the morning of the 20th September 1918, after having celebrated Holy Mass, the priest
Padre Pio retired to the choir stalls for his usual thanksgiving. The place was S.
Giovanni Rotondo and the church, Our Lady of Grace.
in the small piazza the morning was similar to most other mornings on the Gargano. The
friary, lying at the foot of the mountain, high above the village, seemed isolated and
remote, altogether cut off from the world. Peace and quiet hung heavy in the mountain air
filling the huge spaces with indescribable serenity and calm.
of birds, muted and subdued, coming as if from far off and the monotonous drone of myriad
flying insects were sounds to accentuate the silence of the place. They adorned but did
not disturb it. Already the clear lines of morning were fading and merging into the heat
of midday. High up, a blazing sun seared the massive garganic granite, sending all
creatures hurrying to the cool oasis of shuttered rooms.
a few old folk long accustomed to this midday furnace moved slowly about, entering the
small church to say their devotions, then emerging and making their way across to the
ancient yew-tree dominating the middle of the piazza to rest silently in its shadow. A day
like other September days with little hint that it could be any different from those which
had preceded it or from those which must assuredly follow it.
the young priest, however, just then kneeling in the chapel of the church, this morning
was to be very different, a fateful morning like no other, containing within it a destiny,
a summons whose imperious and exalted demands he would attempt to fulfill
to the end. Here
inside the church the silence was very great. Not a sound penetrated the thick walls from
outside as P. Pio, oblivious to everything except the memory of his recent Mass, slowly
prostrated in loving adoration before the outspread, bloodied figure on the crucifix.
that marvelous facility possessed by the mystics by which all external objects are
abandoned he withdrew into himself, his spirit yielding to the peacefulness which invaded
his whole being, a peacefulness, he later wrote, "similar to a sweet sleep". In
this absolute silence he prayed, mind and heart totally wrapped in the burning love which
consumed him like some incurable fever. A sweet calm heralding the forthcoming storm.
happened next can best be told in the simple, unadorned words of P. Pio writing to P.
Benedetto little more than a month afterwards: "It all happened in a flash. While all
this was taking place, I saw before me a mysterious Person, similar to the one I had seen
on August 5th, differing only because His hands, feet and side were dripping blood. The
sight of Him frightened me: what I felt at that moment is indescribable. 'I thought I
would die, and would have died if the Lord hadn't intervened and strengthened my heart
which was about to burst out of my chest. The Person disappeared and I became aware that
my hands, feet and side were pierced and were dripping with blood" (Ep., V. 1, no. 5
10, p. 1094). P. Pio had just received the visible stigmata. There was nobody about.
Silence settled once more round the brown robed figure now lying huddled on the floor.
Calvary had just begun and with it the answer to a prayer: the prayer of his profound
desire to identify with Christ crucified not only by participation in the priestly
apostolate but in some mysterious way in that supreme immolation of Our Lord on Calvary
(cf. Le Stimmate di P. Pio, G. Cruchon, SJ, Colana "Spiritualitą", No.
1, p. 102).
had not desired this physical conformity and when he had recovered somewhat from the
immediate experience his embarrassment was extreme: "I am dying of pain because of
the wound and because of the resulting embarrassment which I feel deep within my soul. . .
Will Jesus who is so good grant me this grace ? Will he at least relieve me of the
embarrassment which these outward signs cause me" (Ep., V. 1, p. 1904). Not the
wound, not the pain did he wish removed but only the visible signs which at the time he
considered to be an indescribable and almost unbearable humiliation.
much later, however, he would come to love and cherish these divine marks of predilection,
drawing from them that rich source of superhuman energy which from then on marked his
apostolate of love and suffering. With Catherine of Siena he could truly say: "My
wounds not only do not afflict my body, but they sustain and fortify it. I feel that what
formerly depressed me, now invigorates me." His wounds, hitherto invisible but now
manifested exteriorly, mark a definitive stage of his soul's transformation into the
object loved, namely, the Lord who suffered and was crucified.
the next fifty years they would confound impartial science; their continuous and profuse
effusion of blood, accompanied often by the sweetest fragrance, came to be regarded as a
prolonged miracle, because, as the experts correctly state, blood for its production
requires nourishment while this friar's extraordinary frugality was such as hardly to
maintain the life of a small child.
remarkable nature of this miraculous gift becomes more apparent when it is considered how
such loss of blood was simply inconsonant with and disproportionate to the stamina and
energy with which P. Pio with ever greater activity and zeal conducted his life in all
matters relating to the service of God.
are the bald facts of P. Pio's stigmata. From his correspondence it is clear that very
early in his priestly life there were, at least, indications of what eventually came to
pass. Writing to P. Benedetto as early as 1911, only a year after ordination, P. Pio
described a phenomenon which he had been experiencing for almost a year: "Then last
night something happened which I can neither explain nor understand. In the middle of the
palms of my hands a red mark appeared, about the size of a penny, accompanied by acute
pain in the middle of the red marks. The pain was more pronounced in the middle of the
left hand, so much so that I can still feet it. Also under my feet I can feel some
pain" (Ep., V. 1, p. 234).
is his first mention of the phenomenon to his spiritual father because, as he says, he was
overwhelmed with shame. He simply did not want to talk about it, hoping no doubt that it
was a passing thing which would soon clear up and then be forgotten.
years later, in 1915, his beloved P. Agostino demands certain information in the name of
Jesus: When did Jesus first favour him with celestial visions ? Has Jesus made him a gift
of his stigmata even though invisible? How often does he feel the crown of thorns and the
scourging? P. Agostino asks these questions not out of curiosity but for the glory of God
and the salvation of souls (Ep., V. 1, p. 659).
his reply to this letter P. Pio recognizes the express will of God and willingly answers
all three questions. To the first he replies that Jesus began to favour "his poor
creature" not very long after his novitiate (Jan. 1903 to Jan. 1904); to the second,
whether Jesus made him a gift of the stigmata, the reply is affirmative and we learn that
from the start the wounds were visible, especially in one hand, but that P. Pio was so
terrified in the face of this phenomenon that he begged the Lord to withdraw them.
then on they did not appear again until September 1918 although their pain remained and
were felt more acutely under certain circumstances and on determined days. The final
question he also answers affirmatively. He experiences the pain of the crown of thorns and
the scourging. How often he cannot say except that at the time of writing he has been
suffering from them almost once a week for some years (cf. Ep., V. 1, p. 669).
The rest is history. News of the event spread like wildfire and by the
following year there began that afflux of pilgrims to the tiny friary which has not ceased
since. At first in a tiny stream they came, later in the tens of thousands, flocking to
glimpse this priest with the wounds of Christ, to assist at his Mass, to kiss those
mittened hands and for those who could speak Italian the privilege of confessing to him.
all this, of course, there were dangers. The danger of a "personality cult"; of
the possibility of self-induced wounds produced by a morbid, impressionable, temperament;
the danger of fraud and deception, deliberate or otherwise, with the intent of leading a
credulous faithful astray; that the stigmata was nothing more than an effect of natural
causes rather than a supernatural gift; and finally, there was the dangerous possibility
of preternatural and diabolic activity.
light of this, and in retrospect, it is understandable why the Church authorities took a
course of action that at the time seemed harsh and cruel but which today can be seen, at
least in part, as the anvil on which P. Pio's sanctity was hammered out, put to the test
and purified to become the luminous and diaphanous veil through which men glimpsed God.
[From: The Spirituality of Padre Pio, Augustine Mc
Gregor, O.C.S.O., edited by Fr. Alessio Parente, OFM Cap. (San Giovanni Rotondo: Edizioni
"Padre Pio of Pietrelcina" of Our Lady of Grace Monastery, 71013 San Giovanni
Rotondo, FG, Italy, 1974). Used with permission of:
The National Center for Padre Pio, 2213 Old Route 100, Barto, PA 19504, through which a
subscription may be obtained.]