Friars Minor Capuchin
St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, OFM Cap.
St. Padre Pio (Francesco Forgione)
was born to Giuseppa and Grazio Forgione, in the small farming town of
Pietrelcina, Italy on May 25, 1887. Although the Forgiones were poor in material
goods, they were certainly rich in their faith life and in the love of God.
Even as a young boy, Francesco had
already shown signs of extraordinary gifts of grace. At the age of five, he
dedicated his life to God. From his early childhood, he showed a kind of
recollection of spirit and a love for the religious life. His mother described
him as a quiet child who, from his earliest years loved to go to church and to
pray. Because he was able to see and communicate with, not only his guardian
angel, but with Jesus and the Virgin Mary, as a young boy, Francesco assumed
everyone had the same experiences. Once a woman who noticed his spiritual
demeanor asked him, "When did you consecrate your life to God? Was it at
your first Holy Communion?" and he answered, "Always, daughter,
When he was fifteen years old, he was
admitted to the novitiate of the Capuchin Order of the Friars Minor in Morcone,
Italy and was admired by his Superiors and his fellow students for his exemplary
behavior and his piety. One of the novices stated, "There was something
which distinguished him from the other students. Whenever I saw him, he was
always humble, recollected, and silent. What struck me most about Brother Pio
was his love of prayer."
On August 10, 1910, at the age of
twenty-three, Padre Pio was ordained to the priesthood. The celebration of the
Holy Mass was for Padre Pio, the center of his spirituality. Due to the long
pauses of contemplative silence into which he entered at various parts of the
Holy Sacrifice, his Mass could sometimes last several hours. Everything about
him spoke of how intensely he was living the Passion of Christ. The parish
priest in Pietrelcina called Padre Pio's Mass, "an incomprehensible
mystery." When asked to shorten his Mass, Padre Pio replied, "God
knows that I want to say Mass just like any other priest, but I cannot do
His parishioners were deeply
impressed by his piety and one by one, they began to come to him, seeking his
counsel. For many, even a few moments in his presence, proved to be a life
changing experience. As the years passed, pilgrims began to come to him by the
thousands from every corner of the world, drawn by the spiritual riches, which
flowed, so freely from his extraordinary ministry. To his spiritual children he
would say, "It seems to me as if Jesus has no other concern but the
sanctification of your soul."
Padre Pio is understood above all
else as a man of prayer. Before he was thirty years old, he had already reached
the summit of the spiritual life known as the "unitive way" of
transforming union with God. He prayed almost continuously. His prayers were
usually very simple. He loved the Rosary and recommended it to others. To
someone who asked him what legacy he wished to leave to his spiritual children,
his brief reply was, "My child, the Rosary." He had a special mission
to the souls in Purgatory and encouraged everyone to pray for them. He used to
say, "We must empty Purgatory with our prayers." Padre Agostino
Daniele, his confessor, director, and beloved friend said, "One admires in
Padre Pio, his habitual union with God. When he speaks or is spoken to, we are
aware that his heart and mind are not distracted from the thought and sentiment
Padre Pio suffered from poor health
his entire life, once saying that his health had been declining from the time he
was nine years old. After his ordination to the priesthood, he remained in his
hometown of Pietrelcina and separated from his religious community for more than
five years due to his precarious health. Although the cause of his prolonged and
debilitating illnesses remained a mystery to his doctors, Padre Pio did not
become discouraged. He offered all of his bodily sufferings to God as a
sacrifice, for the conversion of souls. He experienced many spiritual sufferings
as well. "I am fully convinced that my illness is due to a special
permission of God," he said.
Shortly after his ordination, he
wrote a letter to his spiritual director, Padre Benedetto Nardella, in which he
asked permission to offer his life as a victim for sinners. He wrote, "For
a long time I have felt in myself a need to offer myself to the Lord as a victim
for poor sinners and for the souls in Purgatory. This desire has been growing
continually in my heart so that it has now become what I would call a strong
passion . . . It seems to me that Jesus wants this." The marks of the
stigmata, the wounds of Christ, appeared on Padre Pio's body, on Friday,
September 20, 1918, while he was praying before a crucifix and making his
thanksgiving after Mass. He was thirty-one years old and became the first
stigmatized priest in the history of the Church. With resignation and serenity,
he bore the painful wounds for fifty years.
In addition, God endowed Padre Pio
with many extraordinary spiritual gifts and charisms including the gift of
healing, bilocation, prophecy, miracles, discernment of spirits, the ability to
abstain beyond man's natural powers from both sleep and nourishment, the ability
to read hearts, the gift of tongues (the ability to speak and understand
languages that he had never studied), the gift of conversions, levitation,
multiplication of food, the grace to see his guardian angel and other angelic
beings in form, and the fragrance which emanated from his wounds and which
frequently announced his invisible presence. When a friend once questioned him
about these charisms, Padre Pio said, "You know, they are a mystery to me,
too." Although he received more than his share of spiritual gifts, he never
sought them, never felt worthy of them. He never put the gifts before the Giver.
He always remained humble, constantly at the disposal of Almighty God.
His day began at 2:30 a.m. when he
would rise to begin his prayers and to make his preparation for Mass. He was
able to carry on a busy apostolate with only a few hours of sleep each night and
an amount of food that was so small (300-400 calories a day) that his fellow
priests stated that it was not enough food even to keep a small child alive.
Between Mass and confessions, his workday lasted 19 hours. He very rarely left
the monastery and never took even a day's vacation from his grueling schedule in
51 years. He never read a newspaper or listened to the radio. He cautioned his
spiritual children against watching television.
In his monastery in San Giovanni
Rotondo, he lived the Franciscan spirit of poverty with detachment from self,
from possessions, and from comforts. He always had a great love for the virtue
of chastity, and his behavior was modest in all situations and with all people.
In his lifetime, Padre Pio reconciled thousands of men and women back to their
The prayer groups that Padre Pio
established have now spread throughout the world. He gave a new spirit to
hospitals by founding one, which he called "The Home for the Relief of
Suffering." He saw the image of Christ in the poor, the suffering, and the
sick and gave himself particularly to them. He once said, "Bring God to all
those who are sick. This will help them more than any other remedy."
Serene and well prepared, he
surrendered to Sister Death on September 23, 1968 at the age of eighty-one. He
died as he had lived, with his Rosary in his hands. His last words were Gesú,
Maria - Jesus, Mary - that he repeated over and over until he breathed his last.
He had often declared, "After my death I will do more. My real mission will
begin after my death."
In 1971, Pope Paul VI, speaking to
the superiors of the Capuchin order, said of Padre Pio, "What fame he had.
How many followers from around the world. Why? Was it because he was a
philosopher, a scholar, or because he had means at his disposal? No, it was
because he said Mass humbly, heard confessions from morning until night and was
a marked representative of the stigmata of Our Lord. He was truly a man of
prayer and suffering."
In one of the largest liturgies in
the Vatican's history, Pope John Paul II canonized Padre Pio on June 16, 2002.
During his homily, John Paul recalled, how, in 1947, as a young priest he
journeyed from Poland to make his confession to Padre Pio. "Prayer and
charity-this is the most concrete synthesis of Padre Pio's teaching," the
Drawing approximately 8 million
pilgrims each year, San Giovanni Rotondo, where St. Padre Pio lived and is now
buried, and is second only to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico in
its number of annual visitors.
St. Padre Pio's whole life might be
summed up in the words of St. Paul to the Colossians, "Now I rejoice in my
sufferings for your sake and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's
afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church."
St. Pio of Pietrelcina, pray for us.
Updated: November 1, 2010