Saint Pius of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio): Bearing the Stigmata, Suffering with Christ

Saint Pius of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio): Bearing the Stigmata, Suffering with Christ

On September 23, Catholics celebrate the memory of Saint Pius of Pietrelcina (1887-1968), the Capuchin Franciscan friar still best known simply as "Padre Pio," who has become one of the most popular saints in the Catholic Church.

Fascinated by Capuchin friar

He was born of poor but devout parents, Grazio and Maria Forgione, in the town of Pietrelcina, province of Benevento, in southern Italy, and baptized Francesco. At an early age, he was fascinated by a barefoot Capuchin who came around seeking alms, and Francesco grew up wanting to become a friar but lacked the educational background. His father, Grazio, came to the United States to find work in order to pay for the necessary schooling, and so Francesco entered the novitiate in 1903 and was given the name Pio.

Padre Pio street scene Pietrelcina 700pxlsStreet scene in Pietrelcina, birthplace of Padre Pio

Plagued with ill health

Brother Pio was ordained to the priesthood in 1910. He was plagued with ill health, leading his superiors to send him home with his family for some years. In 1916 he was able to return to community and assigned to the small friary of Our Lady of Grace in the town of San Giovanni Rotondo in Apulia where he spent almost all the rest of his life.

Padre Pio portrait as younger friar 700pxlsPadre Pio as a younger friar

Experiencing paranormal phenomena

Shortly afterward, Padre Pio began experiencing paranormal phenomena, especially the stigmata that first appeared on his body in September 1918. These caused considerable notoriety and suspicion, and Padre Pio underwent a long series of investigations by church authorities that ended only in the early 1960s.

Ability to “read hearts”

Gradually the tide turned, however, and Padre Pio’s deep spirituality and ability to "read hearts" brought thousands to his friary for counsel and confession. At times he had 18-hour workdays.

Padre Pio friary room San Giovanni Rotondo 700pxlsPadre Pio's room in the friary at San Giovanni Rotondo

Stigmata disappears

The friars built a new church in the 1950s to accommodate the large crowds coming to San Giovanni Rotondo. Pio died just days after marking the 50th anniversary of the stigmata. At his final Mass, the stigmata had disappeared.

Padre Pio Capuchin friary San Giovanni Rotondo 700pxlsThe Capuchin friary and church in San Giovanni Rotondo in the early 1920s

Confident in God’s love in his life

Padre Pio's life demonstrates again that beneath all the publicity, the heart of Franciscan spirituality lies in a radical response to the in-break of God's love in one's life that leads us to empty ourselves and follow in the footsteps of Christ in humble service. Pio's great confidence in the love of God is typified in his oft-quoted advice to penitents: "Pray, Hope, Don't Worry."

“Man of prayer and suffering”

As Pope Paul VI told the Capuchin friars not long after Padre Pio's death:

Look what fame he had, what a worldwide following gathered around him! But why? Because he was a philosopher? Because he was wise? Because he had resources at his disposal? No—because he said Mass humbly, heard confessions from dawn to dusk, and was—it is not easy to say it—one who bore the wounds of our Lord. He was a man of prayer and suffering.

Reaching out to suffering poor

We should remember also that as Padre Pio came to know Christ more deeply and through the experience of his own sufferings, he began an outreach to the suffering poor through a small hospital in San Giovanni Rotondo. By the late 1930s, he began to organize prayer groups to fund this effort, which today has grown into a major medical treatment and research center:

Curing the ill

Padre Pio was canonized in 2002 by Pope St. John Paul II, who had first met him in 1947, and later, as Cardinal Wojtyła, wrote Padre Pio in 1962, asking him to pray for a friend, Dr. Wanda Poltawska, who was very ill with cancer. She was cured.

Learn more about Padre Pio

For more details on Padre Pio's life, see:

You may like to watch this short video clip of Padre Pio giving some remarks.