Mystery of Padre Pio´s Stigmata Analyzed by Scientist

Congress in Rome Focuses on Capuchin´s Wounds

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ROME, APRIL 12, 2002 ( Critics who claim that the stigmata of the likes of Padre Pio are not authentic, have a tough opponent to contend with: modern science.

That was the crux of a message delivered by Dr. Nicola Silvestri to a conference this week in Rome. Silvestri is assistant director of health of the House for the Relief of Suffering, the hospital founded by the Capuchin friar in San Giovanni Rotondo.

Silvestri talked about stigmata at the international congress «Padre Pio, the Man, the Christian, the Saint.» The congress was held at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Interest in the life of Padre Pio (born Francesco Forgione) has heightened as his Oct. 6 canonization approaches.

During his address to the congress, Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints, explained that the essence of Padre Pio´s sanctity was «the reality of the cross.»

Padre Pio of Pietrelcina (1887-1968) once wrote that «the more Jesus wishes to raise a soul to perfection, the more the cross of tribulation increases,» the cardinal said. And the stigmata — the wounds that resemble those suffered by Jesus during his crucifixion — were among the Capuchin´s greatest physical sufferings.

«From the medical point of view, the stigmata cannot be considered as wounds or sores, because they do not heal even when treated,» Dr. Silvestri explained. «They neither become infected nor do they decompose; they do not degenerate in necrosis, and do not exude a bad odor. They bleed and remain constant and unaltered for years, against all laws of nature.»

The stigmata «are the exact reproduction, including the location, of Jesus´ wounds, according to studies of the holy Shroud» of Turin, Silvestri continued.

He said the location of the side wound refutes «the theory of those who regard them [stigmata] as the product of suggestion, when an individual prays before a crucifix. Indeed, until the 17th century, crucifixes had the wound on the right side, while stigmata appeared on the left side.»

«The Church is strict when it comes to these phenomena,» the scientist stressed. «It has pronounced itself in a rather limited number of cases only after rigorous studies and controls by doctors and theologians.»

The Church exacts certain conditions before recognizing the validity of stigmata. The wounds must all appear at the same time; they must cause considerable modification of the tissues; they must remain unaltered despite medical treatment; they must cause hemorrhages; and they must not result in infections or suppuration, or in instant and perfect healing.

There are at least 80 saints and blessed whose stigmata have been validly documented, the doctor said. Although the Church recognizes the phenomenon, it does not oblige the faithful to believe in it as a dogmatic or doctrinal fact.

Silvestri explained that there are cases of false stigmata, especially in individuals who suffer from hysteria and cause these wounds in themselves.

In regard to the nature of the stigmata, he said that «a multiplicity of theories have been proposed by different schools that attempt to deny the supernatural character of the stigmata.»

«However, none of these hypotheses can stand up to objective and scientifically rigorous criticism,» Silvestri said. «Neither medicine nor psychology, nor intransigent positivists like Jean-Baptiste Dumas, have been able to deny the reality of the phenomenon.»

«If the stigmata depended on natural forces, they would have appeared in all ages and the description would be found in medical literature,» he added. «However, it was not until the 12th century, when they appeared in St. Francis´ body, that there was reference to the stigmata.»

«By their internal and external characteristics, the real stigmata studied to date are outside all the laws that regulate physiopathology and must be considered as phenomena of a supernatural character,» Silvestri concluded.

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