If he could, he said, he would build the hospital in gold, because whatever is done for the sick is done for Christ, and nothing can be too good for the Lord.
Eventually, it was completed, with the inauguration taking place May 5, 1956. The hospital, only receiving the designation of clinic at the time, had 250 beds. An out-patient clinic with additional departments and services was also a part of the Casa, with a round-the-clock emergency room, and a small chapel where Padre Pio would frequently pray.
At the inauguration ceremony, Padre Pio said, "a seed has been sown on the Earth that [God] will warm with the rays of his love… a place of prayer and science." A year later, he noted that at the Casa "patients, doctors, priests shall be reserves of love and when it abounds in one, so it shall be passed to all."
"The Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza has already opened its arms to many thousands of suffering bodies and spirits, offering to all, regardless of status, from the most wealthy to the less well-off, ministering to all, in generous measure," he said.
From its start, the Casa was also helped by two nearby farms, which produce olive oil and all the dairy products used in the hospital.
Soon after its launch, the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza was given to the Holy See by Padre Pio, being one of just two hospitals under the jurisdiction of the pope.
Years before the hospital was completed, groups of people had begun to provide spiritual support for the project. Promoted by Padre Pio, the prayer groups were in response to a call from Ven. Pius XII for people to gather to pray together, especially in the face of World War II.
"Without prayer, our House for the Relief of Suffering is somewhat like a plant without air and sun," Padre Pio said, calling the prayer groups the "frontline of this little City of charity."
The Casa today
These prayer groups continue to flourish today. And the hospital grows, with just under 1,000 beds spread across at least 26 medical and surgical departments, and another 14 departments for diagnosis and other services, all run by nearly 3,000 staff members.
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From its humble beginnings as a private clinic, the Casa is now classified as a private national research hospital, specializing in genetic and hereditary diseases, and includes a home for the elderly and housing for families with children receiving cancer treatment.
During the first expansion in 1967, a second, larger chapel was added to the interior of the hospital. In the two chapels a rosary is prayed every day, three or more Masses are celebrated, and staff and patients stop by for moments of personal prayer.
Additional support for hospital staff includes regular spiritual and ethical training courses taught by theologians.
At the hospital's 10th anniversary in 1966, two years before his death, Padre Pio reflected on the "humble origins" of the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, and how, coming from nothing, "the miracle of faith and charity to which this Work bears witness before the eyes of the world becomes all the more important."
Entrusting the success of his earthly work to prayer, he said, it is that which "unites all good souls and moves the world, that renews consciences, that sustains the Casa, that comforts the suffering, that cures the sick, that sanctifies their work, that elevates simple medical assistance, that gives moral strength and Christian resignation to human suffering, that becomes a smile and the blessing of God upon weakness and frailty."
Hannah Brockhaus is Catholic News Agency's senior Rome correspondent. She grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and has a degree in English from Truman State University in Missouri.