A Short Biography of the Saint from Pietrelcino
Padre Pio's extraordinary life spent in tireless service to Christ
This worthy follower of St Francis of Assisi was born on 25 May 1887 at Pietrelcina in the Archdiocese of Benevento, the son of Grazio Forgione and Maria Giuseppa De Nunzio. He was baptized the next day and given the name Francesco.
At the age of 10, Francesco was drawn to a young Capuchin friar who came to Pietrelcino collecting alms, and Francesco said to his parents: "I want to be a friar... with a beard". At the age of 12 he received the sacrament of Confirmation and made his First Holy Communion.
On 6 January 1903, when he was 16, he entered the novitiate of the Capuchin Friars at Morcone, where on 22 January he took the Franciscan habit and the name Brother Pio. At the end of his novitiate year he took simple vows, and on 27 January 1907 made his solemn profession. He was ordained a priest on 10 August 1910 at Benevento. He stayed at home with his family until 1916 for health reasons (he suffered from tuberculosis). In 1917 he was assigned to the friary in San Giovanni Rotondo and remained there until his death in 1968.
Filled with love of God and love of neighbour, Padre Pio lived to the full the vocation to work for the redemption of man.
On 7 September 1910 Padre Pio received the Stigmata. The wounds caused him much pain and he prayed that Jesus would take away "the annoyance". The wounds disappeared, but only for a short time. The friar explained the experience to his spiritual director in a letter dated 8 September 1911.
On 4 September 1916, Padre Pio was ordered to return to his community and assigned to the secluded Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie at San Giovanni Rotondo, an agricultural community a mile from the town. When he joined the community there were seven friars. Padre Pio taught at the seminary and served as spiritual director to the students. With the outbreak of war, several of the friars left to do military service and Padre Pio was put in charge of the college.
On several occasions, Padre Pio had visions in which the wounded Christ appeared to him; when one of his ecstasies ended, Padre Pio had visibly received the stigmata, the five wounds of Christ, which he retained for the rest of his life. With his visible spiritual gifts — the stigmata, a special fragrance, prophecy and bilocation — Padre Pio gave people hope as they began to rebuild their lives after the war, and the faithful flocked to him.
Unfortunately many accusations were made against Padre Pio. The Holy Office then restricted access to Padre Pio and the times of his daily Mass were unannounced and varied from one day to the next in an attempt to diminish the crowds. He was ordered not to answer correspondence from people seeking spiritual direction.
Between 1924 and 1931 the Holy See issued statements denying that Padre Pio's phenomena were supernatural, and on 9 June 1931 Padre Pio was ordered to desist from all activities except the celebration of Holy Mass, which was to be in private.
He accepted in silence the many interventions of his superiors, and in the face of calumnies he always remained silent.
In early 1933 Pope Pius XI ordered the Holy See to reverse its ban on Padre Pio's public celebration of Mass, and on 25 March 1934 Padre Pio was again permitted to hear confessions of men. In 1939 when Pope Pius XII was elected, he encouraged people to visit Padre Pio.
On the level of social charity, he persuaded three doctors to move to San Giovanni Rotondo and announced his plans in 1940 to build a "Home for the Relief of Suffering" (Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza), as he explained to Pope Pius XII, "a place where the patient may be led to recognize those working for his cure as God's helpers, engaged in preparing the way for the intervention of grace". On 16 May 1947 the foundation stone of the Home was laid and on 5 May 1956 the Home opened its doors.
After the War, Barbara Ward, a British humanitarian worker, attended a Mass celebrated by Padre Pio and met one of the above-mentioned physicians. She requested that the Home receive part of the funds designated for reconstruction by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), who allocated to the project US $325,000. Also, in 1957 Padre Pio announced his plan for a medical and religious centre where doctors and interns could further their medical studies and Christian formation.
With the opening of the hospital, Padre Pio became an international figure and the number of his followers greatly increased. To accommodate all the pilgrims a large new church was built.
During August 1959, Padre Pio fell ill with pleurisy but recovered when the statue of Our Lady of Fatima, which had been travelling across Italy by helicopter, was flown over the convent. In the mid-1960s Padre Pio's health began to deteriorate but he continued to celebrate Mass daily and to hear 50 confessions a day. By July 1968 he was almost bedridden.
On 20 September 1968, the 50th anniversary of the stigmata, Padre Pio celebrated Mass. Three days later, soon after midnight, Padre Pio called his superior and asked to make his confession. He then renewed his vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and at 2:30 a.m. on 23 September, Padre Pio died in his cell at the age of 81.
Padre Pio's funeral took place on 26 September at San Giovanni Rotondo, where more than 100,000 people gathered to pay their last respects to this holy man. He was buried in the crypt of the Church of Nostra Signora delle Grazie.
On 18 December 1997, the Decree on the heroic virtues of Padre Pio was promulgated in the presence of Pope John Paul II, and on 2 May 1999 the Pope beatified the Venerable Servant of God Padre Pio of Pietrelcina at a solemn Mass in St Peter's Square, setting his liturgical Memorial for 23 September.
On 28 February 2002, the Decree of Canonization was promulgated and on 16 June 2002 Pope John Paul II canonized Padre Pio, "St Pio of Pietrelcino" at a solemn Mass in St Peter's Square, in the presence of at least 300,000 devotees.
Weekly Edition in English
24 June 2009, page 12
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