness and goodness, in a turbid process he was accused of being a phony and of causing himself the wounds that identified him with the passion of the Lord. He was banned from public ministry from 1922 to 1933, 10 years he was isolated from the world, even without receiving or issuing correspondence. During those years he accepted this suffering and the unjust accusation with enormous humility and kindness.
It was not until 1934 that Pope Pius XI restored to him the possibility of exercising public ministry. These years served him to deepen his mystical life and to unite himself more fully to Jesus. He died serenely in his cell in 1968, his stigmata disappearing a week earlier. The funeral was attended by more than 100,000 people. On June 16, 2002 at 2:02 p.m. he was canonized in St. Peter’s Square in what is considered the largest canonization in the history of the Church. John Paul II proclaimed him a saint known as the friar of the stigmata and venerated by millions of people around the world.
Defying a relentless sun of justice, with temperatures exceeding 35 degrees, six or seven degrees higher than normal for this time of the year in Rome, and the strong humidity, more than 300,000 people crowded St. Peter’s Square and adjacent streets to attend the moment in which John Paul II proclaimed a saint to the friar to whom he was a great devotee and who is said to have prophesied to him that he would be elected Pope.
The Pontiff – who visited him in 1947 in his convent of San Giovanni Rotondo, when he was a simple Polish priest studying in Rome and prayed at his tomb in 1974 when he was Archbishop of Krakow and in 1987 already as Pope – highlighted Padre Pio’s (1887-1968) pride in the Cross, his spirituality, his constant availability to others and his life of prayer and penance.
“Padre Pio was a generous distributor of divine mercy. The ministry of confession, which distinguished his apostolate, attracted great crowds to San Giovanni Rotondo,” the Pope said during his homily, recalling that he himself went to confession to the friar. The following year I had the immense joy of receiving, on behalf of Cardinal Bergoglio, the delegation that brought to Argentina, a cloth that he used to protect his hands, this relic is located in the Church of La Piedad in the neighborhood of Congreso. His memory is celebrated every year on September 23rd.