August 1917 Padre Pio was inducted into the service and assigned to the 4th
Platoon of the 100th Company of the Italian Medical Corps. During this time he
was very unhappy. By mid-October he was in the hospital, but was not discharged. Finally,
in March 1918, he was dismissed and returned to San Giovanni Rotondo.
Upon his return, Padre Pio became a
spiritual director and had many spiritual daughters and sons. He had five rules for
spiritual growth: weekly confession, daily Communion, spiritual reading, meditation and
examination of conscience. In explaining his spiritual growth rules, Padre Pio compared
dusting a room, used or unused on a weekly basis, to weekly confession. He suggested two
times of daily meditation and self-examination: in the morning to "prepare for
battle" and in the evening to "purify your soul." Padre Pios motto,
"Pray, Hope and Dont Worry" is the synopsis of his application of theology
into daily life. A Christian should recognize God in everything, offering everything to
Him saying, "Thy will be done". In addition, all should aspire to heaven and put
their trust in Him and not worry about what he is doing, as long as it is done with a
desire to please God.
In July 1918, Pope Benedict XV urged
all Christians to pray for an end to the World War. On July 27, Padre Pio offered himself
as a victim for the end of the war. Days later between August 5 -7, Padre Pio had a vision
in which Christ appeared and pierced his side. As a result of this experience, Padre Pio
had a physical wound in his side. The experience has been identified as a
"transverberation" or piercing of the heart indicating the union of love with
A few weeks later, on September 20,
1918, Padre Pio was praying in the choir loft in the Church of Our Lady of Grace, when the
same Being who appeared to him on August 5, appeared again. It was the wounded Christ.
When the ecstasy ended, Padre Pio had received the Visible Stigmata, the five wounds of
Christ, which would stay with him for his remaining 50 years.
By early 1919,
word about the stigmata began to spread to the outside world. Over the years countless
people, including physicians, examined Padre Pios wounds. Padre Pio was not
interested in the physicians attempts to explain his stigmata. He accepted it as a
gift from God, though he would have preferred to suffer the pains of Christs Passion
without the world knowing.
God used Padre Pio especially
the news of his stigmata to give people hope as they began to rebuild their life
after the war. Padre Pio and his spiritual gifts of the stigmata, perfume, prophecy and
bilocation was a sign of God in their midst and led people back to their Faith. So life at
the friary and the Church of Our Lady of Grace began to revolve around Padre Pios
ministry. A room and priests were designated to handle the correspondence and the
remaining friars heard confessions. San Giovanni Rotondo began to be filled with pilgrims.
Since there were no hotels, people slept outdoors. A normal day for Padre Pio was a busy
nineteen hours Mass, hearing confessions and handling correspondence. He usually
had less than two hours to sleep.
As his spiritual influence increased,
so did the voices of his detractors. Accusations against Padre Pio poured in to the Holy
Office (today the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith). By June 1922, restrictions were
placed on the publics access to Padre Pio. His daily Mass time varied each day,
without announcement to diminish the crowds, and he was ordered not to answer
correspondence from people seeking spiritual direction. It was also rumored that plans
were being developed to transfer Padre Pio. However, both local and Church authorities
were afraid of public riots and decided that a more remote and isolated place than San
Giovanni Rotondo could not be found.
Despite the restrictions and
controversies, Padre Pios ministry continued. From 1924 1931 various
statements were made by the Holy See that denied the supernaturality of Padre Pios
phenomena. On June 9, 1931, the Feast of Corpus Christi, Padre Pio was ordered by the Holy
See to desist from all activities except the celebration of the Mass, which was to be in
private. By early 1933, Pope Pius XI ordered the Holy See to reverse its ban on Padre
Pios public celebration of Mass, saying, "I have not been badly disposed toward
Padre Pio, but I have been badly informed."
Padre Pios faculties were
progressively restored. First, the confessions of men were allowed (March 25, 1934) and
then women (May 12, 1934). Although he had never been examined for a preaching license,
the Capuchin Minister General granted him permission to preach, honoris cuasa, and
he preached several times a year. In 1939 when Pope Pius XII was elected pope, he began to
encourage people to visit Padre Pio. More and more people began to make pilgrimages.
In 1940, Padre Pio convinced three
doctors to move to San Giovanni Rotondo and he announced plans to build a Home to Relieve
Suffering. As Padre Pio expressed to Pope Pius, "
a place that the patient
might be led to recognize those working for his cure as God's helpers, engaged in
preparing the way for the intervention of grace." The doctors were excited about the
building, but were fearful that this was not the time to begin such a project with Europe
being on the brink of another world war.
These fears did not stop Padre Pio
and the project began. After the war, Barbara Ward, a British humanitarian, came to Italy
to write an article on postwar reconstruction. She attended Padre Pios Mass and met
one of the physicians who came to San Giovanni Rotondo to work with the Home to Relieve
Suffering. Upon learning of the project, she asked that the Home to Relieve Suffering
receive a part of the funds designated for reconstruction. Consequently, the United
Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) gave a grant of $325,000 for the
project. The building opened its doors on May 5,1956. A year later, Padre Pio announced
plans for a medical and religious center where doctors and interns could further their
medical studies and Christian formation.
With the opening of the hospital,
Padre Pio was truly now an international figure and his followers greatly increased. To
accommodate all the pilgrims, a new, large church was constructed.
In the mid-1960s, Padre Pios health
began to deteriorate, but he continued to say Daily Mass and hear fifty confessions a day.
By July of 1968, he was almost bedridden. On the fiftieth anniversary of the stigmata
(September 20,1968), Padre Pio celebrated Mass, attended the public recitation of the
Rosary and Benediction. On the next day, he was too tired to say Mass or hear confessions.
On September 22, he managed to say Mass and the attendees had to struggle to hear him.
Just after midnight, in the early morning hours of September 23, Padre Pio called his
superior and asked to make his confession. He then renewed his vows of poverty, chastity,
and obedience. At 2:30am, Padre Pio died in his cell. As he foretold, Padre Pio lived sick
but died healthy, with the stigmata healed.
On September 26, 1968, over a hundred
thousand people gathered at San Giovanni Rotondo to pay their respects to this holy man.
He was buried in the crypt prepared for him in the Church of Our Lady of Grace.