He said prayer "is a true and real mission, which brings the fire of love to all humanity," and pointed to Padre Pio's frequent affirmation that prayer is the "strength that moves the world."
Prayer, then, isn't just something we practice in order to get peace or a devout means of getting what we need. If it were like this, then our prayer would be "would be moved by a subtle egoism," like taking an aspirin for a quick fix to a problem or trying to negotiate with God, he said.
Instead, prayer "is a work of spiritual mercy, which desires to bring everything to the heart of God…It's a gift of faith and of love, an intercession of which there is a need like that of bread," Pope Francis said.
If summed up in one word, prayer means to "to entrust: to entrust the Church, people and situations to the Father, because he takes care of them," Francis continued, noting how Padre Pio used to say that prayer is "the best weapon we have, a key that opens the heart of God."
The Pope said prayer is the greatest strength of the Church, "which we should never leave." If we leave the Church, the Pope said, we risk depending on other things, such as money and power, instead of God.
Once this happens, "evangelization vanishes and joy goes out," the Pope said, adding off-the-cuff that the heart then "becomes boring." He asked pilgrims whether they wanted a boring or joyful heart. If the answer is the latter, he said, then "pray! This is the recipe."
Francis then thanked the groups for their commitment and encouraged them to always be centers of mercy and joyful apostles of prayer, because "prayer works miracles."
Before closing his speech, the Pope pointed to the hospital founded by Padre Pio 70 years ago, called the "Home for the Relief of the Suffering."
He stressed the importance of not just treating the sick, but of caring for them. He noted that sometimes, while medicating the wounds of the body, wounds of the soul become aggravated.
These wounds are "are slower and often difficult to heal. Only closeness and prayer can help to heal them," Francis said, explaining that this closeness is crucial, because "the sick person is Jesus."
Pope Francis closed his speech by recalling what St. John Paul II said about Padre Pio during the saint's beatification May 2, 1999, beatification Mass. Namely, that those who went to St. Pio to attend his Mass or to seek guidance or confession, "saw in him a living image of Christ suffering and risen.
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"The face of Padre Pio reflected the light of the Resurrection," Francis said. He then led pilgrims in praying an Our Father and a Hail Mary.
Elise Harris was senior Rome correspondent for CNA from 2012 to 2018.