In one of the largest such ceremonies in
history, Pope John Paul II canonized Padre Pio of Pietrelcina on June 16, 2002. It was the 45th
canonization ceremony in Pope John Paul´s pontificate. More than 300,000 people braved blistering
heat as they filled St. Peter´s Square and nearby streets. They heard the Holy Father praise the new
saint for his prayer and charity. "This is the most concrete synthesis of Padre Pio´s teaching,"
said the pope. He also stressed Padre Pio´s witness to the power of suffering. If accepted with
love, the Holy Father stressed, such suffering can lead to "a privileged path of
Many people have turned to the Italian Capuchin Franciscan to intercede with God
on their behalf; among them was the future Pope John Paul II. In 1962, when he was still an
archbishop in Poland, he wrote to Padre Pio and asked him to pray for a Polish woman with throat
cancer. Within two weeks, she had been cured of her life-threatening disease.
Forgione, Padre Pio grew up in a family of farmers in southern Italy. Twice (1898-1903 and 1910-17)
his father worked in Jamaica, New York, to provide the family income.
At the age of 15, Francesco
joined the Capuchins and took the name of Pio. He was ordained in 1910 and was drafted during World
War I. After he was discovered to have tuberculosis, he was discharged. In 1917 he was assigned to
the friary in San Giovanni Rotondo, 75 miles from the city of Bari on the Adriatic.
September 20, 1918, as he was making his thanksgiving after Mass, Padre Pio had a vision of Jesus.
When the vision ended, he had the stigmata in his hands, feet and side.
Life became more
complicated after that. Medical doctors, Church authorities and curiosity seekers came to see Padre
Pio. In 1924 and again in 1931, the authenticity of the stigmata was questioned; Padre Pio was not
permitted to celebrate Mass publicly or to hear confessions. He did not complain of these decisions,
which were soon reversed. However, he wrote no letters after 1924. His only other writing, a
pamphlet on the agony of Jesus, was done before 1924.
Padre Pio rarely left the friary after
he received the stigmata, but busloads of people soon began coming to see him. Each morning after a
5 a.m. Mass in a crowded church, he heard confessions until noon. He took a mid-morning break to
bless the sick and all who came to see him. Every afternoon he also heard confessions. In time his
confessional ministry would take 10 hours a day; penitents had to take a number so that the
situation could be handled. Many of them have said that Padre Pio knew details of their lives that
they had never mentioned.
Padre Pio saw Jesus in all the sick and suffering. At his urging,
a fine hospital was built on nearby Mount Gargano. The idea arose in 1940; a committee began to
collect money. Ground was broken in 1946. Building the hospital was a technical wonder because of
the difficulty of getting water there and of hauling up the building supplies. This "House for the
Alleviation of Suffering" has 350 beds.
A number of people have reported cures they believe
were received through the intercession of Padre Pio. Those who assisted at his Masses came away
edified; several curiosity seekers were deeply moved. Like St. Francis, Padre Pio sometimes had his
habit torn or cut by souvenir hunters.
One of Padre Pio´s sufferings was that unscrupulous
people several times circulated prophecies that they claimed originated from him. He never made
prophecies about world events and never gave an opinion on matters that he felt belonged to Church
authorities to decide. He died on September 23, 1968, and was beatified in 1999.
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