Saint Padre Pio
Prayer is the best weapon we have; it is the key to God’s heart. You must speak to Jesus not only with your lips, but with your heart. In fact on certain occasions you should only speak to Him with your heart.
Born with the name Francesco Forgione on May 25th, 1887, he was born into a peasant farmer family near the town Pietrelcina in southern Italy. He had an older brother and three younger sisters and was baptized in the nearby Santa Anna Chapel.. As a child, he aided the family in tending the sheep herd which impacted his schooling by a large amount. By the age of 5, Francesco was already taking on penances and wishing to dedicate his life to God. As a child, he was an altar server and despite his parent's and grandparent's illiteracy they frequently passed down bible stories and lessons that they had memorized. During these early childhood years he reported frequent visions of Heaven, including seeing angelic beings and speaking with Jesus and Mary.
In 1897, Francesco sat and listened to a group of Capuchin monks as they traveled by the town for donations. Young Francesco convinced his family to bring him to the town of Morcone 13 miles away to seek out the eligibility of joining the Order. Unfortunately, due to his lack of education, he was turned away but the monks expressed great interest in accepting him should he receive more education. With the family's finances unable to support private tutoring, his father left Italy, seeking work in America to boost their income. This worked, shortly after being Confirmed in the church, he began formal tutoring and private lessons to pass the education requirements.
On January 6th, 1903, he was accepted and entered the novitiate of the Capuchin friars at Morcone. A few weeks later, on January 22nd, he took the Franciscan habit and swore the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. He took on the name of Friar Pio in honor of Pope Pius I. Two years later, he began falling ill with insomnia, exhaustion and frequent migraines so severe they would cause vomiting. He reportedly was only able to hold down milk and cheese. At the same time of these illnesses, his visions and periods of ecstasy became more frequent with at least one report of him levitating above the ground during prayer.
Padre Pio was ordained a priest by Archbishop Paolo Schinosi at Benevento in 1910 but was allowed to stay with family due to his continued health issues. He was drafted into the Italian Medical Corps in 1915 due to World War I but was soon discharged due to his frequent medical stays. He was ordered to return to the community life at Our Lady of Grace Capuchin Friary near San Giovanni Rotondo in 1916.
In 1918, when he offered himself as a victim to end the first World War. Between August 5th and 7th, he recounted having a vision in which Christ appeared and pierced his side with a spear. He would describe it as:
While I was hearing the boys’ confessions on the evening of the 5th [August] I was suddenly terrorized by the sight of a celestial person who presented himself to my mind’s eye. He had in his hand a sort of weapon like a very long sharp-pointed steel blade which seemed to emit fire. At the very instant that I saw all this, I saw that person hurl the weapon into my soul with all his might. I cried out with difficulty and felt I was dying. I asked the boy to leave because I felt ill and no longer had the strength to continue. This agony lasted uninterruptedly until the morning of the 7th. I cannot tell you how much I suffered during this period of anguish. Even my entrails were torn and ruptured by the weapon, and nothing was spared. From that day on I have been mortally wounded.
On September 20th, 1918 Padre Pio had another vision of Jesus in which the previous wound no longer hurt and his stigmata appeared. He described it in a letter to his superior Padre Benedetto:
On the morning of the 20th of last month, in the choir, after I had celebrated Mass I yielded to a drowsiness similar to a sweet sleep. [...] I saw before me a mysterious person similar to the one I had seen on the evening of 5 August. The only difference was that his hands and feet and side were dripping blood. This sight terrified me and what I felt at that moment is indescribable. I thought I should have died if the Lord had not intervened and strengthened my heart which was about to burst out of my chest. The vision disappeared and I became aware that my hands, feet and side were dripping blood. Imagine the agony I experienced and continue to experience almost every day. The heart wound bleeds continually, especially from Thursday evening until Saturday. Dear Father, I am dying of pain because of the wounds and the resulting embarrassment I feel deep in my soul. I am afraid I shall bleed to death if the Lord does not hear my heartfelt supplication to relieve me of this condition. Will Jesus, who is so good, grant me this grace? Will he at least free me from the embarrassment caused by these outward signs? I will raise my voice and will not stop imploring him until in his mercy he takes away, not the wound or the pain, which is impossible since I wish to be inebriated with pain, but these outward signs which cause me such embarrassment and unbearable humiliation...the pain was so intense that I began to feel as if I were dying on the cross.
The wounds were described precisely as the wounds Jesus had inflicted upon him during the crucifixion and reportedly smelled sweet, as if a perfume from Roses had been poured on them. These woulds stayed with him for the next 50 years, disappearing only at his death.
Many miracles were attributed to him during this time, including miraculous healing, levitation, transverberation and prophecy.
As word spread of his miracles and stigmata, the Vatican refused to allow Padre Pio to hear mass or celebrate Mass public-ally while his claims were investigated. Despite these restrictions, thousands of pilgrims would arrive to try and seek audience.
In 1934, the Vatican granted permission to resume hearing confessions and continue celebrating public mass. In 1939, Pope Pius XII encouraged devotees to visit Padre Pio and granted him honorary permission to preach despite not haven taken the exam to obtain a license. During confessions, it was often reported the Padre Pio could read their hearts and worries before they uttered a word in the confessional.
During a 1947 meeting with Father Karol Jozef Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II), Padre Pio confided him him that one day he (Pope John Paul II) would ascend to the highest post in the church though further confirmation is needed. Later, in 1962, the now Bishop wrote to Padre Pio asking for him to pray for a friend suffering from cancer. Miraculously, the cancer was soon found to be in spontaneous remission with no medical explanation.
Pope Paul VI dismissed all accusations of falsehood against Padre Pio in the mid 1960s. On September 21st, 1968, the day after the 50th anniversary of receiving stigmata, he carried out a High Mass but was visibly weak and fragile. He reportedly needed assistance walking down the stairs from the altar and made his final confession the following morning. Gripping his rosary tight in his hand, he continued repeating the words "Gesu, Maria". With his last breath he whispered "Maria".
Saint Pope John Paul II declared Saint Pio venerable in 1997 and declared him blessed in 1999. On June 16th, 2002, to a crowd of over 300,000 people, Saint Pope John Paul II formally declared Padre Pio a saint in Rome.
Today there are over 3,000 Padre Pio prayer groups with over three million members. The London Catholic Inquiry Office designated January 22 (which had previously been decided as the most depressing day of the year) as "Don't worry Be Happy Day" in honor of Saint Pio's famous words:
"Pray, Hope, and Don't Worry"