Known affectionately to the many who venerate him as Padre Pio, this humble Capuchin priest became one of the most popular saints of modern time, attracting the largest crowd to ever attend a canonization ceremony in 2002. The Church will celebrate his feast day this Wednesday, on September 23.
Padre Pio was born Francisco Forgione to a poor shepherd family on May 25, 1887, in Pietrelcina, Italy. He entered the Capuchin Order in 1903, took his solemn vows in 1907 and was ordained a priest in 1910.
Suffering from poor health, he was sent immediately home to live with his parents where his mother could care for him. It was there that he stayed until 1916 when he was sent to the friary of San Giovanni Rotondo, where he spent the rest of his life.
He was devoted to the Sacraments and was famous for hearing confessions, often spending entire days in the confessional attending to penitants who had come from all over the country to confess to him. He was said to be able to read the souls of those who held back sins or those whose confessions were not sincere, and brought about many a heartfelt conversion in those he rebuked.
On September 20, 1918, Padre Pio became the first priest known to have received the stigmata - the wounds of Christ - and he is also thought to have lived with them for the longest amount of time, 50 years.
He was reported to be able to bilocate and levitate and he is known to have healed many by touch. In 1956 Padre Pio opened the House for the Relief of Suffering, a hospital for the poor in San Giovanni Rotondo which treats tens of thousands of patients every year.
All his life he was accosted by the devil and would even withstand physical beatings by him at night. He endured all by the power of the Cross of Christ, never losing his faith in the Lord despite all his tribulations.
Pio of Pietrelcina died September 23, 1968 and was canonized by Pope John Paul II, June 16, 2002.
Even though he was aware during his lifetime of his worldwide fame, Padre Pio persevered in humility realizing always that "In order to succeed in reaching our ultimate end we must follow the divine Head, who does not wish to lead the chosen soul on any way other than the one he followed; by that, I say, of abnegation and the Cross.”
Padre Pio also said, "I am a poor Franciscan who prays…prayer is the best weapon we have, a key that opens the heart of God."