Today is the feast of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, an Italian Capuchin priest affectionately known as Padre Pio. One hundred years ago, on September 20, 1918, the stigmata—the five wounds of Christ’s passion—appeared on his body. This made him the first stigmatized priest in the history of the Catholic Church.
Countless people passed through his confessional. Many more received his saintly counsel and spiritual guidance through correspondence. Worn out by over half a century of intense suffering and constant apostolic activity, Padre Pio died on September 23, 1968.
His body was entombed in the crypt of Our Lady of Grace Church in San Giovanni Rotondo. Increasing numbers of pilgrims flock to his tomb from all parts of the world, and many testify to spiritual and temporal graces received. Today, he may be the most venerated saint in Italy.
My Recent Encounters with Padre Pio’s Relics
In the past, my devotion to this Capuchin priest and mystic had been modest. However, two unexpected encounters with the saint’s relics have inspired me to learn more about Padre Pio, and to follow his example of growing in holiness.
In the Catholic Church, relics are physical objects associated with a saint or candidate for sainthood. They may be part of the person’s body or something with which he or she was in contact. Relics are not worshipped, but treated with religious respect. Touching relics or praying in their presence helps a faithful individual focus on the saint’s life and virtues. Thus, through the saint’s prayer or intercession before God, the individual may draw closer to God.
Several relics of St. Pio are currently on tour in America. Earlier this month, they made a brief visit to our chapel at EWTN. I knelt before the relics, gently touched the glass cases which housed them, and invoked the saint’s intercession. Gradually, I felt a palpable impression of Padre Pio’s presence and an overwhelming sense of peace.
And last week, taking advantage of the extra time afforded by a delayed flight, I visited St. John Cantius Church, a historic Baroque church in the heart of Chicago. Close to the sanctuary, I found a first-class relic of St. Pio exposed for public veneration.
The relic consisted of a large framed square of linen bearing a bloodstain from the wound in St. Pio’s side. I’d been praying a Padre Pio novena in anticipation of his feast day. It felt like a gift to rest quietly before yet another of the saint’s relics.
Padre Pio’s Spiritual Wisdom in Times of Trial
My encounters with St. Pio’s relics have led me to encounters with his spiritual wisdom. Padre Pio wrote thousands of pages of letters to his spiritual directors and directees (the people to whom he gave spiritual advice).
Like many, I’ve had to struggle against becoming discouraged in the face of the recent storm of Church scandals. Much of my prayer now centers around reparation, purification, and renewal of the Church. I’d like to share a few excerpts from Padre Pio’s letters, which have encouraged me to persevere in faith and prayer during these challenging times.
You say you are anxious about the future, but don’t you know that the Lord is with you always and that our enemy has no power over one who has resolved to belong entirely to Jesus? (3/29/1914)
You must have boundless faith in the divine goodness, for the victory is absolutely certain. (5/25/1914)
The storms that are raging around you will turn out to be for God’s glory, your own merit, and the good of many souls. (6/15/1914)
Jesus is with you even when you don’t feel His presence. He is never so close to you as He is during your spiritual battles. He is always there, close to you, encouraging you to fight your battle courageously. He is there to ward off the enemy’s blows so that you may not be hurt. (8/15/1914)
Prayer: “a key that opens the heart of God”
In addition to profound spiritual wisdom, Padre Pio received several mystical gifts from God. These included the discernment of souls, the ability to read consciences, miraculous healings, bilocation, levitation, the gift of tears, the odor of sanctity, and above all, the wounds of the stigmata that he suffered for 50 years.
But more than these supernatural gifts, it was St. Pio’s prayerful union with God that made him an effective “apostle of the confessional.” In his homily for Padre Pio’s canonization on June 16, 2002, Pope John Paul II affirmed:
the ultimate reason for the apostolic effectiveness of Padre Pio, the profound root of so much spiritual fruitfulness, can be found in that intimate and constant union with God, attested to by his long hours spent in prayer and in the confessional. He loved to repeat, “I am a poor Franciscan who prays,” convinced that “prayer is the best weapon we have, a key that opens the heart of God.”
“Pray, hope, and don’t worry” is probably St. Pio’s most famous saying. However, we do not often hear the second part, which is: “Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.” We can be certain God knows what we need even before we ask him.
How You Can Celebrate Padre Pio
This year, 2018, marks the 100th anniversary of Padre Pio’s stigmata and the 50th anniversary of his death. Here are a few special and meaningful ways to celebrate his feast:
- Read his biography. C. Bernard Ruffin’s Padre Pio: The True Story is the best life of St. Pio in print.
- Watch a biopic. Padre Pio: Miracle Man (2000) reveals the amazing details and events in his life as a boy and throughout his 50 years as a friar. It captures his intense faith, devotion, and deep spiritual concern for others, as well as his great compassion for the sick and suffering. Directed by Carlo Carlei and starring Sergio Castellitto, here is the film in Italian with English subtitles, and here it is dubbed into English.
- Practice Padre Pio’s five-point rule: weekly confession, daily communion, daily spiritual reading, examination of conscience each evening, and mental prayer twice a day.
- Learn more about the great gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In The Place of Miracles, Christine Watkins removes misconceptions and reveals the many gifts our souls receive in confession. Her talk turns one’s fears or neglect of the sacrament into a burning desire to receive it often, as a stepping ladder to paradise.
Humble and beloved Padre Pio, help us to pray without ceasing. Sustain us in the hour of the combat and of the trial. And if we fall, help us experience the joy of the sacrament of forgiveness.
St. Pio of Pietrelcina, pray for us.
© 2018 Maria Vickroy-Peralta. Image: Aaron Lambert, Denver Catholic.