For a man who always aimed to relate to church authorities with “firm, constant, and iron” obedience, he certainly was in trouble a lot. Critics charged him with sexual improprieties and mishandling donations.
An archbishop called him demon-possessed, a “dangerous hoax,” and a “corrupter of morals.” Catholics were forbidden to read the eight books about him.
A dissident theologian? A renegade cleric?
And in a development that laid to rest any lingering questions about his sanctity, he was beatified by one of his admirers on May 2, 1999. In his homily for that occasion, John Paul II said that God had allowed the misunderstandings to serve as a “crucible of purification.” An Italian bishop who helped prepare the 1997 declaration of Padre Pio’s heroic virtue observed, “He was an authentic saint whom the devil tried to cover with mud.”
Padre Pio was born on May 25, 1887, in Pietrelcina, a southern Italian mountain village
A Man with Unusual Gifts.
It was Pio’s unusual gifts that polarized people, arousing admiration in some and suspicion in others.
He could read minds, foretell events, and be in two places at once. Dramatic conversions and physical healings happened around him almost routinely. A mysterious fragrance announced his presence and clung to whatever he touched. And he had the stigmata, the wounds of Christ’s passion.
Pio never fully understood these astonishing gifts. “They are a mystery for me,” he told a puzzled friend. But he allowed God to equip him for fruitful service as a messenger of divine love.
An Ongoing Spiritual Battle.
During his sixty-plus years as a Franciscan friar, this battle took many forms. From 1905 to 1916 he was plagued by mysterious illnesses that sometimes caused body temperatures so high they broke medical thermometers. He experienced prolonged trials of faith— blasphemies, temptations to infidelity and unbelief, darkness. “It kills me,” Pio wrote his spiritual director. “My faith is upheld only by a constant effort of my will.” Nevertheless, countless conversions took place through his efforts.
Sign of Mercy, Sign of Contradiction.
Of all the ways in which Padre Pio shared in Christ’s Passion, none was more obvious—or caused him more hardship—than the stigmata.
These marks of the crucifixion appeared on Pio’s hands while he was praying in September 1910, a month after his ordination.
The pain remained, but the marks disappeared. But then, in September 1918, in the course of a vision, the bleeding wounds returned to his hands, feet, and side. Despite his embarrassed pleadings, they remained.
Padre Pio’s superiors had him examined by doctors. “Medically inexplicable” several said about the painful wounds, which bled profusely and never became infected.
Bread Broken for the Hungry.
Long before he died, Padre Pio had become known and loved throughout the world. After his death on September 23, 1968, a hundred thousand people thronged to his funeral in San Giovanni Rotondo. Today, six million pilgrims a year travel there to pray at his tomb.
It is Padre Pio’s love, not his supernatural gifts, that explain such drawing power, Pope John Paul II has observed. Padre Pio “was bread broken for men and women starving for God the Father’s forgiveness.” His wounds—“the work and sign of divine mercy, which redeemed the world by the cross of Jesus Christ”—speak of God’s love and issue an appeal to all of us: “Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Padre Pio was canonized by Pope John Paul II on June 16, 2002.