The incorrupt body of Saint Padre Pio.
1 – BIRTH AND FAMILY: Padre Pio was born Francesco Forgione in Pietrelcina, Italy on May 25, 1887. He was the fourth of eight children of Grazio Maria Forgione and his wife, Maria Giuseppa De Nunzio. His family was very religious and attended daily mass.
2 – SHEPHERD AND CAPUCHIN PREPARATION: In his youth, Padre Pio tended a handful of sheep. At the age of ten he contracted typhoid fever and nearly died. After his recovery he wished to become a Capuchin friar, and his father thereafter spent several years in sailing back and forth to America (a common practice at that time) to obtain work in order to finance more schooling for Padre Pio, in preparation for the priesthood.
3 – CHILDHOOD VISIONS AND VICTIM OF DIVINE LOVE: In childhood Padre Pio experienced paranormal visions with such frequency that he took the episodes for granted and assumed that others experienced similar phenomena. He confided this information only later in life to a priest and was surprised to learn that such occurrence is rare. Padre Pio also suffered from a desire to be a “victim of divine love,” a religious concept whereby a person wishes intensely to endure constant and severe suffering, to atone for the failings of mankind.
4 – BECOMES A FRANCISCAN (CAPUCHIN): On January 6, 1903 at the age of 16, he departed to the town of Morcone to join the friary of Saints Philip and James of the Capuchin Order of the Friars Minor, a “mendicant” order. (Capuchins live in poverty by design; they own nothing and live essentially as beggars in the world.) To symbolize their poverty Capuchins never shave their faces and never wear shoes—only open leather sandals. They never wear hats but attach brown woolen hoods to their garments. They spend a significant portion of each day in prayer, maintain long periods of silence, and always travel in pairs. At the friary, Padre Pio lived in a cell furnished with a table, chair, washstand, and water jug; he slept on a cornhusk mattress. He received the Capuchin garments in a ceremony on January 22, 1903. On that day the former Francesco Forgione adopted the name of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina. As a symbol of austerity, Capuchin friars never used surnames, thus for legal purposes Padre Pio signed his name as “Padre Pio of Pietrelcina al secolo Francesco Forgione.” He took the name of “Pio” in honor of Pope Pius I, whose relic he often saw at his local chapel.
5 – SUFFERING SERVANT ORDAINED A PRIEST: Throughout his lifetime Padre Pio suffered from a severe but undiagnosed stomach disorder that caused persistent pain and vomiting. Beginning in December of 1908 his superiors sent him home on numerous occasions. Inexplicably the symptoms disappeared each time he departed the friary; transfers to friaries at other locations failed to alleviate the symptoms. At the age of 23 he traveled from his hometown of Pietrelcina to the cathedral of Benevento in Morcone. There Archbishop Paolo Schinosi ordained Padre Pio as a Roman Catholic priest on August 10, 1910.
6 – RECIEVES STIGMATA: Padre Pio developed marks of stigmata initially in 1910 at San Nicandro. A doctor examined Padre Pio and diagnosed tuberculosis of the skin. Following the medical diagnosis Padre Pio returned to his hometown for a time. On October 28, 1911, he moved to the friary of San Nicandro at Venafro, where Padre Agostino was vicar. Padre Pio was personally humiliated by the painful markings and kept his hands hidden at all times. The wounds disappeared for a time, only to reappear more acutely nearly a decade later. The Stigmata reflects the wounds of Jesus on the cross. The hands and feet and side all bleed. Padre Pio was the first Priest to receive the Stigmata (St. Francis of Assisi was a Deacon).
7 – VISIONS AND BI-LOCATION AND LEVITATION: Padre Pio received visitations from the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and angels. In addition to the visitations and stigmata, Padre Pio was reportedly prone to bi-location phenomena, appearing in two locations simultaneously. The most remarkable of these reported incidents occurred on January 18, 1905 shortly before midnight. Padre Pio was in the choir at the friary when, according to his description, his mind traveled to a location in Udine where a child was being born prematurely just moments before the death of her father. In 1923 he met the girl and “recognized” her. The girl’s mother recalled very clearly the death of her husband and the vision of a Capuchin monk in Udine on the night when the girl was born. Also, Padre Pio had been observed levitating during a period of prayerful ecstasy.
8 – PADRE PIO AS AN ARMY PRIVATE: With the outbreak of World War I in November 1914, many Capuchins were drafted into the Italian army. Padre Pio was drafted into the 10th Company of the Italian Medical Corps in Naples, under the name of Private Francesco Forgione. His stomach discomfort continued, and army doctors diagnosed chronic bronchitis. They granted him a medical leave of absence, and he returned to Pietrelcina.
9 – STIGMATA FOR LIFE: Beginning in August 1918, Padre Pio developed permanent, painful stigmata that bled intermittently for the next 50 years and disappeared only a few days before his death. A series of doctors examined the wounds of Padre Pio and verified the existence of the condition, but left no written comment or explanation. Luigi Romanelli, chief physician of the City Hospital of Barletta, examined the priest’s wounds five times over the course of one year. Professor Giuseppe Bastianelli, physician to Pope Benedict XV agreed that the wounds indeed existed but made no other comment. Angelo Maria Merla of San Giovanni Rotondo noted that the wounds were not tubercular in origin. The wounds bled severely at times, although medical examiners reported no fever, nor anemia or change of blood pressure associated with the condition. According to witnesses the wounds of Padre Pio emitted a distinctively fragrant odor, and all other abrasions to Padre Pio’s body healed normally during those years, including an incision to repair a hernia. As with the earlier incident, Padre Pio felt humiliation at the visible stigmata, but stated nevertheless that he welcomed the pain for all mankind; his greatest wish was to die.
10 – POPULARITY, VATICAN INTERVENTION AND PROPHECY OF A FUTURE POPE: Padre Pio became very popular with the people he encountered. They began to see that he was capable of performing miracles. Many healings were attributed to him. His popularity became a source of concern for the Church and the Vatican began to restrict his activities to minimize public interaction. Padre Pio himself was uncomfortable with his newfound popularity and the attention he received because of his stigmata. A Church investigation into his stigmata concluded that his condition was not faked. By 1934, the Vatican began to change its attitude towards Padre Pio and he was again allowed to perform public duties. He was allowed to preach, despite never being officially licensed by the Church to do so. Pope Pius XI encouraged people to visit him. In 1947, Fr. Karol Wojtyla visited Padre Pio who prophetically told him he would rise to the highest post in the Church.” Fr. Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II in 1978.
11- INTERNATIONAL FAME: Padre Pio became internationally famous. He was known for his piety, charity and the quality of his preaching. He famously advised, “Pray, hope and don’t worry.” Besides his stomach problems and stigmata, he had other illnesses as well, including cancer which was miraculously healed after just two treatments. However his arthritis, which plagued him in his later years, never went away.
12 – DEATH AND SAINTHOOD: Padre Pio died of an apparent heart attack at the friary of Our Lady of Grace in the Italian village of San Giovanni Rotondo on the morning of September 23, 1968. Over 100,000 people attended his funeral. After his death, the friars and other associates were eager to begin the lengthy process of canonization, whereby the mystic might be named a saint of the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II beatified the memory of Padre Pio at a Mass on May 2, 1999 in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, as a final step in preparation for sainthood. Pope John Paul II recognized Padre Pio as a Saint on June 16, 2002. Over 300,000 people attended. His feast day is September 23. He is the patron of civil defense volunteers, adolescents, and the village of Pietrelcina.
Based on information from encyclopedia.com and Catholic.org. Photo by Doug Lawrence