Padre Pio was born in the hill-top town of Pietrelcina on the 25th of May 1887, the son of Grazio and Giuseppa Forgione was baptised one day later in the Church of Sant’ Anna and given the name Francesco.
The people of Pietrelcina were hardworking people. Religion played a very important part in their lives with many religious celebrations taking place throughout the year. For the Forgione family prayer came before all other activities and the family gathered each evening around the fire to pray the Rosary.
The Forgione family lacked nothing. Padre Pio once said ‘In my home it was hard to find a ten lire piece but we never lacked anything necessary’. They had land in Piana Romana and from an early age Francesco was given the task of taking care of some sheep. The young Francesco showed great piety and often preferred to spend his time in prayer rather than play with his young friends whose behaviour and bad language would often upset him. As a young boy Francesco began to experience ecstasies but, in his innocence, assumed that everybody had the same experiences.
At 10 years of age he declared to his parents that he wanted to consecrate himself to Our Lord. It was from the friendship he had formed with the capuchin ‘Fra Camillo’ that greatly influenced his decision to join the Capuchin Order and become ‘a monk with a beard’.
If Francesco were to enter a religious life he would have to be educated first. His need for private tuition would cost money and without hesitation his father and brother Michele travelled to America to earn money. Padre Pio often commented how his father crossed the ocean to give him the chance to become a friar.
On the 6th of January 1903, at the age of 15 years, Francesco left for the novitiate in Morcone. His heartbroken mother declared ‘My son, you must not think of the pain of your mother’s suffering. Francis has called you and you must go.’ At the door of the capuchin friary at Morcone the young Francesco was greeted by Fra Camillo who declared ‘you have been faithful to your promise and to the call of St. Francis of Assisi.
On the 22nd of January 1903 Francesco was vested in the capuchin habit and took the name ‘Brother Pio’. He declared ‘Where better could I serve you O Lord, if not under the banner of the Poverello (Poor One) of Assisi.’
On the 22nd of January 1904 Francesco made his profession of simple vows and transferred to the friary at Sant’ Elia a Piansi.
In October 1905 Padre Pio, during his studies at the friary at San Marco a Catola, met for the first time Padre Benedetto of San Marco in Lamis who would become his Spiritual Director until the end of 1922.
On the 27th of January 1907 Padre Pio made the profession of his vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and became a true son of St. Francis of Assisi. In the following October Padre Pio transferred to the friary at Serracapriola to study theology and met with Padre Agostino of San Marco in Lamis who would become his Spiritual Director and life-long friend. Padre Agostino followed the friar throughout his life. In his homily on the occasion of Padre Pio’s first Mass Padre Agostino stated that he would never make a good preacher, due to his poor health, but would make a great confessor. It was Padre Agostino who accompanied Padre Pio as he left Pietrelcina for the final time and who guided him in the aftermath of the Transverberation and receiving of the Stigmata.
Despite his poor health and spiritual trials through his novitiate his strong desire became reality when he obtained a special dispensation and was ordained in the cathedral in Benevento in August 1910. During his stay in Pietrelcina after his ordination Padre Pio assisted the parish priest, Don Panullo, in the administering of the sacraments, initially with the exception of confession because he had yet to complete his exam in moral theology.
After Mass in Pietrelcina he would travel to PIana Romana and in a straw hut built by his father, Padre Pio would spend time in prayer. On the 7th of September 1910, shortly after his ordination, whilst praying under the elm tree, Jesus and Mary appeared to him and gave him the wounds of Christ. Padre Pio confided in Don Panullo and asked him to pray that Jesus would take away the wounds, declaring ‘I want to suffer, to die from suffering but to do so in silence.’ The visible wounds of the Stigmata would disappear, but not the pain.
Much to the satisfaction of Fr. Benedetto, Padre Pio returned to life in the friary in 1911 when he was sent to Venafro. It was here that fellow friars, including Fr. Agostino, began to witness the first supernatural; phenomena and ecstasies, often followed by apparitions of Jesus, Mary, his Guardian Angel and St. Francis of Assisi. Padre Pio’s health would deteriorate yet again and he would return to Pietrelcina. where he would remain until 1916.
In February 1916 Padre Pio, accompanied by Padre Agostino, travelled to Foggia to assist Raffaelina Cerase, a noble woman who was dying. Upon her death, Padre Pio handed Padre Agostino his return ticket to Pietrelcina and remained on in the friary of Sant’ Anna in Foggia.
During a period of suffocating heat in July 2016 and upon invitation of the superior of San Giovanni Rotondo, Padre Pio went to the remote town of San Giovanni Rotondo for one week where the air was clear. On his return to Foggia the Father Provincial gave him permission to return to San Giovanni Rotondo where his responsibilities would include teaching in the seminary.
Between August 1917 and March 1918 Padre Pio was drafted into military service but due to ill-health he was discharged and returned to San Giovanni Rotondo. In this period Padre Pio became a Spiritual Director and had many spiritual sons and daughters.
On the 5th of August 1918 Padre Pio experienced the transverberation of the heart – a spiritual wounding of the heart regarded as a reward from God for loving him. On the 20th day of the following month Padre Pio, while meditating on the Passion of Christ, in front of the Crucifix in the choir loft of the ancient Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie received the Stigmata, the wounds of Christ which would remain until just before his death.
In the spring of the following year as news broke of the Stigmatised priest from the Gargano and of the extraordinary events taking place daily in San Giovanni Rotondo people began arriving to the town from all over to attend the Mass of the friar and to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The Holy Office was greatly concerned by the publicity and events taking place in San Giovanni Rotondo and decided it best that Padre Pio be transferred to a friary in a remote area near Ancona. Padre Pio’s response was that he would go wherever the Lord wanted him to go but his one wish was that, upon his death, his remains be returned to rest in a ‘quiet corner’ of San Giovanni Rotondo. The reaction of the local people prompted the Holy See to reverse their decision and so the young friar was not moved.
On the Feast of Corpus Christi in 1931 the Holy See ordered that Padre Pio cease carrying out his priestly duties except the celebration of Mass which could take place only in private. For Padre Pio this was a period of great suffering. By 1933 Pope Pius XI order the Holy See to reverse the decision and slowly Padre Pio returned to the celebration of Mass and hearing of confessions.
In 1925 Padre Pio had built a small hospital in San Giovanni Rotondo which was completely destroyed by an earthquake that hit the town in 1938. The town was in need of a hospital and so Padre Pio decided to build a hospital, a ‘cathedral of charity’ where science and faith would combine to become a home for relief of suffering’.
On the 9th of January 1940 Padre Pio called a meeting in his cell and formed a committee that would be responsible for the founding of the hospital. Padre Pio declared "This evening my earthly Work has begun. I bless you and all those that will contribute to the Work which will become bigger and ever more beautiful." "I myself want to make the first offering." and from his pocket Padre Pio took a small gold coin that he received that very day from one of his faithful.
The foundation stone for the hospital was laid in May 1947 and Padre Pio’s dream was realised when the hospital was inaugurated on the 5th of May 1956 . The hospital was to be known as ‘Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza’ (Home for Relief of the Suffering) which Padre Pio called "a creature of Providence". Sixty years since its inauguration the hospital is now one of the most important hospitals in southern Italy and a very important research centre.
Another deeply spiritual and charitable work which Padre Pio begun was the founding of the Prayer Groups which have now spread throughout the world.
Padre Pio lived his life as a true servant of St. Francis of Assisi, spending many hours administering the Sacrament of Reconciliation and in prayerful meditation. Described by Pope Francis as a ‘perfect example of an untiring, welcoming and patient confessor’, Padre Pio soon drew many pilgrims from Italy and abroad who came to attend his Mass and confess to the friar.
Padre Pio had the ability to read hearts, the ability to speak foreign languages, the gift of bilocation - he once heard the confession of a young girl in St. Peter’s Basilica even though he had never left San Giovanni Rotondo. He had the gift of healing, prophecy and miracles and had the ability to perform his duties living on a frugal diet with little sleep.
In the early 1960’s Padre Pio’s health began to deteriorate and in early 1968 he was forced to use a wheelchair. On the day of the 22nd of September 1968 Padre Pio celebrated Mass – a final gift to his Prayer Groups who had assembled from all parts of the world. As the day ended the humble friar raised his hand, as always, to bless the crowd. As the light went out the crowd dispersed. It seemed a night like any other but instead was the last night of the life of the humble friar. Shortly after renewing his vows and receiving the Sacrament of the Sick he gave up his soul and flew peacefully to Heaven, with his rosary beads in his hand, with the words ‘Jesus and Mary’ on his lips, the signs of the Stigmata no longer visible. His life on earth was over; his earthly sufferings endured had ended.
His body was buried on the 26th of September in the tomb of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie which he had blessed days earlier and remained there for almost forty years.
In May 1999 in St. Peter’s Square, Padre Pio was declared blessed by Pope John Paul II who had a great affection for the capuchin friar. With an estimated 300,000 people in attendance on the16th of June 2002 Pope John Paul II canonised Padre Pio.
As a result of the growing number of devotees arriving in San Giovanni Rotondo from all over the world, it was decided to build a bigger church to comfortably accommodate the faithful. Work began in 1994 and after ten years under construction, the church was inaugurated in 2004 and dedicated to St. Pio of Pietrelcina.
In February 2008, almost forty years after his death, the remains of Padre Pio were exhumed. After the celebration of Mass on the 24th of April of that year, the remains of Padre Pio were placed in a crystal, marble and silver sepulchre and went on display for veneration by the faithful in the old tomb of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Such was the continuous flow of pilgrims arriving in San Giovanni Rotondo, the body of the Saint remained on display until the 24th of September 2009 when it was transferred to the mosaic-lined crypt in the Church of St. Pio of Pietrelcina.
As the pilgrim makes their way towards the crypt, through the impressive mosaics of the Jesuit priest Fr. Marco Ivan Rupnik, one can see comparisons of the life of St. Francis of Assisi with that of his true servant, St. Pio of Pietrelcina. Within the crypt lie the mortal remains of this great Saint of our time on display for veneration.
Although fifty years since his death, millions of pilgrims continue to arrive in San Giovanni Rotondo to pray at the crypt of the Saint. The once remote friary has now become the heart of the sanctuary which is now the second most visited shrine in the world.
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