Today is the Feast day of St. Pius of Pietrelcina. The saint began life as Francesco Forgione, born in May 1887 in Pietrelcina, a town and comune in the province of Benevento in the Campania region of southern Italy. He was the son of Grazio Mario Forgione and Maria Giuseppa Di Nunzio, one of five children. His family was pious, attending Mass daily, praying the rosary and fasting with great regularity in honor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. By age five, young Francesco stated that his life would be dedicated to God. He was a dutiful son, tending sheep, but also seemed to suffer from illnesses including typhoid fever. Around the age of 10 he told his family that he was beginning to experience visions. He soon became interested in becoming a Capuchin Franciscan.
When the family inquired about the possibilities they were told that Francesco needed more education. His father, Grazio, temporarily went to the United States to earn income to support special tutoring of their son. At age 15, Francesco entered the novitiate at Morcone, Italy. On January 22, 1903, he took the Franciscan habit and the name of Fra (Friar) Pio, in honor of Pope Pius I – in Italian, “Pius” as “Pio.” After studies he was ordained in 1910 and became known as Padre Pio
On September 20, 1918, as he was making his thanksgiving after Mass, Padre Pio had a vision of Jesus. When the vision ended, he had the stigmata in his hands, feet, and side. Life became more complicated after that. Medical doctors, Church authorities, and curiosity seekers came to see Padre Pio. In 1920, in an attempt to quell publicity and celebrity, the Vatican ordered Padre Pio to not publicly celebrate Mass or hear Confessions. He complied. The sanctions were soon lifted, but in 1924, and again in 1931, the authenticity of the stigmata was questioned with the Vatican denying that the stigmata was due to divine intervention. In varying episodes Padre Pio was again not permitted to celebrate Mass publicly or to hear confessions. He did not complain of these decisions, which were soon reversed.
Padre Pio rarely left the friary after he received the stigmata, but busloads of people soon began coming to see him. Each morning after 5 a.m. Mass in a crowded church, he heard confessions until noon. He took a mid-morning break to bless the sick and all who came to see him. Every afternoon he also heard confessions. In time his confessional ministry would take 10 hours a day; penitents had to take a number so that the situation could be handled. Many of them have said that Padre Pio knew details of their lives that they had never mentioned.
Padre Pio’s life was not without controversy in terms of his conduct and other aspects of his life – but those are for those who wish to research such things. The reports of miracles and other divine interventions on behalf of the prayers of Padre Pio led many to an ever deepening faith. Many people turned to him to intercede with God on their behalf; among them was the future Pope John Paul II. In 1962, when he was still an archbishop in Poland, he wrote to Padre Pio and asked him to pray for a Polish woman with throat cancer. Within two weeks, she had been cured of her life-threatening disease.
Padre Pio died on September 23, 1968. It is surprising to many that he left no letters, correspondence, or records of his faith life, apart from a 1924 pamphlet on the agony of Jesus.
In one of the largest such ceremonies in history, Pope John Paul II canonized Padre Pio of Pietrelcina on June 16, 2002. It was the 45th canonization ceremony in Pope John Paul’s pontificate. More than 300,000 people braved blistering heat as they filled St. Peter’s Square and nearby streets. They heard the Holy Father praise the new saint for his prayer and charity. “This is the most concrete synthesis of Padre Pio’s teaching,” said the pope. He also stressed Padre Pio’s witness to the power of suffering. If accepted with love, the Holy Father stressed, such suffering can lead to “a privileged path of sanctity.”
Partial source: Franciscan Media