Padre Pio was “one of the most known stigmatists. He endured many trials but was graced with numerous gifts and charisms. He is a modern Cyrenean, who not only embraced the cross personally, but helped others to carry it.”
Francesco Forgione is one of the emblematic figures of the 20th century, extraordinarily tested and acclaimed as saint before his death. The inexplicable had in him one of its most famous representatives. He was, without intending it, an object of controversy for the incredulous, of those that chose reason as their banner. He was an instrument of Heaven to show the reticent, and the rest of the world, the grandeur and infinite power of God’s love, sole key to so much mystery, accepted without doubting by the simple and humble of heart. He had a river of gifts: stigmata, bilocation, curing, prophecy, tears, penetration of spirit, perfume (his stigmata smelt of flowers), etc. which kept coming to the life of this Capuchin, who only wanted to be “a praying friar, in the midst of untold sufferings, serving him as base to attain eternal glory. “Angels only envy us for one thing: they cannot suffer for God. Only suffering can enable us to say: My God, how much I love You.” He understood perfectly Christ’s words: “Almost all come to Me to relieve their cross; very few are those that approach Me to teach them how to carry it.” This modern Cyrenean didn’t hesitate: he carried the cross gracefully until the end of his days, united to the Redeemer, infusing courage in others and helping them to carry their own. “Be certain that if God is pleased with a soul, He will try it all the more. Therefore, courage! and, always forward.”
He was born in Pietrelcina, Italy, in the heart of a humble family, on May 25, 1887; he was the fourth of eight children. When he was five, he had the first apparition of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and some time after, <apparitions> of the Virgin began, which lasted always. He was assaulted at that age by the offers of the devil, who didn’t cease to torment him throughout his life. His Guardian Angel, whose presence was patent to him, helped him in his mission. He was a silent, disciplined, timid, sensitive and studious child. Very devoted to Jesus and Mary, he managed to have the sacristan allow him to go to the Tabernacle when the church was closed. He was small when through his mediation a boy was cured who suffered from malformations, whose desperate mother would fling him against the altar. He entered the Capuchins in 1903. On the eve, the Virgin appeared to him with her Divine Son, who encouraged him in the step he was to take, with her hand on his shoulder. In other terrible visions of diabolic bias, he saw the sufferings that awaited him, and Christ comforted him, assuring him that He would be with him until the end of the world. Mary also consoled him.
He was ordained in Benevento in 1910 with this hope: “That I be an altar for your Cross, a chalice of gold for your Blood.” He did not enjoy good health. When he was small, he almost died of typhoid fever and, despite this, he led an austere life, of great fasts and penances. Shortly after being ordained, he was so ill he had to return to Pietrelcina to convalesce. He went from convent to convent and served in rows, but he did not improve. In 1912, this friar of strong character and a certain roughness, but of immense heart, perceived the first signs of the stigmata and even, fleetingly, mystical love. He left for San Giovanni Rotondo in 1916, with the idea of spending some time there, but he stayed there the rest of his life. In August of 1918 he experienced transverberation, feeling it as a fiery dart that pierced his heart and, in September, the stigmata, “visible and bleeding,” which never ceased.
He had received the gift of agglutinating around him persons who asked for his spiritual advice. He didn’t disappoint them. He helped them all through exhortations, conversations and endless letters that he wrote until he was prohibited by the ecclesiastical authorities that were examining his case minutely. And in 1918, when Christ’s wounds, which he received in his hands, feet and left side, were exposed, he began another Calvary with combats against the devil who attacked him almost continuously. Each one of us is granted the grace that is sufficient for us. Padre Pio did not lack this either amid the tight vigilance to which he was subjected, especially between the years 1922 and 1923. The Holy Office doubted the “supernatural nature of the events” and that brought on him not a few sufferings. He could not celebrate Mass publicly or send any writings, so he could not answer the letters that arrived at the convent. The numerous faithful that went to his Masses, — which lasted for hours and in which he showed his profound adoration of the mystery of the Redeemer’s sacrifice –, could not accompany him. The situation worsened in 1931. A strict order was given: he was reduced to celebrating Mass privately. This restriction ceased two years later and, in 1934, he was able to hear confessions. Behind him was a decade of seclusion in his cell, enduring questionings amid the suspicions of his Brothers, members of the Holy See, doctors and others.
Meanwhile, conversions around the Saint multiplied, who was spending over 16 hours daily in the Confessional. He had a waiting list of several days, because people wanted to be directed by this priest, who reprimanded harshly faults of love. That was the case, as is seen in ZENIT’s book of saints, in the lives of others that offered themselves, given the very intense passion for the divine that flooded his innermost being. “Everything is summarized in this: I am devoured by love of God and love of neighbour. How is it possible to see God who is saddened in face of evil, and not be saddened in the same way? I am not capable of something, which is not to have and to want what God wants.” In 1940, he planned “House of Relief of Suffering,” opened in 1956. In 1960 he was the object of new prohibitions, which were lifted in 1964. He died on September 23, 1968, following half a century with the stigmata. John Paul II beatified him on May 2, 1999, and canonized him on June 16, 2002.