Saint Padre Pio.
Francesco Forgione named after St Francis of Assisi was born in Pietrelcina on the 25th of May, 1887. Young Francesco’s parents were very devout and visited the parish church every day to spend time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
On August 5, 1918, while hearing the confessions of some students a “mysterious person” appeared above Padre Pio brandishing a glowing sword. He thrust the sword deep into the saint’s side causing him inexpressible pain. Several other saints have experienced this piercing (or, transverberation, as it is called in mystical theology) of the heart, but in Padre Pio case the wound was physical. It left an open gap, which had the shape of a cross and issued blood. Then, on September 20, while making his thanksgiving in the choir loft after Mass, the saint was put into an ecstasy. The same “mysterious person” appeared again with blood issuing from open wounds in his hands and feet. “The sight terrified me,” he wrote his confessor, “I thought I should die . . . my heart was about to burst out of my chest.” When he was released from the vision he cried out from the excruciating pain that was in his hands and feet. His fellow friars ran up to the loft and found their brother unconscious on the floor bleeding profusedly. The invisible stigmata, that had come and gone over the years, was now visible, permanent, and even more painful. Just three days before the friars had celebrated the feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis. It was also on this day, eight years before, that Padre Pio first received the temporary stigmata as previously described.
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Fra Pio Becomes Padre Pio
In due time Fra Pio regained some strength and he was able to return to his monastery and finish his courses in theology. He was now twenty-three, still too young to be ordained, but due to the severity of his illness he received a dispensation lest he die without being able to offer the holy sacrifice. On August 10, 1910, in the cathedral of Benevento, in the presence of his family, Fra Pio became Padre Pio. Only his father was unable to be there, having to work across the ocean in order to make this day possible. Four days later Padre Pio offered Mass in his home parish, where he had been baptized, in Pietrelcina. Here obedience declared that he must remain and give his lungs and intestines a longer period to heal. Five years past. Pio, the priest, offered Mass daily in the local Church, giving the rest of the day to prayer and study. Don Salvatore Pannullo, the pastor, was well aware of the mystical experiences of the “convalescing” friar, and he gave him all the privacy he needed. Padre Pio had made himself a little hut on the family farm lot where he lived the life of a hermit most of the day, practicing severe mortifications and fasting. Despite this he maintained a steady weight of about 165 lbs on his 5’10” frame.
The First Stigmata
It was only a month after his ordination, that Jesus and Mary came to Padre Pio as he was praying in his favorite hideaway. The humble friar had offered himself as a victim for the sins of the world. The date was September 7, 1910. Suddenly, as he was conversing with them in prayer, he felt a sharp pain in his hands and feet. His offering had been accepted. He was pierced with the wounds of the Crucified. The wounds were not open and appeared on both sides of his hands and feet as red marks about a half-inch in diameter. He told no one of about this, except Father Pannullo. The pastor did not know what to think at first, so he had a doctor, who knew the Forgiones, and was aware of Padre Pio’s extraordinary holiness, examine them. The doctor had no explanation.
One day when Giuseppa called for her son to come home for dinner she found him shaking his hands in the air as he walked toward the house. “Are you playing the guitar?” she asked. “No, mamma,” he answered, “but my hands are stinging in great pain.” He quickly covered them under the long sleeves of his habit. In writing to his spiritual director, Father Benedetto, a year later, Padre Pio explained how frightened he was at receiving the visible marks of the stigmata. It was too much for him at the time, so great was his desire to lead a hidden life. He wanted to suffer without anyone knowing the cause. Father Pannullo understood, and so they both prayed together that the wounds would disappear. Soon after they did disappear and the pain did remain, but not permanently. Sometimes it would go away, then return again. It was a prelude to what was to come later.
What came first was World War I (1914-1918). And, Italy’s masonic republic made no exceptions for the clergy in the draft. Padre Pio was summoned to serve. This, of course, only made his lungs worse, and, in the cold barracks of the camps the future saint almost coughed himself to death. Eventually, he was honorably discharged.
When the “soldier priest” returned home early in 1916, his spiritual director, who knew all of Padre Pio’s mystical experiences, counseled him to return to the Capuchins. Father Benedetto had found a place where he was sure Padre Pio would fare well. And there he went in the cold of February, eighteen hundred feet above sea level, in the mountains of Gargano, to San Giovanni Rotundo, to the monastery of Our Lady of Grace. And there he would remain until his death fifty-two years later.