As you might know, St. Pio of Pietrelcina, better known as St. Padre Pio, was a Capuchin Franciscan who spent almost his entire life in a fairly small region of Italy. However, he has become one of the best known saints of the twentieth century not only in Italy but well beyond the borders of Europe.
The Holiness of St. Padre Pio
There are a number of reasons for this. Many might cite the fact that he received many extraordinary graces including visions, the stigmata, bilocation, and even miracles attributed to his intercession. However, it should always be noted that Holy Mother Church never raises a man or woman to the altar for extraordinary graces. As proof of that, there are countless saints who were never known to have received any of these extraordinary gifts.
Instead, the Church confirms the sanctity of the saints by examining the way that the lived their lives. The primary question which is to be verified during the process of canonization is whether the man or woman lived a life of heroic virtue.
In the case, of St. Pio, he certainly lived such a life. Although he spent almost his entire adult life at his friary of Santa Maria delle Grazie in San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy, he was able to impact the lives of his fellow friars, his community, and indeed the world through the ministry of his priesthood. In fact, it is through his faithfulness as a priest that St. Pio lived out his life of heroic virtue.
First and foremost, he had a deep devotion to the Holy Eucharist which was the center of his day. Then, he gave himself to others through administering the sacrament of Penance. Like, St. John Vianney, he might spend double digit hours a day hearing confessions and providing wise spiritual counsel. Similar to the French saint, he was able to read souls, and he used that gift to help the penitents make good confessions. The long hours in the confessional were due to the crowds that would come to this remote monastery in order to confess their sins to the Lord through St. Pio.
St. Pio was also known for his devotion to Our Lady and the Holy Rosary and his concern for the poor. Many, many rosaries were prayed by the saint, and he encouraged his spiritual children to do the same. Through his efforts, a hospital was built in the small town of San Giovanni Rotondo to help the ill and suffering with whom St. Pio was especially close as one who suffered poor health for most of his life.
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Two Places at Once: Padre Pio's Bilocation
However, St. Padre Pio's miracles have spread his repution, and I would like to share a story that demonstrates the awesome gifts that God gave him and he used for the saving of souls.
The story begins when Pio was 17 years old and a student in Sant'Elia a Pianisi.
At around 11:00 p.m. on the night of January 18, 1905, Pio was in choir at the seminary when he at once found himself in a distant home he had neither visited nor seen. The home was the home of a wealthy man who was dying while the wife was about to give birth.
Then the Virgin Mary appeared to him and told him that she was entrusting to him the care of the child to be born. The Blessed Virgin Mary requested that Pio polish her to transform her from a diamond in the rough to be a brilliant gem.
Pio replied, "How is this possible, since I am still a mere divinity student and do not yet know whether I will one day have the fortune and joy of being a priest? And even if I become a priest, how can I take care of this child, since I am so far away?"
The Blessed Virgin Mary reassured him saying, "Do not doubt. She will come to you, but first you will meet her at St. Peter's in Rome."
Then, Pio found himself back in the choir.
Within three weeks of the event, Pio wrote down the details of his bilocation and gave the document to his superiors. They kept it locked away and spoke to no one about it. The actual copy of his document is preserved in the friary of Santa Marie delle Grazie.
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Death, Birth, and a Surprise Visitor
On that same January night over 350 miles away in Udine, there was a wealthy man, Giovanni Rizanni, who was dying and whose wife, Leonilde, was in the eighth month of her pregnancy. About the time that she had become pregnant with their sixth child, her husband had become terminally ill.
The man was a fervent Mason and he wanted nothing to do with the Catholic Church despite his wife's strong Catholic faith and her imploring him to allow a priest to visit with him before he passed away.
Little did she know how her prayers would be answered. When she was in the room with her husband, she looked up to see a Capuchin friar. When the friar saw her, he quickly left the room. Leonilde followed him out of the room but did not seen him again.
While trying to locate the friar, she heard the family dog begin to bay which she understood as a sign that her husband's death was nigh. Because the dog continue to bay, she decided to go outside and untie the dog.
Before she could get outside she went into labor. Fortunately, she was able to call the family's business manager who was at the home, and he helped her deliver a baby girl.
As soon as she could, the wife took the baby upstairs to the nursery where she placed the child in the crib and then rejoined her husband who was indeed nearing the end.
Meanwhile the business manager went outside and confronted the group of Masons who were physically preventing any priest from entering the home. Appealing to them, he convinced them to let the priest enter if not for the husband than to baptize the child who had been born a month early.
The men blocking the entrance to the home stepped aside, and a priest who had been waiting patiently in the street went immediately inside and upstairs to the couple. After the priest had begun to minister to the husband, Giovanni, the dying man opened up his eyes, looked directly at the priest, and cried out, "My God! My God! Forgive me!" Then he entered into a coma and passed away before morning arrived.
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Seventeen Years Later in Rome
The story continues in 1922. At St. Peter's Basilica, Giovanna Razzini and her friend are there to make their confessions. Giovanna is about to enter college and she is the girl who was born on the same night that her father died. She now lives in Rome because her mother had moved the family not long after her husband's death.
Not only does Giovanna want to make her confession, she wants to talk to a priest about doubts she has about the Holy Trinity which she started having because of something one of her high school teachers had told her.
The guard told the two young women that it was too late in the day and that the priests hearing confession had already left. However, after leaving the guard, Giovanna sees a Capuchin priest who told her he would hear her confession.
The young priest responded to the girl's doubts by giving her an explanation of the Holy Trinity that dispels any of her concerns. Then she makes her confession. Afterward, she waits outside the confessional with her friend. They are waiting for the Capuchin priest to leave in order that they might kiss his hand.
No priest leaves the confessional. Suddenly, the same guard appears and asks the young women to leave as this area is now closed. They explain how they made their confessions and are waiting for the priest to exit the confessional. The guard does not know what to make of these two especially after he shows them that there is no priest in the confessional. Puzzled by the disappearance of the priest who could not had left without them seeing him leave, the two young women depart from the Basilica.
I Knew You Before
In the following summer of 1923, Giovanna, her aunt, and several friends decide to make a pilgrimage to San Giovanni Rotondo to see Padre Pio. By this time, he has become somewhat well-known and people have begun to flock to visit the friary to hear him say mass and to have him hear their confessions.
As Giovanna is standing in a crowd, she first sees Padre Pio who immediately walks up to her and says, "Why, Giovanna! I know you! You were born the day your father died." Naturally, Giovanna is shocked at how he could know that fact about her.
On the following day, Giovanna makes her confession. After giving absolution, Padre Pio again speaks to her: "At last you have come to me, my dear child. I have been waiting for you for so many years!"
Unsure of what is happening, Giovanna replies that Padre Pio must be mistaking her for someone else as this is her first time in San Giovanni Rotondo.
He assures her that he is not mistaken and that has known her from before this visit. Then he continues and explains how he was the Capuchin priest who heard her confession at St. Peter's during the previous year.
Then Padre Pio goes back to the very beginning and explains how the Blessed Virgin Mary entrusted Giovanna to him on the day of her father's death.
Overcome by this whole story and beginning to grasp the reality of it all, Giovanna exclaims, "Father, please take care of me. What do you want me to do? Shall I become a nun?"
Padre Pio tells her that she is not to become a nun. Instead, she will be a disciple of his in order to help her grow in her spiritual life.
Indeed, throughout her life, Giovanna remained a faithful disciple of Padre Pio. And later she gave testimony to her first encounters with Padre Pio. When her recollection of what he said to her in 1923 was compared to his written account of her birth date in 1905 which had been locked away for years and certainly never read by her, the testimonies were virtually the same.
And after hearing her daughter's story, Leonilde went to visit Padre Pio. When they met, Padre Pio reassured her that her husband had been saved through the intercession of Our Lady.
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Feast Day (Memorial): September 23rd