Today is the feast day of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, OFM Cap. He was commonly referred to as “Padre Pio” when alive and is still invoked in the same manner today. He was born on May 25, 1887 and died on September 23, 1958. His birth name was Francesco Forgione.
On January 6, 1903 he entered the novitiate program of the Capuchin friars at Morcone. He was only 15 years old at the time. He would begin his studies to become a priest after novitiate but would suffer many physical problems. It was around this time that he began to experience supernatural events such as levitation and demonic attacks.
In 1920, Padre Pio would be ordained a priest at the Cathedral of Benevento by archbishop Paolo Schinosi. Due to his illness, he was allowed to remain with his family until 1916. It was around this time that he moved into the Our Lady of Grace Friary in the Gargano Moutains at San Giovanni Rotondo. He would remain at this location most of the time until he was called to military service. His military service was cut short due to his bad health. Padre Pio was discharged on March 16, 1918.
Months after his discharge on September 20, 1918, while hearing the confessions of others, Padre Pio began to experience the “stigmata,” or the physical manifestation of the wounds of Christ. Despite trying to keep it a secret, news spread around that he had the stigmata and many flocked to see him. It is reported that his wounds a blood smelled like flowers which is described as the “odor of sanctity.”
Immediately, claims of healing, bilocation, the gifts of tongues, clairvoyance and other supernatural attributes were surrounding Padre Pio. This increased his popularity. Studies were made on his wounds by several doctors and none could explain them. His woulds would never get infected, never had a foul odor and had healed once and reappeared again in the same manner. X-rays of his hands were taken and no damage to his bones were found. Skeptics attacked Padre Pio by claiming that his stigmata was fake. According to a pharmacist named Maria De vito, Padre Pio had requested 4 grams of carbolic acid and needles. It was suggested that he used these to cause the words on his hands. However, the carbolic acid and needles were used to care for those ssufferingfrom the Spanish Flu. Moreover, carbolic acid decays human flesh and degrades tissue which was not what was observed in the stigmata of Padre Pio. Despite being able to heal others, Padre Pio suffered many physical problems. He had asthmatic bronchitis, kidney stones, abdominal pains, chronic gastritis, an ucler, inflammations of his eyes, nose, ear and throat, rhinitis, otitis. He also had an inguinal hernia repaired, a cyst removed, and a tumor on his ear radiated. Padre Pio was not one to parade his wounds around. He wore mittens to cover them.
As with any holy person, Padre Pio was under the microscope of the Catholic Church. Some believed him to be a fraud or possibly possessed by the devil. The local ordinary, Bishop Gagliardi believed the Capuchin friars were making up stories about Padre Pio in order to make money. Under Pope Pius X, Padre Pio was prohibited from public ministry. He was made subject to many investigations. Friar Agostino Gemelli, who was also a psychologist dismissed Padre Pio has being a psychopath who mutilated himself in order to fool the people. Skeptics and atheists would often dismiss Padre Pio as being delusional. One atheist told him that he focused on Jesus’ passion so much that his body began to show the wounds, basically describing Psychosomatic symptoms. Padre Pio replied to him to think hard of a bull to see if the atheist grows horns. The Vatican from 1924 to 1931 would issue statements denying that Padre Pio had any supernatural events occurring to him. In 1960, Monsignor Carlo Maccari who later was installed as archbishop of Ancona initiated another investigation. The 200 paged reported suggested that Padre Pio was a fraud and even had sex with women every week. However, his room was bugged and no evidence of this was discovered. Maccari would later recant his claims and prayed to Padre Pio on his deathbed.
According to reports, Saint John Paul II visited Padre Pio when he was a young Karol Wojtyła who was told that he would rise to the Church’s highest official. Some deny this claim, but it is interesting to note that once becoming Pope, Wojtyla started the canonization process for Padre Pio.
He was beatified in 1999 and canonized on June 16, 2002 by Saint John Paul II.